[Interview - Marco Beltrami]
I recently had the opportunity to talk with composer Marco Beltrami about his latest film, 54, and the work he did on Scream, Mimic, and Halloween: 20 Years Later (H20). We also talked briefly about his upcoming work on the Robert Rodriguez film, The Faculty.

Tell me about your approach to scoring 54.

It was similar to Halloween in that they had a finished product and realized they needed a score at the end. There was little time - I had maybe seven or eight days to write it. The movie had a lot of songs in it, and they realized they needed some score in it to tie it all together. There wasn't a lot of music, maybe 20 minutes or so, which I wrote for the show. While I had to integrate some of the disco feel of the film into the score, the main intent of the score was to have a theme for the main character. The score opens the film and is used throughout the film whenever that theme is needed. It opens the film, and is also used in probably ten places - it wasn't a major scoring job. It was a bit of a change for me - I had to brush up on my disco!

So it was a last minute job?

Yeah, I found out about it with rather short notice. A while back I made a commitment to do this TV movie for ABC, and it meant I had to push it back a bit - and now I'm scrambling to get the TV movie done before I start work on The Faculty.

Most people associate your work with horror movies, especially since you gained notoriety from Scream. But your first two films were lesser-known movies: The Bicyclist and Death Match.

Well, that's not entirely accurate. The first feature film I did was a supernatural thriller called The Whispering. I did little projects on a piano when I first started, but when I did The Bicyclist, it was a short film funded by Sony, and we had the budget for an orchestra, and I took it pretty seriously.

What is your preferred style for working on a film?

My style is to watch the film, and get ideas for it while away from any instrument, because I find that if you're working at a particular instrument, it tends to colorize your vision of the piece. For example, if you work at a piano, you write piano music. So I need to get the concept of it first - to work on the melody in my head, and then sit at a piano and play some ideas through. Only then do I begin writing. Now it is common for a director to hear a score mocked up, so that's what the synthesizer gear is for - so they can hear roughly what it sounds like. It's hard, because a lot of my interest is not just in melody and harmony, but also in instrument timber and color - and you can't accurately represent that with a synthesizer.

Your music from Scream and Mimic was temp-tracked into Halloween - and in the end they decided to keep some of it, and brought you in to supplement some previous composition work done by fellow composer John Ottman. What were your feelings about this and what was your approach to the film?

I was called up to do this Halloween project, and was excited by it. I knew they had used Scream and Mimic in it, and it would be hard to make it match with another score. I don't know what the story was with John Ottman's score, but the movie tested well with the temp score, and my job was to come up there and make the Scream and Mimic score work with the music that had been composed and the original Halloween theme. I also had to make the Scream and Mimic stuff more to the nature of Halloween - take out some things that would identify it as Scream or Mimic music. That was my primary task. I feel bad for John, that he had his score removed from the movie - I don't know what to say, but it happens. I guess it wasn't what the producers were looking for - I was just up there doing my job.

Did you have a good time working on a Halloween movie?

I had a great time working on it - there were some great guys up there. Although there was a time pressure, we all worked together to get it done, and it went very smoothly. We had a lot of fun, and it worked really well. I was pretty surprised at how well we were able to blend the music. Of course, there won't be a CD coming out since it doesn't represent my music in any way - they can just go buy Scream and Mimic.

With the time pressure, did you record with an orchestra?

I sampled stuff from Scream and Mimic - it was kind of a hodgepodge thing. There were a few places where it would have been nice to have an orchestra, but it wasn't crucial to the project.

Are you trying to avoid being typecast as a "horror film" composer?

I wouldn't want to be typecast as a horror composer since it's not a genre I'm too familiar with. In fact, Scream was the first horror movie I'd even seen - I hadn't seen the Halloween movies or anything. It's not something I would have placed myself in doing, and I think that's why the Scream and Mimic scores have been successful as music scores. Since I'm not aware of horror movies, I don't think I'm falling into the cliches. I don't think my music necessarily lends itself to one particular style.

What are you working on now?

I'm working on an ABC movie called David and Lisa, and that will be done later this week. Then I'll begin work on The Faculty any day now. I'm going to score it in October, and it will be out around Christmas. In November I'm going to work with the director from Nightwatch, Ole Bornedal, to do a movie with him over in Denmark called Deep Water. I don't know when it's going to be released.

What sort of approach will you take on The Faculty?

I'm really excited to work on this film - it's a very fun movie. There are horror and suspenseful moments, with sci-fi elements. But the best part is that it doesn't take itself too seriously - I can't tell you too much about it, or else I'd have to kill you. <laughs> I think I'll be able to explore some different avenues, combining orchestral work with some new electronic sounds.

You worked on the television show "Lands End". What was it like scoring an entire television series?

I did every episode but two. I did the main title with a friend of mine, Christophe Beck, and we did the first few episodes together, and I did the rest of them. It was the first real professional thing I had done, and I thought it was great. It was one of the most fun I'd had - every week I got to try something different musically. It was all synthesized, since we didn't have a budget for an orchestra, but I did get to explore quite a bit.

Which do you enjoy more, film or television work?

I usually enjoy doing film work more overall, since there is more freedom. In television things seem to be based more on formula, so there is more of a common denominator about it, but that's not always the case.

What was your major influence in getting involved in film music?

I got my Masters degree from Yale School of Music, and was working on orchestral music doing pieces for orchestras and chamber ensembles, but I was so disenfranchised with the concert world. I thought there were a lot of uninspired pieces, and on the same side I heard a lot of stuff in film that was good. While I wasn't into film music, I found that to make a living I would either have to teach, or write commercial music. I didn't want to teach, since I thought that was the problem - people would go into teaching after school, and there was a lack of real-world context. I thought I would go out and get started - make my way and find a voice first. You can write a piece of concert music, and never hear it. Maybe there would be one performance somewhere in the world. But with film music, you know it's going to be heard.

What would be your "dream" project?

I think I would be really well suited for doing a western movie, and also something more in the vein of a Fellini-Rota film. Something a little less serious. I think it's something I could contribute a unique quality to.

You finally had a release of your scores to Scream and Scream 2 recently, after a long delay.

Well, they wanted to get the maximum push on the song albums, and because the films have a life of their own, it didn't matter when the scores came out. They also didn't want people to be confused as to which album was which.

The reuse fees forced the CD to be rather short. What are your thoughts on that?

That's the downside - there are only 15 minutes from each movie on the CD. It's a very short CD. In fact, I had to edit down many of the cues - I couldn't put the whole length on because it would preclude putting other cues on. It would have been nice if it was twice that length. While it still would have been short, it would have been enough to get a good feel for both films. I wish the end credit song I wrote for Scream had been released on the CD as well.

There is talk of making Scream 3. Would you work on it?

I don't know anything about the project - even if it's been written! But if it's the original people working on it, then I think it would be right for me to do that. But I don't know what the parameters are yet.

Marco's scores to Scream / Scream 2 and Mimic are available on Varese Sarabande Records. There is a promo of "Lands End" available. If anyone makes a biography of Fellini, we can hope to see Marco working on it.