Stewart Copeland, Trent Reznor Lead the Way For Rockers-Turned-Film Composers

Stewart Copeland
Stewart Copeland
 Stephanie Diani

There was a time when people like Danny Elfman (once of Oingo Boingo) were regarded with suspicion in film, coming from outside the traditional scoring community. These days, rock musical elements are so ingrained in film such prejudices are almost unthinkable.

Nowhere was this clearer than in Trent Reznor's score for "The Social Network." Early buzz for the film touted the Nine Inch Nails frontman's contribution heavily -- a set of five tracks from the score were previewed well in advance of the film's release -- and the full score hit No. 1 on's MP3 downloads when the movie was released.

Director David Fincher had planned earlier collaborations with Reznor before approaching him with the idea of scoring the Facebook movie -- an ironic gig for Reznor, who famously bailed from Twitter and has railed against online music downloads. Fincher temped his film with instrumental tracks from the Nine Inch Nails album "Ghosts" before showing footage to Reznor, who eventually agreed to score the film with collaborator Atticus Ross of How to Destroy Angels. Reznor and Ross provided Fincher with tracks that the director and his editor applied to specific scenes so that the two musicians could refine them to complete the final score.

"The Social Network" score has become one of the most talked about -- and praised -- aspects of the movie, with many fans, including actor-musician Justin Timberlake, insisting that Reznor deserves Oscar recognition for the work.

Reznor's band mate, Charlie Clouser -- an accomplished film composer in his own right -- says Nine Inch Nails' distinctive industrial sound led to his first scoring work. (Clouser will take part in a panel, "From Rock Star To Composer: Creating a Career in Film/TV Music," at Friday's Billboard/BMI conference.)

"The temp score for the first 'Saw' movie had a lot of Nine Inch Nails songs, and specifically my remixes of Nine Inch Nails songs," he says. "At one point in the final reel of the temp score, there was a Ministry song playing out of the left speaker and a Nine Inch Nails song playing out of the right speaker at two different tempos. The director specifically wanted to create a feeling of mayhem. It was very labor-intensive electronics and what we call cyber-crush, which is drum machines through guitar amps."

Clouser's own musical experience has been across-the-board. He went from synthesizer programming to music production, eventually programming and arranging the soundtrack album to "Natural Born Killers" with Reznor, who only later asked Clouser to step in as keyboard player when the band's original player dropped out.

"The next thing you know, I'm touring with the band," he recalls. "When I started playing with Nine Inch Nails, my first time on stage as a keyboard player was New Year's Eve 1994 in front of 22,500 people at the Palace of Auburn Hills outside Detroit. So I definitely had a baptism of fire."

Most rockers-turned-composers note music in all forms was part of their lives even before their rock band experiences.

"Music came and got me," says former Police founder and drummer Stewart Copeland ("She's All That," "Wall Street"). "If I wasn't playing music I was listening to it and thinking about it and dreaming about it."

Entering film happened almost accidentally. "I just got a phone call from Francis Ford Coppola about 'Rumblefish.' I never had any idea that I could do film scoring, but as soon as Francis turned on that light, it just seemed so obvious. I went from recording the last Police album, which was hell, to the complete artistic freedom and the warm embrace of Uncle Francis. Out of the frying pan and into heaven."

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