by Dan Goldwasser
Composer Hans Zimmer might be a rising giant in the world of film music, but he has always managed to stay on the sidelines when it came to public performances. That all changed in October 2000 at the Flanders Film Festival in Ghent, when Zimmer appeared on stage with an orchestra and some of his frequent collaborators for a concert of his film music. Recently, a CD release of that performance was released, and Zimmer took some time to talk with SoundtrackNet about his work.
...on the Flanders Film Festival Concert in Ghent, October 2000, and the "Wings of a Film" CD
That was my first - and probably my last public concert performing my film works. It's not what I do very well - I was terrified! I get really shy on stage.
Anything good about that CD is because of the musicians and Alan Meyerson, my engineer. After the concert, I went back to the studio to listen to the recording and it sounded awful - I thought it would make a terrible album. It's a very different experience to go out and play live music - you have all of that energy, and people are doing things on stage - but the recording just sounds bad. Listening to an orchestra played through a PA system is a bad experience! So we started going through the recordings and heard certain parts that didn't sound so bad. I'll admit, I had the matches out and was ready to burn the tapes! I seriously considered giving the record company enough money just to make it all disappear.
...on how he came up with the idea for the concert at Ghent
Alcohol. I must have been drunk! I have a really good memory, but I cannot remember saying "yes" to this concert idea, but apparently I had since everyone was telling me I had! Ultimately it was great fun, I just wasn't sure if we could get a record out of it. And I did relax and learn not to be terrified - so I would do it again.
...on how the pieces were chosen for the concert
I was initially going to call the whole concert "Guilty Pleasures". You will disagree with me on this, but I have a theory that people will always admit to owning a Paul Simon or Beatles Record. They may even admit to owning an ABBA record. But owning a soundtrack is like a guilty pleasure! "Hey man, let's listen to my Sergio Leone spaghetti western!" But they all have it, and they all love it - so it's a guilty pleasure. I waned to call it a "Guilty Pleasures Tour", and play all of my greatest hits. At one point, I considered calling it "Zimmer's Greatest Hits" - and then I thought, "God, I'm already dead!"
So I figured I'd get all the people I'd worked with before - like Lisa Gerrard and Lebo M. It was really about picking pieces of music that were written for these particular people. Mission Impossible 2 was always written for Heitor Pereira.
In the concert we had recorded music from Backdraft and Crimson Tide and a lot of other bigger pieces - but they just didn't sound that good, so they aren't on the album. A lot of this stuff you just can't do in three orchestra rehearsals.
...on the use of Backdraft in "Iron Chef"
I love Iron Chef! It got me cooking! <laughs> Look - the music was always written for a cooking show. Just because Ron Howard appropriated it for some other movie….. It would be good to start that rumor: it was always written for "Iron Chef"! In fact the whole idea for Backdraft came from a pan fire! It's like, faux gras gone wrong!! <laughs>
...on Pearl Harbor
Sometimes when you play cards with the devil, you might lose your shirt, and it might be fun! Look at the job. This is not the type of movie I signed on for. Jerry Bruckheimer came to me with an animatic of the attack on Pearl Harbor with The Thin Red Line piece all the way through it and it was absolutely breathtaking. This was two years before it came out. My contract was the first one signed on that film, and it was before the whole budget-reduction thing, and they had to go and beg me to tear up the deal - that's how early I was attached to the project!
Jerry said it's going to have a great love story. I had done war movies - The Thin Red Line and (in a way) Gladiator. It's a fascinating subject - why do people go and beat the crap out of each other with nasty horrible weapons - so I wanted to approach it as a love story. So you have a rather long movie, but at the same time, I had to deliver a love story within ten minutes! Usually you have a whole movie to develop these themes and not repeat them, and build it up. But the job here is ultimately Pearl Harbor - people want to see the bombs drop. It's really difficult because you're forced into a situation where you have to make an audience believe in the love story very quickly. And that's just impossible.
...on the Pearl Harbor soundtrack
I didn't want to put a lot of action music on the album - I wanted it short and to the point; this is what I had to say. Action music works best when it's on the screen and it's happening now. If you want action, get Gladiator. You make these esthetic choices - and sometimes you get it wrong. As for Faith Hill contributing to the success of the album, I don't think it hurts to have a really pretty blonde girl who's a major star singing - I think it's useful! I would be a fool to say that she had nothing to do with the success of the album.
...on Pearl Harbor's reviews
I feel like I've sinned so badly. And the reviews! You expect to get bad reviews, but... you know, the question I would love to ask reviewers is: at what point do you get so angry that you have to make it personal? Don't people realize what that movie is?
Here's my newest theory. I do a lot of shopping on Amazon.com, and even the strongest character can't resist popping over to the customer feedback section. What occurred to me is that the people who buy these soundtracks are much younger than anyone who reviews them. If you think about that movie, and that music or any of that stuff from the perspective of a 13-year old, you'll have a different view of it. I think those types of movies and those types of music are, unfortunately, beyond reviewable.
So you read the reviews on Amazon.com of the Pearl Harbor soundtrack, and you will be surprised. These people at Amazon.com are paying customers, and I think there's a difference between someone who pays their hard-earned money for an album and someone who gets it for free and pays for it by reviewing it.
...on the use of dialogue on his soundtracks
Let's talk about another one - "More Music from Gladiator". The dialogue on it sucks, right? It's terrible! It's a bad idea, it's in the wrong place, and it really distracts. It's not what I had in mind for the album. It wasn't a very good recording of Russell's voice. I thought the album could be interesting, and show my working process. As for the Hannibal release, the dialogue on that album was my idea. I wrote so much of the music around Anthony Hopkins's rhythm - being a musician himself he has a great cadence.
...on The Thin Red Line
I'm always surprised by the reaction I get to The Thin Red Line - just because I know it's good, but not many people have heard it. The best publicity that The Thin Red Line ever got was when Jerry Bruckheimer put it on the trailer to Pearl Harbor. Everyone wanted to know what that music was, and Bruckheimer did more for The Thin Red Line than Fox ever did for that movie.
You know, I realized about halfway through working on that film that Ridley and I actually started working on Hannibal in 1989 - before the book was written! Ridley and I were trying to get another film off the ground that we had been discussing about, and it had a very different feel to it. On the Hannibal album, there's a piece that's about 7-minutes long, and it's 2-minutes long in the film. It's a very Mahler-esque piece. Everyone wants to know that I steal from Holst, well I steal from Mahler too! <laughs> Anyways, that piece was actually written back in 1989 for the idea of this other film. So I knew I was going to write this 7-minute long piece and let him figure out which section he liked. I wouldn't have written that piece had Ridley and I not had that conversation back in 1989. So is he a composer on it? No. A collaborator? Yes. Pietro Scalia is also a collaborator - he finds a Lisa Gerrard CD and shoves it into Gladiator - and the next thing I know, we're working together.
You know, it's probably a very good thing I didn't get the Academy Award for Gladiator, because it would have been embarrassing since Lisa had been disqualified. I think the rule implemented after The Color Purple is a good one, and it protects composers, but I do think that collaboration is a good thing in the film business. When I write my concert piece, trust me - it will only have my name on it. But we're working in film - collaboration is what I do.
Hey listen - I wrote the Chicken Run trailer music, and John Powell and Harry Gregson-Williams got paid for it - and they never ever shared the money with me, so I'm pissed at that! They just took the money! No, that's just what it is - collaboration. They didn't have time, so I helped. We give, and we take - that's just how it works.
...on his self-deprecating attitude
I asked Steven Spielberg if he reads his reviews, and he said, "No, I don't read them because I know they're all bad." So he's strong enough to know they're all bad and doesn't have to read them; but I still have hope! I saw Requiem for a Dream and thought they were all wrong - that hope was the worst drug there is. I have hope that I'll write a decent piece of music! I'm fighting with critics because I'm saying "help us". If we write bad music, help us to advance the art. I think that's what film music is about. There's talk about the "golden age" of soundtracks, but you can see the ebbs and flows in the development of film music. Alex North did something jazzy and it was amazing - it needs that sort of nurturing or else it will get boring!
I admit, I have no idea about most of that black and white movie music. I love Bernard Herrmann. But Korngold doesn't mean a lot to me. I'm trying to explain to people that the music for Dirty Harry is about as artistically adventurous and witty as anything ever written.
I am desperately trying to write better music all the time. I thought Howard Shore's score to The Cell was the best score I heard in a really long time, and I'm thinking, "God I hope Bruckheimer temps it into his next trailer so more people hear it," because I thought it was astonishing. I'm just trying to get up there! Some days you wake up and you have some terrible ideas that you believe in, and some days you wake up and wonderful ideas.
To argue that Gladiator is a Holst rip-off is boring - anybody can tell that he influenced it - it doesn't make you very smart! It's easy to point at those things, just as it's easy to point to Holst - when really I meant Vaughan Williams!! <laughs>
...on his upcoming projects
I'm working on Spirits, an animated film, and I'm working on Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down which comes out next year, and a film with Penny Marshall called Riding in Cars with Boys. I'm having a great time with that.
... on his dream project
I'm afraid that Randy Newman already did my dream project - well, not just Randy, but a lot of people. I would love to write an opera of "Faust". Actually, my dream project would be to be present at the Oscars when Randy Newman wins his first Academy Award, because I can't wait for that speech! That is my theory - the only reason Randy hasn't won is because the world isn't ready for his screw!
"Wings of a Film" is currently available in stores. Pearl Harbor is still in theaters, and the soundtrack is also available, as are the soundtracks to Hannibal and Gladiator. Special thanks to Monique at Chasen & Co. for arranging this interview.