[Interview - Mark Mancina]
Composer Mark Mancina is no stranger to Disney. He worked on scores for Man of the House, The Lion King, The Lion King: The Musical, and now he's working on their latest feature, Tarzan. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Mark about his work on Tarzan, and Return to Paradise - a dramatic thriller which opened in theaters on August 14th.

Tell me a bit about Return To Paradise. It seems to be different than what one would associate your name with. What approach did you take to score the movie?

When I did The Lion King: The Musical, a majority of the music was brand new - and it had to be written in the theater. You write with a piano, and it brought me back to basics. With Return to Paradise, I needed to take the same approach. I got some Indonesian instruments, and I started recording ideas. I took Asian bells and drums and created some patterns. Then I began writing pieces. I worked with the director from the beginning, and eventually it became a chamber group of 18 strings, gamelon bells, and a range of Asian woodwinds. I was really fascinated with the film - it's not glossy or beautiful, it's more of a documentary feel. When you have 60 players on strings, everyone's tuning problems are hidden. I didn't want anything that was too sweeping, so with a chamber group you can hear each instrument's intonations. I had some difficulty keeping it down - it would grow and become too "large" - so I would keep scaling it back. I came up with a very simple four-note theme and a very simple movement that worked for the movie. It got emotion out of the scenes without hitting you over the head.

Many songs in The Lion King: The Musical came fromRhythms of the Pride Lands...

Some of the stuff we wrote had to be redone. Some songs didn't have lyrics; others had African lyrics that needed to be rewritten in English - not translated, but brand new lyrics - and vice-versa. Besides that, there was a lot of music that needed to be written - there are many scenes which don't appear in the movie that do appear in the musical. Julie Taymor (the director) and I wanted the music to be live - no sequencers, click tracks, or anything. I had to be able to pull of "Hakuna Matata" and "I Just Can't Wait To Be King" - people were expecting that. But we also wanted to put African music in there. Lebo M. got to let go - we came up with some great music utilizing African drums, and instruments. We were trying to work out how to do that - African instruments are big and bulky - they can't all fit in the orchestra pit. We ended up putting the percussion on the sides of the stage - in view of the audience. It was Julie's idea, and it worked really well.

With the musical, I got to rework most of the music from The Lion King, but to be performed live. So when I began to approach Return to Paradise, the first thing I did was live recording of ideas, because I'm more comfortable there. When I'm working on a score, I like to be able to judge from the standpoint of the composer - not in the middle of the orchestra. But I think it's important to conduct, because you're part of the music that's being created. So with Tarzan, I conducted the orchestra for one of Phil's songs. I think you'll find that the really great composers are open to different ways of composing.

Your first major film score wasSpeed.

No, I had done other stuff before then, including Where Sleeping Dogs Lie. But Speed was my first score where I got a sole credit. It's funny. Speed was just one in a line of work, but it was so popular that I started getting recognition for it. If you look at my career from then, people saySpeed, Bad Boys, Twister... But I didMan of the House, which was a romantic comedy for Disney. Then I did Bad Boys and then Moll Flanders. People say that it was a departure for me, but was really a return to what I used to do. But the successful movies have been action movies, and that's why I'm more known for that style.

You have worked with Jan De Bont three times now - do you foresee any future collaboration?

Twister only had 42 minutes of music, and I worked with Jan - but then at the end the movie got severely cut, and my music wasn't presented the way I had intended for it to be. I didn't like the way it was changed after it worked so well. One thing I do like about the score so much is that it's entirely live. I love the way the large orchestra sounds.

InTarzan, you are doing a feature-length-animated film for Disney. Are you working with Phil Collins to overlap the score and the songs?

What really made me want to do this film, was they set up a meeting with me and Phil - he had already been working on the songs for a year and a half. I asked him if I could take a stab at one of his songs. He let me - so I kept his vocals, and I redid the music and Phil was fine with it - he loved what I had done with it. He was very open with the idea of working together. In the score, I'm planning on using themes from his songs, and he's going to perform the drums. That way it sounds more like two guys did the music together - rather than separately.

How many songs will there be?

There will be five songs. I'm co-producing two of them, and there might be some more work done - the songs are great! It comes out this June. Phil is singing the songs in the movie - which is a great idea. I think it's the first time in a hand-animated Disney film where the characters don't sing! But it really works well. The other thing that I think is great is that parents go to these movies with their kids, and they're going to recognize Phil and have a great time with it.

You have worked with Trevor Rabin for years, and got to collaborate with him on Con-Air. Do you have any future collaborations planned?

We did. We were planning on making an album together, which eventually turned into Con Air. Since then Trevor has branched into film work, includingArmageddon, and we haven't had time to re-collaborate. But we plan to do so.

How do you find working with a temp score?

It's horrible - it's the worst thing I've ever dealt with. It comes out so much better if you don't have to work with a temp. Most directors I work with don't marry themselves to the temp score. On Speed andMoll Flanders, I got to work from scratch. I've heard Bad Boys in so many movies - with slight changes.

InTwister, the opening track has an "outtake" of sorts. What is the story behind that?

It was co-producer Chris Ward's and my idea. Atlantic Records thought I messed up at first. It was such an exciting piece of music, and the orchestra was buzzing. Conductor Don Harper quieted them down, and they did a really cool take of it - and I felt it would be great to put that on the CD. You don't realize there are a lot of people in the room - this gives the listener a sense of what it's all about.

What's the story about the "William Tell Overture / Oklahoma" mix?

Jan wanted me to take both pieces of music, and make it one piece of music with a big finish. It was very hard to do - we needed to keep the tempos of William Tell and Oklahoma but it worked, and it was great. Then the vocals changed, and things started getting cut up. If you watch the film, you notice the volume keeps getting turned down, and there's no big finish. I would have much rather reworked it instead of keeping it as a bastardization of my original idea.

Is there a reason a score CD to Bad Boys hasn't been released?

Well, I was told at the premiere of the film that they were going to release the score, but they never did. I get more letters for that score to be released than any other score. I'm currently planning a compilation CD of my work - details will be forthcoming. There should be two or three pieces from Bad Boys on it, including "The Footchase". Man of the House, Monkey Trouble, andAssassins never got released, among others. I would love to release some of my music from "From Earth to the Moon". The CD release contained the theme, and then songs. Michael Kamen, Mark Isham, James Newton Howard, Mark Shaiman, and all these guys scored the episodes - and they didn't release the scores. Each composer was given an episode, and told "do your thing". It was really cool because the episode they gave me was very emotional - it was the episode about the Apollo 1 fire.

How do you feel about your music being used in trailers?

Well, it's flattering. If it works for the trailer, then that's pretty cool! You know, Bill Conti did a great parody of my Speed score in Spy Hard. I heard that score bit when they get on the bus and thought "that's what my score must sound like!" It was a bunch of tom-toms, a French horn, and some metal sounds going really fast - it was great.

What are your plans for after Tarzan?

Tarzan is opening up some other arenas that have interested me for a long time, and is giving me the platform from which to pursue them.

Return To Paradise is available on Varese Sarabande Records. The film is currently in theaters.
Tarzan is expected to be released in Spring 1999.