Collaboration makes 'Wild' soundtrack special

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Related story: Penn, Vedder get into 'Wild'

Temp love can sometimes blossom into true love. Composer Michael Brook's music first became a part of the haunting Paramount Vantage feature "Into the Wild" when it was temped in against some of the earliest footage put together by director Sean Penn and editor Jay Cassidy. The two were both aware of the innovative guitarist's compositional talents -- Brook had previously contributed music to Penn's 2001 feature "The Pledge," and he had a longtime association with Cassidy that had most recently included their work together on Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth." But the more the filmmaking team set Brook's music to the film's tale of a young man's search for purpose, the more his music seemed to capture precisely the emotional tone they were after.

"At some point, Jay told me more about the story of the film and the approach they were taking, and I got to see about 20 minutes of footage," explains Brook. "I came up with some more sketches on guitar that I thought would fit the feel of the film and turned those in. One of the things that was interesting about this film was that there were gaps in the production schedule so that (lead actor) Emile Hirsch could lose weight. That allowed for more time than usual to experiment with the music, and I think Sean and Jay kept finding more and more spots where my music would fit. So eventually Sean asked me to actually compose some pieces as score for the film."

As Brook became an official part of the creative team, he was aware that his work wouldn't be the only music in the film. From Penn's earliest interest in the project, he had in mind a soundtrack that would blend song and score, and those songs were ultimately written and recorded by Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder. Additional contributions to the score were also made by guitarist Kaki King. While the musical end results feel fully integrated within the finished film, there was little creative cross-pollination during production.

"I was part of a very collaborative process with Sean and Jay," explains Brooks. "But I didn't really hear much of Eddie's stuff until we were heading towards final mixes, so there wasn't much chance to incorporate any part of his work into the score. And though the original plan was for Kaki and I to collaborate, by the time she was brought in, I had a daunting to-do list, a lot of scoring puzzles to solve and a looming deadline -- so we didn't really work together, either."

Brook did cross paths with Vedder when the composer traveled to Seattle to record ace harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite in the studio Vedder was working in. "That was a great experience," says Brook, "partly because Charlie is such a gentleman and a great player who added something unique to the score, and also because it was great to hear Eddie at work. His voice really is an amazing instrument, and it was inspiring to hear some of what he'd come up with and to sense that our music would serve the film well together."

Brook did the bulk of his work at Skywalker Sound recording studios, writing for strings and other instrumentation in addition to his guitar work. He stuck with the pattern of some of his first contributions, writing pieces that loosely fit the emotional arc of scenes rather than scoring to picture (a notable exception being the music for a crucial, climactic scene of a grieving William Hurt, which was more traditionally scored to picture).

For Brook, who became a new father shortly after his work on "Wild" was completed, the film's heartbreaking story had an impact beyond its demands on his musical talents. "This was a tricky project in that as emotional as it was, we never wanted the music to push the emotions too hard," he observes. "But the story does affect you. I found myself going home at night with an extremely heightened sense of parental responsibility."

Composer Michael Brook, director Sean Penn, songwriter Eddie Vedder discuss the soundtrack to "Into the Wild" at the Hollywood Reporter Billboard Film & TV Music Conference on Nov. 1. More event information

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