Today it is time to rescue and publish an interview that’s been some time in the archives of SoundTrackFest, an interview conducted with composer Bruce Broughton during SoundTrack Cologne #14 (summer of 2017) by Gorka Oteiza.
In this interview Bruce Broughton talks about his beginnings, about how it is to work for animation or to compose music for theme parks, his opinion about ‘Temp Tracks’, suggestions for composers that are starting their careers, his work in the TV series Dallas or Quincy, his music for westerns, his music for concert halls, his musical influences, or his work in the TV series The Orville.
As you can see, quite a complete interview… that we hope you will like!
Why did you decide to become a film music composer? Is there a moment you remember saying, “Hey, I love this! I want to be a film music composer!”, or was more like a process?
It was a process. It was a stupid thing (*laughs*). When I was a boy… Well, first of all, let me tell you I came from a very musical family. I have a grandfather who was a composer, I have an uncle who is a songwriter, my parents are both good amateur musicians, my brother is a professional trombone player and composer… so I had music all around me.
But what I really wanted to be was an animator. When I was a boy I wanted to be an animator so Walt Disney was my hero. However, I was playing piano and I could play a couple of instruments, and the animation wasn’t supported by anybody I knew, but the music had always been supported, so I kind of caved into that. And when I got to the university, I really didn’t know what to study, because I didn’t have any overwhelming interest, like I had in amination. So I decided I would go into music, since that was familiar and I thought that if I stayed at the university long enough, I’d figure out what I wanted to do. While I studied music I decided I wanted to study composition, because it was something I didn’t know enough about, and I didn’t want to study more piano, as I was already a decent pianist.
I studied composition, and I never found anything else, so I ended up being a composer! (*laughs*)
Now that I was going to be a composer, I couldn’t figure out what kind of composer I wanted to be. I really didn’t know much about music in movies. I took one class while I was at school, but I hadn’t really focused on it. So one day, I was driving down the road and I was listening to this song, and the song was getting me all worked up and I thought “That’s what I’d like to do! I’d like to write music that makes people feel something”. And very quickly it went through my head that movies were the best way to do that, because I could write music of different styles, different types, and use whatever technique I had at the time. I could do long pieces or short pieces, get emotional, and get a lot of people in the same room; dark rooms with big screens… and that seemed like a fantastic idea. So that was the beginning of my great ambition to be a composer. I have to say that many years later, it turned out to be a good choice, because it worked out well for me.
The thing however, which I think is slightly different for me, is that my ambition was not to be a movie composer, but my ambition was to write music that would make people feel something, music that people were actually interested in listening to and could embrace and could enjoy. When I’m not doing a movie or a TV show or something like that, I still try to do the same thing. When I’m doing a concert piece I want the musicians to be involved in it, I want the audience to be involved in it. Just to write a piece to be a piece of music, doesn’t make me interested at all.
You need a purpose…
Yes. Writing concert music is a little harder because you don’t have a movie to help you (*laughs*)
But you have a blank canvas, like a painter, that you can fill with whatever you want…
That’s something good, but what is hard is that you have to get the audience involved in it, because in a movie you have a picture. In a movie music is a complement, but in a concert piece, it’s the whole thing! For a composer, one of the great things about doing movies, is that you write in all different styles and you get this very large technique. So you get to be very capable and able to do very specific things.
I look at my friends and associates who are film composers and you can see that what they all do it slightly differently. Some of them love movies, some of them love fame, some of them love people come up and say “Oh! You’re my favorite composer!”. There are some people who do that, and there are some people who are just really good composers. And then there’s a mixture of all of them. So, of the people that I know and who I really like, I have a couple of friends who are really really good composers and have done some really good films, and I think that’s great. So we all do things slightly different and that’s what makes it interesting.
Talking about doing things in slightly different ways… Many young composers come to film music festivals looking for references to change their lives, how to develop their careers, where to go, what to do… So from the experience that you have now and the one you had when you started… what advice would you give them? Don’t make these mistakes I made many years ago for example?…
Well, they’re going to make mistakes anyway (*laughs*). They have to make mistakes! Everybody makes mistakes. I still make mistakes like crazy (*laughs*)
I think the best thing you can do is just start. If you want to work in a commercial medium, the biggest question always is, “How do I get a job?” And the smart answer to that is, “Find somebody who’s going to hire you”, but actually, it’s a good answer, because you have to go where the business is. So there’s no use going to the desert to find a glass of water. If you want to work on a movie or if you want to work on a game platform or something like that, you have to find out who these people are who need your services.
This is true even for concert music; you have to find people who are going to play your music. A large part of being a composer is interacting with people, and you want to spend your time with the people who want your services, frankly. And you want to cultivate friendships and you want people to know what you can do, what your availability is, and all that sort of stuff, so that you can be around the job when it happens. That’s kind of simple advice, but you’d be surprised the number of young composers who don’t know that. They expect they’re going to be discovered just because they’re composing.
And I have to tell you, being a composer, although I think it’s an incredible job, it’s not special. There are a lot of people who are composers. There are a lot of people who think they’re composers. There are a lot of people who are songwriters. There are a lot of people who have a musical idea. There are more now probably than there were when I began. There’s more opportunity, I think, for composers than there was back then, but there are many more composers now.
So, you’re not special. You’ve got to find some way of getting hired. And I think the more you can refine your objectives, the better you are. The best advice I got about this when I was just starting was, “Ignore all of my advice and do anything you can think of”. And as I said, just get started. Just start.
Go out there and find your opportunities…
Yeah, you have to look for opportunities. But you have to go where the opportunities are. Go to festivals, film music festivals, go to screenings, go to student film schools… anything…
Meet people and build relationships…
You can meet other composers, but composers don’t hire composers. (*laughs*)
No, usually they don’t (*laughs*)
But you want to meet directors and producers, you also want to meet film editors, you want to meet writers, supervisors… You want to meet people who are involved in film business. And when you go to a film festival, all of these people are there because they’re all trying to network and they’re all trying to associate. People don’t think about meeting film editors, but film editors are the people that directors rely upon. And film editors also are often the people who choose the temp track. So the film editor has a very definite opinion about what the score is going to be. If you can befriend a film editor, and have him or her use your music in the film, your chances are better of being able to get the film, than somebody who doesn’t care about film editors.
Now that you are talking about film editors and temp tacks… There’ve been many controversial discussions about using temp tracks in movies, making many of these movies look and feel pretty much the same, regarding their music. What do you think about using temporary music?
I have very different feelings about temp music. You sort of have to live with it. What you have to figure out is, “What do they actually want to hear? Do they actually want to hear what they used?” And very often, they’ll say, “No. We like it because of the tone. We like it because it sort of does to the scene what we’d like, but it’s not that specific. You can get to be more specific”. So, if you use it as instruction as to how they see their film, it can be helpful. If it’s a model to copy, that’s not so great, because the biggest problem with temp music is that it’s not made for their film. It’s like writing a book and then filling it up with paragraphs of Shakespeare. It’s good words, but it has nothing to do with your book. And that’s the way they do these films.
Filmmakers are creative people, and they get nervous, they get anxious. Frankly, I wouldn’t be a director for all the money in the world, because the director’s job is to take somebody else’s money, and you have so many things to deal with… and everything is your responsibility, including making money. And if you figure some poor young director, who finally gets a movie, and he gets, say, a $13 million budget, or even a $1 million budget, he wakes up every morning thinking, “I’ve got to spend this money to make more money”. And if he doesn’t have a hit, his chances of getting another job are pretty small.
But for a composer for example… if a composer doesn’t have a hit, he’ll probably get another movie. But directors are under a lot of pressure. So when they’re talking to a composer, they’re under a lot of pressure, and if they go to something really simple like a temp track, you have to forgive them. And then there’s this I was saying earlier… your dealings with people are very important, because you want to be able to give the director enough confidence in what you do and what you’re going to be able to do for his film or her film, so they can give away their temp track, or they can give it up and take on what you’re going to do. ‘Cause after all, the reason they hired you was a process of selection. They didn’t have to hire you. And there was a certain amount of trust that you could do something for their film. So that’s a non-musical thing.
So you have to make them feel secure about the work you’re doing.
Absolutely! The most successful composers… I think I could just say this as a general statement… The most successful composers are the ones who have great people skills; composers who are very good at making their directors feel comfortable. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re John Williams or Jerry Goldsmith or Hans Zimmer. I mean, these guys all have great people skills. And some of them are really amazing to watch when they’re doing their job (*laughs*)
Also if you’re not a film composer, and you’re a concert composer, you want to get symphonies to play your work. And in order to do that, you’d better make some friends.
You need friends everywhere (*laughs*)
Yeah, you need friends everywhere!
That’s good. So let’s talk a little bit about your career. Tonight, you are getting the Life Achievement Award here in SoundTrack_Cologne. That’s, something important. That means…
It means I’m very old. (*laughs*)
(*laughs*) Well, that’s a good appreciation… it makes you feel old, but at the same time, it makes you feel proud, I suppose… because it’s an award recognizing everything you have done…
Oh, yes, that too! (*laughs*)
You have worked in your life in many, many different genres. You have worked for television, for movies, concerto pieces, and also theme parks. You have done so many things! Is there any genre you love most, where you feel more comfortable doing your work?
Well, I basically like them all, but the ones that I really like are theme parks and animation. Those two are the most fun. And I think the reason they’re the most fun is because by the time you get to the project, they’ve been well-thought out and well-worked on. They know exactly what they’re doing, and they know pretty much exactly what they need and what they want.
They cannot afford mistakes…
Oh, man. It’s great. Animation is terrific. And theme parks… like I’ve done a lot of Disney theme parks, and they’re really well done. The other thing is that you never know what you’re going to have to do. With theme parks, you don’t know whether it’s a passive entertainment, or there’s something that people stand and watch, or whether there’s something that they’re going to move through. You don’t know whether it’s something where the music is actually going to be part of the experience, or whether it’s just accompaniment in the background for music.
So you like that interaction with the music…
Yeah, I do! And I very often go to a theme park thing and say, “I have no idea what we’re going to do here” But you come up with something really new and creative. Animation can be like that, too, because with animation, the only limit is your imagination. So I find those projects to be really interesting. Those are always fun. I did a recent project actually, in Spain, Ferrari Land, outside of Barcelona, not far from where you live.
Oh yeah? What a nice surprise!
I did one of the rides there, in Port Aventura.
I was there a few years ago…
Then go there again and visit my ride (*laughs*)
Ok! And this time I will listen to the music carefully (*laughs*)
Well, this one is a specific one I did. There’s like a soaring kind of a ride. There’s a flying kind of a ride, where they fly over Europe and the world, and you’d see Ferraris driving through it and that kind of stuff. So that’s mine. And then I did the soaring thing for Disney, updated Jerry Goldsmith‘s score. So yeah, those things are always fun, because they’re always different.
And it’s funny, because when you’re doing Ferrari, you’re not only playing the ride, you’re selling a product; a really important product. I mean, Ferrari is a really big deal. And people who are interested in that really know a lot about the cars, so there’s a certain thing they’re trying to get across, even if you’re trying to show the thrill of the ride. I find that kind of stuff really interesting.
Let’s talk about your television work. You’ve worked for many TV series in the ’70s, ’80s. Shows such as… ‘How the West Was Won’, or some episodes for ‘Logan’s Run’, ‘Quincy’, ‘Dallas’… By the way, ‘Dallas’ was a big hit in Spain! So, how was working in TV back then in the ’70s, ’80s?
Well, it’s funny. A lot of composers don’t like to work in animation, and a lot of composers don’t like to work in television. I like to work in both! One of the things about television, more years ago than it is now, was that it’s quick work. Do a show a week or maybe in a couple of days.
You don’t have time to go over and over and again, you compose and this is it…
That’s it, they don’t have time to come and fuss over the music. So they leave you alone. (*laughs*) And if you get working on a series like Dallas or Quincy or something like that, you’re part of a production fast-lane, so you’re going back week after week after week seeing the same people, and you get a real familial association. For example, Dallas was a lot of fun, because every week the show was basically the same show. There wasn’t a lot of variety in it, but it was always kind of funny to see who could insult each other worse. (*laughs*)
Funny!! How could it get bigger, bigger, bigger? (*laughs*)
Yeah, that’s it… how could it get bigger? And I remember we would sit there and we would laugh and laugh and laugh at these awful things that they were saying to each other. But the people were great to work with, I mean, they were really fun. I remember I did a lot of Quincy. Look… I did most of Quincy, and one week I heard that producers didn’t like what I had done the week before. So I called up the producer and I said, “Did you have a problem with that score?” And he goes, “No, no. It was fine”. I said, “No, I heard you had a problem. What was…” And he says, “Look, we just figured you had a bad week. You would be back next week just fine“. I thought, “Oh, okay”. Now, if you’re working on a movie, if you had a bad week, you’d be kicked off the film. And TV, it’s like, “Ah, well. He’ll be back. Yeah, he’s just got a toothache”.
It’s like… we have 40 episodes for the season, so one down… it’s okay…We still have 39…
Yeah. The other thing I enjoyed about television is that it was a chance to experiment, because the stakes weren’t all that high. Even on Dallas, where from week to week the story didn’t change much, I changed my orchestra. So I learned about orchestration. One week, I would do it with an oboe. The next week, I’d do it with six horns. Or one week I would have two harps. I mean, goofy things. I’d just try things out. So by the time I got into the movies, I had a lot of experience that I had gained doing this thing.
Like by the time I got to Silverado, I’d done a lot of Westerns. I started on Gunsmoke. I did ‘How the West Was Won’. I did ‘The Blue and the Gray’. Well, that’s not a Western, but it’s a 19th century Civil War drama. I had a lot of experience doing that stuff, so I had something that I brought to it that was very familiar that I could expand on.
Talking about Westerns… besides the ones you have said, you also have ‘Tombstone’ or lately, ‘Texas Rising’. So your career also seems to be tied partially at least to Westerns. Do you find the projects, or do the projects find you?
They find me! And actually, I haven’t done that many Westerns. I’ve done… I guess ‘Texas Rising’ is a Western. But Tombstone and Silverado are basically the only Westerns I did. I’ve done a lot of shows that people call Westerns, but they’re really Americana kind of shows. To me, that’s not the same thing… to me, they’re all different. But to other people, they sound like… “It’s Bruce doing Americana”.
But I’ve also done a lot of family films. And it was just the luck of the draw. It wasn’t intended, but I’m happy that I did them, because I’ve met a lot of people in their 30s and 40s who, when they were young, they grew up on my films, and it had a big effect on them. Those were films that they used to watch a lot, because little kids watch movies over and over and over again.
Yes they do!
Like a couple of years ago, I was at a hairdresser salon waiting for my wife. And the girl who took reservations walked up to me… a young girl, about 23-24, very pretty girl. And she walked up to me and said, “I just figured out who you are”. And I said, “Oh, really? Who’s that?” And she said, “I realized you’re Bruce Broughton. You’re the man who wrote the music to Rescuers Down Under”. And I said, “Why do you know this?” And she said, “Because when I was a little girl, that was my favorite movie, and I watched that movie over and over and over again, and I just loved the music”. She said, “Would you sign my CD?” Now… that was at a hair salon! (*laughs*)
That’s a fantastic story!!
But you get things like that. And like we were just saying before the interview, Belinda and me, we’ve been to Spain. We love Spain. We love Spain, because the people are very nice, but when you hear from somebody in Spain or Germany or in some country that you don’t know, that they like your music so much, or that the music you wrote was very important to them, that’s a really good reason to spend your life being a film composer. If you want to be rich and famous, you can do that, too. But if you want to impact other people’s lives… That was my ambition as a composer. You want to affect people’s lives.
So knowing that you did affect other people’s lives, this ‘Life Achievement Award’ here in Cologne, has to feel like, in some way, a success.
You hear people talk about their favorite composer, and you go, “Oh, is that me? Am I your favorite…” And then somebody else’s name gets mentioned and you go, “Oh, yeah” (*laughs*) But it doesn’t really matter, because you know that you had an effect on people’s lives… and so have the other guys! And frankly, the other guys… I know a lot of composers, and some of them have had huge effects on my life, too. Because some of my friends wrote music I like a lot.
Which other composers have influenced you?
Well, the biggest influence was probably Jerry Goldsmith. But Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams… I didn’t grow up with them, but Al Silvestri and I used to work on TV shows together at MGM, and for a while, we were even neighbors. We were never social comrades and stuff, but because of that … we’re about the same age, and I look at his movies, and we see each other every once in a while. And John Powell is another friend of mine. I mean, I like his music a lot. I think he’s really, really talented. Randy Newman is also a composer I like.
You’ve had many students over the years… any names there…
Yeah, I’ve taught a bunch of them, too. Guys like Marco Beltrami and Christophe Beck were all in my class. I can’t say that I’m the reason for their success, but I really like to see that. I like to see that they’re so successful. Like I saw Christophe Beck several years ago, and he came up and he re-introduced himself. He said, “I was in your class” And I said, “I remember that”. But by this time, he was really doing very well as a composer, and I’m really happy to see that.
I occasionally see people who were in my class just two or three years ago, and they’ve gotten their first film, and they’re very excited. Or they’ve just won a prize somewhere, and they’re very excited. Well, that’s great. That’s really wonderful. And occasionally… and that’s one of the great things about being a teacher… you get to hear everybody’s music, and sometimes they do things that you really want to remember. (*laughs*) ‘Cause you know what they’re doing, but they don’t know what they’re doing, yet, and it’s really good!
Let’s talk about your concert music. Recently, you have had your music performed in Newport, ‘The Contemporary Violin’ (read news)
Oh, no. Actually, I didn’t. That concert was abruptly canceled.
Oh, yeah? I didn’t get that…
They were going to play a piece… it’s sort of a violin concerto, and the violinist was coming from France, and she couldn’t get a visa. Thank you, President Trump…
But I’ve had a fair amount of concerto performances of my works anyway. I do have a concert coming up in January, ’cause I just finished writing a piece for a string quartet and orchestra, which is going to be premiered in a few months.
Now, see, that’s one of the advantages of film writing, because you can get really a very large technique, and if you work with orchestras, then you get to be very good at orchestration, also. So, I took on this job because it was very hard…
You like challenges?
Oh, I do! (*laughs*)… But it was really hard, and so I’m really curious to know how this piece is going to turn out. Now, a couple months ago, the brass section of the New York Philharmonic played a piece of mine in concert, and a composer friend of mine called me up right after the performance and he said, “Wow! This piece was great. The audience really loved it!”. I love to hear stuff like that. The LA Philharmonic has played stuff of mine too. I got a commission a couple years ago through the LA Philharmonic to do an opening piece for the Hollywood Bowl… with 16 horns! There was a big international horn symposium, so I wrote this fanfare for 16 horns. It was a long piece!
Another story… there was an international harp convention that was being held in Prague, and I had a piece for harp, flute, and viola premiered there. So… as you can see, I like challenges…
You’ve got pieces for conventions? French horn convention… harp convention…
…tuba conventions… And I’m not joking! I’ve got pieces for many kinds of conventions. You betcha. That’s actually one of the interesting things about this kind of work. A lot of these instruments have organizations. There’s an international tuba society. There’s a big trumpet society, a horn society, and so…
The tuba convention has to be quite weird… (*laughs*)
No! It was great! Because they have the big tubas, and then they have the little tubas… the euphoniums. There was a very famous tuba player, he did most of the movies. He did things like Jaws and all that stuff and he was a very good friend of mine. So I wrote a piece for him. A tuba concerto that’s become very, very, very popular among tuba players. But when he passed away, they held a memorial for him at USC, at the University, and it was an international memorial. People came from all over the world to honor this guy. He was a lovely guy and he was a terrific tuba player. And they played an arrangement of the Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. (*Bruce sings*) (*Bom, dom, duh, duh … bom ba dom*)… with 99 tubas! Somebody made an arrangement, and so at this auditorium they had 99 tubas on there, and I’ll tell you… the earth shook! But there was nothing silly about it. I mean, it was incredible to hear this. It was a beautiful sound. There’s this instrument called the euphonium… Do you know the origin of the word “euphonious”?
Okay, so euphonious means “beautiful sound”.
So, it’s coming from the ancient Greek?
Yeah. Euphony. Euphonious. So this is the euphonium. And euphonium is a small tuba. It’s really a very beautiful instrument. It’s mostly a band instrument. Occasionally, orchestras use it, but it’s mostly a band instrument, which is unfortunate. So, you use that as the high end, and then you use the tubas as the low end, and then they have small tubas and big tubas and you can cover the whole range with them. So it’s an incredible sound… and the floor shook! You had 99 of them!
That’s something different! When you face a new piece for orchestra, what do you have on your mind?… It’s something like, “Okay, how do I address this? How do I make it interesting?”
That’s actually the first question you have. Like, “How the heck am I going to do this?” And you figure it out. And then you hope it’s a good piece when it’s all done… “That piece worked well”. I’ve had lots of opportunities like that in the past. I’m not Aaron Copland… yet, but I’m working on it. (*laughs*) No, I really enjoy this kind of music.
Well, it might be a question of time getting to be like ‘Aaron Copland’… (*laughs*)
You know, he was a good movie composer too. He was really good. I find it really interesting. I like doing all those different kinds of music, and I’ve been telling some of the younger people that the music is changing now. We think of film music and television music as being sort of aligned, but now there’s game music, and there’s music that instead of being shown on 50-foot screens, it’s being shown on your handheld. There are also videos, I mean, there’s all sorts of productions going on now. There’re all sorts of opportunities, and as music has changed, the styles have changed. It’s just a lot of opportunities out there…
Indeed. We are getting more and more into a multimedia society. We have computers, mobiles, screens everywhere, and a lot of music around. Music is an integral part of our life. Years ago, music was just in some specific places, but now you have it everywhere…
Yeah, it was. And a few people did it, and now a lot of people do it. Going back to the Life Achievement Award, I think I put something on Facebook about it, and I said, “I feel too young to get a Life Achievement”. And in a lot of ways, that’s really true because I’m still in the middle of doing a lot of writing. I don’t do as much film work as I used to, but I’m doing as much composing as I ever did, and the projects are really interesting. I mean, sometimes it’s a theme park, sometimes it’s a TV show, like I did recently the pilot and the main title for The Orville.
The Orville… That was on my question list…
Yes, I worked there with Seth MacFarlane and actually, let me tell you that Seth called me out of the blue a couple years ago. I didn’t know him. I mean, I knew who he was, but I didn’t know him personally. So, he introduced himself over the phone and asked me if I would do an arrangement for him, for a song he wanted to sing with John Williams and the LA Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl. Well, I had never done anything like that in my life. So I said… “Yeah”. (*laughs*)
(*laughs*) Another challenge! I want to do it!
Yeah, and then it was like… “How do I do this?” And it turned out just fine. So he called me again a few months later, and he said, “Well, how would you like to do an album with me? ‘Cause I do these albums”. So he had three albums he wanted to do, and he had three guys, and I was one of them. So we did an album, we mixed that later in the year, and then he called me about the TV show. So, those are things that I would never, ever have expected to be doing. I mean, I’d never been an arranger in my life. I’d never done a big band arrangement… until Seth called! And here I am, in my advanced age, doing something that a lot of kids do.
Well, but you are exploring new grounds, so that’s interesting!
Yeah, and it turned out fine!
Let me tell you that I’ve seen that composers, who always keep their brain working and accept new challenges, also have young bodies and live longer…
Composers live a long time, often…
Look at John Williams, Lalo Schifrin, or Ennio Morricone with over 80 years old and going into their 90s… You hear them talking, and their brain is still young…
Well, it’s more than that. I know John a little bit, and I’ll tell you, if you shake hands with John, you’re shaking hands with a 25-year-old. He meets you with a firm grip. And Morricone’s score to… what was it, The Hateful Eight?
Yeah, The Hateful Eight. He won the Oscar for that and he traveled to LA for the composer’s reception…
When I saw that movie I was completely blown away by the score… I thought, “How could a 90-year-old man…”… ‘Cause he’s nearly 90… “How could a guy that old write music like that?” And I feel the same with John and the Star Wars stuff. Just to be able to write such a demanding score with that much enthusiasm at that age, that’s a remarkable thing to do. So it’s inspiring. I feel at my age, that I don’t feel old at all. I’ve got lots of ideas and lots of energy and I look at them and I am thinking, “I’m young. I still have a long way to go”. I’m one of the kids. I’m still a kid to them. (*laughs*)
Let’s talk about film music festivals now, as they’re growing in Europe… (MOSMA, World Soundtrack Awards., Fimucité, Hollywood in Vienna, Krakow Film Music Festival, Film Music Prague…) So many festivals going on in Europe… But I don’t see that kind of growth in the United States. I don’t see festivals appearing in the US… at least I don’t get news.
I think you’re right. I haven’t heard about them too.
Why do you think is that difference? Is it the government sponsorship, the situation, people’s interest…
Well, the government doesn’t sponsor anything. Our government is so anti-art, it’s disgusting. No, I think it may be… I hope this doesn’t sound wrong, but I think it’s probably because places like Hollywood and New York, they’re busy making movies, and so they don’t really appreciate it as much. I mean, they’re sort of product-oriented. They’re good at putting on things like the Oscars and the Emmys and all that stuff, doing the award shows, which is sort of self-congratulation.
But in terms of actually appreciating the work of what they do, there are film festivals. There’s the Sundance Film Festival. There are things like that that are very important.
Yes, but Film Music Festivals?
Film music festivals… I think it’s probably because… I’m guessing… because it’s sort of like celebrating Coca-Cola. It’s something we make, so what’s the big deal? (*laughs*) No, I mean, the movie business is really important, but I think it’s seen differently here. I really don’t know. Haven’t thought about it.
My guess, but it’s only one option… It’s that Europe has been always very cultural. The music, the classical music, everything has grown initially here. So I think it’s kind of a natural transition. People here consider film music kind of classical music evolution into another art form. So let’s celebrate that…
I think you’re right. I think there’s a really very different cultural sense. I mean, the United States really is not … Well, I don’t want to dump on my own country, but… government-sponsored art programs are not as popular as they are in Europe.
So you have to make your own way into it. I mean, a lot of symphonies are failing. Now, interestingly enough, one thing that’s very popular in the United States are movie concerts, particularly these things that are happening all over the world, live: movie productions with orchestra and big screen. Well, Silverado was done a year or two ago in Chicago. It was very exciting. I went up to San Francisco to see my friend Don Davis do Matrix and it was great! What was interesting was the audience. It was held in the symphonic hall, but you could tell it was not a symphony audience; it was a movie audience. And it was great. I mean, it was just a lot of fun.
So you’re dragging people in front of an orchestra, people that have never gone to a symphony hall…
Exactly! And they’re watching a movie, but here the orchestra’s doing all the work. I mean, it was terrific. And I don’t think Don Davis ever got so much applause in all his life as he did at the end of that, because people really liked it. I mean, it’s really exciting. So there’s a lot of that, because it helps the orchestras too, because they can fill up their audiences with movie music.
If you get John Williams to come and conduct, you’ve got two nights for sure of a sold-out audience. James Newton Howard, Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer, these guys are all in there touring with their music… These guys are all on the road now because people want to hear their music. And if it’s tied in with a symphony orchestra, it’s great. It’s a way for the symphony to get people to hear their orchestra. It’s not Mozart or Beethoven, but it’s definitely good music.
That’s true. Many orchestras are getting film music into their repertoire, and they are doing mixed concerts with classic and film music, or just film music concerts, or live to picture concerts. And it’s getting bigger and bigger.
Well, look at David Newman, who’s a really good film composer, he’s also doing a lot of these film things himself, so he’s made a transition. I mean, if somebody offers him a movie, I’m sure he would take it. But if there’s not going to be a movie, he’s going to conduct one. And it may be his, or it may not be his, because he really likes what he does and he’s good with symphonies.
Indeed! He’s conducted ET, Indiana Jones… and he also did Matilda, his own score, some months ago. He’s conducting a lot…
So let’s go finish the interview and let’s talk about your last work, the music you have composed for the TV series The Orville, that’s going to premiere this September 2017, where you share credit with John Debney and Joel McNeely. How did you get on the project, and how did you approach the music? What can we expect to find there?
Seth called and he said, “Would you be interested in doing a television show?” And I said, “Well, what is it?” And he said, “It’s a sci-fi dramedy. But I want the music to play…”. See, the thing about Seth that’s different is he’s very musical. I mean, he’s a really bright guy, and he is incredibly focused on what he does. I don’t know how he gets through a day doing all the stuff he has to do, but he’s very specific about what he wants. So he said, “…Dramedy. The music plays the drama. Doesn’t play the comedy. The comedy will be done by the show”. So on this particular episode, the opening episode, it is very much that way. It’s a little bit like Star Trek, the TV show.
Yeah, I’ve seen the promo and it looks like Star Trek… funny Star Trek…
Yeah, it’s goofy…. The word is goofy. (*laughs*)
Was it fun working there?
Oh, yeah. A lot of fun. And he likes to work with a big orchestra, so we had a 74-piece orchestra… for a TV show! The musicians thought they’d died and gone to heaven, because we did it like we used to do the orchestral things. Everybody was in the room at the same time. We weren’t doing pieces or sections. And when it was over, the orchestra actually applauded for about three or four minutes. Because they were just so happy to be there. So the music… the theme is very science fiction-y. It’s a big-theme, melodic… Oh, and this is the other thing he said. He said, “You don’t have to do mock-ups. So you just write the music, come to the stage and record it with an orchestra”.
He didn’t want to listen to the music? Even a piano version that you could play for him?
Nope. Nope. Not interested. But the theme was different. So when I made the theme, I made a piano version of it. I didn’t want to do an orchestral version, because I didn’t know what the main title was going to be, visually. So I just played him the theme, and gave that to him, and he liked it, and then he called and said, “We need an arrangement of it, because we’re putting together the visuals”. So I did that, and I gave him a mock-up, but other than that, he didn’t get any mock-ups.
It’s great. Oh, and then when we were recording it, he was still shooting, he was still acting in it. So he said, “I probably won’t be at the recording”. Well, he WAS at the recording. When he was not having to be acting, he’d run over to the scoring stage and he’d stand there and he’d listen to the music. And then he’d put it on a feed, so that the cast and the crew could hear it too.
So they can get the feel of the music for their acting.
In between the scenes, yeah, the cast and the crew are looking at the scenes and listening to the music, and he said people were crying and… big, big emotional thing! I mean, everybody was just so happy, happy, happy, happy. So I hope the show goes well.
Me too! I really like the concept and the idea! So… that’s all Bruce! No more questions… and let me tell you that we love your music in Spain! I was with Christopher Young two months ago in Madrid and he’s also willing to come back to Spain. You both would be great guests for a festival.
I’d love to be there again! Let me tell you… I’ve known Christopher Young since before he started writing. I’ve known him for years. He’s always been very intense. (*laughs*)
Yeah, that’s the word. Intense is the word. (*laughs*) He lives everything with so much energy and passion.
And he lives and dies on films. Another guy who was like that, although he wasn’t intense in the same way, was Basil Poledouris. ‘Cause Basil just lived to be a movie writer. He just loved movies. He loved writing music. And he’d sit and just talk about movies. He and I were in school at the same time, but we didn’t meet each other until a couple years later. And we became nice friends. I mean, I didn’t see him a lot, but I liked Basil. He was a nice person… So, film music festivals are a great place for us composers to be. I love them.
Then, I hope to see you again soon in some other film music festival… And if it’s possible, in Spain!
That would be great!
Interview by Gorka Oteiza