by Dan Goldwasser
Justin Caine Burnett is one of those fresh new faces in the fast-growing world of film music. He got his break into the industry by working as Hans Zimmer's assistant on such hit films as The Rock and As Good As It Gets. But it's his work on Dungeons & Dragons that will hopefully be his big break into the highly competitive word of composing for films.
Dungeons & Dragons is a very thematic score. Where did you find your inspiration for those varied themes?
My inspiration largely came from the story. There are all these different dynamic characters in the story, each with their own ideas and personalities that provided plenty of musical opportunities. My background includes working with Hans Zimmer, and he's a big thematic person, so I think that rubbed off on me a bit. Also, Courtney Solomon (the director) wanted everyone to have their own theme and musical personality.
This is your first high profile project, but you had done a few smaller films previously...
Yes, I worked on those while I was assisting Hans at MediaVentures...
How did you get involved with the project?
A few years back, I was introduced to the Kia Jam, the producer on the film. One day he called me up and told me that they needed someone to write some music for a promotional trailer for D&D to help secure more funding. He said that if I did it for free, I would get to score the movie. I figured, "Yeah right!" So I did it, and they stuck to their word!
Did you integrate any of the themes written for this promo into your final score for the film?
The main heroic theme I wrote for the film actually came from that original promo.
You recorded the score in Australia and Seattle - why was it spread out over two countries?
It's funny - because the film had such a weird visual effects schedule. We thought we would record the whole score over seven sessions in Australia, and be done with it. We only had a budget of around $100,000, and there were about 105-minutes of music. Recording it in LA would have been tough, so we went overseas. By the time we finished in Australia, we found out that we needed to do more recording! The last reel of the film is comprised almost entirely of visual effects - and so we didn't have the music needed for those scenes because the effects still weren't done. Without those shots, it's hard to write the music - your timing can be wrong. So we came back from Australia still needing three more sessions, for 25 minutes of music. It wouldn't have been effective to go back to Australia, so we went up to Seattle to finish the score.
How long did you have to write that additional 25 minutes of music?
I had about 2 weeks between the Australia session and the Seattle session, when I wrote those cues. It was a rather tight schedule!
The trailer music for the film has been a hot topic of debate - were you involved in some way?
Yup! I actually rewrote part of the score for the trailer, integrating several of the themes from the film.
How did you get involved with MediaVentures, and Hans Zimmer?
I grew up in Oklahoma, and went to University of Oklahoma for college. When I moved out to Los Angeles, I worked with a keyboard company called Young Chang - they make Kurzweil Electronic Pianos. After working for them for 2 months, I got a job interning at night at MediaVentures - I had heard about it through a friend of the family. It wasn't long before Hans asked me to come be his assistant - and it went from there!
Are you still working with Hans?
Nope - I'm now on my own! I worked with him until this past January, but then I started working on D&D and went solo. I now work out of my home studio.
Are there plans for a soundtrack release to your score for Dungeons & Dragons?
Yes - it's a full CD, running 76-minutes long. It was tough to cut stuff for the album - there was a lot of score that couldn't fit on the album. This whole project was labor intensive, since there wasn't much money, I had done a lot of the work on it personally. It's not really my forte, so I didn't want to spend too much time cutting things together.
Does D&D help one get a sense of your musical style?
I'm not really sure if I have a defined style yet - but I would have to say that it's an original approach. This was a very thematic film, but I love atmospheric music as well as minimalist.
What was your direct influence on the style of the score?
Well, the director loves John Williams - so I had to go in that direction, which was cool. It's a tough direction to follow - I love John Williams, and it was a fun challenge.
Do you have any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
I have a few things brewing, but nothing has been signed yet. I would like to do a more contemporary electronica project.
Dungeons & Dragons will be released nationwide on December 8th. The soundtrack will be available from New Line Records next month.
Special thanks to Wendy Rutherford at New Line for setting up the interview. All images © 2000 New Line Cinema