ScoreKeeper With FOUNTAIN Composer Clint Mansell!!
Published at: Nov. 27, 2006, 11:10 a.m. CST by merrick
Greetings! ScoreKeeper here with an absobloodlylutely cool interview with film composer Clint Mansell.
Before weaving sonic tapestries for Stygian filmmaker Darren Aronofsky, Clint Mansell was the guitarist and lead vocalist for the British electronica-punk group known as Pop Will Eat Itself. Tenure with the band led him to Darren Aronofsky who hired him to score his debut feature film PI in 1998. Since then, Clint has scored Darren’s other two films REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000), and most recently, THE FOUNTAIN (2006) which is currently in theaters.
Mansell has also scored a fair collection of films outside of his primary collaborator including KNOCKAROUND GUYS (2001), SONNY (2002) for Nicholas Cage, SAHARA (2005) for Breck Eisner, DOOM (2005) and SMOKIN’ ACES (2007) which is set for theatrical release next year.
I’ve always admired Clint’s work, especially for Aronofsky’s films. He undefines the defined and proves that film scoring is not merely a set of rules to follow but rather an unpredictable creative journey that collaborators take together with the collective desire to tell a remarkable story.
Let the unschooling begin!
ScoreKeeper: Clint, thanks for taking the time out to talk with me this evening. I find it fascinating to talk with composers about their earliest experiences scoring for films. Your first scoring endeavor was PI (1998) for Darren Aronofsky. Can you talk about how you and Darren met leading up to him hiring you for that project?
Clint Mansell: We had a mutual friend who knew Eric Watson (Darren’s producer) and who also knew me. They had worked together on video projects for bands and things like that. Eric had said to her that he was working on this script for a director and writer trying to get this film made and they wanted to use electronic music in the film. But they really didn’t have a real idea of how it would work. She suggested they talk to me. I was an electronic musician at that point and really that’s how it came about.
The truth of the matter was I really fell ass-backwards into the job. If Darren had maybe known somebody who slightly scored a movie before, he may well have gone with them just because of the experience…Having said that though, that’s not particularly one of Darren’s traits.
SK: What sort of things did you and Darren talk about during your first few meetings?
CM: I was living in New York at the time when I met with Darren and Eric and we just talked about music and films and just a little bit of ‘get-to-know-you’ type things. We talked about music we liked, and films we liked, and music in films we liked, and music in films we didn’t like. It was just hitting it off on certain points.
It was like 1996 so obviously we were a lot younger then so our influences were a bit more raw, if you like. TETSUO: THE IRON MAN (1989) was a big influence on PI, but aside from the more punk-rock side of things, one thing that we really agreed on that we missed in modern film music at that time was…just great tunes, you know? We just felt that a lot of films that we would go and see, the music would be this type of wallpaper that was really forcing an emotional experience on you without it helping you and embellishing the experience in the film.
We would talk about things as simple as HALLOWEEN (1978) and what a fantastic piece of music that is! It’s obviously a very dominant thing in the film but it brings atmosphere and emotion every time you hear it. It’s a fantastic element in that film! We just sort of bonded from things like that…just having these viewpoints we shared.
SK: Can you elaborate more on how you were introduced to PI and how the music originated?
CM: I got to read the script for PI and we talked about things that we liked. I ended up writing a piece of music on spec based on our conversation, based on what the script was about, and Darren’s thoughts and things like that. It was about a two-minute piece that was quite dark and industrial and brooding. Everybody loved it. Darren loved it. Eric loved it. Matthew Libatique (cinematographer) loved it. This was before they shot anything for the film. It just felt like part of something we were trying to do. It was a real galvanizing element. Strangely enough that piece never ended up in the film but it went from there.
Originally I was just going to do a title theme and then the plan was to license pre-existing electronic music from other sources to use in the film. I guess the reality of the situation was that we had no money, no backing, there was no industry involvement in making PI. So people were kind of reluctant to even take the call to talk about their music.
Every time we couldn’t get a piece of music, I had to write a new piece to replace it. Basically everything just dropped out at the end. We ended up with like three pieces, I think. I had this eight to ten month period where I would be writing music for the film. Having that time and…process, if you like, we figured out a way the music could work for us in the film. It was a huge learning curve for us but fortunately we had the time to do it.
SK: Before you met Darren did you have any desire to try to get into film scoring?
CM: It was always a thought. Back when I was playing in my band in England, we used to take samples from movies and all that sort of stuff. They were a big influence on what we were doing and the dream would be ‘Maybe we could get involved in a movie?’ It just seemed like such a pipe dream and such a long way away that I never had given it too much thought.
SK: Can you elaborate more on your experiences scoring PI?
CM: The experience in general was great! On a personal note, it was the only positive thing going on in my life at the time. I was pretty much homeless at that point. I was actually living in this crawl space above Darren and Eric’s kitchen for awhile. I had moved to New York with no money and it was just really, really painful. It was just a rough part of my life personally. PI was the only thing that was going on so that was actually very comforting in some respects because I had some people to work with and something to believe in. It was also very cathartic I supposed because I couldn’t naturally help my writing experience.
I definitely look back on it with fond memories now even though other things weren’t that great in my life. The actual experience was really good.
SK: As a newcomer was it especially nerve-wracking or did you find it came much more effortlessly that you might have predicted?
CM: We weren’t under pressure, or at least I didn’t feel it. Darren would never hound me although he’s very good an “encouraging” you (laughing). He can be quite forthright in that department which is part of the deal, I suppose. There was such a good atmosphere on it and we all believed in it. I never felt like it couldn’t work. It was working. Things were fitting together. It just seemed like, ‘OK, this is going to be good.’ I never thought it was going to turn out like it did – the success of it. But I thought it was going to be something cool.
SK: Did you find that you were the one bringing ideas about music to Darren or was it more the other way around?
CM: We kick around ideas. I tend to come in with the direction, if you like. Darren will lay out for me the story and the other things that he’s thinking about which I then use as my springboard to bring in things that I think he’ll get excited about. I just respond. Whatever he’s telling me about I just respond to it if I’m excited by it, which I generally am. It’s a very collaborative process between us all really.
SK: Do you find that same collaborative process works the same way today?
CM: You know, it’s pretty much the same as it is these days. I guess what tends to happen – maybe not quite so much with PI because we didn’t know each other as well then – but now we’ll let each other know what we’ve been listening to and what we’ve found and what we’ve seen and stuff like that.
Obviously, THE FOUNTAIN was like five or six years of…development, but through that time of being friends and talking about things you tend just to keep up your interests in similar sorts of things and saying to somebody, ‘Have you heard this? Have you checked that out?’ There’s always a line of communication. I don't think things come out of total left field with each other. It seems to grow quite nicely.
SK: After composing the score for PI, were you then immediately ready to nurture a career in film music or was it still up in the air at that point?
CM: I never even thought about it. It wasn’t until we finished the film. I had moved to New Orleans and obviously I wasn't part of trying to get it into Sundance or getting people to see it. I remember one time Darren had called me and we talked about the film and he said ‘I think you’ve done a great job. I really think you could have a career doing this if you wanted to.’
I had never thought about it at that point. I was definitely interested but I didn’t know how to go about it. I just thought ‘Wow, that’d be cool.’
I think the fact that I didn’t get a job for another two years (laughing) until Darren gave me REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, it’s like, ‘Well, maybe he didn’t know what he was talking about?’
SK: (laughing) At what point in your career did you realize that you were a film composer?
CM: Sometimes I still feel like I’ve had a lucky run at the blackjack table. Maybe I should just take my chips home now. But I’ve done pretty well. This has been a good run. Somebody’s going to find me out in a minute and send me home.
I don’t know though. I’ve sort of grown into it really. I’ve had mostly good experiences with what I’ve done. I’ve had a couple of rough incidences, one in particular. But you learn from each situation, the good and the bad, and most notably from the bad I think. That gives you more confidence when you go into it next time. With me, I’ve learned to stick with my gut reaction and if I think something’s off, it’s usually off.
I don’t really think of myself as a film composer. I think of myself more as a collaborator with somebody on their project. When I first got together with Darren we talked about what we didn’t like. What it boils down to is anything that was too…traditional, if you like. Or too ‘I’ve been there, heard it before.’ Not just in the music but in everything that we were doing be it the dialogue, the visuals, the looks, the sound, the music…
An artist is a very bold word, but all we were really trying to do is express ourselves and it really didn’t matter whether we were this or we were that. I think that’s really the same way I feel now. I’m just trying to do work and work with people that I think – with what modicum of talent I might have – will be helpful to them and we’ll both dig it, you know?
In the years between Darren doing REQUIEM and THE FOUNTAIN, I had some amazing experiences learning my trade, working with really great people from different orchestrators, different programmers, music supervisors, music editors, and all these different people with vast experience working in the film industry whose knowledge I ultimately benefited from and was able to bring back to Darren. So when you add all that up, yes, I suppose I am a film composer. But I’m still looking at it as sort of being this…punk trying to find the best way to expressing how I see it. I think if I can carry on doing that, it’ll hopefully stand me in good stead to be able to deliver things that are going to be helpful to people’s work.
SK: Can you talk about the evolution of your music for REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000)?
CM: We had…I wouldn’t say trouble with the music for REQUIEM, but we had a lot of ideas. I read the scripts. I was part of the build-up to the film during pre-production. Darren had all these ideas and I prepared stuff and wrote music. We were quite excited about what we were going to do and it was very different than what we ended up with.
When we started getting the film back and we put in the ideas we thought was the direction we wanted to go in, we put it up against the picture and it just did nothing. It just sat there like a bump on a log really. It was rubbish!
I was living in New Orleans at the time and Darren came down to New Orleans for a weekend and we went through all the music that we had and different ideas and we were playing it against the picture. We found this one piece that was part of something that I had written but we hadn’t used it all that much.
When we placed it into the film it hit home every time. We said ‘Fuck, that piece really works!’ That was our in to what the score needed.
Bear in mind, this was our second film. We really didn’t know the language. What we realized that we were missing was the music wasn’t bringing in any of the emotion. Once we got that foothold in, that allowed me to say ‘OK, where else is this going to lead me through the film?’
Eventually the score built up as it did. This often happens to me in these situations but once you find out what’s working a lot of the ideas that you had can then be pulled into line. They were there. They were just unfocused. Once I got that all together it all built up quite quickly.
SK: I was talking to a friend recently about how I really cherish the sound of chamber strings in film music. It has such an exposed and vulnerable quality which lends itself well to narrative storytelling and it’s not a prevalent sound at all in film music. I think the use of the string quartet in REQUIEM FOR A DREAM is a prime example. Can you talk about how the Kronos Quartet got involved with this film and what they brought to the creative process as you were scoring this film?
CM: I had never written for strings before that point. I had written the main piece as simply as I knew how. Which in those days was like…‘If the Ramones were playing a piece of music what would it be like?’ Rhythm, bass, and a melody. That’s it! That’s kind of where I came from, and still come from really. I like to think my writing has advanced over the years, but you know, fundamentally that’s what it’s about.
When we were playing those pieces like that and I was using the basic synthesizer strings that I had at that point, the intimacy of certain sounds sounded better than the fullness of the big orchestral patch compared to that of the solo strings. That was illuminating for us because we were saying ‘OK, well that works, why does it work?’ It sounds more human…more sad…more emotional. Then we talked about ‘Well, requiem is a musical term…’ and so we just tied all these things together.
Darren went to see the Kronos Quartet play in New York and he said they were fantastic, absolutely amazing, probably the best players in the world! He got a chance to see them again and got the chance to be introduced to them and pitched them on the movie. They were open to it and said ‘OK.’ He showed them a rough cut of the movie with my demos in and they were blown away. They said straight away ‘We’re in.’
A few months later we were at Skywalker and Darren and I were sitting there as the Kronos Quartet was playing this music I’d written. You think about the millions of man hours those four guys spent rehearsing just to play the simple refrain that is REQUIEM FOR A DREAM but what they do is make it live, and breathe, and cry, and exist. It comes alive at that point. I don’t think there is anybody better in the world than them.
SK: How did your piece “Lux Aeterna” from REQUIEM FOR A DREAM end up re-orchestrated and re-recorded for THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS (2002) trailer? Were you involved in that at all?
CM: Not at all. No. Artisan (Entertainment) did it basically. They requested to use the music and the first we knew about it was literally…‘We need to know about this by tomorrow.’ They had already done it and THE LORD OF THE RINGS trailer was ready to go.
By then you didn’t feel like you could stand in the way. I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t really want it. Darren was more upset about it than me. It was just like ‘Fuck! How’ve they done that?’ Obviously it’s so different from what I originally did in its orchestration.
It really blew my mind because I thought ‘Hang on a second…that’s still music that I wrote…but now it’s just fucking huge!’ So really we didn’t have anything to do with it. It was just sort of there. We really didn’t have a chance to say no. I’m not even sure we could’ve said no.
Once you’ve sold your soul to the devil you’re thinking of ways to make yourself feel bad about that decision.
SK: Well, I think it’s interesting because it became a talking point among film music fans. I guess it worked well for THE LORD OF THE RINGS but at the same time it gave your original score a spotlight because a lot of people recognized it as being from REQUIEM FOR A DREAM.
CM: It’s undoubtedly shined a spotlight on the score and the fact that it’s seemed to have grown legs of its own…it’s like…I think it’s undoubtedly, industry-wide, helped me. From a writing point it’s helped me. I might look at it as rhythm and melody based but that still translates to being huge on the screen. It’s just how you approach it and how you handle it. So that’s been quite liberating for me in my writing.
When a film like SAHARA (2004) came along which was a big challenge for me, it made me think ‘But you know what? The elements are all basically the same.’ You’re still doing the same job. It’s all just application. It was certainly an eye-opener and unbelievable really.
SK: Let’s talk about your recent film, THE FOUNTAIN (2006). Rather than being a purely melodic composer you’re more a motivic composer choosing small melodic fragments to repeat and develop through the duration of the music. It seems you’ve really settled in to this mode of compositional thinking with THE FOUNTAIN. There are several “seeds” planted early in the film and they continue to grow and mature throughout the story all heading toward their inevitable climax. Can you talk about the various motivic ideas that you used in the film and how you developed them along the way?
CM: It’s going to sound boring but it’s about finding things that I respond to. I do like repetition which is a double-edge sword really. Repetition is just another word for boring if you get it wrong. It’s also another word for boring if you don’t like that type of thing. It’s a stylistic thing that you either get or don’t, I suppose. I can understand these people who don’t like it or it doesn’t do for them what it needs to do.
It’s been a through-line really. PI definitely had it. REQUIEM had it. PI I think it was a bit more hammering over your head than perhaps it is in THE FOUNTAIN. I think it just really works with Darren’s storytelling. It evolves and that’s what we’ve tried to do with the music and with the story. As things become revealed to you or you put things together the music is part of that revelation as well.
I had probably five to six years writing material for THE FOUNTAIN on and off just gathering all these different ideas that we talked about. The first ideas for the score it was going to be purely percussion when the film was going to be the bigger epic. We wanted it to be pretty primitive and obviously that didn’t really happen.
When it came down to it, it would’ve been sometime last summer, I had all this music that was all very stylistic, very different and a little bit all over the place really. That was all before I started writing to the film.
I’ve got an assistant who collaborated with me fantastically on a couple of things before THE FOUNTAIN. We tried a couple of things with him just helping me out in a true musical sense. I’m not classically trained or anything like that. I would play him things I’d done and ask him, ‘Why isn’t this doing quite what I wanted it to do?’ and we would just talk about the music.
So what I had him do was take every piece of music that I had written for THE FOUNTAIN and just strip it down to its bare progressions and melodies…
SK: Kind of like deconstructing the music?
CM: Totally. Just stripped it all down. Then we played them in a key so that harmonically every lead melody could play with every progression. As I wrote more pieces, I gave them to him and we kept this…log of the score all able to be played on the piano. We could then weave any piece into any other piece. By that point that’s what we knew we wanted to do. This story was going to come together and climax at the end and we had to tie up the pieces.
As I’m writing, bits are obviously gluing themselves to parts of the film. Then I find that bit really works and I ask what’s its relation to this bit of the story? If I wanted to play that again where that bit of the story happens again, does it still work as a musical piece within that scene? We have to figure it out almost like a jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes I want to say ‘Yeah, but I know this theme is going to hit so good here.’ And Darren says ‘Yes, but it doesn’t mean anything to the film.’ Because when it plays in another place its not helping us tell the story.
That’s the great thing about being a film composer really. You end up in these situations where you’re working with somebody and you have no idea where you’re going to end up. But that’s the energy that makes it all happen really. You constantly push and pull at it. Then you get something and you go ‘You know what? That’s just fantastic.’ Yes, I’ve written every bit of music there but there’s no way I couldn’t have done it on my own. That’s the way it develops.
SK: THE FOUNTAIN is not your typical linear narrative film. There are three major narrative components to this film. Hugh Jackman as a 16th century Spanish explorer, a 21st century scientist, and as a 26th century astronaut in search of eternal life. How difficult was this to score? What were the biggest obstacles you faced composing the music for this film?
CM: We came at it from a number of ways. There was three time periods. So should it be three totally different pieces of music or different styles of music? When it became obvious that Darren was not going to cut it in…you know, we’re in period one now, period two now, period three now into the film. If he’s talking about changing it all over the place and we’re going from heavy primitive drums to futuristic space music to something very contemporary somebody’s going to have an epileptic fit with all these different sounds coming at them.
It’s not that sort of film. It’s an intimate love story at the end of the day. If the music was all over the place it would not help gel it together. We needed the music to be cohesive and help give it a through line. Even if you’re not told what’s going on, on reflection you should be able to feel what’s going on.
Once we solved that issue it all started to fall into place. It’s like any film. You’ve got to find the voice of it with the music. Once you’ve been involved with it for a good amount of time, absorbed it, and given into it, it can really start telling you things that you would not have been aware of had you not just opened yourself up to it. I know that sounds all hippy-dippy but I believe you’ve just got to give into it and really absorb what’s going on. Once you do, you get the insight to be able to run with it…Does that sound incredibly…um..bollocks?
SK: Definitely not. I find your philosophy…liberating when compared to what is I guess normal practice in film scoring. You certainly have a unique approach to the material. Film scoring is not a set of rules, it’s a creative experience and I think you’re approach reflects that entirely.
There’s a beautiful piece of music toward the end of the film called “Together We Will Live Forever” where you used solo piano to collect the remaining musical fragments of the score into an enduring linear melody. It’s such a poignant coda to the film and quite possibly my favorite piece in the score. Was this piece an a culmination of all the other pieces after they were written or was it composed early in the scoring process and used to draw material from? When did this particular piece develop?
CM: It’s basically and electronic piece that I did. I wrote it not long before I went to New York for three months to put everything together. I did more writing there as well. It was towards the end of the process but it wasn’t the last piece I wrote and it certainly wasn’t one of the five year old pieces I had written either. It was written after I started seeing cuts of the film.
It was an electronic piece that plays earlier in the film and is basically…his memory theme. We hear that music when he sees her in the red dress flashbacks…when he’s being haunted by his dead wife.
Then we didn’t know what to do during the end credits…
I don’t know if you know anything about this but at one time David Bowie was going to be involved in the score. The idea was, David was going to take pieces of the music from the score and rework them in his own way and hopefully add some vocals to them. Then we would backtrack his vocals through the film and maybe we would end up with a song for the end credits. That was sort of the rough idea. That never really worked out. I met with David a few times and we watched the film. I don’t really know why it didn’t work out but it didn’t.
SK: Was it your decision or Darren’s decision or both?
CM: No, David couldn’t do it or didn’t want to do it. I don’t really know the ins and outs to be honest. It didn’t come together.
But we never really shook off the idea (of having a song during the end credits). Just to let you know though, the idea of having an end credits song has been in all three of Darren’s films. I did one for PI, I did one for REQUIEM I finally did one for THE FOUNTAIN and none of them have been used (laughing).
But we never really shook off the idea. Justin, my assistant, said he thought that the red dress theme played on the piano could be really great with maybe a vocal over it or something like that. So we tried it and played the piece for Darren and he really liked it. By that point we were all in New York and thinking of different vocalists that we liked.
We ended up talking to Antony from Antony and the Johnsons. He came in and did a fantastic vocal piece over…“Together We Will Live Forever.” It was just awesome but Darren didn’t feel right coming in with vocals at the end of the film. I ended up redoing it here in LA with a great pianist, Randy Kerber, who did a fantastic performance of it.
[SK NOTE: If you would like to hear the unused end credits music which features the vocalized version of “Together We Will Live Forever” called “The Last Man,” you can hear it at Clint Mansell’s MySpace page at http://www.myspace.com/mansellclint.]
SK: That goes back to what we talked about earlier with the chamber strings sound how it’s such a rare thing to hear in a film score. The same can be said about the use of a purely solo piano. I remember the first time I heard it in the film I was almost unconsciously waiting for additional instruments to accompany it and that never materialized. It was so powerful as a solo.
CM: Yeah, at the end of the day Darren knows what he’s after. That’s the collaborative thing. You never know where you’re going to end up. Maybe we would’ve thought of that, maybe we wouldn’t have. You just never know.
SK: One of the things that keeps me interested in your work, especially when it comes to Darren’s films, is that with each volume, your music matures and grows intellectually. It seems like you build upon what you’ve already created rather than just dole out the same material over and over again. Do you find this growth as a filmmaker come naturally or do you have to constantly be aware of it and continue to push yourself in that direction?
CM: I think part of it is once you’ve set the bar for yourself you don’t really want to dip below it. Now I’m not saying, ‘Wow, I’m doing all this fantastic stuff and now I can only be getting better!’
What I mean is – and I hate to use analogies but – if you run a marathon you want to try to beat your best time the next time out. So you work hard at it. A lot of factors can conspire against you not to do your best work. You’ll always have some success even in your worst efforts. Depending on who you work with at the time the choices that they will make for you may not have been the choices you made for yourself that will allow you to grow further.
Not every relationship is going to be as collaborative as the one I have with Darren. But I’ll always learn something from them and hopefully will end up at a place where everybody is happy.
It is hard work. There’s no two ways about it. There’s a lot of material to be written when you’re doing a film that it’s impossible for it not to be hard work. Not just from the amount of material to be written but the right amount of material and the nuances that people will need. I think you’re going to get better at it almost by default because you’re doing it again and again. You’re going to be pushed A) by yourself and B) by other people as well.
SK: What would you say to convince somebody who hasn’t seen THE FOUNTAIN that they should see this film?
CM: (long pause)…You know what? I have no idea. I don’t know what people want from the film. It all depends on where you’re at I suppose. I thoroughly enjoyed THE WEDDING CRASHERS (2005) and this morning I watched THE GATHERING STORM (2002), the Albert Finney playing Winston Churchill film that HBO did a couple of years ago. Two very different films, both fantastic! Well, not fantastic but (laughing) but with THE WEDDING CRASHERS I thoroughly enjoyed myself (laughing).
(THE FOUNTAIN) to me is a film about anybody. But it depends on where you’re at. If you’re interested in opening up a little bit or maybe not being spoon fed…
People will hear or see something and they’ll judge it on terms of why it isn’t something else instead of accepting it for what it is. In THE FOUNTAIN I can see what would cause certain people problems – I have no idea who those people are – but the fact that it’s non-linear, not really sure what’s going on at times…That’s not the experience everybody wants going to the movies.
If you like having your head expanded, if you like beautiful themes and beautiful visuals – and by beautiful themes I mean the themes of the story – and coming out possibly with your mind opened or played with a little bit there might really be something there for you.
If you’re at that right place in your life at the right time, I think this film can really make you think about a lot of stuff. It may even help you connect – not necessarily with anybody else – but with yourself.
SK: When you watch the film now, is it different to you then when you were scoring it?
CM: Oh yeah. When did I last see it?...I saw it…I guess in Venice is where I saw it last. I’m watching it and you know, ten months later I’ve forgotten about everything and you just watch it. Suddenly my music isn’t the most important thing in the film. I’m just enjoying the movie now.
When I was working on it I felt this was a film that was going to challenge me and give me the potential to do something that I thought was beyond what I’ve done before. I just didn’t want to lose that chance and blow it. I wanted to do something that I knew all the potential that the film was saying to me that the music for this film had that I realized. I guess other people will decide whether I did that or not but for me it was a good experience.
SK: Although you’re most well known for your scores for Darren’s films you’ve also made headway outside of your primary collaborator with films like DOOM (2005) and SAHARA (2005). Are you finding your success with Darren typecasts you at all making it difficult to venture outside of his prototypical films?
CM: You know, I don’t think about it in those terms. I definitely want things that excite me and that’s going to be dramatics of some kind. The less on the nose it can be the better. My favorite score in recent times is probably THE HOURS (2002, by Philip Glass).
SK: Oh really?
CM: Yeah, I thought it was amazing…I don’t know, I need stuff that’s going to….get me going, I suppose. That’s the sort of world that does it for me. THE FOUNTAIN is definitely part of that. But at the same time I don’t think you can do that all the time. It’s probably good to step outside. I’ve done two films with Bart Freundlich. I did TRUST THE MAN (2005) for him last year which is a very different kind of film…it’s a romantic comedy. It was great fun.
I don’t know if it hinders me or typecasts me. A lot of stuff that comes my way tends to be dark in nature.
…but you know, I’m kind of that way a little bit.
SK: Do you miss the band life at all?
CM: No. Not really…Not at all actually. I would definitely like to play live again but something more befitting to my advancing years other than rock ‘n roll or punk rock or whatever. It’s difficult to get me out of the house these days let alone on the road.
Darren’s been flying around the world showing the film. I just don’t know how he’s doing it.
I have a big night out followed by a big two days in bed. I couldn’t live that life anymore. That’s one of the things I like about film music. There’s a lot more room to maneuver than when you’re in a band. Once you’re in a band you better make the same sound over and over again until everybody else has decided that they’ve had enough of it. That’s not very fulfilling as a writer…or a performer I should say.
SK: Do you listen to a lot of film music? If so, what?
CM: Well, I always like a tune. I loved the score to FINDING NEVERLAND (2004, by Jan A.P. Kaczmarek). I really loved the score to UNFAITHFUL (2002, by Kaczmarek).
I love John Carpenter’s music. He’s really been a big influence to me over the years even before I was getting into writing film music. I always thought ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976), ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981), even THE THING (1982)…I mean, did Morricone say ‘I’ll do a Carpenter-esque score’ or did John Carpenter have the audacity to put some of his own stuff underneath? (laughing).
The music from the original version of THE WICKER MAN (1973, by Paul Giovanni) just blows me away, all that weird folky pagan stuff. It’s just so creepy. You’re so well aware that you’re in a world where you have no hand rail to hold on to. It’s really effective but if I had heard that just on its own I would’ve thought ‘Oh, that’s pretty strange’ but maybe wouldn’t have had a connection with it like I did when it’s in the film.
SK: So what projects do you have coming up?
CM: Absolutely none.
SK: Really? (laughing)
CM: I’ve kind of turned down pretty much everything that’s come along really. Not that there’s been that much of it.
I’m actually doing two short films. One for a friend here in LA. He’s got a short horror film that I’m going to do. Then I’ve got this ten minute short for these two kids I met through MySpace.com. who are film students from Edinburgh or Glasgow, I can’t remember now…
[SK NOTE: Robert Glassford and Timo Lange from the Edinburgh Film School]
SK: Wow! How’d that come about?
CM: They did this ten minute short and wrote to me through MySpace and told me about their film and they’d like me to have a look at it and would love to score their film. At the time, I was working on two films I told them ‘I just don’t have the time but thanks for offering it.’ So they asked ‘Would you just have a look at it? Tell us anything you think.’ If somebody is persistent without being a pain-in-the-ass I always think that’s pretty commendable. So I said ‘OK, I’ll have a look at it.’ So they sent it to me and it was really cool.
Obviously they’d done it at school with no budget but it had a few special effects in it. They had done it so it could look cool even without the money. And so I said, ‘You know what? This is fucking good, this is.’ So I said to them, ‘If you can wait for a little while, I’ll do it.’
It felt like the sort of thing I should do. I was very lucky getting my break with Darren. It just felt pretty good. I don’t supposed I would’ve done it if the thing was a piece of shit but I saw it and I thought ‘You know, I think I know what I can do with this. I think this will be cool.’
So I’m going to do a bit of that. I’ve done a lot of work over the past couple of years. I’m sort of tired. I want to be able to catch up on the movies I haven’t seen, absorb some new music and get some ideas together for whatever is next.
SK: Well that pretty much wraps up all the questions I had. It’s been a pleasure talking with you about your work and I wish you the very best success with THE FOUNTAIN and all your future endeavors.
CM: Well thank you very much for putting the time into it and getting behind THE FOUNTAIN. That’s awesome! Thank you very much.