[Interview - John Debney]
John Debney is probably one of the busiest composers working today. To date, he has composed music for over 40 films and television shows since 1987, including 7 coming out in 1999 alone! Some of his biggest scores include Cutthroat Island, Liar Liar, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and his extensive work on "SeaQuest DSV". Earlier this year, Debney worked on My Favorite Martian, and Lost and Found. I had an opportunity to chat with John about his work on Inspector Gadget, Dick, and his upcoming works.
You recently completed work on Inspector Gadget. Were you a fan of the original cartoon, and did you find it to be a fun project to work on? Also, you adapted the show's famous theme into the score - was that something you enjoyed doing? Or did would you rather have come up with your own theme instead?

I enjoyed twisting the original theme this way and that. It's so recognizable and loved that there was no question that I was going to use it often. My theme for the evil Scolex is a very broad Grand Waltz. I also composed the John Brown theme, which is stated quite often when Gadget is being very heroic. This was a very fun score to write.

Your score to Dick was both jazzy and sneaky at the same time - were you inspired by some of the sleuthy comedies of the 60's and 70's? Did you feel that you had to work around the numerous pop songs in the film?

I love the music from the 60's and 70's spy movies. Man from Uncle, Pink Panther, Peter Gunn, etc. So the score for Dick was a labor of love. Andy Flemming, the director, was a joy to work with. I felt that the songs and score complimented each other very well - they were quite different from each other and therefore worked on many different levels.

You composed the score to My Favorite Martian, while Danny Elfman provided the theme. How was it working on a movie that had a television theme to deal with in addition to a theme by another composer?

Not a problem really. Danny had composed a theme for Uncle Martin and I wrote the rest. I also extrapolated and twisted Danny's theme to fit the film. It was another very fun collaboration with director Donald Petrie, who is very crazy and enthusiastic. The original theme was only stated in a few key spots in the film - and I love the original so it was a joy to do.

For the fans, many of your scores are a bit hard to find, some of your better scores, Hocus Pocus, Little Giants, The Relic, and others only appear as promotional items. Do think this is a set back?

No, it's the reality of soundtracks these days. These scores would have all cost a lot of money to put out because of re-use fees. It's not a good situation, but that's the fact. I just seem to get films with big bombastic scores a lot, and therefore they are very expensive. This is the reason I'm forced to do the promos. I do wish that they were more readily available. Also, many times song-soundtracks will kill score-soundtracks because the studios don't want to have competing soundtracks out there. I should clarify that most Music Supervisors don't want competing soundtracks out there. Case in point: Dick.

Cutthroat Island harks back to the days of the Koldgold-ian swashbucklers, and really was a break out score for you, even if the movie tanked. What were your influences on that?

Korngold, Steiner, Rozsa, Tiompkin, Williams, Herrmann, etc., etc. It is probably my favorite score to date and my most heartbreaking because it's largely been ignored.

You received an Emmy for your work on "The Cape". How was your experience working on the series given the recent 30th anniversary of the moon landing and the sudden rekindled interest in the space program with such miniseries as "From The Earth to the Moon", etc.?

It was fun to write some very patriotic music. Louis Febre wrote the series and did a beautiful job.

You are currently working on The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland. What sort of score are you providing for this children's film? Do you find that with such a variety in types of projects it keeps you up to form for writing in different styles?

I finished Elmo last year and had a blast doing it. The style is very Carl Stalling-esque. The movie is hilarious for kids and adults and I hope it does very well. I do enjoy writing in many styles, it's the only way to really grow as an artist and not get stale.

What is your favorite style of music to compose in?

I don't know yet. I do enjoy writing beautiful music.

Later this year, you will be scoring the millennium thriller End of Days. What sort of approach will you be taking to this film? Will you work with a large chorus again as you did with Cutthroat Island?

I'm writing it now and it is an awesome film. Directed by Peter Hyams, this might be my biggest score yet. It will have lots of choir and sampled little girls.

If you could have any type of project at all, what would your "Dream Project" be?

Working with Steven Spielberg, Gale Anne Hurd, George Lucas, or any filmmaker that has vision and enthusiasm.

Do you have any future projects you can tell us about beyond those we mentioned here?

I'm just looking forward to a vacation in the fall. I have wonderful agents who keep me very, very busy. I'm so very fortunate!

John Debney's work can be heard in Inspector Gadget and Dick, both in theaters now.

Images (C) 1999 Walt Disney Pictures and Columbia-TriStar Pictures