A new TV series on the SyFy channel takes place on Superman’s famous home planet. “Krypton” wants to show us a world we rarely get to see. And when you listen to the music, it will be something you rarely get to hear in film or television, much less in the superhero genre: a score composed by a woman.
Pinar Toprak was a little girl growing up in Turkey when she saw the original “Superman” movie starring Christopher Reeve.
“I watched ‘Superman,’ God knows, like a hundred times,” she says. “I can recite the Turkish-dubbed version. I was obsessed with it.”
“My father ... I used to call him my Renaissance man, because he did a lot of things. His day job was an accountant, but he was a violinist when he was younger. And my mother was a homemaker. Later on she was a big inspiration, because [in her early 40s], she started taking music lessons and oud lessons — which is a traditional Turkish instrument. So they're both very musical.”
“I started at conservatory when I was five years old. I hated playing the violin, but I loved music. I got my degree in classical guitar, but I didn't want to be the one playing the music. I wanted to be the one making the music. I didn't even know the concept of soundtracks when I was very little. Being an ’80s kid, I had a Walkman, and I would record the sound from the TV so that I could listen to the music in the background again. That was just captivating for me. I loved it. Then as soon as I knew that was actually a profession, there are people [who] actually do that, that became the goal. But a lot of people told me I couldn't do it.”
And Toprak listened to the naysayers. Instead of trying to become a film composer, she pursued a performance degree in piano, moving to Boston in 1998 to study at the Berklee College of Music.
“I was miserable,” she says, “because I just didn't want to perform in front of people. I just wanted to be in my own world and create, and that's where I was and I still am the happiest. I went to Tower Records, and this was like 11, 11:30 at night. They were about to close. This CD had just come out around that time — it was in the listening booths — and I only had about $20 that I needed to stretch for like three, four days, which was possible at the time, because I was literally eating dollar burritos and Cup Noodles. Lovely diet. But, nonetheless, that's the only money I had.”
The CD that she was ready to sacrifice her cup of noodles for changed her life. It was the soundtrack for the animated film, “The Prince of Egypt,” by Hans Zimmer. “I started listening to that soundtrack,” she says, “and something about it was just so big and epic and emotional, it was just like ... there. It had this presence about it.”
“They were closing, and I didn't want to stop listening to it. I got the CD with my last money and I listened to it all night on a loop. I did not sleep the entire night. I woke up in the morning and changed my major. That was the moment where I said I'd rather fail by my own choices than succeed by others'.”
Toprak got a degree in film scoring, then moved to L.A. and earned a master’s in composition at Cal State Northridge. She interned at Paramount Pictures, then got a job working for Zimmer. She’s mostly scored off-the-beaten-path projects during the past 15 years, but she recently wrote some additional music for “Justice League” with Danny Elfman. That DC Comics gig, in part, led to her getting “Krypton” — an origin story about Superman’s grandfather.
“A lot of things, unfortunately, are thought to be male-themed, right? So this is nothing different, and we can talk philosophically about why that is. The world doesn't change by thinking the same things, by the limitations. The world changes by thinking, OK, it's been like this for awhile, but there's no reason why it needs to keep being like this. And music, and art in general — it's genderless. Because emotions are genderless.”
“One of my most favorite quotes is: ‘If you want to test a man's character, give him power.’ I think one of the biggest responsibilities that a really successful composer, or anybody in a position of power, is to find the next generation of people that can change the world. People like Hans and Danny, they've been wonderful in that regard. They can recognize passion and hard work. You can be really hardworking but, truth be told, you have to have certain talent. And it's those powerful people's job, I think, to [recognize], This person stands out. This person was the first one to get in here, last one to leave. Then, at some point, you stick around long enough, then they [say]: Oh, let me listen to their stuff. Every opportunity I've had in my life happened a different way — but all of them, in some way, happened because I really wanted it, and I never believed that I couldn't have it.”
“I always say: Just be so good that people have to notice you. And passion and inspiration, they are infectious.”