Etheridge, Stone score on F&TVM panels

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The subtleties of dealing musically with the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and the threat of global warming were addressed by director Oliver Stone and musician Melissa Etheridge, respectively, during panel discussions Tuesday at The Hollywood Reporter/Billboard Film & TV Music Conference.

Discussing his feature "World Trade Center" on a panel at the Beverly Hilton with his composer, Craig Armstrong, and music supervisor, Budd Carr, Stone said that Armstrong was not his first choice to score the picture. "John Williams turned us down," the Oscar-winning writer-director said. "I listened to dozens and dozens of composers."

However, Armstrong -- best known for his work with Baz Luhrmann on "Romeo + Juliet" and "Moulin Rouge!" -- ultimately impressed Stone with his delicate approach. "It was very, very subtle music," Stone recalled. "The very first piano theme was right on."

Surprisingly, though shooting was well under way when the Scottish composer joined the project, Armstrong wrote his key theme on the basis of the script.

"It's very helpful to write away from picture, to get the emotional truth," Armstrong said.

The sensitive nature of the subject matter in "WTC" -- the struggle to rescue two New York policemen trapped in the rubble of the towers, and the impact of the search on their families -- was addressed by the filmmakers.

"It's a small movie about four characters and their relationships, and you have to be careful," Carr noted. Stone added: "Overproduction was the issue. ... The tendency is to add on, to make it better."

While some of the film's most powerful scenes utilize spare scoring, the filmmakers explored several approaches. "We'd record it for full orchestra," Armstrong said, "then for strings and flutes ... so we'd have control over the size of the music."

Stone recalled: "The first mix was a complete disaster. There were so many effects ... I was white."

The director admitted that he and Armstrong "fought hard" over a guitar-based theme for a sequence in which one of the trapped officers experiences a vision of Jesus Christ. But, Stone added, the theme "was crucially important, and it had to be delicate."

The sometimes prickly director praised his composer, saying "Craig was the best. You couldn't insult him. He has skin of steel." Said Armstrong, "He gave me a lot of freedom to experiment."

Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Etheridge detailed how she became involved with Davis Guggenheim's documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," about the environmental crisis, at the behest of former Vice President Al Gore, whose observations about global warming are the core of the film.

"This was a very special opportunity for me," Etheridge said. "I had just been through my own special awakening, after being diagnosed with breast cancer. After that, when my perspective and my life had changed, I realized that I am not on an island."

She said she grappled with the best way to approach the film's themes, and "kinda drove myself crazy." She ultimately penned the song "I Need to Wake Up" after her partner told her to write about what she was feeling.

Etheridge asked herself, "What do I want to hear? I want to hear somebody else who feels the way I feel, which is, 'My God, have I been sleeping?' "

The musician said the experience of working on the film wrought eco-friendly changes in her professional life. "All my buses and all my trucks ran on bio-diesel (fuel) for the whole tour," she said.
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