by Dan Goldwasser
You have two films which just came out in theaters: Rounders and Urban Legend. What sort of approach did you take to working on these two drastically different films?
It was pretty bizarre, having to work on two films simultaneously that couldn't have been more different than these were. Rounders was a gambling drama starring Matt Damon and Edward Norton that required a jazz-based score. Urban Legend, on the other hand, was a monstrously viscous slasher movie that required a gigantic and aggressive horror score. So once again the type of music was governed by the material of the pictures as governed by the directors.
We had a little bit of trouble in Rounders, I provided the Director with his vision of music for the film, but the studio didn't agree with him, and the music didn't match what they thought the film needed. In the end, it was a happy ending, I came back to re-score some music, and the studio was trilled with the results. Urban Legend was never rocky - they were thrilled from the first downbeat to the last note.
How long did you work on both of these projects?
My first go-round of Rounders finished the day before I spotted Urban Legend so I was supposed to have been done with Rounders before I started Urban Legend but then they wanted some parts to be re-scored, so that's why the two projects overlapped.
I've heard that your score to Urban Legend is almost "over the top".
You be the judge, it is certainly dramatic horror that makes no apologies to itself. It grabs you and scares you and that's what the filmmakers wanted. If they wanted a less-than-aggressive score, they probably would have hired someone else. But when they hired me, they knew exactly what they were getting...
Most of your earlier work consisted of low-budget horror movies. Was that a path you actively chose? Are you a fan of horror?
I don't think anyone picks their first film, and in my case it was a horror film. In the early 1980's there was a wave of horror films doing very well at the box office: The Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Halloween films, and others. A lot of directors and producers thought that their way to get into the business would be to make a horror film. My first film score was a film done by two such guys. It's a love-hate relationship. When I was a kid growing up I had posters of Bela Lugosi, and my favorite day of the year was Halloween. It was fitting ñ maybe my true calling as a composer is in horror films. I've been desperately making a point to become more involved in non-horror films. I moved from Horror to Supernatural to Thrillers to Dramas. You look at my credits and while there is a horror film every year, the three other films are dramas. The last thing I want to be known as is the "Bela Lugosi of Film Music". [laughs]
In your score to Hard Rain what prompted you to use harmonica player Toots Theilman?
We all decided at the onset that we wanted the feeling that the film took place in the west. In fact, we had Pete Anderson, who played guitar for Dwight Yoakam, lined up to play guitar for us. We released we didn't need the score to be that heavily guitar based, so we decided on a harmonica ñ it's a standard instrument used to "countrify" a score.
Your score for Murder in the First was a different score than what you normally do. What sort of appeal did the film have for you?
Well, what drew me to the project was that Director Marc Rocco heard the score from Jennifer 8 and loved the main title. It was a picture I was so excited to get on board with because it was a mainstream drama. I had done television dramas and some other smaller dramas that had come and gone - but this was an area I had never been to before. I was thrilled to do and desperately wanted to have my claws in it.
In The Man Who Knew Too Little you take a complete 180-degree turn ñ a spy comedy!
Oh sure, it was great! All I know is when I saw the film it was temp-tracked with music from such films as, In Like Flint, The Pink Panther movies, and a lot of 60's and 70's stuff. Invariably everyone from the studio came up to me and said, "We want The Pink Panther". So I gave them a fun and sneaky score.
What are your thoughts about your music being used in trailers for other films?
Oh, it's great! Why wouldn't it be great? It's a compliment! There's nothing more rewarding than getting phone calls from people who say, "I saw your music in this trailer"! If the music is so good that it can be used for another purpose, that's wonderful!
Tell me a little about your experience on Copycat , you have what appears to be the beginning of a nice collaboration with Jon Amiel.
Another well-known composer pulled out at the last minute, and Jon Amiel (the director) brought me in. I've worked with him on The Man Who Knew Too Little and we're going to work again on Entrapment. I think we're a little like Herrmann and Hitchcock. I've never worked with another director who was so able to conceptualize what he was looking for. He would tell me what he wanted, and I knew exactly what he meant. Hopefully we'll work together for a very long time. Some directors enjoy working with the same composers over and over again, but there are others who feel that they should work with different people each time.
Who would you point to as your influences?
Davy Jones from the Monkees. [laughs] No, I would have to say Bernard Herrmann, Jerry Goldmsith, and David Raksin who I studied under.
What would be your dream project?
I heard at one point that Ray Harryhausen was going to make another film. I love fantasy movies, and fantasy with Ray Harryhausen, not computer animation, would be an amazing project to work on. I'm also a huge fan of ghost stories. I heard that they are remaking The Haunting, which would be great to work on as well. I also have a soft spot in my heart for witchcraft, I would have loved to work on The Crucible.
So you do have a love for horror...
I do - it's interesting. I try to avoid it in one regard, but you ask me what my dream project is, and I keep coming back to it. I'm not into blood and guts, it's the cerebral horror - the suspense, that I'm into.
What are you working on next?
Well, I'm taking a short break to recuperate from these last two films, and then I'm going to work on Entrapment with Jon Amiel. It stars Sean Connery as a thief. He gets to wear the black turtleneck sweater sneaking around buildings, using fancy gadgets, and wearing a white tuxedo - it's probably the closest thing to him playing James Bond again. It's a romantic thriller.
Christopher's score to Rounders is coming out on Varese Sarabande Records on October 6. Urban Legend is coming out on Milan Records, but it will have only 15-20 minutes of score, but a promo CD will be available through Intrada sometime in the future.