Roundtable: 6 Composers on Dealing With Delusional Directors and 'Fake Praise Rejection'

Five veteran composers, along with one relative newcomer who recently graduated from music editor to potential Oscar contender, discuss their biggest challenges, whether they look at box-office numbers and how they'd handle getting fired (one word: "drugs").

Is there enough time to experiment?

HENRY JACKMAN: One thing that I feel really lucky to have learned from Hans is the discipline of: Don't panic. In a panic, you could think, "Quick, let's just start writing music!" You're tempted to think it's a linear process, which ties into what Alan was saying happened on The Croods. If you can just stop for a second and find what the thematic material is, the speed in which the rest of it will happen will actually be exponential.

ZIMMER: I had a theme that was beloved by our director but I knew it was the wrong theme …

STEVEN PRICE: This is Batman Begins. He was getting a little nervous. [Editor's note: Price was Zimmer's music editor at the time.]

ZIMMER: Yeah, twitchy … but it was because I was hunting down this other idea that I knew I couldn't articulate. So poor Steve -- part of his job was to occasionally remind me [of deadlines].

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PRICE: My main memory of that film is that I had a director, [Christopher Nolan], who liked to start working at 8 in the morning, and then … Hans. (Laughter.) So I mainly remember the sleep deprivation, and this kind of middleman position because, obviously, we needed the score. I'd have to go and tell Hans that. I could kind of tell that all of these experiments were going on in the middle of the process.

So you had to talk to Hans at 8 in the morning?


PRICE: No, you can't talk to Hans at 8 in the morning.

JACKMAN: That's not his time.

How did you take all those experiences and apply them to Gravity?

PRICE: Well, I've come through the wringers, basically. I've orchestrated, I've programmed, I've edited. Music editing offers a great learning curve because you're there for the duration. You see the filmmakers in every moment. With Gravity, it was a very experimental process, because I had a director who freely admitted he didn't like film music. And with this canvas, [traditional film music] didn't work, because you're up in space and there is no sound in space. So, anything you would normally do for an action film, I had none of that.

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But you had to find a way to incorporate sound into the score, right?

PRICE: Yeah, basically. They made a very clever decision, early on, that the sound was based on vibrations. So, if someone was wearing a suit and they'd touch the table, they would hear that vibration through the suit. So that's basically low frequency rumbling. Everything else was music. They wanted an immersive sound track.

What do you consider your personal best score?

BECK: It is hard to separate the experience from the final product. You can have really fond memories of working on something and it may have very little to do with how good or bad the final product is. But for me, it's a score I did 12 or 13 years ago called Under the Tuscan Sun, which I don't think did very much box office, but it was a great experience. I have very fond memories of the filmmakers on that film and it's still one of my favorites.

SILVESTRI: Romancing the Stone was a favorite because it was the first. It was a rhythm score. I'm a drummer and a guitar player. There's orchestra in it but it was all driven by rhythm. Shortly after that was a small movie called Fandango where I kind of went through a significant crisis as a writer. I walked into this project being recommended by Bob Zemeckis who, after Romancing the Stone, thought I could do anything. And they played me the temp dub, which was very carefully put together, and it's temped with the Shostakovich Fifth Symphony.

JACKMAN: Oh, easy …

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SILVESTRI: So I had this horrible crisis. I mean, it was darkness. My wife basically did an intervention on me with the creative people in my life. And I had a kind of breakthrough as the result of the agony because I did [my first] orchestral score for Fandango. Thank God I had that experience because my next film was Back to the Future, which was only the second time I had ever written a piece of music for an orchestra.

ZIMMER: But hang on, do you guys have the same experience that I have, which is, when you play your cue back for the first time and it's just the most terrifying moment?

NEWMAN: Yeah, just gaze down …

ZIMMER: You hear the difference.

NEWMAN: It all sounds like tin, right? It just sounds awful.

PRICE: You think, "I've got it this time." And then you sit there and you know it's wrong as soon as it starts.

BECK: You stop it and say, "You know what …"

PRICE: "I'm going to go away now."

ZIMMER: I think you, Steven, were even in the room on Da Vinci Code. It stopped after five reels and I thought, "OK, I know. Don't say anything. I'll start over."

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