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").

How often are you asked to fix problems with the music?

SILVESTRI: You'll write a cue based on what you're seeing. But there is something in your feedback from the director and it doesn't [feel right]. You can't quite put your finger on it. And you'll find out at some point that the dog just didn't run fast enough on the day they shot the scene. The director has had a problem with that piece of film from day one. And so you're kind of getting this subliminal wish: "Can't you make this damn dog go any faster?"

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BECK: They're so subjectively involved in their film it borders on delusion. I can recall some instances where a director asks, "Can we hit the change in emotion on his face in this moment?" So you say, "Yeah, let's roll back and see where that is." And you find exactly [nothing].

JACKMAN: I think one of the secret weapons in scoring is the picture editor, because the director's still in a semidelusional state about the "incredible change of emotion" that frame 22 has. Whereas the picture editor is actually making the film from the footage that's been shot.

Let's say you're in a situation where things aren't going so well and you feel like you might get fired. How do you handle that?


ZIMMER: Yeah, drugs. (Laughter.)

BECK: For me, day by day, cue by cue. I mean, that's all you can do.

NEWMAN: You have to let people know you're flexible. If you come in like the guy who knows what he's doing, and this is what it is, that's tough.

ZIMMER: I don't want to be that guy.

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NEWMAN: I get that. And that's why you say, "OK, I'm going to get out there and, if I fail, let's understand that together and make better choices." But you have to be fluid and you have to trust that the directors are not telling you false things about how it's OK to fail.

JACKMAN: But if things are collegiate enough, then there is a safe enough environment to go, "I don't think this is the right direction." And because it's not an "us and them" type situation, if it feels like a joint venture, then some of those failures are OK and don't mean that you should just not bother showing up to write anything new.

ZIMMER: I wrote this little tune for Terry Malick for The Thin Red Line. I played it to him and he says, "Oh, Hans -- not memorable." Off I go writing away. Two months go by. Phone rings at 11 at night, it's Terry and he's humming something. He says, "What is this?" And I say, "That's the tune you said nobody could remember!" "Oh, it's rather good," he says. (Laughter.)

NEWMAN: That's kind of the politics of how you present ideas, right? We're all shocked by new ideas and we're less shocked when we hear them again. And less shocked when we hear them a third time. Being casual and informal in your presentations makes them less inclined to dig in their heels in the end. A lot of it is just people skills.

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Do you look at box-office numbers?

NEWMAN: Only while squinting.

ZIMMER: No, people tell you when you're doing really badly.

JACKMAN: Fortunately we don't encounter quite the same terror as the producer.

ZIMMER: No, but everything we talked about -- how we get to be collegial -- it goes the other way, too. Because if the movie is out, and it's not doing well, your friend, the director, is going to phone you and tell you.

SILVESTRI: The director has now become a friend -- it's kind of like waiting to hear what his X-ray results are.

JACKMAN: You feel bad if it's something that doesn't pan out too well at the box office. You feel like the guy did a pretty good job, you know? You're kind of part of the team.


BECK: One way to solve the problem is to just do a lot of bombs. And when anything does well, it's like an amazing surprise.

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