by Dan Goldwasser
Composer Klaus Badelt might seem like a newcomer to most listeners, but he has contributed his skills to such scores as The Road to El Dorado, Gladiator, Mission: Impossible 2, Hannibal, and Pearl Harbor. He finally started to break out on his own with The Pledge, and then The Time Machine. SoundtrackNet talked with Klaus about his latest score, K-19: The Widowmaker , in his studio housed at Media Ventures
For K-19: The Widowmaker, you wrote a very orchestral, traditional score. What was your motivation for doing so?
Well, Harrison Ford as a Russian. That's not very convincing by itself, and so you will need music to help sell it. At the beginning, when I first started working on the movie, it ran about four or five hours long. There was a large introduction to the characters before they launched the boat, with Harrison Ford's character, his wife, his whole history. It was all there. So you had a much bigger emotional buildup for what would eventually happen in the film. And therefore, as a Russian, he was much more believable - at least, compared to what you have now. So the music had an important job at the beginning to make you feel the roots and history of the characters. To tell you where they're from, what they feel, why Captain Vostrikov has issues with his father. Is he really the cold strict military government type? Why is Liam Neeson's character so close to his crew? We just jump right in, so you don't get it. You don't have the 300 years of history and how connected Russian society is to the military, and their special pride, and the feel of it. If you go to Russia, and spend some time there, it's quite different. They're a very proud people. They've endured many wars on their own soil, for hundreds of years - we've never had anything like that in America. So that's where they come from. With the music, I tried to give them these roots, and I used the orchestra, but I also used a few instruments like the balalaika, and the accordion - folklore instruments. These characters are not from big cities, so it's basically their own music. I wanted to give them a feeling of "home". There's no synth at all, it's a purely orchestral score.
What was your inspiration for the theme? It sounds like a large traditional Russian piece, but it's all yours...
See, me being a German composer working on an American movie about a Russian story, well, you can't expect authentic Russian music - so I didn't even try to do that. But like the movie, it's seen from our perspective - so I did just that in the music. I asked myself, "How do I see the Russian culture?" I didn't try to be authentic, and didn't study anything in particular. I just tried to capture the coloration of it - the instrumentation and the chords. I didn't really think about it. What was inspiring to me was the original true story. To see these two main characters starting out far apart at the beginning of the film, and basically switching positions more and more through the development of their characters. It's such an intense drama. To me it's an important story, and an important movie - and I'm proud to be part of it.
How did you get involved in the film?
I think they heard my music for The Time Machine, and my work on Gladiator. Then, the Kirov Orchestra approached them and asked them to work on it! The orchestra is just amazing. So the filmmakers asked me if I wanted to work with them - of course I did! It was risky, because the orchestra has never recorded any film score. I was joking that they had never recorded anything by any composer who wasn't 85 years dead! They don't know the process, of course, of how to record for film, so part of the idea was that I would give them the score, and told conductor Valery Gergiev how to conduct the score as he thought it should be. No click track, no picture. I showed them the scenes - the whole orchestra would watch the scene on a television, and I would explain a little bit about what the story was, and then they would record it. And most of the time, it was very surprising about how different the interpretation of my work was. These guys have a long history, and are the real deal. We recorded the score in the Mariinski Theater in St. Petersburg. Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky all had their premieres there. It's a very historical location
If he conducted it based on his own interpretations, did you have a synth track mockup for comparison?
Yes, but I didn't even dare play it to him. I did have a few piano tracks that could be interpreted in different ways, and I had some tempo markers in there of course, but I didn't want to push him in any particular way.
How different was his performance from what you had expected?
Most of it was pretty much it, and some of it was surprisingly different. I needed to be open to his interpretation, and there were parts of the music that didn't fit the film - they were too slow, for example. So we did a lot of music editing - after all, we had a movie to fit! Let me explain how it all came about. I wrote a symphonic suite, comprised of four pieces, which is what I came up with after seeing the film. It was written as one connected suite, where each movement had its purpose. We recorded it as such, and it appears on the CD. Then we took those pieces in the editing process and put them to picture. This isn't underscore; it's music that provides emotional support. Like the scene with the soccer game on the ice - it's a rather uplifting moment, and the music really helps sell that. You think everything is just fine, but there are some things that just aren't right. And if you listen to enough Russian classical music, the happiest music they write makes you cry! Their idea of happiness is enough to make you burst into tears! They don't have the same idea of happiness as we do.
There is a sequence on the album (and in the film) called "Voices of Light", arranged by Walter Murch. How did that come about?
That's a piece that Walter Murch cut into the temp score. He even cut the sequence around the music, but then he cut the music so much that he ended up arranging it. So I told him he should get an arrangement credit! We took his arrangement, and we re-recorded it - so it would have musical continuity with the same orchestra - the same color, recorded in the same room. Walter did such a great job, and it was so moving, that I really didn't want to even touch it - so I didn't write anything for that sequence.
How did you get started working over at Media Ventures?
It's a funny story. I was just here on vacation! I was a composer in Germany, doing the same thing I'm doing now, but on a smaller scale, and I did the thing you're not supposed to do: I showed up here with a CD in my hand, and asked to have it given to Hans' assistant. Somehow it happened, and they called me in the next day, and I came in, and I stayed! That was five years ago. He asked me to stay here to help out on projects, and then the longer I worked with him, the more responsibility I got. We even split the score sometimes.
What is your thought on the collaboration that goes on over at Media Ventures?
I think it's very sad that people think of it negatively. First off, there's so much music in movies these days, such that usually a single composer cannot do it. It's just impossible - there is so little time. They recut the movie up until the last moment; the composer rarely sees the final movie until they actually record it. It's pretty well known that almost everyone has help. Hans, though, is very generous and open - and he credits the people that work on his scores. He meets with the directors, and he doesn't hide me. While working on Gladiator, Ridley Scott was in my room as much as he was in Hans' room. Other composers might not say it, but they do it.
There are two ways you can get into this business. Every movie is a $100-million enterprise. So the investors want their money back with as little risk as possible. If you're a new composer, you're a big risk. You can be the best composer out there, but without a track record, you're considered a risk - so you don't get the job. And because you don't have a job, you don't get the next one - it's a catch-22. So for many years you can do independent small films until you have a break, and then you have to hope that the director sticks with you. So it's quite tricky to break in. The other way is with someone like Hans, who mentors me. We are all independent composers here, but it's like a creative group where if you don't have an idea, you can just get up and bounce things off of people, or clear your head. Harry Gregson-Williams was working on Chicken Run while I was working on Gladiator, and it was great to get up when I was stuck on something, and go hear this comedy music. It's a creative environment, and people out there don't get that we're all separate composers, who just rent the space here.
Your work with Hans finally paid off with The Pledge, which was your first official co-composer credit.
That's right. We had 10 days to write the score and record it. So I basically did it, and Hans would come in, confuse me, and walk out. It's sad that people out there see it as a factory. It's an interesting and great way to get into the business. I'm learning from Hans, and Harry, and John Powell, and other composers. I already know how to write music. But I am learning how to write for films, how to take the meetings, how to talk to people, and hear what they mean. If Zimmer is talking with Steven Spielberg, just sitting there for 30 minutes and listening to the conversation is quite worth it. Writing the music is just one part of the job - you're under a lot of pressure to deliver it all on time. There are many different types of composers out there, and the producers want to make sure everything is delivered on time since there's a $35-million marketing campaign depending on it. And if you don't make it, it might be the end of the movie, and the end of your career.
Jumping back a bit, you had your first solo feature with The Time Machine. How did you get involved in the project?
Well, the producer of that film was also the producer of Gladiator - so we had many discussions, and many fights. But it was great! He's a musician too - in fact, all of the filmmakers were musicians, so we would have meetings here, and then jam for a bit. It was a lot of fun. I tried to use various elements in the score - it's in the future, but it's not a technological future - it's a primitive one. It's not in Africa, Russia, or Bulgaria - it's in New York. So I tried to use elements that are known to you, but make them sound like they're not. Like the choir pieces. I recorded a single person 158 times, and then put a real choir in the back - so if you listen to it, it's just a bit strange. There's lots of synthesizers in there, too, but they're hidden so you don't hear them much.
Some of the cues seem to have a bit of that Media Ventures sound....
There's no "Media Ventures sound" - I hate that! We use a lot of the same samples, but then we'll record it with an orchestra anyways. But it's the same place where John Williams and everyone else records.
Well, it might be that one brass sample...
Oh, I can't help that then. But if you listen to Harry Gregson-Williams' stuff, it's all very different. I can't do what he does, and he can't do what I do. We're different composers.
What are you working on now?
I'm working on Roger Donaldson's new film, The Recruit. It stars Al Pacino and Colin Farrell. It's very different from The Time Machine and K-19. It's got a very contemporary, progressive feel. There are lots of synthesizers, with a little orchestra in there. It's a spy drama/thriller. I was next door to Harry Gregson-Williams when he was working on Spy Game, but I think mine will be much different. It's more of a drama than a thriller, with lots of personal moments. It's one of those "you don't know who to believe" - that kind of thing, with a bit of a love story. Hopefully I'll be done in a few weeks. I need a vacation, so if I can take a bit of a break until Christmas, that would be good.
Do you have a dream project?
Yes, several! One of them I did already - it was a film called Invincible, directed by Werner Herzog, who is a legendary director. When I was a teen, I would watch his movies - and he did this movie with me and Hans, and I didn't think I was ready for it yet. But, like K-19, the way Werner uses music isn't like underscore - he places it into the film. That was the mentor thing again; Hans was involved, but if you go and ask him, he'd tell you that he's embarrassed to be listed on the poster. But that's how it works, and I'm happy with it. If people don't get it, they can come ask me and I'll explain it to them. So that was one of my dream projects.
It's funny - even though they think I'm the "orchestral guy" over here, I actually come from the song end of things, and used to do a lot of progressive stuff with synthesizers. So another dream for me would be to do something like The Matrix, but without licensing any of the songs - I'd do it all! I would get all these synth programmers in, and do a lot of progressive stuff, then get an orchestra in, and record it all at once.
Actually, my dream project would be to do a different type of project each time. It's very easy to get typecast, but it's also harder to get work if you're not typecast, because they won't know what to do with you. It's a double-edged sword. So I'm happy with the variety so far. I did K-19, which was fully orchestral. Mission: Impossible 2 was a band. Gladiator was ethereal soundscapes. I'm easily bored. I try to do different things every time.
Klaus's score to K-19: The Widowmaker is available on Hollywood Records. The Pledge is available on Milan Records, and The Time Machine is available on Varese Sarabande Records. K-19 is in theaters now.