Talents beyond the bay

Billion-Dollar Composer: Steve Jablonsky

There’s a misconception about composer Steve Jablonsky. He doesn’t just write pounding action music for big-budget toy and game movies, as might be expected after the billion-dollar grosses for his “Transformers” trilogy and the already internationally successful “Battleship” — although he’s pretty good at it.

He also has composed the slyly witty music for TV’s “Desperate Housewives,” which just concluded its eight-year run on ABC; a series of strange and scary scores for remakes of classic horror movies; a faux-medieval score for the comedy “Your Highness”; and the bright and bouncy music of the recent “Sims” videogames.

Director Michael Bay, who has worked with Jablonsky on more than a dozen films as either director or producer, puts it this way: “Music can make or break a scene. Steve’s contribution to the success of the ‘Transformers’ trilogy and many of our other movies cannot be overstated. I feel very privileged to have a composer of his caliber on our team.”

Jablonsky has already started work on Bay’s next film, “Pain and Gain,” even though it’s still shooting and not scheduled for release until next spring. And just this month he’s begun moving into his 5,000-sq.-ft. Santa Monica studio, a few blocks from Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control Studios where he’s spent most of his career.

Collaborators talk about the 41-year-old composer’s unassuming nature while raving about his reliability.

“He is quiet and courteous, and says very little,” says producer Brad Fuller, who has worked with him on six horror films including “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

Says Universal music president Mike Knobloch: “Steve has this unflappable, even-keeled, mellow and friendly demeanor.”

Zimmer, speaking from London where he’s finishing work on “The Dark Knight Rises,” recalls something Jablonsky’s former boss Harry Gregson-Williams once told him: “He will never let you down.”

Adds “Desperate Housewives” creator Marc Cherry: “I just couldn’t adore the guy more.”

Jablonsky’s story is that of a young composer with great technical skills who started as an intern, worked his way up through the ranks, and took advantage of remarkable opportunities while being mentored by some of the industry’s most in-demand composers.

The Pasadena native, who took up the clarinet at age 9, switched from a computer science major to music halfway through his time at UC Berkeley, where he graduated in 1992. A film score buff who loved the music of John Williams, Ennio Morricone and Zimmer, he simply phoned Zimmer’s studio (then called Media Ventures) in 1995 and asked if there were any internships available.

They hired him.

“I got in at a good time because it was so much smaller than it is now,” Jablonsky recalls. Within six months, he was helping composer Gregson-Williams (newly arrived from England) unpack and set up his gear.

Assisting Gregson-Williams — who was himself collaborating with Zimmer on “The Rock” and Trevor Rabin on “Armageddon” — allowed Jablonsky to observe the process and eventually led to assisting Zimmer directly, adapting the composer’s themes for such films as “Hannibal” and “Pearl Harbor” into scene-specific cues.

What Zimmer refers to as “the turning point” was in 2002 when Jablonsky submitted a melody for the animated “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” that wound up becoming one of the movie’s Bryan Adams songs. “I knew he could arrange and do all the technical stuff,” Zimmer says. “But this was one of those tunes I wish I had written.”

Soon Jablonsky was scoring his own projects, including the ABC series “Threat Matrix” and the HBO movie “Live From Baghdad.”

Bay, who had witnessed Jablonsky’s growth through the previous years, gave him a shot at a feature with the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” remake in 2003 (produced by Bay’s company), which led to the entire series of horror remakes.

Fuller, one of the producers on those films, recalls that Jablonsky “was always looking for really bizarre sounds, sounds that would make people feel uncomfortable. He’s really great at building ‘dread’ musically. And he orchestrates our ‘jump scares’ perfectly.”

Jablonsky’s upbeat score for the Japanese-anime film “Steamboy” and his soaring theme for the Bay-directed sci-fi thriller “The Island” preceded the big assignment: “Transformers” in 2007. (Surefire sign of success: “The Island” music is now a popular choice for trailers.)

Bay gives minimal direction, preferring to react to Jablonsky’s music after seeing early footage: “When Michael says, ‘Get that to my cutting room,’ I know he really likes something,” the composer says.

Last year’s fantasy comedy “Your Highness” provided a fresh opportunity, scoring a sendup of medieval adventure films not only with lutes and recorders but also cheesy ’80s synthesizers.

Recalls director David Gordon Green: “I thought, wouldn’t it be amazing if we got Jablonsky. He could give us that epic nature and still get that emotion that we needed.” The composer responded with a straight-ahead adventure score that still managed to wink at the story’s absurdities.

But for now, with “Battleship” out, “Desperate Housewives” ending and Bay’s next epic in the wings, Jablonsky remains busy and says he’s having fun.

Asked about his overall film-scoring philosophy, Jablonsky answers: “If something works for me, if I think something feels good, I stop there. I try not to overthink it. That’s what I present to the filmmakers, and I’ve been lucky that most of the time they’ve been in agreement with me.”

Billion-Dollar Composer: Steve Jablonsky
Talents beyond the bay | Sound design mixes it up with ‘kick-ass rock’ | Finding darkness at comedy’s core | Vidgames tap film’s eclectic palette | Toy stories driven by electronics

More Music

  • LiveXLive Names AOL and MTV Vet

    LiveXLive Names AOL and MTV Vet Dermot McCormack President

    Live entertainment digital media company LiveXLive Media today announced that AOL and MTV veteran Dermot McCormack has been named president of the company. According to the announcement, McCormack will lead the business and creative operations of LiveXLive, effective immediately. McCormack previously served as AOL’s Global President of Video and Studios, where he oversaw the video [...]

  • R Kelly Sexual Assult Accusations Mugshot

    R. Kelly Ordered Held Without Bail

    R. Kelly has been ordered held without bond at a hearing Tuesday in federal court in Chicago, according to the Chicago Sun Times. The singer entered a not-guilty plea. The hearing, which follows the singer being hit Friday with a total of 18 counts of serious sexual misconduct and other charges in Chicago and New York, [...]

  • Sir Elton John, David Furnish. Sir

    New Elton John AIDS Foundation Gala to be Held in the South of France

    Elton John and David Furnish are launching a new gala for the Elton John AIDS Foundation. The two will host the inaugural A Midsummer Party benefit on July 24 in the south of France at the Johnny Pigozzi’s private estate, Villa Dorane, in Cap d’Antibes. A cocktail reception will be followed by dinner, a live [...]

  • Emmy Queen Bey? Beyonce's 'Homecoming' Lands

    Beyoncé's 'Homecoming' Documentary Lands Six Emmy Nominations

    It’s going to be a busy awards season for Beyonce. She could be up for Grammys or Oscars in the next six months, but she’s already made a splash with the fresh crop of Emmy nominations. Her documentary/concert movie “Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé” has been nominated for six Emmys, and a win in most [...]

  • Jon Sidel

    Jon Sidel Joins Position Music as A&R Director

    Jon Sidel, the veteran music executive and self-described “rock and roll jack of all trades,” has joined Position Music as A&R director. In his new role, Sidel has been tasked with helping expand the roster, bringing his taste-maker savvy to the Los Angeles-based indie label and publisher. Over a career that spans more than 25 [...]

  • Recording Studio

    Cloud-Based Music Mastering Platform Landr Raises $26 Million

    Cloud-based music mastering and distribution platform Landr has raised a $26 million Series B round of funding. The new founding round was led by the Sony Innovation Fund, microphone manufacturer Shure, state-owned financing corporation Investissement Québec and Fonds de solidarité FTQ. Warner Music, Plus Eight Equity Partners, Slaight Communications, YUL Ventures and PEAK Capital Partners [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content