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Composer grows from monster undertaking

Howard had 5½ weeks to write three hours of music

Changing composers at the last minute has become commonplace in the biz, but doing it on a three-hour, $200 million Christmas movie just seven weeks before its premiere is especially risky. Peter Jackson hired James Newton Howard for “King Kong” to minimize that risk.

“I don’t think it’s anybody’s desire to work under these incredible deadlines,” says Kathy Nelson, president of film music for Universal, who recommended Howard after Howard Shore left the project over creative differences. “It (takes) a combination of skill, temperament and resources. James is one of those people who can very quickly wrap himself around what the job is and get it done.”

Jackson was easy to convince. “We were working with a temp score through the editing process of Kong, and 11 of the cues in our temp track were in fact written by James,” the helmer reveals. “It turned out there was a great synergy between his compositional style and the style of the movie.”

Howard had 5½ weeks to write three hours of music, some of which required multiple rewrites. He worked in L.A. and communicated with Jackson via phone and closed-circuit TV; they didn’t even meet until the New York opening. Recalls the composer: “It was terrifically difficult in terms of the labor, but it gave me back so much. If I died tomorrow, (I could say) I scored Kong climbing the Empire State Building. It was an iconic moment for me.”

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