19 August 2007

Henry Jackman & The Simpson third and last part, interveiew by Christine BLANC & Jérémie NOYER

Voici que se termine la publication en trois parties de notre interview d'Henry Jackman, compositeur de musique additionnelle pour les Simpson Le Film.
Un immense merci à Henry pour sa gentillesse, la qualité de ses réponses et la générosité du temps qu'il nous a offert à l'occasion de cet entretien. Nous esperons le retrouver bientôt à l'occasion de ses prochaines compositions.
Mais les interviews sur les Simpson le Film ne sont pas pour autant terminées.
J'ai le plaisir de vous annoncer qu'en octobre devrait être publiée l'interview de James Dooley, qui a lui aussi participé à cette partition qui a enthousiasmé nombre de spectateurs! Alors, en attendant, vive Spider Pig!
You told me about Homer’s new theme, created by Hans Zimmer. Can you tell me about the other new ones?
There was a theme to represent the environmental protection agency. It was sort of the baddies, the Darth Vaders, with Russ Cargill as the head of the EPA. He’s the one who takes the decision to seal the dome. He represents the threat that’s gonna destroy Springfield. So we initially got a classic somewhat military theme for him, created by James Dooley. But this character ended up being a bit more complicated than we imagined. First, we though we’d keep using that theme, with a big orchestration in the vein of Gustav Holt’s Mars Planet. But as the film progressed, Jim became convinced that that was being overplayed. As well as being threatening, he was also an annoying bureaucrat. He wasn’t actually Darth Vader. This guy was like a wormy bureaucrat. In fact, we ended up using some material for him that came from the suite that I wrote, something less declamatory, but more kind of sneaky like his political machinations creeping up on Springfield subtly. The first 32 bars of the suite I wrote have an ostinato at the bass, and then we began using more Prokofiev harmonies with the strings pizzicato that were a little bit off, a little bit wrong. So we used some of that while he’s going to see the President at the White House to present him every option. We got a combination of “threatening”, “declamatory” theme mixed with a sort of a more bureaucratic busy-body, a little bit less “in your face”. Before that, it was a little bit absurd: you imagined Darth Vader whereas he hasn’t got the same screen presence as Darth Vader at all! In the end, it’s more about a texture than a theme you can actually write down. It’s more like a feel that we accidently discovered worked quite well with that character. Then, there’s something that Atli Örvarsson wrote several months before we started doing the music. He wrote that just away from the picture. I think he called it Lisa’s theme and the Simpsons guys all loved it. And they started to use it the temp score, in which it worked fine.

Can you tell me about some specific scenes you were in charge of?
The differences between Pirates of the Caribbean and the actual movie is that, instead of having continuous long cues that last, say, six minutes, here you’ve got twenty seconds of music and then Homer Simpson can burst into the door and say something ridiculous. So, it’s a very challenging process, not to get fragmented because you have to get out of the way for comic moments. So, often, cues are 20-22-second long and gap! It’s very broken up. But actually, there is one cue that became very clear it would be quite a long cue. Half way through the movie, when it becomes clear that it’s Homer Simpson who is responsible for the ecological disaster, the whole of Springfield gather together in a violent mob to come and get him. The cue begins quite early on with the mob arriving at home, and it’s a long sequence where they get chased and they jump across from one house to the next, to Flander’s house, and they jump in a car, and the car gets lifted up by the mob. Then they’re gonna get hanged and then they hide in a tree house, and the mob is putting it down. It’s a big five-minute thing, and I got put onto that one quite early. That kind of cue was very, very well temped. The music editor, Dan Pinder, did a fantastic job of getting a good shape, a good idea of where things should be moving, where the feeling of action should start, the feeling of suspense. He spent a long time on that cue getting a good structural shape, even if the actual little beats of music they used weren’t necessary right. It’s a bit like sending a scout out over the hill before you actually invade with the army.

As you said it, the orchestration is very elaborate whereas the design of the Simpsons has always been very simple. How did you deal with that difference?
There are a couple of ways to answer your question. The first is : just experimenting. For instance, when Hans started talking about this idea to raise the bar and use a little of Prokofiev and Gershwin, he said : “you just have to try. Let’s go and see what happens.” So, when I wrote the suite, we went and see if that worked with the picture. And it did! It didn’t make the film pompous. It didn’t feel like we were trying to impose some inappropriate concert-hall values on the American simple cartoon. It somehow worked. And the second answer is : you really have to disappear in a way that you never did on Pirates of the Caribbean. And the jokes really have to dictate that. There is some elaborate orchestration, but at the same time, at key jokes and key moments, when there’s slapstick humor, things that are quintessentially “Simpsons”, it’s all about the characters and you quite literally just have to get out of the way. There is often no musical solution to Homer’s ridiculous behavior. And some of the jokes appear so suddenly that they would be too overproduced if you would have continued the cue. That would have become too invasive. So I think part of the trick of reconciling something as visually simple with some symphony orchestra is actually be how discrete you are. If you listen carefully, there isn’t that many cues that last a long time continuously. It’s a combination of good judgment and discretion and getting out of the way. You’re not going to impose yourself on these four animated characters in a way that is irritating or distracts from the Simpsons we all know and love.

You seem very enthusiastic about this production…

Was it different, working on the Simpsons, from any other movie you did?
Be it on Da Vinci Code or Pirates of the Caribbean, the powerhouse is the director. Both Ron Howard and Gore Verbinski know what they’re doing and the film is their responsibility. On the Simpsons, that was a little unusual. It was much more a collective work. These guys have been doing the Simpsons for quite a long time and they know what they like and they know what they do (which they’ve been doing for years). So, during the meetings we had, you’d got Matt Groening, Mike Scully, Al Jean, etc. They have an idea and one of the guys would write something down on a pad, then one other would do a quick sketch and someone else would give another idea, etc. It’s a like a film tank. They don’t stop bouncing ideas to each others. I didn’t do a million movies, but it’s quite unusual.

Can you tell me about your projects?
The next thing may be the Nixon/Frost movie, based on the famous play. There is also The Darknight. It would be another James Newton Howard/ Hans Zimmer collaboration because it was very successful the last time and it worked out really well. That is a ferocious combination of talents, to be honest. If you’re a director, you’d be lucky to have one of those guys doing your score. To have both of them at the same time, that’s incredible! I remember the first opus when I was doing Da Vinci Code. At the end of the film, just after Gary Oldman says he had never had a chance to say thank you, and Batman goes : “and you never need to”, there is a massive widescreen shot of Batman standing on top of some building. It’s an incredibly inspiring shot and they got an amazing music then. And then, I discovered in the end credit that that was Hans and James Newton Howard’s collaboration, two of the greatest Hollywood composers! No doubt the next movie will be done the same way!

If you could choose a film to do, and a director…
I’ve always loved Ridley Scott movies. I really like patient movies, without a lot of dialogues, developing slowly, visually and poetically, which is often not very fashionable. Not that many blockbusters can take that risk : they need action and all that. Take Maximus in Gladiator. Instead of wasting dialogue scenes to set up how much he loves his wife, it’s all done poetically. It’s a very important piece of the emotional information, explained without dialogues. So it leaves more room for beautiful cinematography and beautiful music! Another film I totally loved (not the critics!) was The New World by Terence Malick. That’s my kind of movies. Nobody says a word during the first ten minutes! And the first cue is 11 minutes of Wagner before anything happens. It’s a beautiful shot of Virginia. I love that movie. By the way, Hans worked once with him, on The Thin Red Line. I love that sort of movies. In brief, if there’s a film I would have loved to do, it would have been The Mission. It would have been an honor, because it’s a beautiful movie with an incredibly serious theological and cultural content. I’d love to have this kind of opportunity to inspire the audience just with beautiful music, without having to get out of the way because of dialogues or sound effects.

My last question is crucial… do you like donuts?
That’s a very good question! Fairly enough! In fact, I’ve never eaten donuts in England. But when I moved to LA – I think I was working with Seal at the time- and he asked me : “do you want a donut? –No, I don’t eat donuts!” And he goes: “No, no, no. You have never tried crispy cream donuts, trust me! Let’s got in the car and get some. You’re gonna love them!” And I have to say, I think I had about ten of them! God knows what they put in that, certainly really, really bad things. But what an experience!

Merci à J. NOYER pour la transcription!

FreeCompteur.comFreeCompteur Live

13 August 2007

Henry Jackman & The Simpsons, Part 2/3

Was it easy to go from Pirates of the Caribbean to The Simpsons Movie?
Not at first. You won’t get any xylophone on Pirates! So you got used to working in the same palette of orchestration and also of harmonic language which you’ve got to get rid of really quickly. Instead of just going straight to the movie and writing the cues, the good process for that is just composing suites, six- or seven- minute pieces, away from the picture, just to develop and to experiment. You might write something of no use at all that won’t make it in the movie. But then, the music editor can take these things and chop them into the movie to see if that style feels right and that is very useful. And that’s a really useful way of getting under the skin of the movie before you actually do the cues. Then it becomes clear what is working and what isn’t working; what’s the style that makes you feel that “it is” The Simpsons and what style makes you feel not. We struggled very early about that. We all knew the theme and I started doing the orchestration. And because I’m so familiar with the Simpsons language and it has a language, musically, that’s already established because of the TV show, I was so much in that area, sounding quite like the TV thing.
We were listening to it and Hans said: “That’s cool enough. That’s what people expect. But I think we could raise the bar and do something a little bit different.” So we spent an entire day listening to Prokofiev. But that’s not because The Simpsons score sounds like Prokofiev. His point was: there’s a lot of light, not comedic, light, playful orchestrations in classical music that are a little bit “high-bar”, a little bit more “concert hall” than common TV style music. So we spent time listening to various pieces of Prokofiev that have very colorful, very radical, almost amusing orchestration. It’s typical of Hans to get the bar a little higher. It’s a film, it’s not TV. We should be ambitious. Just because it’s Homer Simpson, it doesn’t mean it has to be goofy. It can be goofy but a goofy-meets-Prokofiev goofy, or a goofy-meets-Prokofiev-Gershwin goofy, as opposed to TV goofy.

So, you were a fan of the series, right?
Yes, I’ve seen tons of the episodes. But it’s a double-edge sword. You know that there is an area that you possibly can go, because, just like everyone else in the world, you know what The Simpsons is. But the downside to it is, if you know it so well, you don’t move away from the original music. And that’s what Hans worried about. It’s not that he doesn’t like the series, but he’s not an expert on it. So he felt quite all right to go away. There is some advantage of not knowing too much about that. Because it’s so unusual to do a movie where there’s already so much baggage that people are bringing to the movie. Because they’ve potentially seen hundreds of hours of these characters, and they’re already familiar with tons of the music and the animation. So you’ve got to raise the bar a little higher because it’s a movie, but you can’t go crazy so that the people can say : “that’s not The Simpsons”.

Why do you like The Simpsons?
I would say that Matt Groening has got kind of a “narcotic” sort of humor. There are so many witticisms and jokes. But The Simpsons Movie being a film, it has to have a story, actually, otherwise you’re not gonna last the 80 minutes of it. But there are so many jokes and a lot of wit, and some of it is parodying the dysfunctional American family, some of it is parodying just general human weaknesses, like a classic satire. Thus, Homer is a hopeless father, he’s selfish and fat and indulgent. I just think it’s a refreshingly satirical look on the American family. But it also has warmth to it, that’s the other thing. It’s not biting and unpleasant a satire that you’re left feeling cold. You can make a list of all the dysfunctions of Homer and his family, but actually in the end, it still feels quite warm and amusing. And I think that’s why it’s universal. There are Simpsons all over the world. It’s not just about America. It’s just about a very average, average family.

Do you know why they hired Hans Zimmer for that film, and not Danny Elfman or Alf Clausen?
I have no idea. That’s a very good question. All I know is that a lot of people wanted Hans Zimmer to do the score. That’s not an unusual thing! But in this particular case, the logical thing would have been to ask Danny Elfman. I may be wrong, but I think that maybe Jim Brooks, the executive producer, took on some directorial role in the movie. Maybe, he and Hans worked together before. Jim has a very strong sense of confidence, like an ability to work closely and express himself with ideas. And he had a very strong sense that Hans would be a good partner for that process. And the fact is that conversations between Jim and Hans were always productive. So I would suspect it has something to do with Jim’s confidence in Hans.

How did you deal with the Simpsons theme?
We used just the one from the original series. It would have been unconceivable to do an entire Simpsons movie without using it. For the opening credits, I took the tune and did a completely different orchestration on it, which was actually really good fun. Then, there’s a rock band, standing on a platform in Springfield lake, so I made like a rock version of the same theme. So we did use it right at the beginning just to establish with the audience : “don’t worry, this is The Simpsons, the Simpsons that you know and love, simply re-orchestrated.” In other parts of the score, we also used it to represent Springfield as a whole. In the movie, when the people are threatened by an ecological disaster, when there is a sense of that we need conceptually a tune to represent the whole community, then occasionally that theme was slipped into the score, representing Springfield in general.

How did you orchestrate it?
It’s not orchestrated a million miles away. I kept the bass, played at double bass and cello in pizzicato because that’s the essence, rhythmically and harmonically, of the theme. Then I deliberately forgot the original arrangement, keeping the tune, that such a recognizable one. I just gave it a slightly big band feel, with some staccato saxes and muted trumpets.

FreeCompteur.comFreeCompteur Live

07 August 2007

Les Simpson Le Film - Interview d'Henry Jackman, part 1/3

C’est la pire catastrophe que Springfield ait connue, et tout est la faute de Homer, de son nouvel animal familier - un cochon - et d’une fuite dans un réservoir rempli de déjections… Une foule folle de rage se dirige droit sur la maison des Simpson. La famille parvient à s’échapper de justesse, mais ses membres se retrouvent rapidement séparés après s’être disputés.
Cette fois, plus que jamais, les citoyens de Springfield
ont toutes les raisons d’en vouloir aux Simpson. La catastrophe a attiré l’attention du Président des Etats-Unis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, et du chef de l’Agence pour la Protection de l’Environnement, Russ Cargill. Sous prétexte de contenir le désastre, Cargill va révéler sa vraie nature ainsi que ses véritables objectifs, et mettre au point un plan diabolique qui menace l’existence même de la ville...

Alors que le destin de Springfield et du monde entier est en jeu, Homer se lance dans la plus grande aventure qui soit : sauver la planète, mais plus difficile encore, obtenir le pardon de Marge et rassembler à nouveau sa famille !

Après 18 saisons, 400 épisodes et d'innombrables récompenses et prix dans le monde entier (dont 23 Emmy Awards et le titre de «Meilleure série télé du XXe siècle » décerné par le prestigieux « Time Magazine », « Les Simpson » ont franchi le pas du grand écran et sont aujourd'hui les stars de leur tout premier film. Ce qui était essentiel car il fallait bien la taille d'un écran géant pour saisir l'infinie bêtise de ce pauvre Homer !
Mais il a ses fans, et parmi eux le compositeur Henry Jackman. Aux côtés de Hans Zimmer, il a su transmettre sa passion pour cet univers loufoque au compositeur de Pirates des Caraïbes, tout en lui apportant une qualité nouvelle qui sied à ce nouveau format.
Quand un petit chanteur de St Paul débarque dans une famille d'américains moyens...
credit photo: veroniqueroblin.com
Can you tell me about you, your training and your background?
I’m 33 now. I started playing the piano when I was 4 and then I probably had piano lessons about a year after that. When I was 8, I went to a very monasterial English school which is the choir of St. Paul’s cathedral. From the age of 8 to 13, I was singing as a chorister at St. Paul’s cathedral. I mean matins and evening songs and all the holidays, singing Tallis and Palestrina, all the traditional English church music. After that, I got a music scholarship to go to Eton College. There I didn’t sing so much. I played the French horn in the orchestra, and carried on studying the piano and composition. At the age of 18, I completely abandoned all my classical training; I bought a computer and started doing electronic dance music. I pretty much ignored classical music for quite a long time. I went to Oxford university, but the time I got to the third year, I left because I was becoming more interested in actually making records instead of writing essays about 13th century music which is what the course mainly consisted in. It’s very traditional and I got very bored with it and I started making records instead. That would be the quick history of my, actually, institutional education. That was fine, but I preferred being in the real world working with musicians. On top of that, I had my father, who is a composer and an orchestrator, and my uncle, who is a recording engineer. So I had two sets of education at the same time. The interesting point is that, from 21 to 29, you wouldn’t know I had that training because I was very involved in pop music. But it’s not that unusual for classical kids to end up experimenting a bit.

How would you describe your musical style during your 20s?
It’s an interesting question since from 20 to 28, I was considered as someone lost! Making dance records was a kind of a reaction against my classical training. And I don’t think I found my style then since I worked in so many different styles. It was an apprenticeship in a way. If you have a classical training, in order to find a style that you’re comfortable with, you’trying to synthesize a whole lot of information. And then if you start getting involved in electronics, then you’re incorporating a whole lot of textural information –Brian Eno and things like that, colors- in order to understand how those guys make very beautiful sounding electronic music. So, if you listen the stuff I did during this period, it’s all over the place, depending of who I’m working with. The very first time I did something that managed to incorporate all these influences was an album I made called Transfiguration which had orchestra in it with elegant orchestration and electronics and vocals. It was like a sort of a combination of all the things I had learned in the previous years. So it was probably the first time it all came together.

Crédit photo: Christine BLANC

How and why did you come to film music?
It came from Transfiguration. I spent two years making this album and I said to my manager at that time : “if I stand under a bus and die tomorrow, the only thing I’d really want anyone to hear would be this album because everything up until then was trying to find my way”. My manager being a good sort of a women, somehow got a copy of the cd on Hans Zimmer’s desk, not long after I finished it, and he listened to it. I hadn’t really thought about film score but when most people listened to Transfiguration, they told me: “you shouldn’t be messing around with pop music. You should be doing film music, because it’s very panoramic, it’s bursting out of the pop structure and kind of moving to film music. Yet I had done nothing in the field of film music, nothing for tv, nothing for picture. And when Hans Zimmer got to the third track of this album, he picked up the phone, called me up and said : “Yes, Henry, I’m listening to your album. I’m doing a little movie called The Da Vinci Code and I’d like you tp work on it because your album sounds great.” And that was my first gig to picture!

That could have been worse!...
Yes! (laughing) But, you know, you can be skilled in music, but doing things to pictures, it’s not just about writing music, it’s about a million of other things and I obviously had no experience in that. But I survived the experience!

Do you think your very rich background in matter of both orchestral and electronic music facilitated your integration within the Remote Control Production system?
I think so, because if you look at Hans, he’s overly capable of delivering Wagnerian orchestrations, in the most traditional sense. But the guy grew up as a synth genius. If you walk into his studio in Remote Control studio, the first things you see is a dozen of synths, up to the walls. He’s not old school, he’s completely plugged into electronic music. He understands production, too. And even if I was a novice on Da Vinci Code, my role was to bridge the gap between sound design and orchestra. So I would be doing texture stuff and a little bit of orchestral stuff. And after that, I went crazy doing orchestral stuff! So, yes, I think that what makes Hans and I get along together is that mixing of classical and electronic music. Take the upcoming Batman film for example. We’ll have this sense of danger and darkness with the double basses, along with electronics. But it’s electronics that fits with harmonically moving classical music. It’s not just about loops. You have to see in both camps what’s going to work, what’s appropriate and what won’t gonna date very quickly.

How would you explain the role of a composer of additional music in a film scoring process?
It depends very much. It can be a light involvement or an extremely heavy involvement. In The Simpsons, I had a much stronger involvement. In a way, Hans is the captain of the ship. Nothing is gonna come out of Remote that isn’t in someway guided by him. It’s like during the Renaissance, you had schools of painting. Before Raphael became famous, he would have a whole bunch of artists and there would be a certain style coming out of that. But there was a figure at the top that would subtly infuse the style to this particular house and to various people within that, who would one day emerge and set his own kind of thing. I think that at Remote, it’s a bit like that. It depends. On Da Vinci Code, I sort of felt that Hans was doing the whole thing. For The Simpsons, he wrote a tune for Homer Simpson which is so perfect in capturing his personality. He did that on the piano. He did a piano mock and gave it to the director who found it sounded pretty cool. But not being a musician, he couldn’t quite see it. So I came in and made a 6-minute orchestral suite based on that tune and exploring different ways. And then the director said : “OOOh, it’s gonna work!” So it all depends. Hans has different relationships with his composers, he knows what they’re good at and if he feels that you have an understanding on something, he steps back and just lets you do your thing. He’s very flexible.

Merci à Jérémie NOYER - http://www.media-magic.blogspot.com/
Merci à Isabelle - Warner Music

FreeCompteur.comFreeCompteur Live