Interview

[Interview - Harry Gregson-Williams]

Since SoundtrackNet last talked with Harry Gregson-Williams, he's been quite busy working on such projects as Phone Booth, Veronica Guerin, a BMW film, Man on Fire and the top-grossing film, Shrek 2. We had an opportunity to catch up with Harry at his new studio in Venice, where he's working on Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.


When we last spoke, you had just finished working on Spy Game. Now you've scored Man on Fire once again with Tony Scott. How was that?

It was as my experience with Tony has always been. He's a true artist, I think He gets a lot of criticism quite often, because he really likes to go for it. But it's also very angst-ridden working with Tony, since he's committed to basically every frame of his films. And the frames that he chooses to use in his films change daily - he's always shuffling the pack.[Play "Bullet Tells The Truth" MP3] I worked with him and his editor Chris Wagner on Spy Game, so we have a certain language we use. It's a hell of a voyage! With Spy Game and even more so with Man on Fire, they've been the two most full experiences I've had since I started having a go at this thing.

What do you mean by "full experience"?

Well, six months of almost daily visits from Tony. I started on Man on Fire before they finished shooting, and the post-production period got longer and longer as it usually does with his movies. Then of course, there was a race to finish - perhaps a bit more with this one than with Spy Game. He loves to collaborate and be a part of the music, which is great. He's incredibly concerned about every nuance of the soundtrack to his films. With that, it's a whole different experience working with him, really. You have to work not in a bold stroke, but second-by-second really. [Play "Main Titles #1" MP3] Having said that, he didn't shackle me with my hands behind my back. He's constantly got ideas of how things can be changed and improved, how the music can support the picture. One of the things that changed since Spy Game was that, as per Tony's wishes, I didn't have to hit many of the cuts in the film. He likes me to hit moments very hard, and I wasn't very subtle when I did it in Spy Game. He uses sound effects in a very creative way, and it's necessary for me to have a really good idea of what the sound effects will be so that the sound effects and music work together. It's the same thing in most movies, but more so with Tony.

Actually, in-between Spy Game and Man on Fire, we did a BMW film together: Beat the Devil. And on that, we got a process down which we carried on to Man on Fire where I actually gave him a lot of my sounds, as it were a library of specially created musical sound effects that I like to use. [Play "Drag The Strip" MP3] He would use these whilst editing the film, and he ended up utilising them extensively. It meant that I didn't have to recreate them when I came to score those particular moments- they were already part of my sonic tapestry of the film. It was possible to get into a bit of a tangle: if one is going to hit a cut like a ton of bricks, who is going to do that? Is it going to be sound effects people, or should it be me? It's a different ball game from a Michael Bay movie like Bad Boys where there is constant gunfire. It's more abstract than that. So in a sense, we had a bit of rehearsal with the BMW film, and we sorted it out by Man on Fire.[Play "Main Titles #2" MP3] I would take an output from the Avid of the sound on several tracks that I could have running as I worked with my score, and have a good sense of what was going on.

All in all, it's always easier to look back on a Tony Scott experience and smile than it is to actually be in it. Because it's pretty terrifying! You have about 80-90 minutes of music, which by itself is quite daunting, and then being managed moment by moment... I don't normally do commercials, but Tony makes me do his! And one minute of music will take 2-3 weeks. So you can imagine how long it will take for 90-minutes! But between Spy Game, Man on Fire, and those smaller projects, we got it all worked out.

You also worked on the animated film Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas. How long were you on that project?

I was on it for about 18 months. But only because there were a couple of moments in the film where they wanted the music first, so they could animate to the music. In particular, the Sirens scene. [Play "Sirens" MP3] It was kind of funky having to write a 4-5 minute long action cue without having written the main theme yet! I had the story boards, so I wasn't doing it to animated film, and I think it was more of an isolated moment. There was enough chaos going on for it not to stand up and say "this is Sinbad's theme", so it was a stand-alone moment, which it had to be. They liked what I did, yet above all sequences in the film, that got molested in the cutting room. So I constantly had to play catch up! They animated to my music, and then they cut the animation a lot - the sequence got about a minute and a half shorter!

Sinbad was big and orchestral. Do you find a particular type of score to be more gratifying?

Not really - but around about that time, leading up to Sinbad, I hadn't done many projects that were particularly orchestral, so it was fun to get in front of the orchestra and not worry about electronics in the slightest bit. From the outset, Jeffrey Katzenberg had said that he wanted a very swashbuckling orchestral fun score, and that's what they got! It brought with it a few anxieties, like "isn't this going to sound like it was recorded 40 years ago - and if it does, does it matter?"[Play "Heroics" MP3] It was a hell of a task - all of these animations are. But my children certainly enjoyed it, especially my son. It's sad that it bombed at the box office, but I don't think anyone was particularly surprised about that. We knew that as we were getting closer to finishing the film. It was obviously far too late to change anything, and I'd be very surprised if Dreamworks ever put out another 2D animation.

You scored Phone Booth and Veronica Guerin for Joel Schumaker. How did you get involved with those?

When I was over in Dublin on the set of Veronica Guerin, Schumaker asked me if I could look at a little experimental movie they'd already completed and scored and everything. He wanted to know if I felt that there was something that could be improved on with the music. I really enjoyed working on that one - so we've worked on two films now. Unfortunately his next film already has the music taken care of, since it's Phantom of the Opera.

You wrote a few songs for Veronica Guerin as well. Did you collaborate with Sinead O'Connor?

There wasn't much collaboration. I wrote the tune, and had an Irish friend of mine, Patrick Cassidy, see if he could find some suitable Gaelic words, keeping in mind that this was for a funeral procession.[Play "Never Show Your Fear" MP3] So the song was complete, but it was Joel and Jerry Bruckeimer's wish to find a voice for it, and Sinead seemed to fit it perfectly, because of the agony she has in her voice with the incredible beauty.[Play "Driving" MP3] I think the subject matter, with Veronica Guerin and Sinead being Irish - she didn't think twice about it. So we sent her the tracks, and that was it.[Play "Funeral Song " MP3] It appeared on the film and on the soundtrack, but being a Jerry film, there was another step, which was to hit the radio with a pop version of the song. I wasn't involved with that - Trevor Horn took the song, wrote some English words, and put some drumbeats behind it. It's very much a different production, but it's still the tune I wrote for the film.

Your score to Phone Booth was pretty experimental...

I hadn't done a purely electronic score before, and that's why it appealed to me. look at. It was a lot of fun to leave the orchestra behind. I never saw it as a major musical work, but it does support the picture. I created a library of sounds, of the street around the phone booth.[Play "First Call" MP3] The idea was for the score to be part of the general atmosphere of New York - it was fairly liberating actually! I'm constantly looking for these kinds of movies to score - things that are not ostentatious. With a movie like Sinbad, you can't hide anywhere. First off, there's no real production - everything needs to be created by someone.[Play "The Rifle" MP3] You know from the outset that it's going to be all singing and dancing - musically, at least. Something like Phone Booth, you need to find a way to be part of a bigger sound stage.

Shrek 2 was a solo effort, without John Powell. Did you find it easier to score because it was a sequel?

Obviously what I was able to take from the first movie were two of the main themes. The "Fairy Tale theme", and the more robust "Shrek theme". But the movie is so different, and it's made up of so many different set-pieces, so that there was no piece of score I could just lift from the first film and place in this one - and I didn't want to, either. For instance, the music that starts both films is the "Fairy Tale theme", and 3/4 of the way into Shrek 2, there's a big band playing it as Joan Rivers introduces the ball - so it's a big Oscars version of it.[Play "The Ball" MP3] These opportunities to expound upon the theme occur throughout the movie. For instance, in the first movie, we had Fiona sing it with the bird, and blew it up. The challenges were just different this time.

In the climax of the film, you did an arrangement of "Holding Out For A Hero". Did you work on that before you scored the film?

Not at all. Actually they had Jennifer Saunders sing the vocals, but used the backing tracks from the original song - which might have sounded good 20 years ago, but it sounded really cheesy and was totally unusable, really! The idea was to soup up the production behind the song, with drums and bass. And then to try to score the film at that same point - it was a real challenge.[Play "Hero" MP3]

Did you find that mixing your theme into the song was tricky?

Yeah, but the Shrek theme was created originally by John Powell and I with an eye towards being malleable. It doesn't have to be the exact notes, but you know it's the theme. For example, in the first film, we did a whole David Arnold / James Bond techno version of the theme as the dragon chases Shrek. So it worked really well with this song, and it was pretty straightforward to integrate the orchestra for that particular moment.

Will we see a score album?

As with pretty much all things Dreamworks, if there's a serious song soundtrack as there is with Shrek 2, they don't like to release the score at the same time - it confuses people.[Play "Not Meant To Be" MP3] I have no idea, but I would imagine the score would be released around the time of the DVD. I've already put together a record together, whether anybody wants it or not.

You're now working on a few projects, including the sequel Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. How did you get involved with that project?

I didn't score the original, but I really enjoyed it. About six months ago, just as I was sliding into the abyss that was Man on Fire and Shrek 2, I wondered to myself what I could do as a breath of fresh air during the summer. I had read that a sequel was being made, and I had noted the director. I knew that the director had worked with Rachel Portman and I imagined there was no particular point in applying for the job. But in any event, I bought a plane ticket and sort of rushed her in London saying "Me, me, me, me!" And I did get a meeting with the producers. I know the production company Working Title quite well, having done The Borrowers for them years ago, and then more recently there was a moment when I was going to do Johnny English. I had been looking for an opportunity to work with them

So, how is it going?

We just had a test screening of the film a few days ago, so I'm at the stage where I'm still trying to come up with themes. There's some fun silly moments in the score, as well as the whole emotional side of Bridget.

You're also doing The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe...

Yes - Andrew Adamson is shooting in New Zealand right now and it will be a Christmas 2005 release, I think. I'm doing a bit of music in advance of the main score, as there are a couple of moments where one of the characters plays a flute or pipe, and they need music to shoot to.

So you've read the books?

Yes, I loved the books as a child, so this is a very big deal for me. Andrew is a really incredible guy - especially with music. He's very much single handedly behind the musical sound of Shrek and Shrek 2. I think they're planning on doing all of the books into films, depending on how the first one goes.

What else do you have coming up?

Madagascar, next summer's Dreamworks animated film. Its CG animation, voiced by Chris Rock and Ben Stiller. It should be quite funny. The basic idea is that some animals break out of the zoo in New York City and head towards Madagascar - so I need to do my research. I have a feeling that might involve a trip.....!


The soundtrack to Man on Fire will be released by Varese Sarabande in August. If you're impatient, you can download it right now through the iTunes Music Service. Expect a Shrek 2 score release later this fall. Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason will be in theaters this fall. Harry is also scoring a television show called "Father of the Pride", which premieres this fall on NBC.

Special thanks to Jeff Sanderson at Chasen & Co, Meri Rodriguez at Wavecrest Music, and of course, Harry Gregson-Williams.