IndustryCentral - Clef Notes

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Scoring Trailers


An Interview with John Beal
...by Lucas Kendall

John Beal
John Beal
At the movies, isn't it a bummer when the coming attractions end and the movie starts? Also, isn't it a mystery how these trailers often contain music from other film scores; or music which sounds like other scores changed around a bit; or music which sounds like nothing you ever hear again? To shed light on these mysteries is John Beal, one of a few composers who specializes in trailer music. He's scored trailers for Aladdin, In The Line of Fire, True Lies, Patriot Games, The Matrix and Mask of Zorro, and was formerly a composer for film
(The Funhouse, Terror in the Aisles, Zero To Sixty) and television (Happy Days, Vega$, Goodtime Girls, Chicago Story). John is an incredibly talented composer who has done amazing work in some absolutely horrifying time-frames, and I thank him for taking the time to do this interview.

Lukas Kendall: I was wondering if we could begin by discussing the process of how a trailer is scored from start to finish.

John Beal: It varies a lot on the one hand and there's a certain consistency about it on the other hand. 95% of the time, trailers come to me with temp music on them. That's because the trailer has often taken six months to develop, first with dailies, then final cuts as things become available to the trailer house. And the whole time they're putting samples together for the producers and marketing people at the various studios, they have to lay in temp music, so that everybody can understand that there will be music. They don't seem to be able to see if the scenes are working or not working on their own merit, they have to have something there even if it's some kind of wallpaper to give them an impression of what the final trailer is going to look like. What happens is that over the course of this three to six months, people become so used to one specific piece of music, that by the time they get ready to finish, they have what we call "temp dub love." They can't get away from it. It doesn't matter what you do, they keep saying, "Yeah, but that doesn't sound quite like such-and-such." And most often they find they can't even license the piece of music they're in love with. What usually happens to me is that I'll get the trailer at five o'clock a day or so before the dub when suddenly somebody realizes they need to address the fact that there's no music they own for the trailer. Then there's a big panic. They want it to sound like something James Horner, John Williams or Alan Silvestri wrote, as big as it can possibly be, somewhere between 90 and 120 musicians, they want it for a dollar ninety-eight, and they want it by the next morning so they can show it to the producer. The thrill is trying to get that kind of quality done in that short a period of time.

The other way I work is fairly early on in the stage of development, like the 7th or 8th cut of the trailer, when it's close to finishing. They'll send me something with temp music and say, "Can you write something in this style, that catches all the picture hits, and does all the dramatic things that this temp track doesn't do," because of course it wasn't scored for this trailer. Then it's a matter of writing in a derivative style, one that's close enough to please the producer, but far enough away that the composers won't get angry with me--or if anything, they'll be flattered--and doesn't put the studios in any kind of liability. I end up writing every kind of music there is from A to Z, in the style of almost every composer who is well enough known to have his or her stuff available for tracking purposes.

As the trailers develop, I get back as many as five or six different cuts--like a two and half minute trailer that they now want to get down to two minutes--and in the course of that they've cut up my music pretty horrendously. Or they've changed the picture entirely, and reversed the whole running order of things, and now you have to re-conceive the whole concept of the trailer. I've done as many as eight different versions, completely different styles of music, because people have a difficulty nailing down a decision. There's a great deal of paranoia in the industry about committing to a decision. Everybody feels as if their career is going to die if they make one wrong move. I'll get calls after submitting a full orchestral demo, done with samples, and they'll say, "Why did the trumpets go up there?" Well, I had two hours to get it done, and I had three choices: They could go up, they could go down, or they could stay on the same note, and I just picked one. "Well, we feel that when we test this, we just might possibly get some negative feedback on the fact that the trumpets go up here in this one scene." Of course my feeling is that the audience is responding to the content on the screen, and reacting to the emotions presented with the score. I don't think they're analyzing the trailer or judging the picture based on the music (although some moderately good pictures have been buried by terrible tracking jobs for the trailers and some very poor pictures have had incredible first weekends with great trailers).

So it's an interesting business and one that's hard to analyze or predict. It's a business more extreme than writing for film or television in that they are more aware of what music does, yet they are more afraid of what music does. You don't have the luxury of having anything that you can develop. It has to start with an attention grabbing device, and it has to go for broke on until the end. My usual problem is that by the time we get to the end and everybody is wailing, and the drums are catching every picture cut right between your eyes, they come and say, "Gee, we'd like to know if you can add more drums and a bigger orchestra on the end." It's kind of like taking a photograph--the more people you put in it the farther away you have to get with the camera and the harder it is to distinguish faces. I'm constantly trying to explain to them that less is best in many cases. Going for the impact is more important than going for the volume.

When I work, the narration usually has not been done, most of the dialogue is scratch dialogue from the dailies, and it's hard to predict what the levels of dialogue are going to be or even which voices are going to be used. It's much the same as what theatrical and television composers are faced with now. When I first started composing, pictures were much closer to completion, and yet they still had 8 or 10 weeks available for the composer to work to what was almost a locked sound mix and a locked picture, close enough to say that this person is speaking in this tonal range, and I can write around that. Nowadays, film composers are composing right up to the last minute of the recording session and sometimes even after that just prior to that dub. All this boils down, again, to people not being able to commit to a decision, which I think puts undue stress on all composers. It's most horrendous on television composers, and it certainly affects film composers who don't operate with the big budget films, when they have to provide a tremendous amount of music on a less-than-desirable budget. So the same things are inherent with the trailer business, it just seems much more intense. It's much faster, it's much crazier; you're dealing with an advertising mentality as opposed to an art mentality. You have a lot of producers--every trailer has to go through all the producers, producers' assistants, executive producers, executive producers' partners, co-partners, co-producers, actors who have some say in the final advertising, etc. Then it goes to all of the executives in each of the studio corporations, and when that gets all done and they play it for their girlfriends and sisters and children, and everybody has finally agreed on version 20, alternate take A, it goes to the highest level at a studio, the invisible owner, who then says, "You know, I'd really like to have this campaign go a whole different way." And everybody starts all over again.

Regarding how generic some of the music ends up sounding: the trailer business is one of test-marketing, just like they test-market soap. Every cut, shot and scene has to be test-marketed with an audience before anybody can decide if it actually works. Every time we do something, it goes out for a test. They say make changes, we make the changes, it goes out for another test, and this goes on and on right up until the very last minute. Times have come when I've been given a project at midnight for a 6AM dub next morning. And they come back and say, "You know that guitar line in that one spot, when we take away the dialogue and effects and listen to it all by itself, we can tell it's not a real guitar." And I try to explain to them diplomatically that at midnight it was a bit difficult to find a decent studio rhythm section so we could record that one little guitar lick, and hopefully with sound effects and dialogue it will be less apparent to an audience. But that happens quite a bit, especially with one of the studios in town that always calls me at 7 or 8 o'clock at night and sends me something by midnight for the next morning.

When this happens, you end up writing the first thing that comes to mind. You don't even have time to absorb the picture as it stands, you just do something that you know works. It comes so fast at you that after all your years of experience, you have to trust that anything you write will work. It may not be inspired or a great piece of music, but you know that device will work or that harmonic structure will work for this dramatic point. Also, because they have made a decision so late that they even need music, they're still re-cutting, and will continue to re-cut right up to the dub. So, you usually have to rewrite and re-record that two and a half minutes as many as five times over three or four days. I don't mean just make a few edits here or there; sometimes it has to be completely rewritten because they've changed the trailer's entire order of events. Something that started small now starts big and ends small. It's a medium of writing even more grueling than television in some respects, because of the time factor; it's less grueling than television because you're not trying to re-develop the same music over and over again.

So, there's a lot of confusion, but it's a business I love because I was raised to believe that a composer for film should be able to write in any style of music upon demand and write it well. The people I studied with, like Dominic Frontiere, George Duning, and Earle Hagen, all reinforced that belief. Nowadays, agents and producers seem to want composers who write in one specific style of music; it makes them very easy to sell. You go in with a marketing commodity, you know this is exactly what this composer writes, he doesn't write anything else, and this is what you want for this picture. I think a lot of fine composers sacrificed their ability to write in a number of styles just to take the pictures that are made available. And of course you would do that, it's naturally to your advantage. But for me, I get to write a different kind of music for every cue. I do between 40 and 50 trailers every year, and that's 40 or 50 different kinds of music, or dissimilar kinds of music. I get to figure out what I consider the needs are of that product, and write as dramatically impressive a piece of music as I can, write two minutes of it, and walk away. And then on to the next one. That makes it very exciting, and certainly mind-stretching.

LK: Could you give some examples of specific trailers on which you might have received odd instructions?

JB: Well, one example you mentioned in your monthly was the School Ties trailer. They sent me a piece of music on a Tuesday night at about 7, and they said "We want something just like this." And I said, "What do you mean, just like this?" And they said, "We want something that sounds absolutely identical to this, but just change the melody enough so that it's not plagiarism." And I asked, "Well what do you mean, change it just enough?" And they said, "Well, we want the exact same orchestration, we want the exact same colors, we want the exact same instruments playing the various lines, we just want the melody changed." I had to record with a 60 piece orchestra the next day; the dub was the day after. I didn't even know where the piece of music had come from. But I did it, got it recorded, everybody was thrilled with it, we went to the dub, everybody came back thrilled with it, it went out in the theaters and on television, and the composer whose work had been imitated called in and said, "Hey, that's my music." In comparison, there was identical orchestration, style, and yes, the instruments played similar parts in the same places, with a string lead going to a trumpet solo going to a French horn soli section, exactly as that composer's cue had been done. If you were to overlay the two cues you would notice that they were harmonically different and that the melody was different, but not enough so that a person who didn't understand how to distinguish the two would ever hear the difference. If they heard one and then you played yours, they'd probably say yeah, it's the same music. So there's a case where the studio had asked me to do something which was improper at best and unethical at worst, and then of course they were shocked to find that they didn't have complete ownership of the material. [Ed's note: John was obviously very diplomatic in discussing this situation, but for those readers now wondering what the piece of music was, it was from Robert Folk's Toy Soldiers.]

The most common knock-off that everyone did for a number of years was Terms of Endearment, now itís Come See The Paradise. I think I've done fifteen different versions of Terms. I've even got calls asking if I could knock-off my knock-off of Terms of Endearment. The most recent version was for Bicentennial Man. It gets to a point where you're wondering if you've gone full circle back to the original melody or not. One studio sent me back six times to get closer, and when they were finally satisfied with how close it was, their legal department said it was too close and they couldn't use it. The blame then came back to me, because of course it was all my fault that I had gotten too close, even though I had gone back six times to re-record it at their request. So those are discouraging times. I would much prefer being given a piece of material and allowed to score it from scratch. Those that I have done have never come back to me for changes, have always been very well-received, and have certainly made good product for my composing reel.

LK: Some of those might be...?

JB: I did a piece years ago for Deadly Blessing, which was a low budget picture. They wanted something that did what the Omen did, but they didn't give me a temp-track. So I used a huge orchestra and choir singing Latin lyrics that was much in the style of The Omen but which was completely original and fresh. So it did what the client asked for it to do without being an imitation. I get more fan mail about that cue than any other trailer cue Iíve written.

LK: Of the trailers being done today, about how many get original scores?

JB: About one in six pictures from the major studios gets some kind of original treatment. Either it's bookending a piece of existing score or pop song, with an intro and an ending, adding a new transition if they can't make a transition work, or doing a complete re-score. I guess there are about 400 pictures over the course of a year. I also do some work for the smaller studios and do some network. All in all, it amounts to a large number of projects, crammed into just a few days of work for each one. In the case of the network promos, it's usually a same day or next day turnaround, because it usually ends up going on air that night or the next day. That's where the work comes from. There's not enough trailer work to sustain an industry of composers. A problem is that scoring for marketing purposes is an entirely different ballgame than scoring for features or television. The requirements are different, and the people you deal with have totally different personalities and needs.

LK: I went to the movies last night and noticed two consecutive trailers each tracked with the exact same piece from The Rocketeer. Do you notice fads like that?

JB: We go through cycles. Rocketeer is a big one. I've done two or three different versions of the slow theme from that. Terms of Endearment, The Abyss are used quite a bit... Aliens, of course, you hear all the time... yes, there are definitely patterns. It comes from... I was about to say a lack of originality, but in all fairness, I think it's a lack of time. The editors who are busy tracking these things as they are busy cutting them are not music editors. They're film editors, they reach up on the shelf and grab the CD that they know has powerful enough music that will work for their trailer. That gets temp-tracked in, and gets either licensed or imitated. Fortunately for the composers, the publishers have now discovered that there's a lot of money to be made in the tracking of cues in trailers. Fortunately for me, the publishers are charging so much for those cues that I'm getting to write more and more original music. When I first started doing trailers in the mid-'70s, the license fee for a piece of score might be $250-300. Now, it's $50,000-100,000. So it makes it a little easier for me to justify the budgets I need in order to recreate that kind of sound.

LK: Do you sometimes work with the composer on the film?

JB: Rarely. When I can, I try to find out who the composer on the film is going to be. Most often, when I'm working on a project, it has not been scored yet. When we do teasers, we're dealing with special trailer-only clips or dailies, and a lot of the time the composer has not even been signed. When I do the trailers within a month or two of the release of the film, the composer has usually been named, but has not started. There are some cases where the composer has been available to do the trailer, and they've done some fine work--David Newman on Hoffa, for example. James Newton Howard, I think, did one for Falling Down. Sometimes the composers are available, but sometimes they don't want to have anything to do with the marketing campaign. I've been in both situations. There have been times when I was doing a project and I wished that I could have done the trailer, because I wanted to be true to my score. On the other hand, the marketing people feel that oftentimes the score, as wonderful as it is, may not do what is desired to sell the project in two minutes. If I can find thematic material available--sometimes they'll have some early session work that I can listen to-I might say, that's a great theme, it just needs to be beefed up or accelerated to sell the project in two minutes. When I can do that, I will. If I know who the composer is and can talk the producers of the trailer and at the studio into allowing me to write in the style of that composer, I will do that, too, because I would like to be true to the audience, being a consumer who has felt ripped off many times by a false sound and feeling of a picture, when I go in expecting one type of picture and it ends up being something totally different. There were a couple of very intimate films which were scored with something extremely aggressive in the trailer, when in essence the film basically had a piano score. Running on Empty was an example, years ago. It was basically a harmonica and strings score, very subtle and intimate, and they had me do a fairly aggressive trailer campaign for it, and it was probably necessary in order to get the sense of jeopardy and the chase going on across to an audience in a short piece of film.

LK: What are some of the techniques you use in order to sell a film in two minutes?

JB: There are some formulas that I've never really analyzed. There's basically a small start--unless you want that big, explosive shock a few frames in to get people's attention in the middle of a string of trailers--and a continuous building of density and motion until you get to the point where it's like piling on in a football game, still trying to leave room for dialogue and those big picture hits they like right now, the more drums the better. Invariably, we end on a low sustained note at the end, so that the audience has time to breath a sigh of relief at what they've just been subjected to, and say, "Wow, that's a really great picture, I want to go see that." I'm sure there are other devices that composers could come up with, but at this point the marketing people haven't been able to accept much else except dead silence or a low pedal note at the end.

LK: Have you been able to get pretty far out on the trailers you've done on your own?

JB: You know, I've done so many they're starting to become a blur. It's like asking someone who writes 30 minutes a week for television which is his favorite cue. I'm constantly in forward motion; I have very little time to go back and listen. Occasionally when I'm putting a demo together of various styles I think might be appropriate for a project, I'll go back and discover something I wrote and say, hey, that was pretty hip! How'd I come up with that? The amazing thing about writing as fast as you have to for trailers--and it's not that the writing process is fast, two and a half minutes a day is a nice pace for any composer--is the amount of information you have to put into a two minute cue. It's the number of hits. You have 120 seconds of picture, let's say, and often there will be 140, 150 different picture cues that they want you to hit. To try to make that musical is pretty stressful. So occasionally I'll discover something I've written, a little four bar phrase, and say, gee, that would've made a wonderful theme for something else, but there's just no room to develop that.

Because it all has to be presented with synthesizers and samples prior to any final recording, you find yourself writing vertically rather than linearly, as fast as you can and sequencing stuff in. I haven't even had the chance to put pencil to paper in months. I end up having to play each part in as fast as I can and over the years of experience know that those parts will work together. It's as if I were composing and orchestrating on the fly. The amount of time it takes to write it on the page is about all the time you have left. So I just have found myself sequencing it directly in, then going back and cleaning parts up, checking for voice leading and making sure I haven't played in too pianistic a manner, that I'm paying attention to how the instruments actually sound and play.

LK: So many of these trailers will be recorded by live orchestras?

JB: It goes in cycles. There was a time when I would only do two or three with an orchestra a year, and then about 40% of the work done with at least a partial orchestra, sometimes layered over samples for budgetary purposes. Right now weíre in a pop song cycle. But I've done a number of projects with large orchestras. It's very satisfying. It's wonderful to get back in the studio with the people who make my music sound great. I don't think I have the right to say I can sequence in each style instrument and present each articulation and bowstroke and breath the way every professional player can do it. I just give it my best shot and hope that it will satisfy the producers and convince them that we need the big enough budget to get a fairly large orchestra.

LK: At the moment, how many other composers are there who specialize in trailers as you do?

JB: I only know of a couple who do it on a full time basis. There are many fine commercial writers and beginning composers who do an occasional trailer here or there. I don't know if it's official or not, but I've been told I'm the only composer in the world who specializes exclusively in trailers and marketing for film and television movies. There are many other talented composers who do other kinds of work--television, features, jingles, industrial films--who include trailers and marketing campaigns as part of their career schedule. I've been fortunate that ever since Gary Le Mel hooked me up with a trailer company in the mid-'70s to bail them out on a project, I went from doing a few trailers a year while doing television and low budget features, to the point where it took over about eight years ago and became 100% of my business. And now while not as financially rewarding or glamorous, it's certainly creatively rewarding, and allows us to be comfortable, has paid for the necessity of a roomful of synthesizers and samplers, and we'll be sending our son to college without a problem. So it's been a good career, one kicked off by the gracious support of people like Gary, Al Bart, Stan Milander, Charlie Ryan, and Richard Kraft

LK: So, before you, what were people doing, were they licensing trailer music?

JB: Almost everything was tracked or licensed from other sources, there wasn't much originality in the choice of selections. The occasional trailer that was scored was done so because something didn't work, or it was a last minute situation where they couldn't find the rights to something. And again, there are some very fine composers who are what I call the middle range of composers, who aren't getting the pictures they deserve to be getting who are doing some of these trailers, and doing a fine job of them.

LK: You mentioned earlier the teaser as opposed to a trailer... now, that's like the earliest ad, a "Coming this Christmas" kind of thing?

JB: Right. One of the best teasers I've seen was the Last Action Hero teaser. They showed the characters on the set, and the window closed down on them, and Arnold said, "Not yet."

LK: After a film has been running, I've noticed they'll sometimes do more trailers, but this time using the music from the film.

JB: It's interesting. For some projects, like Patriot Games, they ended up using my music for all the variations of the trailers. I think they cut 10 different television commercials, using various sections of the trailer I had written, and I thought the score for that picture was lovely. Again, I think it's a case of familiarity. They had gotten used to my music by that point, and didn't want to have to go with anything else, to make that work, and have it approved by all the various powers that be. They'll usually cut 8 to 10 different commercials, sometimes with the theme from the picture. When I did JFK, John was just at the beginning of his recording sessions. I heard two cues he had done, I wrote something similar, and they felt it wasn't big enough. Of course, at the time, all he had submitted were some pianistic things. So we finished that trailer, and when the TV campaign came on, they used a lovely theme from the picture, which thought worked great.

LK: Prior to scoring trailers, you did some work in television and films. How did you get interested in music and film scoring?

JB: I started playing at the age of ten, in a band that was fronted by Richard Bellis, who is finally getting recognition as a wonderful composer. I played drums all through school, and when I came back from Vietnam, went on the road as a drummer for various Las Vegas type acts, Johnny Mathis, Frankie Avalon, various people like that. I became a drummer-director, because oftentimes they couldn't afford a conductor and a drummer. So I started conducting from the drums, then I became a stand-up conductor, was forced into arranging because of the changes that occurred on the road all the time with the music, then forced into re-arranging and creating new material on the road. Then I started conducting for acts as they appeared on variety shows here in town, and realized that having grown up in Los Angeles and knowing musicians here, I was coming back in almost as an outsider to my own music community. I decided to stay in town, spent a number of years doing record arrangements for various artists, including Olivia Newton John, Gladys Knight, and B.B. King, and variety shows for various people. I helped Olivia Newton John do her first concert here in Los Angeles, did all of her arrangements and conducted her show, and while I was doing some records got called to do some low budget feature films. From the feature films I got calls to do television sitcoms and weekly series. I orchestrated a number of TV movies of the week and feature films for various people, including Fred Werner, Dominic Frontiere, and George Duning, who lived near my house as I was growing up and was friends with my parents. I did some ghost-writing for a number of people, and it was through the ghost-writing that I really began to develop my chops as a film composer, which is what I had always wanted to do in the first place. I had decided I wanted to be a film composer probably at 14 or 15.

My career has been interesting, I've actually done things in reverse order. I started with features, as low budget as they were--the first feature I did was called Zero to Sixty (1978) for Darren McGavin, starring Joan Collins and the Hudson Brothers. Gary Le Mel signed me for that, when he was still at First Artists. From that I did a few trailers here and there, and then my agents got real excited about my career, and immediately plugged me into sitcoms. So we went from sitcoms to episodic television, and then back into some larger budget films, and at about that time we were at kind of an impasse. They wanted me to write a specific type of music so they could sell me as a certain style of composer. I wanted to write every kind of music available or known to man--as the contracts say, in this universe or any universe discovered hereafter--and trailers were starting to take off for me, so it was just a natural evolution back into the trailer business. But yeah, I did a season of Vega$, Chicago Story, Eight Is Enough, and Good Time Girls, Happy Days, some Laverne and Shirleys and all of those things. But I'm thoroughly enjoying what I'm doing now. It's much more like running a business, however, because I am doing all the things one does to get a business recognized, all the paperwork and letters and solicitation, all on my own. I don't think an agent could explain what it is I do.

I can't say how thrilled I was to see the request in your Questions section [FSM #30/31] for information about me. That individual should feel free to write in to you again and I will respond in whatever way I can. The Funhouse score (1981) has followed me around my whole life since writing it. People are constantly referring to it, and when they find out I wrote it, they say, "Oh, you're the guy who wrote that score, we studied that at UCLA." I've been amazed. It was an inexpensively done film, done for Mace Neufeld, who has now gone on to produce some wonderful films, of course hiring much more expensive and probably much more prolific composers than I. But at the time he was very excited with what I did, and in fact turned to his music supervisor and said "Why did we ask for Jerry Goldsmith, when here we have this guy for half the money?" But I've had letters from France and Chile and various parts of the world asking for copies of the score which was recently released. It's possible my score for Terror in the Aisles will be released soon, too. I had the good fortune to write in the styles of I think 150 different pictures in that film, compiled together as the best of terror and suspense films. I got a chance to really dig back into the archives and see what people had done in the early days and what they're doing now. I had some wonderful help from Doug Timm and Joel Rosenbaum, and orchestration by Jack Hayes, which saved our life, because of the time frame on that. It was a case of more minutes of music than there are minutes of film because of all the overlays and side-by-side tracking. The last two reels of the film were redone the day before the recording session, so we had to make changes and get things finished, copied in London as we were recording the first section of the film. It was a definite panic and I had some wonderful help.

LK: LK: I understand you're doing soundtrack recreations for edel America and Sonic Images now, since I guess you've gotten so good at taking things down fast.

JB: I guess it comes naturally because it's part of what I have to do: understand the style of music that each of the composers is writing. I would much prefer to go in and record their works again with a wonderful symphony orchestra, and have the privilege of conducting their fine works. But at this point, there are several people and companies who have asked me to do "sound-alikes" with restricted budgets, and I have enjoyed doing some work for them. Especially the works of Jerry Goldsmith, Danny Elfman, James Horner and Alan Silvestri.

LK: Would you be willing to discuss some of what makes up the styles of these composers which you are often writing in or taking-down, perhaps in musical terms?

JB: I've never considered myself a technical person. I think basically all I do is render my impression of what it is I hear that evolves from the sonority of their orchestras. I couldn't tell you that they voiced a certain section of instruments in a certain way, or that they follow certain rules. I have friends who will call up and say, "Well, so-and-so always uses this kind of harp and flute run in this scale juxtaposed against the tonic." And I'll say, well, that's fine, but it's kind of what I think sounds good which works for me. It brings us back to The Funhouse. When I was at a party once, some college students came up and said they had been studying my work, and discovered that I used a certain formula for juxtaposing the two atonal melodies. They laid it out for me in very definite, mathematical terms. And I said, "Gee, I don't know, it just sounded good at the time." And they said, "We've decided you are this year's definitive twelve-tone composer, and you follow specific rules as laid out by George Trembley." And I said, "Oh, you mean the black keys over the white keys?" That's about what I was doing in the time I had, simply writing in poly-chords, in two keys at the same time. So, no, I don't sit down and analyze what those composers do, I respond to the emotions I experience when I listen to their works. We have many fine composers. We have, obviously, the famous and well-known, high visibility composers, but we have a lot of composers who are unfortunately out of work because we have two kinds of budgets these days, the garage budget and the huge budget. There doesn't seem to be much in the middle, and a lot of talented composers are not working or forced to take lesser projects than I feel they are qualified to do. Or, in some cases, they're simply moving out of town.

LK: I must say, you've certainly found a productive niche for yourself.

JB: Well, it's an incredibly pressured environment, and it's not for the faint of heart. One of the odd things that occurs is that people say "How come you're not doing more features?" First of all, the time this takes, it's become a full time business. (One of the funny things that happens about features is that quite often, the producers will play my trailer music for the composer on the film once he becomes hired, and say, "This is the kind of music we want.") When I was doing television, I was told I couldn't do feature films because that required much more sensitivity. When I was doing features, I was told I couldn't do television because I couldn't work in that speed and time-frame, even though I had previously worked in television. Now that I'm in trailers, I'm told I'm not appropriate for television or features, because I only work in advertising. I was told by my agent once that he had been told by a producer that I was too old to write contemporary music, and too young to write a classically-oriented score. And that's one of the satisfactions that trailer music gives me, that I get the chance to write so many different styles of music. It's been kind of an adventure, and a lot of fun.


Republished from Film Score Monthly
The Online Magazine of Motion Picture and Television Music Appreciation
#35 and #36/37, July and August/Sept. 1993
© 1997-99 Lukas Kendall. All rights reserved.
Updated 1/28/00 - J.B./B.A.S.

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