Even Oscar winners have scores rejected
Once upon a time, having a score thrown out was news (as when Bernard Herrmann was fired by Alfred Hitchcock on “Torn Curtain” or Randy Newman’s music from “Air Force One”). Now scores are tossed at the rate of three or four a year, sometimes more.
Two of this year’s higher-profile movies, “Troy” and “Team America,” suffered from such post-production trauma. Oscar winner Gabriel Yared (“The English Patient”) spent a year composing music for “Troy,” but after complaints at a test screening that Yared’s massive choral-and-orchestral score was old-fashioned, James Horner was called in to compose music only a few weeks short of the film’s May opening.
Marc Shaiman’s “Team America” score was rejected even later in the process, leaving Harry Gregson-Williams just a week to write and record a new score closer to the Bruckheimer action movie model.
Studio execs never discuss rejected scores; composers only rarely — and usually years later, for fear of biting the hand that feeds. Yared is an exception, posting on his Web site an involved recounting of events that led to his dismissal. Sound clips from his work, also posted, were removed soon after reportedly after pressure from Warner Bros.
In an email to Variety from Europe, Yared wrote that “rejecting a score at the last minute is becoming a habit, a bad habit, in this industry.”
In the days after the incident, Yared wrote that director Wolfgang Petersen dubbed his incomplete, unmixed score into the picture without all the final overdubs for an early preview. He was later told that focus-group results indicated his score was “overpowering and too big, old-fashioned and dated the film.”
“Thus in this 24-hour period my score was completely rejected by director and studio and a collaboration of one year came to an end despite the fact that it was unfinished work, that the dub was temporary. … What shocked me the most was that I wasn’t given the chance to fix or change my score or even to answer to any of the questions or accusations being leveled at my work.”
In the case of “Team America,” a rushed post schedule — to get the movie into theaters before the election — left Shaiman to compose the entire score without the usual input from director Trey Parker. “I started writing while they were still filming,” says the five-time Oscar nominee. “That was the only way it could get done in time.”
When Parker, co-writer Matt Stone and producer Scott Rudin heard the music after four-fifths of it had been recorded, “they decided it had too much of my personality in it,” Shaiman says. “Trey wanted it to be less playful. It was a group decision that it would be easier for someone else to come in … than for me to suddenly turn my head around and be able to score the movie over again in five days.”
Veteran film music agent Richard Kraft says scores often get dumped for the same reasons couples get divorced, comparing a soured composer-filmmaker relationship to a failing marriage: because they’re a bad match, or they don’t communicate well or there’s a perception that the grass is greener somewhere else.
“In most cases, you wouldn’t even know the difference between the original score and the replacement,” Kraft adds. “And if they are different, sometimes the replacement score is trying too hard to sell something, so there’s a bit of desperation to the music. Or there’s an attempt to be contemporary in an inappropriate manner. They’re trying to hip up the show, and that never works.”
In rare instances, a second score does help or even save a movie: Jerry Goldsmith’s “Chinatown” — composed in just 10 days after Philip Lambro’s initial efforts were jettisoned — is widely considered to be the classic case of last-minute replacement music that not only succeeded, but became a classic.