Ray Colcord Interviews Hans Zimmer
SCL President Ray Colcord and award-winning composer Hans Zimmer recently shared lunch and an interview session for The Score. What follows is the complete transcription of the interview.
RC: Was Black Hawk Down the most compressed post schedule you ever worked on?
HZ: No. I was telling you earlier about movies in England. I mean anywhere other than America, you work a lot faster because you don’t have money to keep people on payroll for that long.
RC: So you’ve done scores where it took less time than the three weeks, it was about three weeks, I guess, on Black Hawk?
HZ: Sure. You know, I mean when I first got to America, I was still working in my European mode, which meant three weeks of score. But remember in European movies you have less music.
RC: How many minutes were the scores you were doing in three weeks?
HZ: I don’t know. I mean Rain Man was probably three weeks. I mean it was six weeks, but three weeks I didn’t do anything other than recover from the last score. I did something like fourteen movies and television things in that year.
RC: So this wasn’t all that extraordinary?
HZ: No, but I was saying to Ridley, I don’t know if it was on this one or the one before,” How come we’re getting slower and slower? How come it’s taking us longer and longer?” And maybe it was on the one before. So he suddenly went, “okay let’s pick up the pace a bit here chaps.”
RC: Do you think maybe you’re raising your standards a little bit? Becoming more accomplished?
HZ: No, I think I’m getting more insecure. It only takes a split second to have an idea. But when the pressure’s on you’re not going to spend three days worrying about the split second, if it was the right idea you commit.
RC: You have to go with your first best idea and commit to it.
HZ: Exactly. I’m sure I can have a better one, but…
RC: Not today.
HZ: But usually they’re just different. That’s the other thing.
RC: Well I think that’s a huge conversation that goes on in your mind. If the fourth idea is different, is it really better? No one knows, I don’t think.
HZ: But I work in this disgustingly, neurotic way anyway, because I intellectualize the movie and everything that goes on, the subtext and what have you, till the cows come home.
RC: I see that in the liner notes of Black Hawk Down. You talked about the clash of the Western American style music versus the Somalians. It seemed that you were the first one to actually think about giving the Somalis a voice, a musical voice.
HZ: Well, that was just because of the nature of the material. It wasn’t even to have a balance, but I needed to have a dynamic arc that started … I didn’t want to just do the dynamic arc of what the movie said, but there had to be an emotional dynamic arc in it as well and the best way I could figure out of doing it was to go and put the span of my bridge somewhere else. As opposed from going from soldier to soldier, going over to the foreign territory, having the arc always end up in foreignness. It’s a natural thing for me to do being foreign anyway. I always write about America and I don’t know what America is. I always have a foreign perspective of it.
RC: Do you feel like a stranger in a strange land?
HZ: Absolutely. Which is a huge advantage in a way. It’s not even that you look critical at it, but you can look at the most mundane thing and think it’s exciting and wonderful. The church of the golden arches is like a novelty concept.
RC: I remember going to Europe for two months. When I was in high school, I spent a summer in Vienna, and I came back and the country looked so different. The first thing I landed and I was on the freeway and I said, “Where are all the old cars?” In Europe they keep 10, 12, 15, 20-year old cars running and in good shape. They’re not here. Everything in America looks like it’s 36 months old or less. It was startling to me. It was interesting.
HZ: So, I on purpose try to use my foreignness, use that I have a different perspective. Are there not filmmakers who are . . . look at the people I work with, most of the filmmakers I work with are foreigners working in Hollywood. You know the eyes that describe America on the whole are foreign DPs.
RC: That’s an interesting thought. I hadn’t thought of that.
HZ: Lots of Poles, Italians, Australians. Look at the Golden Globes. It was Australia night at the Golden Globes, wasn’t it?
RC: Well we have a reputation for welcoming the foreigners to come here and work and look at all the composers from the golden era in the thirties – Franz Waxman and Hugo Friedhofer.
RC: Eric is the best. Just the best.
HZ: And they all have the same accent that I do.
RC: You must have felt very much at home looking at their scores.
HZ: Well and they all perpetrated that great con. They just basically robbed Viennese music and said it’s American.
RC: They had an open field to create because they were there at the beginning. I mean ten years earlier, there was no music in film. So, the imagination it brought to the scene was unbelievable.
HZ: Well I think you always have an open field. The reason I got into film music was because I felt that rock and roll was the most restrictive field to work in. Because as soon as you have a hit, all the record company wants you to do is sound the same stylistically, everything. And, what if I wanted to do psychedelic country and western next week. They’re not going to let me.
RC: The Beatles did it. They were so powerful that they felt free to explore. Elton John’s done it too. That album with Country Comfort on it. He just decided he wanted to do a country album and he did. It was fun.
HZ: Yeah, but he doesn’t go as extreme as film composers can. Just look at this year with Rid. Hannibal is a completely Viennese, romantic score with some odd overtones. Okay it goes a little left, but it’s like Mahler on steroids. Then you get to Black Hawk Down and somewhere there’s Penny Marshall’s film. The Pledge was in there somewhere. So this year I was able to splurge.
RC: You’ve always covered a lot of territory stylistically, in terms of the films that you do. I’m thinking Green Card and…
HZ: Well.Green Card and Thelma And Louise developed in the same time frame. They’re very different from each other.
RC: On Green Card in the green house, you used some tinkling percussion or samples.
HZ: Oh yeah, Jeff Rona’s crystal glasses.
RC: It was my collection of Waterford.
HZ: Oh really? Is that what it was? He told me it was his.
RC: He came to my house and we sampled. I collect Waterford crystal, and we sampled it all. They’re great sounds. Do you prefer any particular style or do you like the fact that you get to bounce around and write different stuff all the time?
HZ: I like to bounce around. I mean you know from us obviously using your crystal, at one point or the other I went what I need is crystal glasses in this score. That’s what this needs to me.
RC: Because of the greenhouse? Is that where you got the idea?
HZ: You know, something, I can’t remember where I got the idea. I remember knowing exactly what the sound was I needed for that. That’s the other thing, when you first start on a project you usually go on this enormous sound hunt.
RC: Do you have one guy who just manages your libraries?
HZ: Yeah, we have many guys who just go and come up with sounds.
RC: That’s their job, to hunt for you and find interesting sounds?
HZ: Well, with Black Hawk Down, since we’re on that subject, I sent Marc Streitenfeld the music editor to Morocco while they were shooting, and he went from village to village, collecting sounds from street musicians, he brought instruments back. HZ: We’d say to Per Hallberg, the sound designer, “While you were over there did you manage to get any sounds of the interior of the helicopter, or the blades?” Do you remember the whole flight into Mogadishu is all music; it’s not helicopter blades, so we’re supplying all the helicopters.
RC: It reminded me of the flight in Apocalypse Now.
HZ: Except it’s the opposite music.
RC: They were playing The Ride of the Valkyries.
HZ: Yeah, we were doing various stylized . . .literally I think in Black Hawk Down we had a good extra thousand sounds. Of which we used very few, because you know how that is. Each one is fantastic and you don’t quite get around to using it.
RC: You run out of opportunities. It seems like there were a number of different ways when you’re confronted with this problem of the condensed schedule. Different composers would have gone about it in different ways and you had some choices. I mean one composer would have done six-line sketches and simply handed them to an orchestrator and ended up in a studio with an orchestra. You’ve worked with collaborators before, you could have put a team of three or four or five guys together. You’ve collaborated with Nicholas Glennie-Smith, and with Lisa Gerrard…
HZ: Yeah I know that’s the safe way of doing it.
RC: Or, you chose something that seems inherently a little more stress-filled.
HZ: But it’s in the keeping of the movie.
RC: Maybe you want to describe the process, as I understand it you ended up with your full writing rig in a studio with Pietro, and Michael Brooks, Bob Tillman, and Craig Eastman, and Greg Townley, the engineer.
HZ: Those were my rangers. I was the general.
RC: Now generals usually stay at home. You were there.
HZ: No, I lead from the front. You have to take the brunt of the criticism anyway. I think a score like this … yeah, you write the tunes, but the whole thing is sort tof an intellectual construct. So since I’m still making up where it’s going to go, I better be there. And better lead from the front and better have complete…
HZ: Probably it’s control, but probably it’s being able to have real communication. Because that’s where I think it would go wrong, not having the time to get my point across with the musicians.
RC: Well, you didn’t delegate very much at all. As I understand, Mel Wesson did some ambient sound design for you?
HZ: Well, yeah. Mel and I have known each other for thirty years. There were all these things like helicopters flying in and all that stuff. We’d just give him chunks and say, “go and mangle it up.” And he had to be in a different room because his stuff was all non real time. So the way he would be working would be very different and he had to be very precise and refined. Plus the music editors had a huge job in this one, because we’d give them thirty-minute chunks of ideas and say “okay, now you go sprinkle it all over the movie and see what happens.” Then we’ll go and refine it. Sometimes I just wanted it to be like found music. You know like when you walk on the beach and you find something really great and you have a whole collection maybe of those shells, and you find another one and just put it. I want it to be like that.
RC: So there’s a lot of interaction in the room. How would the cue begin? Would you have a melody, a feel, a drum feel, something?
HZ: Okay, this is where I’m really old-fashioned. I always have been. I don’t know how to start unless I have a tune. The tune is my cornerstone, so I spent some time without anybody there obviously, actually doing it at home. I spent some time mapping out at least the tunes that I wanted to go with and what they were supposed to represent. And some of it was feels and stuff like that as well as rhythms, tempi, whatever. Of course we all sat down and came up with a structure of what should happen where in the film and Pietro Scalia, the editor of the film, was very much involved in that. Because he had really temped the movie and Pietro temps in a really strange way where sometimes you find just the oddest piece of music there. You have no idea why he put it there unless you ask,” Why is that piece there?” Because strings. Even though it might be playing some Hungarian gypsy music. “I want strings here. I think strings would be good for that.” Oh right. So sometimes our conversation will be that vague, or sometimes he’ll go,” You see how that just hits here?” Whatever, the gypsy violin, something happens that does something good for the editor.
RC: He’s pointing out a node where he needs a change to happen.
HZ: Yeah, but he’s never specific about the piece of music he temped. I think he has like four or five CDs.
RC: He just keeps using them over and over again. Did you have traditional spotting sessions with Ridley at all?
HZ: Yeah, we did. I had Heitor and Martin there as well, and I think Craig came for a couple. Mel was certainly there because Mel and Ridley really hit it off on Hannibal because they’re both painters. Some of the programs he uses, he uses a program called Metasynth, which basically uses images as filters. It’s really great except it crashes all the time. And he had done this painting of Clarisse Darling, and Hannibal Lechter, and some blood and he was using that to filter . . . I have no idea, pig squeals…
RC: So it actually triggers midi events using…
HZ: No. The frequency of colors are like the frequency of music, it’s just they are removed.
RC: It’s just another spectrum.
HZ: It’s just further up the ladder.
RC: Yeah, there’s infrared, there’s ultraviolet, they’re all just …
HZ: So Rid kept seeing what he was doing and kept being in there. In fact that one, he always wanted it to be the one-sheet for the movie, but of course the computer crashed just at that time and then that whole thing went by the wayside. But yeah, we did have some conventional spotting sessions. I don’t think they ever went past reel three because we would spend hours talking about each cue. Of course then we ran out of time. Because it was about finding the form, finding the shape of the whole thing, finding the tone of the whole thing and we’d talk about each character. Then we’d go off. We’d be talking about the movie and what it was really like there, you know what the rangers felt and all that stuff. Because ultimately I’m not even sure what a conventional spotting session is. Maybe I’ve never had one. Because I don’t know how to talk about the music comes in, the music goes out, out of the context of talking about the story or the lights or whatever it is. Or what did you have for dinner last night? So I think we abandoned the idea of the conventional spotting session. Plus, Pietro had done a pretty good job of putting whatever it was in whenever it happened. Plus we knew as the sound effects were coming in that things would change dramatically. I mean this is just my personal thing, but the first time I saw reel three with the sound effects, it was absolutely amazing, phenomenal, and they should have left the music out. Instead the sound effects all came back and you can hear the music. It was much better without the music. I don’t think anybody had ever done that, you know, twenty minutes of complete war and nothing to give you a rest. In other words, it was far harsher than it is now.
RC: Do you think the music softened it simply because it’s a comforting presence to hear music?
HZ: No, because the sound effects have to come down in level.
RC: To me, even in a horrible scene, when music comes in, no matter what the music is, it feels reassuring to me. Because I’m out of the scene, I’m watching a film with a score. So if you had your druthers right now, in the theatre, you’d have no music in reel three?
HZ: Absolutely. Because I knew that somehow the music would come back in, it’s not a very comforting music.
RC: No, there’s not much comforting in the film at all, ever. Nor should there be. I read the book a couple of years ago and it was very gripping. I mean it’s … you’re there.
HZ: So, did we have a conventional spotting session? No. But you know, Gladiator we never had one either, because it shook me the other way around. If you think about the beginning of Gladiator, that shot with the hand on the weeds…
RC: Oh, before the war scene.
HZ: Yeah, well obviously the movie started differently. It started with the war scene. But I remember Ridley and I talking about if you just come off that title “Gladiator,” it’s such a butch, masculine, boy’s title, and that’s not the movie we were really making. We needed to find a way of putting a poetic image there. And the only thing that really gave him license to do that was music. So, it was really the other way around. There was a piece of music then in its essence that let him have that image.
RC: To soften the very front?
HZ: Well, yeah. Just to have the contrast of the title. I think whatever your opening shots are in the movie . . I mean, Lion King’s a good example. First thing you hear is Lebo’s voice during that shot, so you know; it’s not your normal Disney cartoon. So I’m very cautious about what we do. What our first image is. What our first sound is. Actually it’s interesting because Gladiator, Lion King, and Black Hawk Down all use a voice as the first thing we hear.
RC: That’s an interesting point that you collaborate or work with the human voice more than any other composer I can think of in the last ten years. You seem to be very attracted to the obvious emotionality that you get instantly.
HZ: Well it’s a shortcut. You know if you get a great artist they can do it in one note usually.
RC: Yeah, is that Baaba Maal? An extraordinary sounding voice. He’s from Senegal, right? Does he live here?
HZ: No, he lives in Senegal, or Paris. I knew of him through Peter Gabriel. He’s on the Passion soundtrack. Okay, so it’s the wrong coast of Africa, but…
RC: Who’s going to know? The big drums. Japanese, African, who cares?
HZ: Well, here’s the thing, all the African stuff I’ve done which dealt in music in South Africa, like The Power Of One, there are no indigenous instruments in South Africa. Since the Zulus were warrior tribes…
RC: Shakers and bells and that’s about it.
HZ: That’s about it and their voices. So the big drum is already a poetic license. But that’s the whole thing. I’m not an anthropologist, I’m not a historian, I’m working on a movie. I’m trying to get a sense of something.
RC: Yeah, we’re not making a documentary here. If you want to make a documentary, go to PBS. This is a dramatic, emotional film. And use something that evokes what you want to evoke and don’t sweat the small stuff is how I feel. I agree with you a hundred percent. Are you most comfortable writing at a keyboard?
HZ: I write most of it in my head. I’m most comfortable writing in the car, in the bathtub and then I battle it out on the keyboard.
RC: So you have an inner monologue going on all the time?
HZ: All the time.
RC: Is it true you don’t drive? For that reason?
HZ: I don’t drive. I’d kill people.
RC: You’re distracted.
HZ: Yeah, I’m completely distracted.
RC: I don’t play music in my car. My kid, who’s fifteen, hates that. But I say, you don’t understand, I get lost in the music. It’s really dangerous. It would be different if we were in Kansas. We’re not. We’re in L.A.
HZ: You know it’s one thing crashing in your computers, but crashing in your car is a different thing.
RC: It’s like making a mistake in a score and making a mistake on the streets of Mogadishu. It’s a different ball game. What was it like to talk to John Collette? (One of the Rangers who participated in the raid)
HZ: Well, and I mean this kindly, sort of a surfer dude showed up, and he’s very young.
RC: What is he 28 or 9 now?
HZ: Yeah, you know. And he’s terribly fascinated by what we do. The first thing he said was, it’s much harder to make a movie than to fight a battle. Which just goes to show that everybody has their own opinion.
RC: Maybe that blank piece of paper is scary.
HZ: Yeah, he said, you know, they are trained for everything. There’s a plan in place, and making a movie, there doesn’t seem to be much of a plan in place.
RC: He’s got that right.
HZ: I knew it was vital for us to speak to the real people because whenever I worked on films that were based on fact or life stories, amazing things would happen if you actually met the participants.
RC: Did the musicians get to meet him as well?
HZ: Oh absolutely. I would have him sitting there just telling them and they could ask him questions. And they would ask him questions I thought were pretty bold. Do you ever have nightmares about shooting people? That sort of question.
RC: Did he?
HZ: I’m not telling you.
RC: That’s fair. Everybody’s entitled to some privacy.
HZ: He had a brilliant answer, which I felt was the truth. But I have a feeling it was an answer that was lost in the room.
RC: Should remain private. That’s fine. I have misgivings about the news coverage by the press of what’s been happening in Afghanistan. Because I’m not comfortable with the idea that people are risking their lives and we’re looking at it as entertainment.
HZ: He was talking about seeing what happened to them eighteen hours later on television, and how weird that was. In a funny way, they were being judged at that moment.
RC: I think there’s a fascination with it, because it is dramatic though. I think it’s a little tawdry what we’re doing. It’s vicarious entertainment over people who are living and dying. I’m uncomfortable with a lot of the stuff I see on TV. The demands for access that is clearly going to endanger lives. I just think that’s wrong. It makes me feel strange as I watch the television; virtually everyday on CNN there’s something. It’s weird.
HZ: I gave up on watching television a while back.
RC: I don’t look at it much. Since September 11th, I’ve spent some time on the news channel.
HZ: Well, I bought one of those satellite dishes, because I’m a glutton for any new toy that exists.
RC: Are you a junkie for gear?
HZ: Absolutely. Those that die with the most toys win. I totally believe that.
RC: How many people know that your middle name is Florian?
HZ: My Mom. I don’t know, quite a few. I used to, when I first started out and I was still in my completely pretentious mode as opposed to my slightly pretentious mode which must be now, I used to have my credit as Hans F. Zimmer. Then I scrapped my middle initial from the credit.
RC: What is it with you and hyphenated names? Harry Gregson-Williams. Nicholas Glennie-Smith.
HZ: Because that’s English. They are properly hyphenated. No, Hans, F. Zimmer is not a hyphen. First of all it’s pretentious, second of all it’s quite nice keeping one thing private really. You know, my middle name. Not signing to it.
RC: Well then I won’t put it in. You can have Florian to yourself.
HZ: You can put it in because everybody knows it.
RC: It was on the Internet Movie Database, that’s where I saw it. Do you enjoy conducting? Did you conduct the orchestra on this film?
HZ: No, I had Bruce conduct it. Bruce Fowler. And I would bark at them. Actually I did a tiny bit, but not worth mentioning. After all what I’m trying to get done ultimately is a recording. So I try to stay in the booth and listen to how the band sounds through the speakers.
RC: You can hear much better.
HZ: It’s so different. Gavin Greenway, who does a lot of conducting for me, he usually doesn’t bother to come into the booth to hear things. Because it just plays with your sense of reality so much. We communicate where we are right now. Plus, I mean, my demos are so precise about the dynamic marking and everything.
RC: That’s one of the questions. You commit to very elaborate mock-ups, it seems. I’ve heard them, I’ve heard of them obviously.
HZ: Oh, they’re getting legendary?
RC: Well, yeah. You spend a lot of time sampling. I believe you’ve gone to London and sampled orchestras for use in your mockups, so I think you’re probably at the top of the heap. Do you think that is now an inevitable expectation of modern directors, to hear a pretty good mock-up of the cues?
HZ: Well, there weren’t any mock-ups on Black Hawk Down.
RC: Well there wasn’t time, was there?
RC: You were putting out the real stuff in the time that you would normally put out a mock-up. Maybe that’s an advantage. You didn’t get to second-guess yourself. You didn’t get second-guessed by other people. You flew through it and went onto the next cue.
HZ: I use mock-ups to get certain orchestrational points across. Plus I can go and look at the damn thing against the screen and not be … you know just that thing of sitting back and watching it, which is a different place in my mind than when I’m sitting down writing it. So I can iron out a lot of things I would be probably embarrassed about later. And I don’t have to do it on a scoring stage with an orchestra sitting there. I work very fast with the orchestra because it’s all done. It’s like play the notes, you know. I’ve started doing this now where I book the section leaders for a session before the actual date, and go through the stuff with them. Play them my mockups, look through their parts, talk about style. So at least, other than the conductor, I have somebody on the floor, who understands what I was aiming for.
RC: So you’ll actually have the violin section leader and the French horn section leader in to hear the mockups so they have a complete understanding.
HZ: Yes, it’s the best money I’ve ever spent. By the time we get to actually play, there is a comprehension there. I don’t have to go and explain it to everybody; the section leaders explain it to their section. Second of all, I don’t have to waste anybody’s time. Plus they will have individually told me about unplayable parts and we will have sorted that stuff out.
RC: That’s great. I’ve done that with a first violinist, but not with other sections as well.
HZ: But it depends on the score. You know, if there’s not a lot of problem with the cellos, you’re not going to do it. Especially things like the French horns you know. I’m always a bit on thin ice, what can’t they do and what can they do?
RC: I always tell my section, play full out, don’t ever apologize for a mistake playing full out. I’d rather have commitment and get a huge mistake and rerecord it than have you play halfway safe.
HZ: Plus with the technology, I mean we’re getting really good at just blazing through stuff now … “okay let’s go back to bar one hundred and whatever and just pick that up.” And by the time they come in it’s already cut into the score.
RC: Right. The technology has really helped in that area. There’s no question.
HZ: And the other thing is, of course, because my tracks all start off as sequences. I just give that file to the recordist. He gets a midi file from me, so we’re always talking in bars and beats. We’re not talking in time code anymore, or any of those things, like can we locate to whatever. It’s always; let’s go from bar twelve. There’s a common language established right away at the beginning of the orchestra session.
RC: Your process seems extraordinary well organized.
HZ: No, it’s extremely badly organized. No, you’re actually right. It’s extremely well organized for letting me be completely disorganized in my creativity. There are all these little safety nets that I put into place. You know, just dumb things like that thing about everybody should know about what bars and beats. Comfortable in bars and beats. Why are we talking to the guy running the tape machine in a different language?
RC: Right, go to one hour, seven minutes, and forty-three seconds. Go to bar twelve. It makes so much sense.
HZ: Everybody knows. And I try to bring everything down to the lowest common denominator, of course, which is the technology, so it doesn’t get in the way of trying to get up to the highest common denominator, which is the music.
RC: It should be serving you rather than shackling you.
HZ: And I’m good with technology.
RC: Your studio certainly seems to be at the very highest level.
HZ: You know, it just does what I want it to do. This is the way I see it. You know, when I went to London to sample the orchestra, I did it out of no other reason than I’m spending all day listening to these sounds. Why should I listen to terrible sounds? Why should I spend my life listening to things that aren’t pleasant? And the deal I made with the orchestra, because it was really important to me in a way was, because they were very suspicious of this sampling thing, of course I don’t want to put musicians out of work. And the deal I made with them was exactly the opposite, because there was a sort of phase in Hollywood there where Hollywood producers though they could save a lot of money doing things electronically.
RC: As long as it had the word digital in the sentence, they would pay for it.
HZ: Right and I tried to explain to them, okay so you hear this demo now and it sounds pretty good and these musicians sound great, now you wait until they really play it. The problem about all the sampling is that it’s always last week’s model. It’s just regurgitating stuff. There’s no intent.
RC: You’re not going somewhere and let’s face it, it’s really all about emotion so you’re using samples but they’re going in the wrong direction much of the time.
HZ: So in a funny way, the idea is that they agreed to do the sampling session as long as I agreed to always use live musicians. It made it obligatory for me and the people I work with to use real musicians.
RC: So in essence, those terrific samples are a sales tool. In terms of convincing producers how great the film is going to be with the real orchestra.
HZ: I don’t think I’ve ever had to convince a producer about any of that stuff.
RC: In terms of budget a producer never came to you and said,” Listen, your mockup sounds great. Let’s just use it and save twenty grand.”
HZ: No, you know something; nobody’s ever done that.
RC: Well, you’re the only one.
HZ: I have had violins scratched from my wish list, yes, once. It was actually hilarious because I wanted to work with a much smaller orchestra, and they said, but no, on our last score James Horner used, I don’t know what he used, but it was enormous, and I had no idea what to do with them all. And then they came back to me and said well, maybe we can go back to your plan, we don’t actually have that in the budget.
RC: Interesting. So it was like a macho thing.
HZ: Yeah, I was just going to have them sit there and read the paper, because it wasn’t appropriate. Look, I try to come to a film with an idea, with a concept of some sort that is appropriate to that movie. So the argument is the orchestra too large or too small is built into my argument why we should have an orchestra in the first place. So there’s no real room to say you can’t afford it or you can’t have it. You know, usually what happens is, when, you know Sean Penn’s film, The Pledge, it wasn’t going to be an orchestral score anyway. But, you know Sean, I’m sure he doesn’t mind me saying that, but he just didn’t have any money. There wasn’t any money and that’s fine too. You go and think about it in a different way.
RC: Music’s incredibly flexible in putting it against picture. There are a lot of different ways that things can work. There’s never just one solution, fortunately.
HZ: In Rain Man, we had one rule – no traveling guitars and no orchestra, because in a way it was yet another road movie. And whenever you see people driving in a car across America you have either guitars or you have a big orchestra soaring away. So we gave ourselves those limitations on purpose, so you have to go and find a different voice.
RC: Avoid the cliché and strike out in a new direction. You do a lot of sequenced percussion. You’ve sort of become famous for the percussion stuff you’re doing. Some of it ends up in the finals.
HZ: Most of it ends up in the finals. All of it ends up in the finals.
RC: We have exotic instrument seminars, and Steve Foreman came in and had 28 different drums. I think most guys think that they’re adequate percussion sequencers and then he started to play and you realize how much more life there is in a live percussionist. So sometimes you have a live percussionist and yet there’s an attractiveness about the accuracy of sequenced percussion.
HZ: Yeah, but I promise you that you can get that accuracy out of Mike Fisher and those guys as well. I mean Black Hawk Down, all the sequenced percussion is in plus Mike and all those; I mean I had three percussionists.
RC: In Black Rain you also had live as well as sequenced. So you blend the two.
RC: Taiko? The big Taiko drums.
HZ: I have no idea, which ones were real and which ones were fake though. I mean here’s the thing, you need to end up with something that is seamless. You don’t want people to know your tricks. There should not be any tricks showing. So even I don’t know what it was. So I’m going, “Ooh, was BLACK RAIN real or fake or what was it?”
RC: My experience is that people have no idea. When they talk about music for films they think about the song. They have no clue. I think they’re even unaware of how much music there is in films in general.
HZ: Absolutely. I mean sometimes that’s a good thing.
RC: Yes, ignore the little man behind the screen, absolutely. What are your favorite boxes these days? Your go-to synths? I assume it changes as time goes by and that you have stuff that you go to for fun, that you enjoy laying your hands on.
HZ: Yeah, we do the Hans’s desert island thing, what is it we wouldn’t be able to survive without. And favorite synths right now, well it’s always the same software. It’s always Steinberg Cubase, because here’s an important discovery I’ve made; you can either write music or you can read a manual. So whatever sequencer program you’re used to is the best sequencer program in the world.
RC: So if you’ve got your time invested in it and it doesn’t crash, stick with it. I agree a hundred percent.
HZ: Yeah, and even if it crashes, it might be a very good opportunity to just sit back, have a cup of coffee, and think about what you’re really trying to do. The little Virus synth, the Virus B, and this weird German processor card called Pulsar.
RC: I’ve never heard of it.
HZ: Nobody’s ever heard of it. I don’t think they have American distribution. So it’s sort of my secret weapon. It sounds amazing. You can do pretty much anything you want on it.
RC: It’s a processor though, not a synth?
HZ: Well, it’s a synth. It has synth plug-ins and it has reverb. And it has all the usual plug-ins and mixers, but it’s just completely flexible. Plus it’s a development system, so other third parties can write on it.
RC: So it’s open code.
HZ: It’s completely open. I have John Bowen , who voiced the original Prophet 5, and worked for Korg on the Wave Station and all those things. He’s been getting me some synths which are unbelievable. And it’s great because I come here, you know I started my career as a synth programmer. I didn’t start my career as a musician, because I always thought playing was too terrible.
RC: I’ve seen the giant Moog setup in your room. Did you use that on Black Hawk?
HZ: Absolutely. Other people switch between paper and keyboard when they write. It gives you different perspectives on things. I switch between points of using old, analog sequencers which don’t tell you what the next note is. So you know, puttering around. It’s like puttering in the garden of sounds.
RC: Found sounds.
HZ: Yeah, I know what I’m doing on it but still it surprises me.
RC: Trevor said that you were one of the most knowledgeable synth programmers that he’s ever run into, and he’s got pretty high standards. So you feel pretty comfortable in the insides of anything you’ve got.
HZ: You know, with all my paranoia, and my neurosis of “am I any good?”, if you ask me if I’m a better synth programmer than a composer, I’d probably tell you I’m a better synth programmer.
RC: Really? That’s interesting. I mean how many films have you done? Fifty, sixty, eighty?
HZ: Yeah, something like that. It’s just, I have not finished with all that stuff. I can go up pretty much to any synth and make it work.
RC: What film scores do you particularly like?
HZ: All the ones that weren’t written by me. Ennio Morricone – Once Upon A Time in America. I used to have my top ten list and I think it hasn’t changed that much. Once Upon a Time in America, Randy Newman’s Avalon – absolutely, amazingly gorgeous. You know, one score I really thought was amazing was Howard Shore’s The Cell.
RC: I didn’t see it.
HZ: I think very few people saw that movie and it exists on DVD where you can turn all the dialogue off and just watch the movie with the score, and it’s great. And Mel Wesson and I actually sat down one day and just watched the whole thing.
RC: We were talking about your top ten film scores…
HZ: Yeah, I can get down to one. John Williams – The Eiger Sanction. I just love that score and it’s so modest.
RC: Hook is also one of my favorites. It’s so much fun.
HZ: There’s a period where people were very derogatory about John Williams’ scores. They don’t realize the craftsmanship, the art that has gone into it, you know, The Witches Of Eastwick.
RC: He’s working at such a high level. He has for so long.
HZ: You know, what I like is actually that I’m still a fan of his music.
RC: Me too.
HZ: And it’s great. And I mean partly why I built this studio was because there’s a . . . well there’s being a fan and at the same time you try to rise to that level in a sort of a way. There’s a competitive element there.
RC: And you listen to scores from fifty years ago, like Waxman and Korngold, and you realize, there’s plenty of room to learn for everybody.
HZ: The other thing that happens at the studio is that the other composers are always in competition with each other. Klaus Badelt was writing a thing yesterday for this Harrison Ford thing K19. He’s sitting there with the director and I’m walking in and he’s doing the full demo disclaimer, and “oh it’s terrible”, and “he should be shot by now “, and “he should hire somebody decent.” And there’s his thing and it’s absolutely, mind-bogglingly beautiful. I’m going “Wow, I wish I could do that well.” All I’m thinking is I will, I will, you know.
RC: Do you ever go back and listen to a score you wrote a long time ago and find yourself unable to remember how you got to that point where you wrote that?
HZ: It happened on Black Hawk Down because I got my friend Al Clay to mix the album. “Big Al” as he’s generally known in the business, started working with me when he was sixteen and I was twenty-one or something. Everybody starts talking about the good old days and we dragged out this score that I’d done in, I don’t know, 89, 88, 87 called Paperhouse, which was done in two weeks. And yeah it sounded crappy and all these things, but there was a flow to it and there was a sort of daringness to it. And I was going oh, must keep that level of danger up. You know, how did I do it when I was a kid or whatever? But yes, you’ll go and listen to old stuff and you’ll have no idea how you got there.
RC: When you’re going to score a piece that has overwhelming visuals and overwhelming sound effects like almost all of Black Hawk Down …
HZ: Anything that Ridley Scott puts his mind to.
RC: You know it’s just going to rip off the screen. That’s how he works. Do you adjust the density or the way that you approach melody, or the way you approach orchestration when something is so big? You’ve scored many things that are mild, that are nice, that are not in your face. Ridley’s stuff – his cinematography’s going to be “bang.” His sound is going to be “bang.”
HZ: Whatever Per does, whatever Ridley does, you know sound and visuals, I see them as the enemy and my job is to beat them. No, not quite. That’s the horrible, callous version. I don’t think I’m holding back much in Gladiator, do you?
HZ: And in the more muted tone of Hannibal, I’m writing for much smaller forces. And in Hannibal, other than one or two cues there’s only celli. So no high strings in it at all.
RC: A beautiful score. I love that score. Because I remember Days of Thunder…
HZ: You do? I don’t.
RC: There’s a wall of sound. You pulled out a bunch of old analog synths to try to cut through the motors as I recall.
HZ: Yeah, I did, and funny enough, it had to be really precise and specific. Forget anything you want to do that’s nice orchestration. It ain’t gonna happen. Anything softer, forget about it.
RC: It’s not the job.
HZ: No, except that you come to the moment where… and Ridley does that frequently where he goes, “You know what we should do in here, you use the sound effect all the time to hide your really bad edit or your really bad move you just made because you have to got A-to-B, and the guns are going to be blaring anyway, so you might as well just go A-to-B and don’t try to do a nice transition. That’s inevitably the part where Ridley on the dubbing stage goes, “You know, let’s pull out all the sound effects and just make this..”
RC: Feature the music.
HZ: “Only music.” So there’s only one way to go about it. “Ridley, pick another moment for this. This one won’t live. You know the other thing is when you work with smart people, like Ridley Scott, first of all they will listen to your reasons. Second of all, they have a way of sometimes solving a problem for you, that you couldn’t solve.
RC: And there’s a fear to go to the director with a problem, because you don’t want to admit failure. You don’t want to admit you can’t handle it.
HZ: No, but that’s why you try to work with the same bunch again, because you didn’t get fired last time. You know, when I first started working in this town, I had heard all the horror stories about how Hollywood behaves. And I started working with Barry Levinson, and it wasn’t anything like that. It was the most wonderful experience. I mean all I was doing was having, anxiety attacks, going “when is this horrible thing going to occur” and it never occurred. So I thought, this is easy. So then the first movie I did with Ridley, it was…
RC: Was that Black Rain?
HZ: The producers absolutely loathed the score. Hated it. We’re coming out of one of those previews at the Paramount theatre and all the heads of Paramount are there, and the producer just started going for me in front of everybody and I fainted.
RC: You fainted?
HZ: I fainted.
RC: Were you exhausted?
HZ: I was exhausted more than anything, but this was an onslaught, you know. “You’re ruining my movie!” And I woke up to Ridley being right in the guy’s face, “Don’t you ever talk to my composer like this.” And you know how those little things give you a sense of a bonding experience.
RC: I guess, it’s Mogadishu all over again. Cause I remember Black Rain as being an important score, and that the sound and the power of the music was so aggressive and so right. I thought this was going to change how people approach scores, not necessarily in terms of writing, but certainly sonically.
HZ: But I didn’t know. I came from European filmmaking, so did Rid for that matter, and of course the thing is, you work with the director. And that’s his vision, and you have your vision and together you’re going to make this thing happen. And your producer might have a point of view and you listen to it, and if it happens to fit into the thing you want to do, go for it. Appropriate his ideas, absolutely, but ultimately, he’s not making the movie. So I was just really astonished that somebody could actually voice their objections that loudly.
RC: Do you think producers in America have become more hands-on in comparison to European producers.
HZ: I think it depends on the person. You know, I’ve worked with Jerry Bruckheimer quite a bit and he’s well a hands on producer, but you know on this one, it’s a Ridley Scott film. So it was a very different way for Jerry to work. He was there, but…
RC: Ridley was in charge.
RC: Did you go to the dub?
HZ: Yeah, but I had a writing setup on the dubbing stage. I wrote the last cue on the dubbing stage. Wrote and recorded it on the dubbing stage.
RC: Were you by yourself?
HZ: Yeah. I don’t know was I by myself? Yeah I was by myself.
RC: No collaborators at the end.
HZ: No collaborators. No, come on, you know. Somebody gets left holding the baby.
RC: They’re all just too weak. They can’t keep up.
HZ: They were all getting changed for the premiere. We finished at 5:45, the premiere was at 7:00.
RC: Really? That’s pretty tight.
HZ: Why is that tight? If we had finished at a quarter to seven, we would have still have made it somehow.
RC: Well you have an hour and forty minutes for the first nine reels to play while you finish the tenth reel.
HZ: I don’t know. I finished one movie, the last reel with probably less time, when it was opening at a film festival.
RC: This is making me uncomfortable.
HZ: On the other hand I was on a movie recently where the schedule was really tight and everybody was going, “You’ll make it.” And I finally went nuts. I said, “Who says I’ll make it?”
RC: What if the power goes out?
HZ: Just because I’ve always made it, who says I’m going to?
RC: Nothing goes wrong until it does. I did a film trailer about a year and a half ago, and we had three hours until the trailer was supposed to dub Sunday morning, and the power went out. I’ve got backup power on the console for twenty minutes, and I’ve got backup power on my computer for twenty minutes, but everything else is about five minutes. And we sat. We went down to the living room, we got sodas, and we sat looking at each other for two hours until the power came back. Things happen and you have to prepare. All these schedules are getting so compressed, there’s no room for error. Errors are going to come.
HZ: I wrote the closing and opening title for Jim Brooks, for a television thing that was on the air two days after the earthquake. So I was doing things during those aftershocks where the power would go out every two minutes. And we had a seven o’ clock in the evening session, and I think I turned over; I was trying to turn over the first chart to Bruce to orchestrate at a quarter to seven. And I can’t quite remember how it all happened, but we got it done.
RC: Remember in Shakespeare in Love, someone asks Geoffrey Rush, “How does it possibly happen?” And he replies “I don’t know, it’s magic, but it always happens.”
HZ: Now that’s what I mean. An idea takes a split second to come. It just seems to take a long time to get to that split second. Panic and fear sometimes are great motivators.
RC: Absolutely. The fear of failure, the fear of missing a deadline. It will get you pumped up. I’ve been president of this group now for a year and what I’ve learned is, ideas are easy. Execution is hard.
HZ: Well, following it through to the end. And it’s a good question. Who was the last guy on the dubbing stage? Who was left? It was me. You know, where was everybody else?
RC: In terms of the music, the first guy to start writing was you and the last guy on the dub stage was you. That’s what being the boss is about.
HZ: And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
RC: Well, it takes a certain personality to be an entrepreneur. To work by yourself. To take the hits by yourself. To take the acclaim by yourself. But like I said, at three in the morning, it doesn’t matter what’s up on the wall. You’ve got to come up with the music.