Before starting with the questions, we would like to thank you for your participation; it's a privilege for us to have the chance to interview you.
Let's start talking about the beginnings of your musical education and career. How did you become interested in this area? When was the time you fell in love with the guitar?
My father was the first violinist of the “Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra”, my mother was a concert pianist, my brother was an extraordinary violinist and my sister a wonderful pianist and ballet dancer, so music was a way of life, and I studied piano from the age of six. I got my first guitar at the age of about 11 and taught myself.
At the age of about 17, I was doing a lot of session work. I was in a band from about 14 with my "Rabbitt" buddies. We did a lot of playing around the country and in 1969 won the best band competition in South Africa. By 19 I was doing a lot of production and arrangements for records and had many hits in South Africa. In 1972 Neil, the “Rabbitt” drummer, was called up for army duty; at this time I spent a year with an anti apartheid band called "Freedoms Children". I was then called up to the army where I spent a year. After three months of basic training, I was transferred to the entertainment unit where I spent the rest of my time. After the army, Neil Cloud, Ronnie Robot and myself reformed “Rabbitt” . We had a great time and the band did well touring and selling multiplatinum albums.
Before you began you career in the rock genre, you scored a film in your country, South Africa, if I stand correct. Then you formed the group “Rabbitt”, working as soloist, where you delivered a very interesting album "Beginnings". Of course, you also collaborated during the 80´s with rock legends “Yes”. How was the transition from the world of Rock Music to scoring for film? What could you tell us about your experience with “Yes”?
During my time with "Rabbitt", I did my first film called "Death of a Snowman" ( I think it's now called "Soul Patrol")... It was a terrible film and not a great score. In 1978, I left South Africa for London to pursue a solo career. I recorded 3 albums for "Chrysalis Records" and worked with some great people. I was then signed by David Geffen in 1980 to write a new album of material. I moved to Los Angeles and spent 6 months writing the material that became "90125". Things didn't work out with Geffen and I found myself looking for a record deal. This is when I met Chris Squire and Alan White, and we decided to form a band, playing the material I had recently written. We liked the way it sounded and called the band "Cinema". We then got Tony Kaye in the band and recorded the album with Trevor Horn producing.. Near the end of the recording, Chris played Jon Anderson the material, he loved it; we invited him to sing on it. The record company knew they had a hit on their hands and thought we should call the band Yes. I was reluctant to do this but was outvoted.
After your time in "Yes", film music returned to your life. When did you decide to start a professional career in this industry? From what you told me, James Newton Howard was the one that encouraged you the most, into scoring for films, right?
After 14 years with “Yes” , I decided I wanted a change. I had studied orchestration, arrangement with professor Walter Mony in South Africa years before and missed working with orchestra. I decided I would pursue film scoring. It is true that James Newton Howard was very encouraging, and is a good friend.
With Mark Mancina you worked in one of your first scores. First, by playing the guitar in Twister and then by co-writing for the “Con Air” score. What could you tell us about Mark Mancina and your experience with him? What happened with the score of “Con Air” in the end?
In 1989 during time off with “Yes” I did a solo album called "Can´t Look Away". I toured on this album and a keyboard player was recommended to me by a friend. He owned a restaurant where Mark played. I hired Mark Mancina for this tour. This is how I met him. I later introduced him to Trevor Horn who was working with Hans Zimmer.
In Twister, I only played a small amount of guitar as a favor to Mark.
On "Con Air", Jerry Bruckheimer invited Mark and me to do the film. Unfortunately, soon after we started, Mancina had to leave to do "Speed 2", so I landed up doing "Con Air" alone.
In 1998, you scored "Armageddon" which was a rather great hit, at the time. Characterised by many as an Epic Symphonic Score, blend with a distinct Rock spirit and tone, by having the guitar on a basic and principal role. How did you become involved in that project and of course, is there something particular you remember off these sessions?
Although I had recently done "Con Air" for Jerry Bruckheimer, he was concerned that I didn't have enough experience to take on a film the size of "Armageddon". So I had to basically write the main themes before I was hired. I think Jerry had showed a lot of courage hiring someone with very little experience. Luckily, I had the themes by the time I started which made the project a little easier...but it was a gruelling project
Tell us about the score, your inspiration on writing the beautiful love theme and the dense action pieces. Which is your favourite sequence, both in the movie and score?
I was very happy with the main theme which I used for anthemic moments, romantic moments, and others. It is very rewarding when a theme is so easily adapted to different emotions.
In that film you worked with Harry Gregson Williams and also other composers from the Media Ventures studios. Later on, you also worked with Harry on “Enemy of the State”. Due to these facts, completed by a tight relationship with the studio, a lot of people thought that you were also part of the Media Ventures Studios. Please Trevor, tell us the real story behind this, the making process of “Armageddon” and “Enemy of the State”. You know, a lot of people still think you´re part of that team!
My studio is quite far from Jerry Bruckheimer´s offices, so after "Con Air" he requested that I find a studio nearer him to compose "Armageddon". Media Ventures was near Jerry , and had a great room available, so I hired the room for "Armageddon". There was a lot of music on the movie and I had great help from Harry Gregson-Williams, Paul Linford and Don Harper.
I was in the middle of doing "Jack Frost" when Jerry Bruckheimer called me for "Enemy of the State". I was concerned about the two films overlapping so I asked Harry, and Tim Heinz to help. I wrote the themes before starting "Enemy of the State" which like "Armageddon", made it a little easier. I love what Harry did on "Enemy" and we shared credit.
Hans Zimmer and I have been friends for a long time, however I have nothing to do with Media Ventures, I think they're a great company.
You worked with producer Jerry Bruckheimer in so many different films like "Kangaroo Jack", "Bad Company", "Gone on Sixty Seconds", "Remember the Titans" and recently on "Bad Boys II" and "National Treasure". How is it working with him? Was there creative freedom or did he set some specific musical paths for you to follow? A lot of people in the industry claim he´s a very tight man to work with.
There is no compromising or excepting second best with Jerry Bruckheimer. He is very demanding, and it's really hard work, but he's a great leader, absolutely believes in what he's doing, and treats me incredibly well.... and I think he is very talented.
In 1999, you worked in "Deep Blue Sea"; a dense action film, with one of your most inspiring scores, considered by many as one of your best efforts to date. The main theme is terrific, and the action music is powerful. What could you tell about that project? Did John Williams΄s Jaws play any kind of inspiration or reference for your work on this film?
On "Deep Blue Sea", the only influence that John Williams's "Jaws" had on me, was to make certain I don't go anywhere near it. I'm very proud of this score. It's always flattering when your work influences other people...in fact there was almost a lawsuit brought against "Shrek" by Warner Brothers for copyright infringement, due to the similarity of the "Shrek theme" to the "Deep Blue Sea theme".
"Remember the Titans" is another excellent score. The music here is completely orchestral, in a vivid contrast with your electronic-oriented scores for "The 6th Day", "Gone on Sixty Seconds" or "The One". What could you tell us about that score? Did you feel more comfortable writing for an orchestra instead composing an electronic score?
I write for what I think is best for the film. in the case of "Remember the Titans", an orchestral score seemed appropriate. Given the choice, I would say I love writing orchestral scores most. Jerry Bruckheimer told me recently that "Remember the Titans" is his most licensed score, which is very flattering.
Despite the fact that you were born in South Africa, you captured the American Spirit vert well, like in a particularly “Copland-ish”-like way in "American Outlaws" and "Texas Rangers". The first, one of your most appreciated scores by the fans, is a very dynamic one, with the guitars on a wild ride again. Tell us about those projects.
I do love Copland, so it's a complement that you hear that influence in "American Outlaws". For some time I had told my agents that I really would love to do a genuine western, so I really had amazing fun with "American Outlaws", and "Texas Rangers". I also wanted to integrate dobro with the orchestra, which was fun. My son played percussion on "American Outlaws" by the way. He's an incredible drummer.
Is it true that you offered to write the score for “Pirates of the Caribbean”? Why didn´t you finally score it? Did you hear the final score of Klaus Badelt & the Media Ventures Team? It was a criticised effort by many, but still quite fun. Many film music fans in addition, consider it to be a terrific score- albeit unoriginal- which however shows the true “rock” character of the film.
I wrote a demo for "Pirates of the Caribbean". It was a film I was thinking of doing and looking to do. I wrote the demo for it, thinking it was going to be a kid’s movie based on the ride, and so I wrote that and my imagination just led me in certain ways.
Finally, I didn´t worked on it out schedule-wise, and actually I must be the only person who hasn't seen or heard "Pirates of the Caribbean". I was composing "Bad Boys 2" during "Pirates of th Caribbean".
That same year, Mark Mancina left "Bad Boys II" and you were called to score the film in his place. What happened with that score? How much time and space did you have on writing the music for it?
It was difficult when I was called to replace Mark Mancina on “Bad Boys 2”, as he's a friend. I didn't agree to do the film until it was clearly decided that Mark would not be continuing. I had a history with Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer, so I knew what I was getting into.. It was a lot of work in a short time though.
"Exorcist: The Beginning" is another strange story with rejected scores, composers fired and all. What could you tell us about this experience? What is your opinion about the sad fact of score rejections, the firing of composers and all that appears to be a
rather frequent event in our days? Do you see it as something normal, a natural risk that every film composer has to take or as a harming and unnatural procedure? Have you experienced anything similar in your career so far?
I'm happy to say that I have not been fired off a film. The score is usually the last thing to be done. So a lot lands on the scores shoulders. A lot of problems that seem to have nothing to do with the music gets blamed on the music , because it's relatively cheap to change, where as a reshoot etc is not. Music is often expected to help or fix bad cuts, bad acting, bad filming, bad timing, you name it. It often works, but if it doesn't, music is sometimes blamed.
I also think temp scores are a big culprit.. Directors get locked in and it's often difficult to get them to focus on different music. Consequently composers are sometimes fired or worse, land up basically writing a version of the temp.. It's a problem.
With regard to the "Exorcist: The Beginning", Chris Young had been hired to do the film, but then Renny Harlin was brought in as director and hired me. I had worked for Renny before on "Deep Blue Sea" and I love him. I really enjoyed doing "Exorcist: The Beginning".
"The Great Raid" is your latest work. Varese Sarabande recently released the score which is characterized by many as a great step away from your “typical” style, as it´s essentially a great work for orchestra and choir. How did you become involved in that film? Why did you decided that the orchestral approach was the most suiting for the
"The Great Raid" was very difficult to "get". I had to once again write a theme to show where I thought it should go. But I must confess , that for me, this is my best work so far. It was the first time I had worked orchestraly in London and it was
fantastic. I really worked hard on the themes and the orchestrations and was very happy at the end. I also think the dub engineer was great.
What could you tell about the film? How was working with John Dahl?
Working with John Dahl was inspirational. He was very closely involved , but he was more a great coach encouraging me than trying to change things. I would work with him again anytime.
The Main theme is memorable, but there a lot of complex and inspiring, long action cues, particularly for "The Rescue" sequence... What are your thoughts on this score? What is your favourite cue?
I think my favorite cue to listen to is the first track "The Rescue". I think the main words used in discussions between John Dahl and myself was humility and dignity.
This year you also scored "Coach Carter", a sport film like "Remember the Titans", and also there are news about a film, "Ripley Under Ground", where you repeat the collaboration with director Roger Spottiswoode. What could you tell us about those two
"Coach Carter" was fun to do and I liked working with Thomas Carter the director. Roger Spottiswoode and I really wanted to work together on "Ripley Under Ground", unfortunetly time got in the way. But we will definitely work together at some point.
Is there a particular movie/score genre where you feel you´re the most comfortable working at? Which ones work the best for you?
This will sound like a cop out , but I really love working with picture in gereral. It can be a good movie ("Any Gentre"), a sports theme ( I did the themes for the NBA-Basketball, Nascar theme, Baseball theme), a tv theme, (just finished "Ering"),or a theme park ride ("Epcot-mission space"). I don't have a desire to do is a weekly tv show however.
Also, we would love to know some stuff about your personal preferences. What kind of music do you usually listen to? Which film composers (living or demised) have an influence on your work?
My musical taste covers a huge range. I love great blue grass, bulgarian female state choir, Arnold Schoenberg, Aaron Copland, Tchaikovsky, Ennio Morricone ("The Mission"), Foo Fighters... too much to mention.
In conclusion, what could you tell us about your future works? We heard that you will work in "Glory Days" produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. Any other films you will be involved in? What would be your dream project? Perhaps an animated film, some would say!
I am doing "Glory Road" right now, and then I will start "Gridiron Gang" with The Rock. I also hope to do a solo album soon.
And yes, I would like to do an animated film at some point soon. I think it would be very enjoyable.
English Edition: Demetris Christodoulides
Traducción: Pablo Nieto