When Hans Zimmer realized he was too overextended to tackle the score for “Batman Begins,” he didn’t turn the project down. Instead, he made the unusual move of bringing in James Newton Howard to collaborate with him.
“We’ve been friends for many years, and we always said, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to work on something together?'” Zimmer recalls. “It seemed like a fun idea, and (director) Chris Nolan was into it.”
Says Nolan: “For two composers of such caliber to work together was very exciting. Hans was very honest with me. He said he didn’t know what the nature of the collaboration would be. But they were clearly excited about working together.”
Nolan’s one caveat was that they didn’t simply “divide the film in half.”
“It was really collaborative,” says Zimmer. “There wasn’t a single scene we both didn’t work on. There wasn’t a single piece of music both of us didn’t influence.”
“The soundtrack is very, very consistent. It has a lot of moods going on throughout the film, but it’s a whole absolutely,” notes Nolan.
Zimmer admits he did hand off some key scenes to Howard: “I made him do the love scenes while I did the usual parents dying.”
The duo worked in two different rooms at a London studio, with a corridor in between, says Zimmer. “We kept the doors open all the time. I would start playing on the piano and get an idea for a tune and his hand would slip in between my arms on the keys.”
Nolan notes: “James is extremely disciplined in the way he works, and Hans is much more wonderfully chaotic. I have to say, Hans’ methodology won the day, and James ended up working all kinds of crazy hours.”
“James doesn’t like to work beyond 7 p.m. in the evening, but the first night we worked until 3 in the morning!” Zimmer laughs. “It takes a lot of courage for another composer to enter the crazy Zimmer world.”
Zimmer, a synthesizer enthusiast, convinced the more traditional Howard to dip into the electronic side of things. “He’s a much better player than I am, while I’m a better programmer. We didn’t give up on our own styles, but we ended up coming up with something different.”
The two composers would love to do it again if the right project comes along. “Our relationship is one of friends, of brothers in arms who know the weight of the unwritten tune, the desperation of not having found the great tune,” Zimmer says. “We’re passionate about music. We started off (before ‘Batman Begins’) as good friends and ended up as great friends.”