by Dan Goldwasser
What prompted you to choose Trevor Rabin to score Jack Frost?
The movie is based on the life of a
blues-guitary player, and is a music-driven movie that is heavily
influenced by Rock and Roll. Trevor is on par with Eric Clapton, who
has done live music as well as composed for films. He fits in
perfectly, and he also has a great sense of humor , there's a lot of
comedy in this movie.
The score sounds very different from what
he's done in the past , did you expect him to write something
I wanted him to do this film because it's
something he's never done before. There are a lot of composers who
have done heart-warming comedies, and they all sound alike. Because
Trevor has done so many things, I knew this would sound different for
You weren't the first director attached to
Jack Frost , how did you change it from your predecessors?
The project had two previous directors attached,
with Sam Raimi being the last one before I came on board. When I got
the script I brought in my own writers and made it my own. The
general story of a snowman coming alive comes from one of the
producers, Matt Baer, who got the rights to "Frosty the Snowman".
When I got the script a year ago, I wanted to make it less of a dark
tale, and more of a heartwarming Christmas comedy. It's unusual
because it's a music-driven movie. It's a real family film.
When choosing songs for the film, did you consciously pick them to help drive the story?
We do have a soundtrack, but I did pick the
songs because they drive the story. There's one song in the closing
credits that doesn't fit the tone of the movie, but everything else
was hand picked with a purpose.
has played a variety of characters through his extensive career.
Always picking different projects that show his range as an actor,
Keaton is probably best well known for the films in which he
collaborated with Tim Burton, including Beetlejuice and
In Jack Frost you play a blues-guitar player...
I'm the leader of a blues/rock band , a bit of a
road band. It gets a lot of respect, but never enough to get a lot of
Did you play the guitar yourself?
My single goal was to approach it like I
approach everything, which was to have a very specific, distinct
character. Goal One was to have the audience look at the film and not
see an actor playing a musician, but just a guy that you say, "yeah,
he's a musician," without shining a light on it. If you say, "Wow,
he's really good , he can sing," then I didn't do my job , the goal
is to look like a guy. So to do that we put a band together. I hung
out with the band, and we rented a nice funky rehearsal parlor, we
always showed up at night and went out together, I carried my
equipment around, and I just wanted to know what it felt like to be a
musician. When I had to play a hockey player, I wanted to know how to
play hockey so that it wasn't me, Michael Keaton, playing a guy who
plays hockey, but when you look at the screen you see a guy who can
actually play hockey. So that's step one.
Step Two was then to actually be able to do it.
When I played a hockey player, I got so into it that I joined a
league and played for three or four years with these guys. I've
always been a huge music fan , all kinds of music. So with the band
it was really easy for me, and so Step Two was to see if I could get
pretty good at it and play as much as I could. In truth, 99% of what
I do is playing - simple rhythm chords that I learned, or helped to
add to the songs that we play , and a few notes of a harmonica at the
end of one song. We had a harmonica player play 99% of all my stuff ,
and we had him play guitar to sweeten it.
I wrote two tunes and helped with another, and
then I actually sang , it's my voice , and I got a couple songs on
the soundtrack, and that's always fun. But that's an added thing ,
it's not the reason I wanted to do the movie.
Recently we were looping dialogue and trying to
get some comedy out of some scenes - and it was tedious. Unlike
Beetlejuice where I was free to really go crazy and go off,
you're restricted here because your bound literally by three balls
from the snowman. They had animatronics and CGI, but I had the voice
, and I was limited by what it could do. That got tedious, so
[screenwriter] Jeff Cesario and I would think about "where's
the comedy in this"? So he and Troy and I were sitting around trying
to fix a scene with words, and we had real limitations, technically
and in the tone of the movie. So we're staring at the scene trying to
figure out what to do with it, and I said "You know what? Forget
this. Don't have anything up until this point - let's think of a line
that sells the joke and fill the rest with music." What Danny Elfman
did in Beetlejuice was accentuate certain things and create
sounds musically that are almost like sound effects that accented the
scene and the joke that made the joke work. Otherwise, in Limbo, the
jokes wouldn't work. That was key to the humor in that movie. I said,
"That's what we've got to do in this scene". Troy and Jeff got it
immediately, and so I called up Trevor and said, "I just thought of
something. We can't do Elfman because Danny Elfman is Danny Elfman.
But...." And Trevor immediately got it , he knew exactly what I meant
when I said Beetlejuice. People will never appreciate what
sound and music does to a movie , and Trevor has totally blown me
away. He played me two-and-a-half minutes over the phone of a synth
version, and I didn't know what to expect , he's amazingly talented.
He played me the dramatic and emotional stuff, and it just totally
blew me away
Tell me about your approach to the film...
There are some undertones of reality in the
film. We took it out of a "fairy-tale" end, and brought it into a
reality base , if that's possible when you have a six-foot snowman in
the movie. It's the one jump we ask you to make: buy the snowman.
Did you write the screenplay with music in mind?
Well, I felt the guy should be a legitimate
musician. I used to be a musician, and so I have some inkling of what
that life is, and I wanted him to ring true. I didn't want him to be
a screenwriter's idea of what a musician is , I wanted him to hang
out with his buddies and have some real moments. Even though a lot of
that doesn't appear on the screen, you can feel it in Michael's'
performance. He really sunk in and became one of those guys that have
good bands, but they haven't broken nationally , and they have a
regional following. There's always that question in the center of
your chest: can I live this life with this family, and somehow
achieve the dream of making it on the national level? We hooked into
that as the driving force in Michael's character.
So you had a sense of the music while writing?
I had a sense of who the guy was, and what type
of music he liked and listened to. Based on that Trevor was able to
go and do something with it. In terms of the score, the Michael,
Troy, and I we were fortunately able to go back and tweak some jokes.
I realized that this was a great opportunity for Trevor to add
another layer to the jokes. There are moments in the score that are
cartoon-like in the best sense of the word. We told him: don't be
afraid, go nutty, have fun! It would be easier to pull it back, and
then regret it later. Trevor is great , a real blast!
Let's talk about Jack Frost. Your approach on this is very different from previous works...
Well, one of the main reasons to do this film
was to break away from what I had been doing in the past. One of the
reasons I got into this was to hopefully un-typify what I had seen as
typical. After Armageddon, Enemy of the State, and
Con Air, this was such a nice break -it encompasses a couple
of different areas. It's got the orchestral comedic and dramatic
moments, but it also has another dimension to it, which is that
Keaton plays a rock singer, and I had to take him through the paces
of being a rock singer. I'm in the band in the film, and wrote songs
for the film , it was a nice challenge to diversify.
You just completed work on Enemy of the State. What are your thoughts on the project?
I thoroughly enjoyed working on Enemy of the
State. Tony Scott is an important director, and has an amazing
ability to express himself, and he doesn't do it in musical terms ,
he does it in emotional terms. I got along really well with him.
How long did you have to score the film?
It felt like five minutes. Because I was
involved with Jack Frost, I couldn't do 73 minutes of music,
and I had to find someone else to work with. On Armageddon I
had worked with Harry Gregson-Williams, Don Harper, and Jon Van
Tongren, and they did bits and pieces of it. My duty as the principle
guy was to do the score, and delegate things out that needed to be
written. On Enemy I needed to protect myself I was already
committed to the project. So I decided with everyone that the best
thing to do would be to do the score, but have someone else on board
who could take the responsibility of being a principle composer, and
Harry's name came out, and he turned out to be just great. It was a
very creative experience, but it was also one where my responsibility
from Jerry's point of view was really to come up with the style and
themes of the movie. I would do cues, and whatever I could not do
would be done by the other composer.
Was that how Armageddon was done?
Well, Armageddon was something where they looked to me to get it done, and Enemy was a score where I wrote a majority of the themes, and was in a co-partnership with Harry. I think the reason Jerry books me is because of the way I "ride" movies in a thematic sense.
Armageddon seems to be the "big" film that really brought you to the spotlight as a film composer...
It's hard when you're living in your own work ,
just working , and there's no time to look at what's happening and
see what other people think. I'll never forget with Yes when "Owner
of a Lonely Heart" went to #1 on the charts, I only appreciated it
about 3 years later. So I'll probably appreciate Armageddon
and Jack Frost later on. I'd like to do more of these projects
You were with the rock band Yes. What prompted your move to from Rock and Roll to Film Scoring?
Well, unbeknownst to everybody, I did a movie
when I was 19. I had just finished an orchestral arrangement course
with a professor in South Africa, and I had been doing string
arrangements in other things. It was a terrible film, called Death
of a Snowman, with an actor called Nigel Davenport. It was very
different from what we have today, where we have comprehensive
mockups that you present to directors, and then you come and re-score
it with an orchestra, because it's in an electronic form. In those
days, they didn't have that , so it was a matter of sitting down with
a piano and a score pad, and writing it by hand.
Which scoring approach do you prefer?
I prefer the electronic score, if I didn't have
to play it for anybody! <laughs> It's an important thing to
have a relationship with the director, and have it be a positive one.
I've developed a really good relationship and understanding with
Jerry Bruckheimer. All of the directors I've worked with I've gotten
along with very well.
So the transition from Rock and Roll to Film Music came gradually....
The interest has always been there because of
the orchestriality (sic). Yes was a band where we could explore some
of those ideas, but I knew that if I wanted to get into orchestral
music and make a living at it, movies seemed to be a perfect
Did you make the transition through Media Ventures?
No! That's one of the weirdest things. They have
had zero to do with my career. The only thing that Media Ventures had
to do with my career is that on Armageddon I needed to be near
Jerry's office. Knowing Hans Zimmer for a while and being friends, I
rented a room from him , just the space! In fact, on Enemy of the
State there was a possibility of doing it again, but I decided I
needed to be near Burbank for Jack Frost, so I moved my studio
to the building on Olympic and Bundy where Tony Scott's office
Are there any other misconceptions you want to clarify?
Well, the other one would be about Con Air. Mark Mancina and I did indeed collaborate on it, but unfortunately due to contractual obligations, about fifteen minutes into the score Mark had to leave and do Speed 2. So I really ended up doing a large majority of the score without him. It was absolutely not his fault, since Con Air kept dragging on and on, and he had already committed to Speed 2. Because I had to finish Con Air, I couldn't do the Seagal film.
You used music to help sell some of the jokes in Jack Frost...
Yes, but I did Jack Frost first because I
needed to sell the emotions, and get the themes to the point where
they could be used in many different frames. I have about three or
four themes that are more important than the comedy.
This is a score where you wrote it all yourself. Who did your orchestrations?
I worked with Don Harper, who orchestrates
Mancina's stuff, and he's also conducting it. Don is an incredible
scorer. We're really lucky this week because we have the best
orchestra. I've had an orchestra where you have 3 people who are good
and the rest aren't that great, but this one is amazing.
Do you perform in the band the film?
Yes I do, and there are guitar parts in the
score as well, but they aren't coming up now. I will play the guitar
and mix it in later. Unless the guitar works as a color, then I don't
use it , so I haven't been playing guitar too much lately. I'll
always do the guitar parts since it's my main instrument.
What would be your dream project?
I'm doing them right now! I think Troy Miller is
going to be a huge director. Working with Tony Scott and Michael Bay
has been amazing, and they are all very different directors.
What do you have coming up after Jack Frost?
I will be doing a film called Whispers,
for Disney. It's about elephants , and doesn't have any people in it.
It will be a live action film - I don't know how much I can say about
it, since I still don't know too much about it.
Trevor's score to Armageddon will be available from Columbia Records on November 10th. There will be a CD release to Enemy of the State from Hollywood Records on November 24th. Jack Frost opens in theaters on December 18th , there is currently no word on when the soundtrack will be released, but expect it to be around the same time as the film's opening.