ScoreKeeper With Composer Harry Gregson-Williams About PRINCE CASPIAN, THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123, And More!!
Published at: July 2, 2008, 8:56 a.m. CST by merrick
Greetings! ScoreKeeper here returning from my little romp in the wardrobe to enlighten your minds with an interview of Lord Harry of the Gregson-Williams clan of Narnia.
Harry Gregson-Williams has slammed the film scoring scene hard whilst taking no prisoners. His filmography includes some of the highest grossing films of the last decade and he tackles new projects like he’s just getting warmed up.
Films sporting keen Gregson-Williams scores include CHICKEN RUN (2000), SHREK (2001), SPY GAME (2001), MAN ON FIRE (2004), SHREK 2 (2004), KINGDOM OF HEAVEN (2005), THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE (2005), FLUSHED AWAY (2006), SHREK THE THIRD (2007), and is currently fresh off his own return to Narnia with THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN (2008).
With upcoming scores to X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (2009) and THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 (2009), Harry’s Aslan-like dominance continues to impress.
Not long after the release of PRINCE CASPIAN, I had the opportunity to chat briefly with Harry Gregson-Williams about his rare foray into sequel scoring and how the experience affected his creative pursuits of film.
So, dance with the trees, feast on Turkish delight, swashbuckle with the mice, and when you’re finished, relax while reading this brief interview with Harry Gregson-Williams.
ScoreKeeper: I’d like you to start off by bridging the gap between THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE and PRINCE CASPIAN. When you set off to score a major sequel like this, what elements of the first score were brought over and why?
HGW: I wanted to do something different this time. The fact that PRINCE CASPIAN takes place twelve hundred years later, I wanted to do something different with the Narnia theme and significantly the children’s themes, or rather, the music that surrounds the children in the first film.
It’s appropriate that I would bring those themes forward in order to give the viewer and listener some sense of the history there. Andrew Adamson, the director, was very keen for me to strike an odd chord of, not quite nostalgia, but have a sense of feeling that it’s something big that is being continued. Not something starting out new.
SK: Did that making working on PRINCE CASPIAN easier or more difficult?
HGW: I haven’t made a living out of doing sequels, obviously. I’ve done the SHREK movies and I thought that was different. It’s a very different task of scoring. When I started work on CASPIAN, which was at the beginning of this new year, I did find it very difficult at first to find a spot where I could feel like I was striking a new chord.
The title character of Prince Caspian is new to this movie so I dealt first with the eight minute opening sequence of the movie. It’s very dark and driving of Prince Caspian galloping through the woods being chased by soldiers. I was able to push the boat up there and get a slightly darker tone that I had in the first movie and run from there. It was pretty essential to me to not start with some old theme. You know what I mean? I felt I wanted to start something fresh and new and then incorporate the old thing. So that’s what I had to do.
If I were ever to do a bunch of sequels – which I don’t plan to do – it would make life quite complex. On one hand I would want to embrace what has come before but on the other hand, I wouldn’t want to be stuck in the past. I would want to strike a different chord. It’s a balance. In fact, one of my assistants the other day added up out of 128 minutes of music in CASPIAN, only 32 of those minutes are related thematically to THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE.
SK: Did you find any other unique challenges specific to doing a sequel?
HGW: No, not really. That was the main challenge and it did concern me all the way through. “Was I generating enough new material or was I using enough of the old material?” Andrew Adamson is a good director, especially with music. He really does direct and we really discovered it together. It was certainly his vision for the film to have some of the themes from THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE brought into CASPIAN and I had to give CASPIAN a bit of a darker edge. That’s what we set out to do.
SK: What are some of these new musical elements that you brought to PRINCE CASPIAN?
HGW: Prince Caspian’s theme and then his nemesis which was Lord Miraz. I really liked the way that actor played him because it could have been quite tricky. I thought he did really well. I actually took Lord Miraz’s theme from an old theme and turned it into a new theme for this movie. Lord Miraz’s theme is actually the children’s theme inverted.
Lord Miraz is the nemesis and the root of all evil where as the children were on the path of good. So I flipped that theme over and presto I had a theme for Lord Miraz. But I doubt anybody in the world, apart from me, will hear that.
It was pretty fun.
SK: One of my favorite aspects of the film is how you scored Reepicheep’s character. Specifically, there is that one scene where they are invading the castle and he is darting and climbing up the ropes. You have this non-diatonic trumpet fanfare that is echoing off into the distance. Would elaborate on your motives and approach to scoring this character?
HGW: I didn’t get to put that on the soundtrack…that particular moment. Reepicheep is a great new character and obviously it had to be a little bit playful. I wrote his theme quite quickly and then it was a case of “what instrument shall I play that theme on?”
I had, for a long time, thought of a little pennywhistle and I tried that. We decided that it would probably make him a bit too cute. He’s quite a noble mouse and in many ways he is rather military. He’s got his army behind him…his small army of mice. So it seemed to me a trumpet would be the best thing. To give it a slightly different flavor, we stuck a mute in the trumpet and to accompany that, with some very small parts, col legno strings. The wooden parts of the bows are closer to the head on the bows so it makes a kind of scratchy wooden sound. It’s a really cool little technique. It can be used in an aggressive way but in this instance it served as a scratchy blissful sound to accompany the trumpet.
SK: And it’s in a non-diatonic context with the rest of the harmony, correct?
HGW: You are right. It is verging on that. It’s a little confused and it’s a little mischievous. I didn’t want it to be a straight up and down tune.
It was interesting that you pointed that moment out because Andrew beat me up about that for a long time. He kept feeling that it mustn’t be too cute for Reepicheep. I wanted to give it a vibe that was something more fun but still kept some of the tension. That particular scene with the night raid on the castle when Reepicheep shows up was necessary not to let the tension drop out of the scene, yet allow the viewer to feel that this was a fun moment.
It was pretty cool when I actually got to see what Reepicheep looked like. For the most part what I saw was a kind of blue spot where he was going to be. I had no idea what he was going to look like.
SK: Yeah, I think you met the challenges you faced scoring that particular character. It’s a great solution to keep that balance. It was a very cool moment.
When you compose – and this can relate to CASPIAN too – how do you start off on the compositional journey? What catalyzes the process? Are you a melodically driven composer? Do you set up harmonic patterns first or does a particular rhythm get the ball rolling?
HGW: I always sit down at a piano and start with melodies. Then I move myself over to my sequencers and samplers and start to flesh out a theme that I think might work. The proof is in the pudding as they say. One could write what one thinks is a really great tune but if it’s not going to work for the character in the film then that’s not going to help out at all.
When I first wrote Caspian’s theme, it came to me in 3/4 time as opposed to 4/4 time. I played the song for Andrew on the piano and he really liked it. He was surprised by it. It wasn’t what he was expecting but he said, “I mean that in a good way.”
We looked at it and I could tell in his mind, “That’s a good melody but how the hell is that going to work during that eight minute night sequence as Prince Caspian is charging away?”
We agreed that if I couldn’t make it work in four and quite robust and heroic, then it wasn’t the theme for us. I got it to work in 4/4 in a kind of driving manner but that’s often the case with themes.
I find melodies and especially with a movie like PRINCE CASPIAN, it’s what, a hundred and twenty-eight minutes of music? You’ve got to be able to use your theme or you are dead. I think once I’ve got a tune and it’s right for harmonization and then I’ve got to flesh it out and orchestrate it while looking up with my samples against the picture. The next stage, if I was confident enough, would be get the director in to come listen and tell me what he thinks.
SK: Let’s talk about Andrew Adamson a little bit. You have worked on all of his films, if I am not mistaken. How many hours of collaborative time have you spent together?
HGW: We have spent a lot of time together. We went through SHREK, SHREK 2, SHREK THE THIRD, the first NARNIA, and now the second NARNIA. He’s a really good friend and I really respect him and like his musical taste. I did from the word “go.” When he showed me the first cut of SHREK, one minute you have this Joan Jett song and the next minute a beautiful Hallelujah song which actually has a lot of emotion with this movie of a green ogre. Who would have thought it?
A lot of those song placements came from Andrew so I trust his musical instincts and I think he trusts mine. We are in quite a good spot now. I’m not quite sure what is next for him. I think he’s going to take a year off. That’s what I think he is going to do. He’s been in NARNIA for three or four years just swamped.
SK: I’m always interested in comparing composer/director relationships and how they develop from the beginning to their present states.
Now that you guys are friends and you have worked for so many years together, does that friendship cause you to relax perhaps or maybe even lower your guard a bit? Without any inhibitions you may be freer to speak ones mind which can be both an asset and a liability.
HGW: I think it’s important for a director to be able to collaborate whether it’s with an editor or composer. In post-production it’s a pretty lonely place for a director and although Andrew’s movies have amassed billions of dollars at the box office, this is only his fifth movie and his second live action movie. I don’t hesitate to tell him what I think about various things but it works both ways. Getting to know someone better helps to create a more creative situation as opposed to anything negative.
I know what you are saying that the danger might be bit too relaxed or not trying as hard as we should be, but that certainly is not the case. If anything, someone you actually liken to care about you, you don’t want to let them down. You want to do the best possible job.
SK: Is there a moment or two in PRINCE CASPIAN that stand out for you? A moment in which you are most proud of?
HGW: The opening sequence is close to my heart only because that was the first sequence that I wrote and it’s so very different than anything we had in THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE. It was quite…I wouldn’t say pyrotechnical but it’s got a lot going on orchestrally. It was a lot of fun to record. It took quite a while. The orchestra was so brilliant and the sight reading was really quite amazing. But that was a lot of months.
SK: Is there going to be a special edition CD release of PRINCE CASPIAN as was with THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE?
HGW: That I don’t know. I can’t help the feeling of disappointment because the first film blew up so incredibly and this one didn’t seem to have. I don’t know. It has yet to open in the UK but I think people in the UK are going to like it a lot. We will see what happens. As you probably know, I won’t be doing any more NARNIA films. They went and hired a different director who works with his own composer. So that should be interesting.
SK: That was going to be my next question. Do you lament not being able to take the series to completion or is it a relief to be finished with that world?
HGW: I’ve been really fortunate to have done the two to date and I think it’s going to be exciting and fascinated to see what David Arnold does. I spoke to David about it and he is equally excited.
I’m very fortunate to have done two and I think when we started this conversation I was pointing out that sequels are not necessarily the spot a composer wants to be in. I think it would be better for David to push the boat up fresh and new and see what happens. It’s a very different film, the next one.
SK: But there could be a theme or two of yours that pops up. That will be a weird experience, don’t you think?
HGW: Who knows? I don’t know it that will work for David or not, but yeah, that would be a weird experience.
SK: What are you currently working on right now?
HGW: Tony Scott’s next movie which is a remake of THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123. Are you familiar with the original film?
SK: Very much so!
HGW: Fantastic! So we have Denzel (Washington) and John Travolta and it’s pretty good. I’m just looking at a very early cut and it’s going to be tense.
SK: Any thoughts of resurrecting David Shire’s urban twelve-tone approach to your score?
HGW: No. Why would I do that? David Shire, he nailed the twelve tone urban approach. So that won’t be my approach. If he hadn’t nailed it there might be something worth going after. But no. I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to do with it. I’m just enjoying the early days and getting to know the film.
SK: Well Harry, I’ll certainly look forward to hearing what you come up with. Best wishes to you on the film and thank you so much for taking the time out to chat with me today.
On behalf of Ain’t It Cool News, I’d like to thank Harry Gregson-Williams for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk. I’d also like to thank Allie Lee of Chason & Company and Beth Krakower of Cinemedia Promotions for their help with this interview.
If you would like to check out an array of awesome photos from the PRINCE CASPIAN scoring session at Abbey Road Studios in London, check out the spread over at ScoringSessions.com.
If you would like to check out an array of awesome photos from the PRINCE CASPIAN scoring session at Abbey Road Studios in London, check out the spread over at ScoringSessions.com [HERE].