Trevor Jones in conversation, 1999

Interview by Jonathan Broxton and James Southall


Can we start with Merlin? That was very successful for you. There’s an awful lot of music in it, over two hours. When there’s so much music do you get longer to write it?

No. I think the Merlin score was three and a half weeks in total, about 24-25 days or something. The fact of the matter is that, with television you’re meant to write a lot faster than film, mainly because the budgets are smaller and it means that you can’t spend as much time on the project because the schedules are tighter although it doesn’t cost any more for me to come on a film three or four weeks earlier. It’s only me writing at that point. But even with the shorter post-production period, one finds that people tend to want to make changes right up to the last minute. Actually, people are always making changes whether it’s a long post-production stint or a really short one, there is always room for improvement and lets face it, nobody makes changes unless they feel that they are improving on what they have already achieved.

Is there any change in the actual approach to the music if it’s television?

For me, not really, no. You can hear that I don’t write any differently for television or film. Basically, I believe the medium is going to become so sophisticated, and these masters will be used for DVD or whatever format that may be invented in the future, and I think that those scores written for television, will really show as being not as full-bodied and the ideas not as fully worked-out. I think the shelf life of those projects will suffer. I get equally excited about doing a project whether it’s for film or for TV. I think it’s because we have a different approach here in Britain – people feel they are “composers”, so they write music, and whether it’s for television or film its irrelevant. In America the budgets and the time scheduling for TV writers are very constrained and restricted. For film, it’s equally constrained and restricted, but they pretend it’s a notch up! (laughs)

There’s a strange thing that goes on in America with regard to composers. I’m sure there’s justification for it, but they seem to look down on their television music writers. They don’t seem to be regarded in the same light as film composers, the assumption being that the restrictions produce less quality work, I suppose.

The thing that struck me about the Merlin score is the fact that it doesn’t sound like a television score. It sounds like a theatrical score, because it has that big scale to it.

Well, it’s a big scale story, you know, and so I think that when you have high definition television with surround sound in your living room in the year 201 0 or whenever, those are the projects that we are going to be viewing. You know, I bought Merlin on DVD a few days ago in America; it sounds spectacular in surround sound stereo! I was extremely impressed. So that is my reason for not treating television with condescension. Merlin was virtually the entire Arthurian legend from his birth right through to the death of Arthur, which is quite comprehensive. It is on a big scale.

You seem to be the man for Arthurian things.

Well, I don’t know why that is actually! (laughs) Earlier in my career Excalibur was a big project. I loved working with John Boorman because he really got me fired up by the myth and legend. Every few years we look at myth, fantasy and legend in a new light, Every generation looks at it and it’s terribly exciting. There’s something about that story that gets to people. I love it, I must say. And then, in The Mighty, it turns up once again. It’s not that I chose to score it because of the Arthurian theme, but I could easily identify with the boys’ interest in the legend because I share the same fascination, I think.

The thing as well is that, although they all deal with the same legend, you’ve approached them in three very different ways

Well, I just feel that I’m creatively bound to do that. It is exciting to take three different approaches to the same theme. If I’d churned out the same score for each picture, or even for the subject matter, I’d be in all sorts of trouble. The legend is just the sort of thing that inspires you every time you read it, and every time I get involved in it I feel that I can do it from a different angle. I’m sure that if I’m asked to do it again I could easily come up with yet another direction. It’s exceptionally inspiring.

Don’t you get directors saying “write this and make it sound like Excalibur“?

Well, believe it or not, I don’t. I’m not even sure that the last two actually knew I did Excalibur. I don’t want to insult my directors, but I doubt they were aware that I had. I think people might be worried if they did know because they’d think “oh dear, he’s going to regurgitate that old score again.” I realise now that there are actually people who listen to the music. (laughs) Like you! (laughs)

Were you happy with the way Merlin turned out overall?

I think so. If you’re doing a job and you write what you feel is the best you can for the film at the time, you can’t ask for more than that. The fact that a month later it was nominated for an Emmy Award, and then I’m sitting in a limousine going to Pasadena, with my engineers, meant that we must have got something right. The turnover for television is so fast, whereas with some films, you write it in January and you don’t know anything about it until October, and by that time you’ve gone away and written other scores and other films have been released, and it gets confusing. So, with Merlin I was very happy that, given the time, it came out as well as it did. Because the film comes in and you score it, and then three days later another version comes in and it’s different. The music doesn’t fit any longer, so you’re sitting there saying “Oh, God, how can I get this theme which worked so well in a previous cut of the film, to work again without speeding up the music?” Scenes which used to go from here to there no longer do that and the whole thing is different. Added to which there are scenes that one has not even touched on yet. In my youth I might have been tempted to panic, but these days I enjoy the challenge and I suppose the adrenaline surge.


The thing that constantly astounds me about people like yourself who do scoring, is that you’ve got all these constraints about what you write having to fit into the scene, but that it also sounds so good outside it as well. It just constantly staggers me that you can actually do that.

That it sounds good on or off the picture? Well, I know it sounds silly, but it’s a craft which you practice, you keep doing it and the more you do it the better and better you get at it. That’s why I’m in awe of people like Elmer Bernstein, Jerry Goldsmith and Maurice Jarre, and these guys who’ve been around forever – I probably shouldn’t say that! (laughs) – but they’re the doyens of the industry, they’re legends, and they’re a few years older than me, and they’ve been around writing and practising for a very long time. I’m just in awe of their ability to get better and better and better as time goes on, That’s the whole point of the job, really.

I’m Chair of Music at the National Film School and I’m trying to help people realise that it’s a craft, that the more you practice any craft the better you get at it. At the end of the day, it’s trying to enhance the meaning in the film with the music. That’s the main thing. I get a great deal of satisfaction from working with young artists, young filmmakers and composers.

What does that job involve, at the National Film School?

Well, I hope that least I can do is be inspirational! (laughs) I know it sounds silly, but if helps for them just to be able to sit down and have a one-to-one chat with me, perhaps look at scene in a picture with someone who’s writing for one of the graduate films, and just to be able to discuss approaches to the writing of the scene, what sort of problems is he encountering. The thing is that all these guys are usually postgraduates who have come to the film school and they have fabulous tutors, marvellous people who work with them on a day to day basis, and so my thing is much more inspirational. It’s more to say “this is the kind of problem I’ve encountered quite a lot and this is how I get round it, maybe we can work out another way of getting round this sort of problem”. The students know that there’s someone there who’s actually confronting the same problems in practice on a day to day basis in the same way that they are, as opposed to some theoretical academic whose sitting there pontificating about it. I’m actually sitting at a desk, working with engineers, working with orchestras all the time, trying to resolve these problems, trying to find my own solutions to them and trying to encourage them to find their own solutions.

It’s also a different approach to working – as a film-maker who is working with music as an element of film-making, as opposed to a musician or a composer who writes music and then comes along but works separately. You’re working as someone who is conspiring to make a film with other filmmakers. You’re part of a team. I went to film school – the same film school that I’m now chair of music at – and it was there that I began to realise that to be a filmmaker is what the whole thing is about, You’re all trying to do the same thing, you’re all trying to entertain. The cinematographer will shoot the picture in such a way that the narrative is as clear as he can make it, and from the point of view of music you’re trying to imbue the picture with emotion which is inherent in the script. You’re trying to make the meaning of the scene clearer through the music that you’re writing, trying to bring out the emotion in the film. And so, when they start thinking along those lines instead of “I’m a composer, I’m a musician”, they will be more successful. It really has to come from inside the film – out, rather than being slapped on. I think when you start imposing any element on filmmaking then it doesn’t feel organic, as if its grown from within and consequently It doesn’t feel like it’s integral to the film.

Some people say that the best film music is the music you don’t actually notice in the cinema, when it has a subliminal effect. Do you find that that’s something you strive for when you’re writing?

Well, it depends on the film – yes and no. I mean, I can’t actually say that when I wrote the theme for The Last of the Mohicans I was hoping no one would notice it! (laughs) It just comes at you and it makes a big statement. But when you’re underscoring certain scenes, it’s using music like make-up – its there to heighten the effect, to bring out the structure, and hopefully you will not notice it as you would a main theme or an opening title statement. The roles and the uses of music are many and varied. But I think the feeling, the subliminal effect of music, of not being conscious of it, has more to do with music itself, because music is like a direct emotional line to an audience. It bypasses the intellect and goes straight to the heart. It doesn’t go to the brain unless you actually tune in or are made to notice it and are conscious of what it’s doing. It has an emotional effect without you having to think too much about it, and that’s why it’s used so extensively.

Someone asked me the other day “Why is there so much music in film?”, and the reason I thought of was that it came about because the Americans tended to have so many commercial breaks in their television that it just broke up the drama on TV. In order to bring you back into a scene and make you feel what you are meant to be feeling after any given commercial break, you slap the appropriate music on – like “this is the love theme” and this is the baddie chasing the goodie, and so on.

But films would be dead without music. I mean, if you think of all the greatest films of the past, like Lawrence of Arabia and Star Wars and that kind of thing, without their music the film would be nothing, because the music is integral to how you enjoy the film. It almost takes on a life of its own.

I know that people are well aware of the importance of music on film, and the importance of one element of filmmaking over another is dependent on the individual film. An intelligent production will make the necessary budgetary considerations on a film by film basis – but sabotaging the music, and consequently the film by inadequate funding for music is not what the majority of filmmakers are about. Good producers will find sufficient funds – and the bad ones you hope to avoid.

But they’re willing to spend millions on an actor, or whatever, and then a composer comes in and he gets three weeks and very little money.

I think the “very little money” is relative. It is very difficult for composers to be confrontational in that sense but the bigger you become in terms of stature and track record, the more you can point out potential disasters and it is imperative for us to point out that: “if you go that route you’re cutting off your nose to spite your face, we need only what is necessary to maximise the potential in a score to make the film work” There are also times where – with Merlin for instance – I don’t really want to spend any longer than a certain period writing it. Not because of the subject matter, but if I can do it at a speed that is comfortable, then I’m happy. Sometimes there is not enough time and the work suffers, but I’ve been very lucky in that I seemed to attain an excitingly high standard in what is relatively a short scoring period. The pressure is not only on me but everybody working with me. Engineers, copyists, everybody in the music department subjected to the same time pressure. So it’s a huge team effort, it’s just not one person.


What are you actually working on at the moment?

It’s a film with Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts called Notting Hill. It’s fantastic, it’s wonderful. I saw it last week in Los Angeles at a test screening and it really is a superb piece of entertainment, a treat!. I enjoyed doing it very much. We used the LSO, but it’s not a vast symphonic score, that would have been wrong for the film. Instead it’s got nice intimate guitar, piano and string writing, a bit of woodwind occasionally, but not a “big-canvas score” because it’s not that sort of subject matter.

It’s very different from something like Merlin. You get to write so many different styles – it must be great fun!

It is, but by the same token you have to be careful not to take on similar genre pictures. After I did Excalibur, you know, I could have done sword and sorcery pictures forever and probably my career would have taken off faster if I had stuck to one genre of picture, but I think I’d have gone barmy! It’s just so much more interesting to write the best possible music you can in other genres. There are so many genres left to do.

Personally, I think it’s nice to be known as someone who scores films whatever they are. I’ve been obsessed with the cinema since I was five. I used to play truant when I was eight or nine years old and sneak in the theatre’s lavatory window to go and watch films. I loved the cinema, the diversity of genres – I watched a variety of genres when I was a kid. The Mark of Zorro and Spy 13 – every week there would be a different B-movie with a serial and a feature, and there would be cartoons as well, so you absorb all of those different genres. I never thought I would grow up and just be an Arthurian legend writer! (laughs)

How did you get the job for Notting Hill?

I remember being approached to score Four Weddings and a Funeral, but I couldn’t do it because I was working on In The Name Of The Father at the time, but I got Notting Hill through Duncan Kenworthy whom I’d worked with alongside Jim Henson in the early eighties, Duncan and I have done quite a few films together He produced Lawn Dogs, and then I also worked with him on Gulliver’s Travels, by now I enjoy quite a history with a number of superb directors and producers.

Is there going to be a CD release of Notting Hill?

Yes. Well, the thing is about Notting Hill is that there are a lot of songs. I’ll prepare a soundtrack album whether it’s going to be released or not, and I put it aside. I’ve got quite a few soundtrack albums that have never been released, of scores that have never come out. But, generally speaking, Notting Hill has very big songs that play an integral part in the film

I didn’t realise that you were responsible for deciding which songs to use, as well for as writing the score. Is that always the case?

When I score, yes, generally. On In The Name Of The Father for instance, they basically said, “Do what you need to do to make the music a success”. So I felt that U2’s Bono singing the opening titles and Sinead O’Connor to singing the closing credits songs would be wonderful bookends to the film, and they were fantastic. The thing with In The Name Of The Father was, because the characters were in prison over a long period of time, I wanted to denote the time passing with pop music, from The Kinks through Bob Marley and so on.

The films I choose tend to range quite extensively from genre to genre, I don’t like being typecast as a specific genre composer so I never tend to do two films in the same genre consecutively.

You haven’t done many romantic comedies, so Notting Hill is allowing you to explore yet another genre.

Yes, that’s right. But the thing about music is that it usually fails if it tries to be funny. I haven’t attempted to be tongue in cheek about this score either. I’ve been quite serious. I enjoyed it, but I find that kind of writing quite a challenge, because you can be so easily seduced into thinking you’re funnier than you are.

I read a quote that Randy Newman once said that, when he was doing Maverick, he’d written the score and the director, Richard Donner, said “It’s not funny enough”, so Randy said “What’ll make it funnier”, and the director said “Well, can’t we put some banjos in it?” (laughs) He expected this to suddenly transform the film!

I think when you’re doing a film and the director’s saying “Look, you’re not expressing what the guy had for supper last Sunday”, then you’re in serious trouble because the director is obviously trying to put an emotion into the scene that he didn’t shoot, or the actor didn’t convey. When a director seriously suggests the use of certain instruments because he associates them with humour then it is our job to examine the idea. Usually one is trying to enhance what is there, like a make-up artist, you’re bringing out the colour in the cheeks. If you’ve got to graft cheeks on in the first place like a plastic surgeon, you’re in trouble. When it’s not inherent in the scene everyone has to face up to it and no amount of banjos will rescue the situation.

All you do is just bring it out and make it more powerful for the audience.

Yes, but even so, sometimes you think: “If it is there, why cake it? Why don’t you contradict the image, why don’t you add another dimension? Why don’t you give it another resonance?”

There’s a very thin line between being appropriate and being manipulative.

And also, catering for people’s neuroses about what they think they didn’t do. They didn’t shoot it properly, it didn’t accurately convey what they were hoping it would. There are times when you look at a scene and you say, well, why don’t you like this cue? What’s wrong? They say, “Well, it’s not doing what it’s supposed to be doing. It could do this, that and the other”. Then you learn at a later date that t there’s a whole load of baggage there that you can’t see on the screen. All you see is an actor doing a scene in a particular way, but there’s this baggage, this history, what the director has experienced that you don’t know anything about. That’s very difficult sometimes, because you have to say, “All I can do is score what I see.” The audience will only take in what you present them with. The success of every project is dependent on such a variety of reasons both artistic and commercial. All one can ever do is give it all you have sometimes its highly successful at other times not.

You work your socks off on it and nobody sees it.

Well, the fact of the matter is you work your socks off on every one. If you don’t commit 101% to a project you shouldn’t be doing it. When I choose projects I know I’m going to be up doing 16-18 hour days, and I know that I’m going to have to ask everyone around me to do the same, so if I’m not committed to doing it then I can’t take it on. I have, in the past, been offered a project and I’ve had to say “I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to give what this project needs, You need someone who’s going to be totally committed to doing it. I only ever commit myself and my troops to something I know we are going to enjoy doing, irrespective of whether the movie is going to be the next blockbuster. That’s somebody else’s job we’re here to make sure the score works as well as it can work.


You had quite a good 1998 didn’t you, with Merlin and The Mighty. Dark City was also very well received as well.

I know, people keep saying that! I haven’t worked any harder than any other year. It’s just that the pictures seemed to be more high profile. Perhaps it’s because people are noticing the projects more. I started out with Titanic Town, then Merlin, then I did Molly. I haven’t done anything except Notting Hill for the last five months – and Molly took four, so if you think about it I did Merlin and Titanic Town in the first quarter of last year, and the rest of the time I’ve just been working on two films, when normally that wouldn’t be the case, I would do four or five projects a year.

Titanic Town is a very unusual score. What inspired the decision to just use guitars?

Probably two things. One was the fact that Titanic Town is a very intimate film, the formation of the women’s movement in Northern Ireland, is a very serious subject. The other thing is probably the fact that it just suited the subject matter. If it had needed a 100-piece orchestra, I would have gone out and got one, and I’d have probably paid for it myself, but the fact is it didn’t. There’s an intimacy about the guitar sound that, when you see it in the context of the film, I was very concerned to use for the film. The John Martin type of sound, that I was wanting. He’s a fabulous player. His style has changed over the last 25 years – obviously, like all artists, you change and develop and grow – but he tended to have a particular voice in the seventies which was very special. I thought his writing was fantastic. Also, because of the fact that he came from Northern Ireland, I could relate to that as a real sound instead of the diddly-aye things that people jokingly associate with the Irish. There’s a phenomenal sound there that is Ireland. So in order to keep a kind of continuity in the score I tended to use the songs of John Martin along with the guitar sound that he used. I didn’t try to emulate his guitar sound, but it just felt natural to use that kind of underscore. I think it works terribly well with the picture.

It’s just a different way of approaching that subject matter. Molly is scored for guitars too, but differently, that was multi-track guitars. But there’s not a great deal of music overall in it, really, This year I keep saying that it’s going to be the year for big orchestras. I love writing symphonic orchestral scores.

You’re very good at big themes. The Last of the Mohicans and Cliffhanger

I like the big theme scene. It probably goes back to my childhood again. Sitting in a cinema and going “wow”, seeing this huge image and the huge sound that comes from it. It still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up when I go to a cinema and hear a huge theme.

When you’re using a big orchestra you often incorporate synthesisers as well.

That’s just to extend the sound palette, because the thing about the orchestra is that it’s timeless. That’s why Disney invariably has an orchestral score for their animated films, because they don’t date as much as synthesisers. Synthesisers tend to have a fairly limited lifespan before another synthesiser comes on the market.

All those late seventies scores by Giorgio Moroder and people like that sound horrible nowadays, but yet Midnight Express won the Oscar.

They do tend to date, whereas symphonic/electronic fusion scores tend to be have lives of their own.

A lot of people mix the two. Jerry Goldsmith often uses “synths” and “symphs”.

Synths and symphs! (laughs) I like that. For me, it gives me an extended palette. A range of colours that are playing outside the range of an instrument and don’t naturally exist within the orchestra. That really is quite a treat but, frankly, it’s no replacement for good orchestration. When you’re working with great orchestrators they can come and see a line and say “well, why don’t we double the horn with the cello, and find a great many combinations of instruments. But I think the art of orchestration suffers because of the time factor. You don’t always have the time to think about how to get different orchestral effects. All my orchestrations are in short score or pretty detailed, because of time constraints but it would be good to spend more time on details. It’s really sad because the standard of orchestration on film doesn’t go up, and the standard of writing is coming down and down. It’s hard to actually look at the time constraints and believe that everybody’s reaching their optimum writing potential or their personal standards.

It’s like what you were saying before about, because everything is wanted straight away, you don’t have the time to develop your score in the way you might like.

I think the craft does suffer. Also, you tend to find that the film has been temped with somebody else’s score and you end up in one of those chronic situations where a director or producer will actually like the temp, and if you write anything different they’re not terribly keen on it, but if you write anything resembling the same you go to prison! So you’re sitting there with this incredible dilemma. The short answer is, if they like the temp so much, why don’t they hire the composer who wrote it in the first place, if he is still alive? I tend to be very to the point with people who want to emulate a temp track. I can’t be doing with that. I like to come and create something new and fresh.

The main reason why a lot of directors don’t turn up to my recording sessions is that I actually sketch the score. Once I’ve written it I play it into a computer and simulate a score, and you can fit it to picture and see how it’s working. Often the director will say “Fine, that’s it”, and they wouldn’t turn up to recording sessions trusting that the realisation of the sketches to orchestra will sound even better. It happens more often than not in my projects, and I enjoy working like that. What I’m trying to do at that point, in the studio with musicians, once the structure of the music’s in place and it fits the picture, is put the emotion onto the screen. So I’m trying to get a performance out of the musicians, and I’m listening for that, you really don’t want to be bothered with somebody saying, “Oh, we’ve lost that shot!” At that point the cut has got to be conformed, because what I’m trying to do then is another stage up from that. It’s trying to get a particular feeling from the music, and if the musician isn’t feeling it, it’s not going to work for an audience.

I think the orchestra on The Mighty, for instance, played the scene of the boy running after the ambulance ten times better after they saw the picture. They learnt the notes, then I asked them all to come into the control room and look at what they’d done to the picture, and they saw what the music, the notes I’d written, was trying to do. They went back, and it had so much emotion in it. That’s what moves an audience. You have to be able to feel it in order for other people to feel it. By saying that I don’t mean that I’m a method composer, that if I’m doing a horror picture I have to stab my way through a few pumpkins before I can write a cue, or anything like that. But you do have to create an atmosphere and an environment in which other musicians can work and perform and give you that emotion you need. As I keep saying, we’re blessed with the most fantastic musicians in England. You’re not dealing with sentimentality, you’re dealing with very real sentiment, and you need to express that, and they’re able to do that superbly by just focusing and concentrating. There’s an incredible amount of channelling of energies in order to get the right emotion out of a piece of music. I suppose that’s really the main point about the business of scoring.

I saw The Mighty just after Christmas, actually, and I thought it was wonderful. I thought your score was fantastic, though. I love the way you’ve got the three different styles of music. I don’t know how exactly you would describe it, but you’ve got the kind of bluegrass American theme, and then the big Arthurian theme, and the Irish one. I thought it was great.

As I mentioned, my favourite bit in The Mighty actually doesn’t play the way I wanted it to, but it’s the bit where the boy dies at the end, and the other one comes running up to the ambulance, and Sharon Stone gets out of the back. I just had this one boy chorister with the LSO’s strings. It was the kind of score that I really enjoyed writing because I thought there was something special about their relationship. Max really flew, he really grew, because of this relationship.

It’s quite a tragic film, with the boy dying at the end.

Actually, I said to the director “We can’t leave people at the end of the film on a low”, so we gently took it right up and up and made Max’s journey, and the fact that he comes out of himself and begins to fly, more uplifting. It’s like the broken ornithopter that has been fixed and can fly; it’s like a metaphor there. That’s why I was so thrilled about the song being nominated for a Golden Globe, because doing the song with Sting was such a fantastic experience we both felt a sense of flying. I really enjoyed working with him.

Was it always the plan for there to be a song, or did that develop later out of the score?

While I was writing the score Sting was sent a cut of the film, because we decided that maybe we ought to get someone to do a song. And Sting, when he saw the film, asked who was scoring it, so they told him I was, and he said “Why doesn’t Trevor write the music and I’ll sing it and write the lyrics.” So I did, and we worked in this very room actually. He’s such a generous artist, a great communicator. I had a great time with him. So the score and the song were being worked on at the same time. There’s a lot in common with the two things.


The song is based on the main theme isn’t it?

Yes. Which, really, I felt was a very integrated way of writing a song, because nobody usually does that. It’s normally just a distant idea, musically.

Sometimes songs don’t bear any relation to the score. They’re tacked on so that they can make a song compilation.

I don’t know what the figures are – I suppose The Bodyguard sold and made lots of money – but I think song compilations are slightly boring, frankly. The songs are already out there, usually on CD, and they just get put together in a compilation. Something that anyone can do in the future when we can compile our own CD’s from the Internet.

Sometimes the songs aren’t even featured in the film, or you get twenty seconds of them over the end credits.

Or something on a transistor radio playing in the background and someone’s put a drill over it. We had that on Arachnophobia where you can’t hear the song in the film but it turns up on the record.

At the expense of your score.

Well, you know, a lot of the time they don’t put the score on because, commercially, they feel that that’s a better way of doing things.

The sad thing is that the song albums sell more than the scores.

The thing is that there are two separate markets and I think those markets need to be better developed. It’s when people take an interest in the scores that the standard of scoring will go up. That’s why I’m always keen to talk about my work and to speak to people, because it’s people like you who make a difference. In taking an interest and in writing about it, hopefully more and more people will become interested and the standard of writing will go up, and the quality of scoring will improve and we’ll be given bigger budgets and sensible schedules, it helps when people take an interest in scoring.

I’ve always felt that, not from my personal point of view, but generally that film scoring has been the Cinderella of the industry. The credits for musicians always go after the honeywagon and the caterers – it’s like it’s more important for them to have been fed than there to be good music! Well, you know, frankly it’s not good enough. It’s pathetic. There’s no reason why they should push everything back that far, It’s iniquitous really, considering the contribution the music makes.

Like we were saying before, if the films didn’t have the music they would be diminished to the nth degree.

I think that the way in which people have taken advantage is just overwhelming , because composers have lost the authority they once had. There was this time when they put rubbish on films and anyone with a synthesiser in their front room could whack a tune on a score and it would be put out there. But when you’re talking about quality work, when you’re talking about a long shelf life of a project, then it matters that the London Symphony Orchestra, or a great orchestra, is playing it, and it’s superbly recorded, and it’s going to stand the test of time. And that it’s something that people will want to collect and listen to in the future. Even though the time constraints have, in the past, been excessive, people have been able to pull out of the bag things that are quite amazing. People take musicians for granted. They know that they can do it. They know that the organisation, and the whole way in which music is learnt and perceived and practised is professional. I mean, there are very few organisations in the world that are as professional as musicians. I say that almost as an outsider looking in on the music profession because that’s exactly what they are. 90 people walk into a room, you put dots in front of them that they’ve never seen before in their lives, and they turn them into emotion instantly. Five minutes later and you are hearing it in all its glory. That sort of thing is taken for granted, and its because people are trained as little children right through this extraordinary language of music and they have this esoteric ability to make little black dots into human emotion. People like me will manipulate little black dots so that it gives meaning to the film, I find it extraordinary that, with all this obvious formidable professionalism, music is still treated like Cinderella. In every respect. With budgets, people will say “oh, this is the only bit we’ve got left, do what you can with that” or “we had two days of rain we weren’t expecting” or “I’m afraid the cast of thousands ate their way through too many sandwiches and cups of tea.

They ate the soundtrack budget (laughs) Were you disappointed that you didn’t win the Golden Globe for The Mighty?

No, is the short answer. I was sitting at the table and I thought to myself, if they say Sting and Trevor Jones, I’m going to do one of two things. I’m either going to run out with my hand up to my face saying “I’ve got a nosebleed, sorry, excuse me!”, or fall under the table and wait until everyone’s gone and then go home. (laughs) I didn’t think about it at all, because it’s actually something you don’t think about.

It’s the second time you’ve been nominated isn’t it? You were nominated for The Last of the Mohicans weren’t you?

Yes, that’s right. I just find it too overwhelming. These chaps stand up there and they must have scriptwriters, because they’re instantly funny and amazing. I’d have said “I haven’t prepared anything, thank you very much, I’m going home!” That would probably be all I could muster. At the end of the day you think, well, there are five people who have been nominated and, of all the stuff that’s been put out you’re up there with the top five! Well, that’s not bad, is it, in terms of achievement? Whether you’re first, second or third, it really becomes a case of it being completely subjective who wins. I do the Mercury Music Prize every year, and I know it’s a fairly subjective thing as to who you like, as to whether it’s going to get in to the top twelve. And then who’s made the best record in Britain in that year has got to be subjective. Your taste is going to be completely different from mine! But the fact that you’ve got up there, and even to have been considered, is really fantastic. That itself is an achievement. Then, for me, if you win it occasionally, it’s a sort of thing that covers all the work you’ve done to that point.

Right. It’s not necessarily just for the one film, it’s more for your career achievements as a whole.

Yes, it’s almost a sort of lifetime achievement award. But then you begin to worry about a) dying soon, and b) you’re glad that you actually had a life to achieve something in! Awards are very strange things. The thing is, you can’t do the job for awards or for money, because you’re always going to be let down on both fronts. There must be another reason for doing it, and that reason has to be that you enjoy doing what you do, and you want other people to do derive enjoyment from what you do.

I’ve had this feeling that I’ve been out in the wilderness for years, but the last two weeks have been really strange for me because, yes, I have given interviews over the years to various magazines and so on, but here and there, whereas over the last few weeks I’ve suddenly been inundated with a lot of interviews, and they all know about my scores, and they all know about other people’s work, and you think “Gosh, this is really serious! People are really taking it as seriously as I do!” There is this incredible interest, and we are beginning to realise that this stuff does make an enormous difference to the picture, and that the quality of scores matters, and that there are people who may be feeling that maybe one person wasn’t as good on this one as he was on his last picture. You’re working constantly to a standard, either your standards that you’re setting, or the general standards of film scoring. It’s very elevating, it’s very exciting.

Do you feel that directors tend to interfere too much in what you do?

It depends on the quality of his vision and his experience but arrogance or a CD collection can lead to the destruction, sometimes, of a good score. Often someone who has sung in a choir, thinks he knows about music. Everyone “knows ” about music, everyone “loves” music, but the craft of writing to a picture is a totally esoteric craft which, even after four years at the Academy and four years at University and then film school, and even after practising further for over 20 years, I still feel that I’m learning about it. I don’t know all the answers to everything and I probably won’t until the day I die. I’ll still be discovering new things about it, and that’s part of the fun of scoring. That’s probably why I write so much, because I’m constantly discovering new things. But there’s nothing more annoying than people who want to get in and feel they’ve contributed to the score. What you need is to find out what the director’s vision is. What is it that he wants to realise on a screen? Then you put your perspective on that vision. You’re putting forward your angle; this is the way you would write something. It’s like someone saying to you “I want you to paint me a view of Covent Garden”, and then saying “but make that bit pink, and put some balls in the back there, and I don’t like Saint Paul’s that big, make it a little smaller…” and you think, well, who’s doing the painting here, me or you? It’s like having a dog and barking yourself. It can get very boring.

But it’s wonderful when you’re working with people who have faith and trust in your abilities. I feel that I want to go on improving from score to score and you can’t take anything for granted, if you respect the work you’re doing. The fact is that we are in a very extraordinary situation where we’re doing something we love doing, something that people love seeing, and we’re getting paid for doing it! Even though sometimes I have bags under my eyes and I say there’s not enough time, the fact of the matter is that I’m doing something I love doing, and that’s a real privilege. Especially when you walk into a room with assistants and engineers like this around you and you know they’re tired but they’re still smiling, because you know they’re actually getting a kick out of what they’re doing. We love and enjoy this business we’re in, and we know how lucky we are to be in it. It is a privilege, and one that we can’t abuse.


I wanted to ask you about Labyrinth, your thoughts about that film, and your recollections of working with David Bowie and Jim Henson.

It’s probably one of the most romantic projects I’ve ever worked on in terms of memories, because it was with Jim, and Duncan Kenworthy. Duncan produced Four Weddings and a Funeral and he’s also the producer of Notting Hill, he’s a special talent, We were about the same age when we started with Jim in the late seventies, early eighties. We worked on The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth and The World of Jim Henson and projects like that.

I suppose Jim thought of me as a more serious writer and, because I was scoring films, I was given the film assignments of The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. Labyrinth came about because Jim and I were in the airport in Atlantic City promoting The Dark Crystal and he said “What shall we do next?”, so I said “Why don’t we score a rock project next, something totally different from the previous symphonic Dark Crystal?” He said “Hmm. A rock score. So we’d use a rock artist. Who could we use?” We rattled through Mick Jagger, David Bowie, all the rock stars who could also possibly be actors, and settled on pursuing Mr. Bowie, who was incredible in doing these songs for the picture.

Jim and I went over to Gstaad in Switzerland to work with him on the songs, and he was amazing to work with and loved the project. It was like a fairyland, and I have special memories of Jim, David Bowie, and myself. We used to stay in and drink mulled wine. Really quite special memories mixing the music at Odyssey Studios, working with Jennifer Connelly, as well, when she was just a little girl in Labyrinth and now she’s in Dark City as an adult. Seeing her now, grown up, is quite extraordinary. It makes me feel really old. (laughs)

Labyrinth is a completely synth score isn’t it?

Yes, but it wasn’t going to be. I would have gone on to add an orchestra to it, but we stopped for some reason. I don’t know. I think the producer said something. I’m really easily influence by things sometimes, and the producer kind of put his oar in and made a suggestion when I was conceiving the score at the outset, I was easily intimidated in those days. Now I don’t have that problem. I need space to do my thing, and then people express their opinions. But the score seemed to stop at a particular point in its development and Jim said he quite liked it like that. At that point the score was on a par with the work Bowie had done on the songs all instrumental and synthetic, and not orchestral. To a certain extent there might have been a slight imbalance in the texture if we’d have had rock music with orchestra. I thought it was interesting because it had the songs and it had the underscore and I tried to keep the thing instrumental as opposed to adding any more orchestra. There were a lot of cues in Labyrinth, as I recall, a great deal of music. I think I know why it seemed so enormous to me – because we had to play everything. When you’re doing synthesisers you have to play the whole lot.

But the funny thing about scoring pictures is that an audience sees about five percent of the iceberg the successful tip of achievement, and ninety-five percent of the iceberg is failure. You try something, and it doesn’t work, then you try something else, and all you ever show the public are the bits that do work, so at the end of the day they expect some genius to come staggering out of a room, and of course what you’re doing is presenting the things you’ve been trying to make work. Filmmaking is like that. It’s a combination of all the best elements percolated down into one entertaining product. That’s why it’s lovely to work with people like Duncan [Kenworthy] where you feel comfortable about trying to do something different, making a statement, maybe failing and maybe succeeding – what film school is about. You can be comfortable about it because you can trust Duncan to be supportive, and it’s like a conspiracy to entertain. It’s a very precious thing, when you’re working together, to be able to say, “they’ve got to feel like this, how can we do it? How can we bring the tear to the eye and bring out that emotion?” Not to manipulate, but to sincerely try to make an audience respond., and that’s what I think the whole business is about. The joy of coming away from scoring a picture knowing we’ve entertained. That’s the job we do and, as I said before, it’s a privilege, to get paid for doing it is amazing. When I see somebody emptying the dustbins on a cold winter’s morning, and I’m sat in the car, I know that I’m going to be in a studio in a few minutes, but he’s still going down the road. It’s good to keep your feet on the ground.

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