They can cut an album, but can they cut it in the movies?
That’s what film music pros are asking themselves more and more these days, as a wave of musicians schooled in record-making are also scoring films, many producing unexpected results.
Pop cult hero Danny Elfman’s entry into film music over a decade ago presaged the wave, but now, it’s a virtual tsunami, as popsters as varied as Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan (“Stigmata”), Dead Can Dance co-founder Lisa Gerrard (“The Insider”), producer-composer team the Dust Bros. (composers of “Fight Club”), Robbie Robertson (“Any Given Sunday”) and premier jazz guitarist Pat Metheny (“A Map of the World”) are just a few of the artists making a splash in the scoring pool.
In it for real
And guess what? “If people think we’re doing this as a one-off thing, they’re way off,” says Dust Bros. partner John King. “We aren’t going anywhere. We’re part of a movement that’s intent on changing the whole way film scores are made and appreciated.”
Producer and music supervisor Bud Carr, who has collaborated with directors Michael Mann and Oliver Stone — “Any Given Sunday’s” song list rings up at 84 mostly pop tunes — as well as such artists as Robertson and LL Cool J, agrees:
“You’ll see more executives and producers taking the risk to invite non-film musicians with a point of view into the scoring area. Five years ago, if a filmmaker wanted a rock band to score his film, he’d get laughed right out of the room. That’s not happening anymore.”
It’s one thing, though, to create an album’s worth of material, and another to write music to support, augment and complement a narrative film.
“They’re completely different, in almost every way,” notes Randy Newman, a veteran of both album-making and film composing. “The people who really, really know the arcane art of movie music are a pretty small group. Most people don’t know or appreciate how it works. I mean, I’m still learning.”
So are others, including King and fellow Dust Brother Michael Simpson, who produced the Beastie Boys, Hanson and Beck before being approached by David Fincher to score his “Fight Club.”
“To be honest, I didn’t even know who Fincher was,” King says. “We had been looking for projects to score, so we weren’t totally surprised when we got this offer. It was for a big studio (Fox), but David was making a film attacking the mainstream, and the music had to come on as kind of an attack.
“He was really specific about that, that in the first cue he wanted music that would assault the audience so much that they might want to leave the theater. Most of the time, though, he gave us a lot of latitude.
“We’re really big on songs and song structure, but the task here was to find the right kind of music for scenes and moments, not songs. I think we were able to do this because we real chameleons, really into collaboration, so we adapt to the need.”
Carr found that Corgan was able to adjust to this radically different practice for the score of “Stigmata,” while bringing his own sensibility that sometimes surprised director Rupert Wainwright and producer Frank Mancuso Jr.
“They believed he could deliver, and when Billy went away to write some cues based on scenes he viewed, their belief was pretty much confirmed. Billy also made some stuff where people went, ‘Oh, this is different,’ maybe even more different than they were expecting.”
But that difference is precisely what more filmmakers are looking for from non-traditional film music. Director Mann perhaps leads the way among Hollywood directors looking far and wide for the unusual, striking music choice.
The Australian Gerrard, who operates out of a modest studio in a remote section of the Outback, had music off her solo disc, “The Mirror Pool,” used in “Heat,” and was brought on board, with partner Pieter Bourke, for “The Insider.”
“At first, Michael wanted just a couple of tracks, but he was so pleased with the results that we ended up working with him for six months,” Gerrard says.
“We didn’t expect it, but we ended up receiving the film score credit, since we did the majority of cues for the film.”
The highly layered score of Gerrard and Bourke will be familiar to Dead Can Dance fans — a mix of ancient music sounds, modern electronics, trance and ambient elements — but it wasn’t merely a case of doing just another variation on their album music.
“Our previous music isn’t disconnected from this score, but the process was utterly different,” Gerrard says. “The characters were our guide, along with Michael.”