Music For Pictures: An Interview

Art & Culture

The film score and soundtrack has undergone a renaissance in recent years. Audiences increasingly appreciate music in films. We are certainly now beyond the era of Dirty Dancing and that strange period in which producers believed having John Hughes on the soundtrack meant you were "halfway there"…

Then there’s the increasing amount of scores and soundtracks being made available as the part of the, ahem, vinyl revival (you know, the one you keep reading about), all in sparkly coloured vinyl and lavish sleeves and packaging, which has further helped elevate film music (and we’re not just talking about the price rises here, these things don’t come cheap). All of which makes the arrival of Score, subtitled a A Film Music Documentary, all the more timely. However, the film is no mere cash in thrown together, the names involved and interviewed within director Matt Schrader’s debut feature length documentary reads like a who’s who of modern film composing, running from Quincy Jones and Danny Elfman, through to Hans Zimmer and Trent Reznor. Archive footage even features classic names such as John Williams (the scenes with him and Spielberg are a treat), Jerry Goldsmith (ditto the pots and pans, kitchen sink recordings of the superlative Planet Of The Apes score), John Barry  and the maestro, Ennio Morricone. 

All in all, Schrader and crew filmed almost 70 interviews, although that wasn’t initially the plan. 

The initial idea was borne out of DVD extras, as Schrader explains in a transatlantic call.

“I’d had the thought for a while,” he says, “I’d watch a film and it would have a bonus special feature about film scores. But it would just be two minutes long, it wasn’t very much. Wouldn’t it be cool if it was longer? Wouldn’t it be cool to find out how they made the music for The Dark Knight, and when the big rig crashes, to see how they incorporated it into the music? I just thought it would be really cool to find out more about it.”

But surely, Schrader thought, someone must have done it before? Nope.

“I thought there must be one just round the corner then,” he laughs. “So we waited and it didn’t come.”

Schrader’s background is in TV and news reporting, he’s not an experienced documentary maker, so he assembled a team and then set about speaking to composers and those in the business. 

“Composers were really excited to talk about it, they bought into the project. It was great to see it take off.”

Lacking the real experience helped free up the filmmaking process and helped Score develop almost organically. There was no set idea of what the film was going to be, it just happened.

“We had no idea how a movie goes, we had to work out where to go next. We came up wth the idea of following three film composers. We ended up interviewing 67. That’s way more than three.” 

So when did he know that the project was really on the way then? For Schrader, it was when the current don of soundtracks, Hans Zimmer came on board. 

“We got a call from Zimmer’s studio, They said his schedule just opened up. He’d just done a score, I think it was for Chappie. They said we were around the next week, we could interview him. Before we knew it, we were sitting opposite Hans. He walked in wearing a velvet jacket, he’s such a celebrity in the film composer world. He was such a force when he walked in the room. My team and I huddled outside the studio, and I said ‘my god, I cant believe it’. It was the first interview we did where we thought this movie might be a thing. Hans was the tipping point for us.”

It allayed there initial fears of acquiring access to Hollywood and helped other composers come on board. 

“At first, some composers were saying ‘who are you guys, what is this for, is this a student project? But then we started to hear from people, saying they’d love to be interviewed. Word did get out.”

With the 67 composers on board, Schrader and his team ended up with some 400 hours of footage that needed to be whittled down into a feature film length.

“We were editing it for almost a year, we were still doing a few interviews at the same time, but we had to piece it all together.”

There’s so much material left over, and so much more to discuss that Schrader is even launching a podcast about film scores. The end result really does offer a vivid introduction to the world of the film soundtrack, a taster of not only the big orchestras used, but the experimentation that some composers have incorporated: using found sounds to create their moments, as well as the increasing move from rock and dance musicians into this sector.

“This world is exploding,” he says, with a nod to the likes of Stranger Things and the work of independent imprints such as Invada, Death Waltz and more.

“It’s all happening at the right time. A lot of film composers are like engineers, they fly around, capture sounds, it’s really super-experimental. There’s not any other branch of music like it. And no you’ve got that synthesiser sound coming back in wth Stranger Things and people like Trent Reznor."

What though, are his favourites?

“My answers would be different two and a half years ago. It’s kind of like picking a favourite child. I think Indiana Jones and Raiders are the best of all time. And I then Hans has done a couple of things, Gladiator, The Dark Knight in 2008; there’s some one-off ones, Clint Mansell’s score for Moon. But from way back, it’s Lawrence Of Arabia.”

Score: A Film Music Documentary is available on DVD and VOD now.

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