Brian Tyler, the $7BN Composer, on 'Furious 7,' Paul Walker: "Real Life and Film Crossed Over"

Brian Tyler Furious 7 - H 2015
Joanne Leung

Brian Tyler Furious 7 - H 2015

'Furious 7' and 'Iron Man 3' composer reveals the emotions behind the music finale.

Thanks to Furious 7's $500 million and climbing worldwide gross, composer Brian Tyler has now scored $7 billion worth of films (including music on five Fast and Furious films, Thor: The Dark World, and Iron Man 3), plus almost $3 billion in game scores. Tyler tells THR how he orchestrates emotions -- including Furious 7's tribute to Paul Walker, who died in a 2013 car wreck during filming.

When you started scoring Fast and Furious films, did you foresee how emotional the music would become?

As fun and cool as the first one was, it evolved into something else. Nobody could have predicted the emotional content that would arise in film after film over 15 years — they became more like family. And real life and the films kind of crossed over when Paul passed away. All of us were gutted.

So you scored that emotional tribute to Walker in Furious 7. It's the most heart-grabbing finale since the Robert Durst documentary.

Right, except everyone goes in knowing this is the last time we're gonna see Paul. The film doesn't shy away from being a great ride. His character is doing what he loves. The movie charges forward with all those wild, whizbang, death-defying crazy angles, heists, chases, computer hackers, all these storylines about amnesia and responsibility and family and love — you almost forget, you're having such a great time.

Then comes Walker's character Brian's exit. It's unexpected, yet it actually fits right into the seven-movie story.

I always thought he was leaning towards that exit. I could see his character saying, 'Guys, I gotta hang up the stirrups, because this is dangerous.' Cars flying out of buildings, and Mia [Jordana Brewster] and his son are really on his mind. It makes sense storywise, but it crossed into real life that way. 

What was your connection with Walker?

I grew up with him professionally — I started my film career on the first [Furious] film. On the fourth one, Justin Lin wanted to do film music leitmotivs for each central character a la Star Wars. That final scene on the beach with Brian and Mia — I wrote that many movies ago. But I knew I was conducting it for the last time, and a lot of the orchestra had played it the first time. It was a responsibility beyond what a composer normally would feel.

Did that affect the performance?

Definitely. That scene is a tribute to Paul. 

The montage reminded me of Six Feet Under's finale, Sia's "Breathe Me," only real.

Yeah. You see in that scene that it's real, watching Paul basically grow up before our eyes. Whoa, he's a kid, you know? The audience feels that.

How did you musically evoke Walker's character?

What worked best was music that's just ... humble. He doesn't have to try, he just is. Paul was a straight shooter, just a regular guy — he lived outside LA, loved nature, sports. A nice guy that happened to be interested in fast cars in real life. His music was never overly complicated. It didn't have this crazy, produced machismo, because he was just so effortless. More like folk tune-style writing. Even when I use the orchestra, you usually hear this Fender guitar playing kind of Clapton style, with a bit of a dreamier vibe. But his character Brian has a sensitive soft spot for Mia, so I would keep it to a Sigur Ros feel, simple melodies, simple chords that evoked a natural confidence — which Paul really had.

Whereas for Dwayne Johnson's theme, it sounds more like the Hulk.

Yeah, exactly! It's a behemoth theme — get out of my way! And Jason Statham's character's got a kind of mischief, like a Sergio Leone spaghetti Western. A Good, Bad and the Ugly feel.

How do you keep your music from getting crushed by explosions?

Instead of trying to fight with the explosion, I use them as punctuation. It's like the opening of Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much, where the camera zooms in on the guy with the cymbal, just as the gun goes off. I leave a hole for where the explosion is.

How do you musically convey the idea of speed? By speeding up the tempo?

The chase scenes are up to 15 minutes long, and they start very fast. So you need a smart way to come in on a tempo that feels like you're really moving, but leaves enough headroom that you can edge it upwards. I use psycho-acoustic trickery, toying with polyrhythms, odd meters that sound faster but are actually slower. Polyrhythms give the illusion of always going up in tempo. You can reset and start your upward climb.

The cuts from scene to scene are useful musically, too, right?

Yes. I've always found that the final Death Star sequence of Star Wars is a master class in how to change up your modulation and keys and tempos and melodies. You combine all that and make it feel like a continuous surge.

Face it, we all live in John Williams' world.

We stand on the shoulders of giants. In Furious 7, you cut from this crazy fight to Ludacris hacking into the system, to the guys breaking into a car in the vault, and you're like, 'Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!' It's a complex thing, but you can treat it like a little dance.

When the bald guys fight, I thought I heard a quote from Beethoven's Ninth — "Tochter aus Elysium." Is that in there?

You're certainly right, there's a requiem quality to it, very classical phrasing. A very stern old school fight.

How is it different to do Marvel scores than Fast and Furious scores?

Marvel movies are larger than life, like fantasy. That changes the tonality. I love scoring Marvel films because the music can be very classic, and leans more toward pure orchestra to get that superhero vibe. But sometimes fans can have certain expectations. "Play 'Free Bird!'" What I love about film composing is you're being dictated to by what's onscreen. For Now You See Me, I went for a bit of a wink, a magical, retro vibe that hearkens back to Henry Mancini's Charade

Do you and the Furious 7 crew have any plans to honor Paul Walker?

We're all going to have dinner, get together, and have a toast to Paul.