Once Russell Holsapple set his mind to being a film composer, not even Kryptonite could stop him.
The 1992 Pillager High School graduate recently was accepted to the University of Southern California's film and television scoring program. He was one of only 16 accepted to the one-year program that begins next fall.
"I don't know what to think of the whole USC thing," Holsapple said with equal parts excitement and trepidation in a recent phone interview from his home in St. Paul. "Apparently the school is very intense. You get thrown right into it."
Holsapple will be in good company at the program, which started in 1984 as part of USC's renowned Thornton School of Music. Instructors include Buddy Baker (more than 200 Disney films and TV shows), Elmer Bernstein ("Far From Heaven"), Jerry Goldsmith ("L.A. Confidential"), James Horner ("Titanic"), Ed Kalnins (TV's "Dawson's Creek"), Tom Newman ("American Beauty"), David Raksin (more than 450 films and TV shows) and Christopher Young ("The Hurricane"). Graduates include Christophe Beck (TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer").
Like most of his generation, the 29-year-old Holsapple grew up with blockbusters like "Star Wars," "The Terminator" and "Back to the Future." But rather than getting hung up on the space battles, gunfights or fast cars, Holsapple latched onto the epic music.
It was John Williams' score for "Superman" (1978) that clinched it.
"I'd be playing Superman around the house and I'd hum the music. I'd have my own little soundtrack while I was playing around the yard. The first time I saw 'Superman,' when he flew in and saved Lois Lane ... I can watch the movie over and over just for that scene."
The wonderment of Holsapple's youth hasn't faded, but today he is more analytical about Williams' greatness.
"I love his music's vocal quality, with its harmonies and melodies," he said.
Around sixth grade, the idea of being a composer began to ferment in Holsapple's mind. He got involved with band and choir at Pillager High School, and music composition and classical conducting at the University of Minnesota. He completed his coursework in 1996, but felt burned out afterward. Last year, he completed his final project -- a quintet for clarinet and strings -- to secure his music degree.
In his six-year break from school, he was Clark Kent by day -- working at AT&T to pay the bills -- and Superman by night, writing compositions for the Minnesota Youth Symphonies.
"I was approached by the conductor, Manny Laureano, who said, 'Would you like to write a fanfare?'" Holsapple said. "He liked it and performed it, and said, 'Any time you want to write something, I'd be happy to look at it.' So I wrote a movement that eventually turned into a four-movement symphony."
Last year, Holsapple was commissioned by the Heartland Symphony Orchestra in Little Falls to write "The Flight of Lindbergh," commemorating the 75th anniversary of the pilot's transatlantic flight.
Today, Holsapple's tastes go beyond birds, planes and Superman (although he admits to tuning into "Smallville" on occasion). Among TV composers, he points to Danny Elfman, best known for his work on "The Simpsons." He also likes the music on "ER" and "Will & Grace." But his heart is in classic science fiction shows like "The Twilight Zone" and "Star Trek."
Holsapple prefers film to TV because "it's generally a larger canvas in terms of storytelling. There are no commercials. Once you're in the theater, the filmmakers have you exactly where they want you."
Holsapple's personal style has more in common with film composers of the 1940s and '50s, like Austrians Max Steiner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold.
"I like the old '40s and '50s epic Hollywood style with its childlike feel," Holsapple said.
Scoring has changed a lot in the last half century, Holsapple said.
"You're lucky to be able to write orchestral scores for movies today. In the '40s and '50s, when they had the studio system going, the majority of films were scored by orchestras. Today there's a trend towards electronics, with a lot of the scoring done on keyboards."
He writes his music using a keyboard and a computer program that creates musical notation from his typed commands.
"I'm totally into the electronic thing," he said.
Despite his line of work, Holsapple doesn't go to films to see specific composers. He goes for the same reason everyone else does: Because he thinks the movie will be cool. This summer, he is looking forward to seeing "X-Men 2," "The Matrix Reloaded," "The Hulk" and "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines."
The original "Terminator" (1984) was a groundbreaking film for its score, which eschewed Williams-style grandiose for Brad Fiedel's creepy dystopian sounds.
"Before 'The Terminator,' electronic music was kind of dumb and dopey. It really fit the style of the movie, too, with its relentless quality," Holsapple said.
If Holsapple gets a few hours off from school in December, you'll most likely find him at the nearest Los Angeles cinema watching the final installment of "Lord of the Rings."
"('Rings' composer) Howard Shore is the man. The score is lush, orchestral, choral ... a massive, big-time Hollywood epic. But it's way different from John Williams. It has an ethereal quality."
Holsapple dreams of writing his own score that matches the scope of "Superman" or "Lord of the Rings."
"I really, really want to do film scoring, rather than TV," Holsapple said.
Even after he heads out to USC in August, a part of Holsapple still will be in his back yard rescuing Lois Lane.
"I'm going out there to have fun," Holsapple said. "And hopefully to make a living by writing music."
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