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December 17, 1948 |
Los Angeles, California, United States
Craig Safan (born December 17, 1948 in Los Angeles, California) is an American composer for film and television, whose biggest scores include The Last Starfighter, Mr. Wrong, Stand and Deliver, Fade to Black, Major Payne, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, and music to the TV series Cheers, for which he won numerous ASCAP awards. His style consisted of often improvising as a form of composition that allowed him to quickly express himself.
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Craig Safan was born in Los Angeles, son of an L.A. native Eugene Safan, who owned a downtown jewelry store. Safan’s father was a B17 bomber pilot during World War II who met his mother, Betty Torchin, in Laredo, Texas while stationed there at the Army Air Force Base. She was a piano virtuoso who had studied at the Cleveland Conservatory.
Safan began picking out tunes when he was 5 or 6 years old. Growing tired of classical music, Safan’s mother hired a teacher for him named Helene Mirich Spear who taught "popular" piano, who had young Craig improvising in his first lesson. Besides being a jazz pianist, she also played classical violin, so as well as the improvisation, she worked on technique by having him play Scott Joplin and Zez Confrey pieces.
"While in middle school I was going to an LA club called Shelly's Mann Hole and hearing all the great jazz pianists... Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Hampton Hawes, and more," Safan recalled. Afterwards, Mirich would transcribe Monk's solos for him to play. "I was a very straight kid from a nice Jewish family whose idols were mostly junkies but I didn't really understand that at the time."
After this experiential background in jazz, Safan found his way into classical music indirectly. "I never studied the classics," he said. "The first piece of classical music I ever studied was Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring and that was because I read about it in Leonard Bernstein's book The Joy of Music. So my musical education has been sort of backwards – Joplin to Gershwin to jazz to Stravinsky."
At the age of 15, his family moved from Los Angeles to Beverly Hills, and Safan began attending Beverly Hills High. "It was a big transition," he recalled. "I knew no one and it was a very social, rich school. But I had music and art to save me."
Moving from jazz to rock and falling in love with the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, Safan joined a jazz quartet as well as a rock cover band. He had begun writing his own songs at the age of 13, and continued writing throughout high school. He also became interested in fine art and graphic design. "I was art editor of my high school yearbook and was probably the only high school kid with a subscription to Graphis Magazine," Safan said.
Safan never considered a profession in music, and was being pushed by his parents to become a doctor or lawyer. But he realized his ambition was to become some sort of artist. He enrolled at Brandeis University in Boston and became a Fine Arts major, thinking he would become an architect. But during those years he spent more and more time writing music, and he composed four original musicals while at Brandeis. And, since he knew pop music and could write music, he arranged several albums for Reprise Records. "I never went as far as becoming a music major, but I wrangled my way into the electronic music studio and spent untold hours playing with the setup there," Safan said. He also took a class in orchestration from experimental composer, Alvin Lucier. "He not only taught me how to write for all the conventional instruments, but how to listen and create sounds from everything around me, and how to be completely open as to what 'music' means," Safan recalled. "This became very important to me in scores such as Stand and Deliver where I created an entire percussion library from found objects and Wolfen, where I experimented with new composition techniques."
Upon his graduation in 1970, Safan was awarded both "Best Drama" and "Best Music" awards from Brandeis. More significantly, he was awarded a Watson Foundation Fellowship which allowed him to live in London for a year and write music. During that time he mostly wrote pop songs and worked on musicals, his intentions still to become a songwriter.
But when his year in London ended, he returned to Los Angeles and then struggled to earn a living writing songs. Karla Bonoff sang one of them on her first album, and he arranged songs for artists like Dirk Hamilton, Rod Taylor, and Emmylou Harris while working part-time in his father’s jewelry store. During that period he became friends with producer Charles Plotkin (he would later to produce Bruce Springsteen), who had built a small recording studio in Hollywood. With his brother Mark, Safan became part of Plotkin’s stable of young singer-songwriters. Also in that group were Wendy Waldman (daughter of composer Fred Steiner), Andrew Gold (son of film composer Ernest Gold) and Peter Bernstein (son of Elmer Bernstein). Also around the studio were Linda Ronstadt and Jennifer Warnes (who Craig played piano for). Safan also wrote songs with lots of other writers such as Amanda McBroom.
“One day, while dressed in suit and tie and selling jewelry on credit, I received a call from an old friend from Brandeis who had married a young film director,” Safan recalled. “They had just arrived in L.A. to attend the American Film Institute; he had made an independent Super 16mm horror film and they needed music for it.” Asked if he knew anyone who could do it, Safan suggested himself – and thus was born his career as a film composer at the age of 24. The film, never released, was called The Demon’s Daughter and the director was John McTiernan. “I was hooked and loved the freedom to put together all my talents, from the dramatic writing of theater, to the melodic and rhythmic world of songs, to the esoteric world of contemporary classical music. It just suddenly all came together at that moment.”
One assignment led to another. Writing the title music for California Reich, a 1975 documentary for Walter Parkes, led him to score a low-budget exploitation film called The Great Texas Dynamite Chase (1976), which began his long relationship with Michael Pressman, for whom he would score five more pictures through the 1990s. Meanwhile, he started studying film music and sought out the wisdom of Fred Steiner, Ernest Gold, and Elmer Bernstein. They, each in different ways, became his mentors.
He scored a number of independent action comedies like The Great Smokey Roadblock (1977), Acapulco Gold (1978), Corvette Summer (1978), Roller Boogie (1979) and the like: fast-paced youth-oriented films with lots of rhythmic vibe. It came as a change of pace to score a dark thriller like Fade To Black (1980). Initially the music was to have been done by Chris Stein, guitarist for the rock band Blondie, but a contract had never been finalized for him to do so, so Safan was brought in late in the process to provide the film’s score instead. Fade To Black would launch Safan’s most active period in film scoring, the era in which he would be known for a number of large scale action, thriller, and science fiction films, including such films as the atonal and aleatoric Wolfen (1981; after recording, the score was excised from the production along with original director Michael Wadleigh and a new score was composed by James Horner), the jazzy and nourish comedic thriller, Tag: The Assassination Game (1982), the sweeping orchestral spectacle of The Last Starfighter (1984, one of Safan’s finest scores), the swashbuckling adventure of Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (1985; Safan’s score mixed large orchestra with electronics and Korean instruments), a powerful electronic score from Synclavier for Warning Sign (1985), the Western science fiction TV-movie Timestalkers (1987), the purely electronic score for A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988), the compelling and poignant music for Stand And Deliver (1988, also featuring Synclavier), and the sumptuous orchestral score for the 1991 TV Western docudrama about George Armstrong Custer, Son of the Morning Star (1991), and the effervescent, heartfelt, and occasionally zany scores for the popular comedies Major Payne (1995), Mr. Wrong (1996).
Safan has also composed extensively for television, notably the hit sitcom Cheers (1982–93), which won for him numerous ASCAP awards for his music. He also scored occasional episodes of the TV anthology shows, Amazing Stories (1985–86) and the revived The New Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1985) and The Twilight Zone (1985–86), Supercarrier (1988), the National Geographic Channel special Secrets of the Titanic (1986), and several fistfuls of made-for-TV movies in a number of genres, including Mission of the Shark: The Saga of the U.S.S. Indianapolis (1991), Terror on Track 9 (1992), and the Hallmark Hall of Fame film, A Season for Miracles (1999). All of these varied experiences precluded Safan’s being typecast in any one type of film. Safan’s style has often consisted of improvising as a form of composition that allowed him to quickly express himself to the visual story unfolding on the screen.
In recent years Safan has returned to composing for theater, though he remains active in scoring for film and television as his time allows. In 2005, he was asked if he would compose music to accompany some of the acts for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Safan accepted the challenge, immersing himself in the world of dare-devilry, superhuman stunts, and performing beasts, and he continued to compose music for the circus through its 2010 season.
Craig Safan won the ASCAP Film and Television Award for scoring a “Top TV Series” seven years in a row, 1988-1994, for Cheers. In 1991 he was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Music and Lyrics for the TV series Life Goes On (1989), shared with Mark Mueller (lyricist). In 2014 he was presented with the Basil Poledouris award for a Film Music Legend at International Film Festival of the Province of Córdoba in Spain.
|1978||Getting Married||Steven Hilliard Stern||Television movie|
|1979||Survival of Dana||Jack Starrett||Television movie|
|1982||Cheers||James Burrows||Television sitcom|
|1985||Mirrors||Harry Winer||Television movie|
|1985||Amazing Stories||Steven Spielberg||Television series|
|1985||The New Alfred Hitchcock Presents||Television series|
|1986||Samaritan: The Mitch Snyder Story||Richard T. Heffron||Television movie|
|The Twilight Zone||Television series|
|Courage||Jeremy Kagan||Television movie|
|1987||Timestalkers||Michael Schultz||Television movie|
|1988||Shootdown||Michael Pressman||Television movie|
|1988||Supercarrier||William A. Graham||Television series|
|1989||The Comeback||Jerrold Freeman||Television movie|
|1989||The Revenge of Al Capone||Michael Pressman||Television movie|
|1991||Son of the Morning Star||Mike Robe||Television movie|
|Long Road Home||John Korty||Television movie|
|Mission of the Shark: The Saga of the U.S.S. Indianapolis||Robert Iscove||Television movie|
|1992||Breaking the Silence||Robert Iscove||Television movie|
|Terror on Track 9||Robert Iscove||Television movie|
|1993||Judgment Day: The John List Story||Bobby Roth||Television movie|
|Miracle Child||Michael Pressman||Television movie|
|Prophet of Evil: The Ervil LeBaron Story||Jud Taylor||Television movie|
|Rio Shannon||Mimi Leder||Television movie|
|The Conviction of Kitty Dodds||Michael Tuchner||Television movie|
|1994||Where Are My Children?||George Kaczender||Television movie|
|Without Consent||Robert Iscove||Television movie|
|Roseanne and Tom: Behind the Scenes||Richard A. Colla||Television movie|
|1995||Degree of Guilt||Mike Robe||Television film|
|1996||A Different Kind of Christmas||Tom McLoughlin||Television movie|
|1998||When Husbands Cheat||Richard A. Colla||Television movie|
|1999||A Season for Miracles||Michael Pressman||Television movie|
|2000||The New Adventures of Spin and Marty: Suspect Behavior||Rusty Cundieff||Television movie|
|2001||The Familiar Stranger||Alan Metzger||Television movie|
|'Twas the Night||Nick Castle||Television movie|
|2002||Gotta Kick It Up!||Ramón Menéndez||Television movie|
- Maslin, Janet. "Screen: Saga of a Car In 'Corvette Summer': A Double Debut," New York Times (August 4, 1978). Accessed May 18, 2009.
- Keyboard Magazine, September 1988
- Craig Safan interview with Randall D. Larson, 4/25/12 (and following quotes)
- Randall D. Larson, Fade To Black soundtrack album notes, Perseverance Records