[Interview - Trevor Rabin]
I recently had the opportunity to attend the scoring session for Jack Frost to talk with composer Trevor Rabin, fresh off of Enemy of the State. Instead, I ended up interviewing Director Troy Miller, Actor Michael Keaton, Screenwriter Jeff Cesario, and (of course) Composer Trevor Rabin. Let me preface these interviews by saying that the score that Rabin wrote for Jack Frost is completely different from anything else he's scored in the past. The cues I heard were either light comedic cues, or heavily emotional moments , all of which were performed with a full orchestra. This is definitely a score to be on the lookout for!

Troy Miller has been working in television for fifteen years, currently including "Mr. Show with Bob and David". Jack Frost is his first feature film.

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 different?

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 him.

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.

Michael Keaton 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 Batman.

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 airplay.

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

Jeff Cesario has been an actor, appearing in "The Larry Sanders Show". Jack Frost is his screenwriting debut.

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!

Trevor Rabin's first feature film was Glimmer Man. He then followed that up with Con Air, and this summer's big hit, Armageddon. Recently he completed work on Enemy of the State.

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 though.

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 spot.

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 is.

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.