Interview by: Dan Goldwasser
Composer Graeme Revell took over scoring duties on Tomb Raider from Michael Kamen with only a few weeks left before the film opened. He had also recently done the emotionally moving score to the television mini-series Anne Frank. SoundtrackNet, once again had a chance to catch up with Graeme and talk with him about his recent projects.
After Michael Kamen left the project, how did you get involved in Tomb Raider?
I know my name had been in the mix all along. I believe that at first, however, director Simon West wanted to use mostly songs, and he had a personal friend lined up to fill in whatever gaps may have been left with small cues. But as so often happens, the filmmakers realized this was not going to work and belatedly called Kamen, mainly because of his prior relationship with the new editor Stuart Baird. When that didn't work out, they finally came to me. Good sense prevailed! <laughs>
In the end, how much music did you write, and how long did you actually have to write it?
I think it was around 70-minutes of score, and I had 10 days total including recording in London and mixing at my own studio in Los Angeles. Not much sleep in between.
Why did you take on the project when you knew there was going to be very little time to write the score?
I love a challenge - particularly one that is virtually impossible to pull off. The type of score they were talking about suits my abilities - create atmospheres, ethnic locations, fill-in for and extend songs, write in different genres such as "techno" and somehow tie the whole thing together. I also find the excitement and adrenaline flows faster on a limited time scale and there can be less second-guessing and conflict between those making the final decisions on the content.
You recorded the score in London, yet you never actually went over there. Why is that?
We calculated that I would lose too much time traveling. Even one day was too much because it would have meant getting all the electronic backing tracks for the orchestra to play to ready that much earlier. I am also quite replaceable as a conductor but not so much as an electronic composer. So we sent one of the music editors to run the Oracle click-track and set up a remote studio at Capitol Studios in Hollywood to monitor the session via a live feed. I could then respond to what I heard while watching the picture here and make all the changes just as I normally would. It was very successful, and no jetlag!
How much sequencing and computer work was involved before Tomb Raider got to London?
Huge amounts! It's a bit hard to quantify, but I think well over 70% of the score was sequenced - though not all with synths. There's quite a lot of sampled live orchestra involved as well.
Given your experience on Tomb Raider, would you ever take on another project knowing you had a little over a week to record over an hour of music?
Yes. In fact I jokingly told my agent that I want them all to be like that from now on. Frankly, and joking aside, it's often better to let an experienced composer just go and do his job, coming in near the end to make adjustments, rather than micro-analyze every note which sometimes happens when there is too much time. There are many cases where perhaps directors, producers and/or the studio have different ideas, the composer can be torn in different directions, and all that results is a compromised score. I firmly believe the movie tells me what to write; I try to have no preconceptions.
There were some last minute changes to the climax of the film, requiring you to rewrite some music over the Memorial Day weekend. How on earth did you handle that?
"Some" last minute changes is putting it mildly! There were at least 4 minutes of film taken out and a whole section put in which I never saw until the premiere a week later. They described the scene to me verbally and gave me the length. The rest was guesswork and it's probably the best stuff I wrote. Fortunately I don't really celebrate Memorial Day Weekend - or any other weekend for that matter - so it didn't worry me. It's always good to have a second chance to do better. At least, that was the attitude I took.
Are you happy with the end result?
I think the music worked quite well for the film. The producers and director were very happy considering their prior level of anxiety and I know I ratcheted up the exotica and the action component a lot. What suffers on a short time scale is thematic continuity - but I would have required more time to make that work better.
Word is that you aren't pleased with the sequencing of the score album - what happened there?
This is the other half of your last question. Unfortunately the album suffered greatly because we had to send it to mastering while still mixing the movie track. There were mistakes made in bouncing up to 32 tracks digitally in the computer. Some things completely disappeared and then the sequencing was messed up at the mastering studio. My apologies to those who care about such things. The correct sequencing will be posted on my website at http://www.graemerevell.com.
When we last spoke, you said you were going to be working on the new Schwarzenegger film, Collateral Damage. How is that going? When do you start recording it?
It is going well. The sessions have been delayed by 3 weeks owing to some reshoots - but that seems almost inevitable these days and I emotionally prepare for it on every movie. This week it feels a bit like I'm starting all over, having already been working on it for 3 months. The end product will be worth it though.
Do the reshoots dramatically affect your score? Was there much work that you had to redo for the new footage?
In this case, the reshoots make a huge difference. They are aimed at enhancing Schwarzenegger's proactivity in the drama and the music must go a long way towards reinforcing this agenda. It's almost an entire rethink of the main character!
What sort of scoring approach are you taking with Collateral Damage? (Orchestral, percussive, techno, etc.?)
Collateral Damage is a muscular thinking-man's action movie. How about that?! It's a lot of orchestral music but it is set largely in Colombia so there's a lot of ethnic percussion and the palette is a little limited by the location. Urban-sounding orchestral music doesn't work well until the action returns to Washington D.C. near the end.
Many people (myself included) were surprised to "discover" that you scored the beautifully tender score to the television miniseries, Anne Frank. How did you get involved in that project?
At the end of last year I made a long-overdue decision to end my typecasting problem. I decided to turn down projects in order to make room for a real human drama (Anne Frank) and an ironic comedy (Human Nature). I really respond to both these genres and found that I could not get hired unless I was prepared to show my ability for little or no money. Anne Frank was a risk because it is ground that has been covered before and there would be comparisons. But I'm a risk-taker and Robert Dornhelm, the director, had a similar take to mine in that we didn't want to hammer the holocaust story overdramatically. Instead we took the approach of playing Anne's innocence - a young girl trying to become a woman - but she never will be able to. It is more inspired by Nino Rota than John Williams's wonderful Schindler's List, if you like.
How long did you have to work on Anne Frank?
For some reason I have been jammed a lot lately. That was over 100-minutes of score in a little under 3 weeks. It took quite a team effort and my orchestrator Tim Simonec can take a lot of the credit. It was recorded in Prague and once again I did not travel. Tim conducted the orchestra while I continued to work on several of the darker piano cues in the second part of the film, the Death Camp.
Are you happy with the way it turned out?
I'm extremely happy with the way it turned out. It was a privilege to work on such a project and also to prove that I can write such music. It is already beginning to bear wonderful fruit for me in terms of projects that I really want to do.
Has anything been finalized yet regarding an Anne Frank CD release?
It doesn't look like it's going to happen. I didn't get Emmy-nominated because we couldn't get the entry in until too late, so there is less commercial potential, unfortunately.
Word is that they're making a sequel to Bride of Chucky called Seed of Chucky. Any discussion yet about working on that film?
There's really no update. It seems Universal is looking for a new script. I happen to love the one Don Mancini wrote last year. It is hilariously irreverent and I would probably like to be involved again.
Later this month, a promotional album with your scores to Pitch Black and Bride of Chucky will be released - any thoughts on that?
Seems there is considerable demand for those scores, and producer Ford Thaxton was kind enough to organize everything. It's always good to make stuff available to fans.
Pitch Black was released in early 2000 / Bride of Chucky in 1998. Tomb Raider is available on Elektra Records, and Collateral Damage were released in theaters in October 2001. You can find out more about Graeme in our previous interview, and at his website, http://www.graemerevell.com/
Special thanks to Graeme Revell and Jeff Sanderson for helping with this interview.
The Art of film and Television Music
Release date: 07/28/2001
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