An Interview with Bill Conti by Randall D. Larson
I interviewed Bill Conti in 2008 primarily about his science fiction scores for the album notes I wrote for La-La Land’s soundtrack to MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE. But we also discussed a number of other milestones in his film musical career, with much of the Q&A appearing in my Soundtrax column for May 8, 2008. The interview has been “remastered” (re-edited) from the original transcript into this more definitive structure, including a number of elements previously unpublished. – rdl.
You came into MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE after doing things like KARATE KID 2, NORTH AND SOUTH, and THE RIGHT STUFF, which obviously had a background in a very large-scale kind of film score, epic quality film score. What were your initial impressions, coming into that score?
It was a cartoon, and the strenuous thing about that is that it takes a lot of music. There’s no dead air. Because it’s fantasy, you see, so music being the ultimate fantasy – music being non-literal; in fact it’s beyond non-literal it’s anti-intellectual – you don’t think about the music. You have a reaction to music. So when you deal with any fantasy, it assumes that there’s going to be lots of music, as opposed to reality. That might be obvious, but for a film composer that just means there’s going to be thousands of little bitty notes that I have to spend time composing, and everything is super-dramatic. There were non-humans and elements like that in the story. So I would approach it in the Wagnerian way, meaning Valhalla opens up and there are the gods, and this god tweaks this other god’s toes and then they’re off to the races! Wagner did all that with leitmotifs – every little character had a musical figure and he appears on the scene and he’s got a theme – so you begin with a catalog of character’s names/character’s themes, and then you can get from those little snippets to general storylines. In other words, if there’s a conquest, if there’s a goal to be met – and there’s always a goal to be met and always a conquest – then there’s a bad guy and there’s the reasons why you’re going to be prevented from that goal. So all that stuff can have thematic implications, and you kind of do that in a sketch book kind of way.
Knowing the story, I would know the characters and know where we’re going, and I’d just muse, as it were. I’d jot down “this could be this guy’s theme, this is that guy’s theme,” and proceed. After that, after you have a catalog, a collection of leitmotifs and themes in your hip pocket. Most of these fantasies are 90 minutes, and there may be 89 minutes of music, so you’re going to be living with this stuff for quite a while. You get that right, right at least for you, and you would run it by the director or the producer, whoever’s got the most power, to see if they agree with you before you begin – because you wouldn’t want to begin on the wrong foot, you know! And then the dramatic stuff is just about whether it’s a non-human or a human saying “I love you” or “go get ‘em!” and whether they’re aliens or bad guys – it’s kind of See Spot Run in a sense. We have a catalog of emotions and we, people who write dramatic music, are expected to create those musical emotions. All of it has been done before, in the history of music – there isn’t anything new. The Greek plays had music in the background, dramatic music is not a mystery to any student of the game, or, by the way, to anyone who even is not a student of the game but who can put the right sound at the right time to evoke either surprise or love or fear. You have a knack for it and you do it as a profession.
Do you recall working with director Gary Goddard and any specific directions that he gave you for the music on MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE?
It just seemed like we’d need a lot of music and it’s got to be in the style of those things. You have to use a large orchestra. You can’t, or seemingly you can’t, get away with something small. There’s a classic sense of what those things should be, because it’s the most difficult – difficult in a way, because realism is easy, she gets up, she walks across, she shoots him with a gun, he falls dead. See Spot Run. Now the thing about non-humans and stuff, you’ve got to keep the energy going and it’s just incessant. I don’t remember having debates or anything like that, I just remember attacking it and knowing it was going to be a lot of work! And it’s the kind of work, by the way, that you have to get totally immersed in, and now you’re in this alien world of cartoon people and you can’t be unaffected, you have to be in with the story…
And you have to take it absolutely seriously to sell it.
Well, Yeah. This becomes a part of your life. I just finished a movie, and for that time I was on it, it was just everything. Everything in the world. And then it goes away and you begin something else. The interesting, I think during MASTERS, I know that I did not conduct it, I sent it away because there was a musicians strike or something like that. It could not be recorded in this country. So it got sent to more than one place, and I did not go with it, because the obvious consequences of when they have these little strikes, you’re not allowed to do that. I don’t remember where it was recorded…
Bruce Miller and Harry Rabinowitz were the conductors of the score…
Oh, Harry. I remember Harry conducted a score or two for me. He was English, but it was not done in England, I can tell you that. Oh yes, it was done in Munich.
There are a number of orchestrators credited on the score… Did you recruit their help on this project?
You always have orchestrators. That’s a tradition of Hollywood. If I were to do the score and the orchestration it would take X amount of time for one person to do. Dimitri Tiomkin would just do a piano sketch, as a matter of fact, and it goes from a piano sketch, which is like two lines of music, to staves, to six lines of music – six staves, which is kind of the outside. Beyond six staves you are actually bringing it up to the full score, which is an orchestration. In other words, you come up with the themes, and now you dig in, and you say, forget the main title, that’s the big wonderful theme, whatever it is, good or bad, that’s the big wonderful theme for the main title. Then there’s the first dramatic moment, and it goes from A to B. Even if it’s going to be continuous for 90 minutes, the first dramatic moment that requires music – she picks up the gun, she goes boom, she walks across the room – so you’ve got to be in the right place at the right time musically. You have to figure all that out and write music that fits the cue, as we call it. Now when you do that you’re thinking in your head, there’s flutes, the woodwinds do this, the celli come up and do that, and you write this on your sketch, be in two lines or six lines. Everything that you need to know about that musical theme, in terms of orchestration, is supposedly what the composer does. He creates the music for that moment.
Now, let’s say you’ve got 90 minutes to do, so you go through the entire movie like that. In the old days, a studio contract was ten weeks to do a movie; at some point in the history of film music, the ten week contract was the norm. There are exceptions, of course, but there was norm at one point. Ten weeks. You were on a picture three months. Now if you wrote two to three minutes a day, you thought you were doing pretty good. So when you add that up, you go through the entire score, now it’s going to take you weeks to actually create the music. And you’ve accounted for the flute, the clarinet, but how do we get it to the orchestra? How does that individual flute player get to play his notes, because he only gets the parts that have his notes on them. Every instrument in the orchestra has a stave on the score. Not on your sketch, when you say, oh the clarinets are going to do this and you have three clarinets, you just say “clarinets” on one line, but on the score, here are the three for the flutes, here are the two for the flutes, so you go down a score that might have 40 staves. Now someone’s got to fill in everything that you’ve said. It’s very tedious, not that it isn’t creative, because the person giving the orchestrator the two line sketch is giving more leeway than the person who gives him a six line sketch.
So orchestrators have been around from the beginning and what they actually do is prepare the score for the copyist to extract the parts for each one of the players. You’ve got a hundred people showing up, and in a case like MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE it had to be 85 to 95 players, a huge orchestra, and everybody gets a part. Now, that’s because it was copied, not from your sketch, but from the score. Who did that? The orchestrator did that. So when you have 90 minutes of music and if you don’t have a ten week contract, but you have, I don’t know, six weeks, it would be a miracle to actually create the music let alone be the same guy to take it into the orchestrating phase. You could even take it into the copying phase, you could do it all, but there are limits to the amount of time you’re given, so you have copyists, you have orchestrators. So when you see a list of orchestrators… when you go back to the studio days and it says “music by Max Steiner,” well, in some cases, Max might have just provided the themes, and he didn’t go the whole score, but they didn’t credit them in that time, and when the academy award for GONE WITH THE WIND comes, he gets up and takes the award, and we don’t know how much of it he did or not.
Anyway, that answers that, orchestrators, and it was recorded by guys like Harry Rabinowitz… But they came back with these tapes and they were, with all due respect for the fine musicians in Europe, the tapes that did come back were really not to the standard that we’re used to here. I don’t recall the particular orchestra, but the tapes took me two weeks to edit to get into the shape that I thought would be good enough to go into the film, and eventually into an album. I think it does sound pretty good, but it took a lot of work in the editorial section.
That’s interesting, I didn’t realize that.
The kind of music, this bombastic and in-your-face and going on and on and on, and to the limits of the players, where they would be able to record a certain passage, and the next passage wouldn’t be right, so the conductor sent me each passage that was good, but not in a through performance, not something that went from beginning to end. So it literally took me two weeks, with Dan Wallin, who’s a fine engineer, to turn out the end musical product. But that’s just part of where that goes.
One thing that struck me about the score is that, on the one hand, the music is obligated to create the whole environment of the film and give it a sense of reality, while at the same time evoking the whole morality play of good versus evil, thematically. Any comments on how you were able to do that?
Of course one of the obligations is to, not ignore, but sometimes reinforce where we are in movies. I remember having a discussion on a ROCKY movie, when [John] Avildsen wanted to have music as heroic as a Symphony of Beethoven, and I said “but we’re in the streets of Philadelphia!” I scored a point; I said “I’ll keep that in mind, but I think we should acknowledge where we are.” So the composer, I think, usually will acknowledge his environment. Music, of course, is not immoral or moral. Even though Wagner was not played in Israel because they thought he was an anti-Semite and that the Nazi’s embraced Wagner’s music; they were of course making an emotional statement but Wagner’s music is not anti-Semitic, what it is is simply emotional. Now, can it go beyond emotion to take us to a higher place, some people think it can, some people think it cannot. But we will agree that it will tinker with your emotions, which are not to be trusted. If we are rational beings and we are driven by our emotions, then we are in trouble. Music only addresses our emotions, so music is not to be trusted in a moral/immoral sense, but if I’m supposed to scare you, it would be my job as the musician to scare you.
I guess what I’m saying is that the movie’s got good guys and bad guys and you need to support the good guys with this very optimistic theme and at the same time you’re supporting the bad guys…
Yes. The dark and evil people are represented as dark and evil, and there’s nothing quite like a cartoon to do that. You can get away with melodrama in this kind of stuff where in another context it would be funny. Darth Vader is Darth Vader, and I think I had a bad guy, I can’t remember his name…
Sleletor was your bad guy. You had He-Man and Skeletor.
That’s right! (laughs). So Skeletor walks into the room, and oh my God, you just thought it was the devil. So it’s fun, in a sense, because of the grand gestures; you don’t get a chance to make the grand gestures in something that is subtle – one would hope.
The film was produced by Golan and Globus. Do you recall working with them at all and what their influence was on the music?
No. They weren’t meddling producers. There are producers who do, but my recollection is only that they let us make the music.
MASTERS came out on the wave of the second STARS WARS movie, which came out around the same time period. Were you asked at all to follow that influence, that type of music, in your score for MASTERS?
I think that that is a given. I can’t tell you how many movies I’ve done where one is asked to come from the depths and go the distance if they don’t specifically ask for the ROCKY reference… And STAR WARS is probably the most famous cartoon ever made besides FANTASIA, am I wrong?
In terms of influence and certainly it’s become an icon of film music for a while where almost every other film that had to do with fights in outer space was asked to reference or imitate it in one way or another.
Yeah, in some way. I’ve give you another one that’s equally iconic – I want to do it in a respectful way, but it won’t sound that. 2001 was a cartoon, and Kubrick did not have the courage to use living composers (except Ligeti who was alive at the time) – but The Blue Danube was a way of depicting outer space, at least to Kubrick and his audiences. So when you hear something as pure as that in the space context – or Ligeti and Penderecki for spooky/scary – you have a situation where the contemporary composers of 20th Century music have become the cartoon music for spooky/scary – the music that most of the composers of the new century, what they had been propagating, went immediately into film music as spooky/scary, so when John does STAR WARS, an enormous hit, he was just giving you a model for anything that follows, and MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE certainly follows that. It had to be something like that otherwise it wouldn’t be regarded as valid.
Another of your scores that I’m really fond of is THE RIGHT STUFF, which is a wonderful movie and a wonderful score. Coming into that film, what were your impressions, musically?
THE RIGHT STUFF had a composer on before, and I would tell you the name if I knew. [John Barry was originally hired but left due to “creative misunderstandings” with director Philip Kaufman.] He was released and then I was brought in. I was at odds with Philip Kaufman, the director, who felt that it was a personal story of men’s lives and I kept saying, “but what about the rocket ships circling the earth and the entire space program?” So I couldn’t get that out of my head, and we did disagree. He was making a film of personal stories of men, and I saw the American Space Program. And I went in that direction. How it ended up staying in the movie is beyond me, but it did.
I’m so thankful that it did, because your score elevates the human drama without diminishing it, and makes these guys into true American heroes.
I felt that. I don’t know that Philip felt that. He didn’t want that kind of a score, so it was kind of against all odds, although I think the first composer was his choice, and it didn’t seem to work, but I don’t know how since I never heard it. Something didn’t work, anyway. So I was brought in and I just kind of did what I felt – and I felt it was the history of the American Space Program, which, boy, I thought it was a big deal!
I’m pleased you recorded that album for Varese. Do you think there will ever be an actual true soundtrack of the whole score?
I think that there will be. Bob Townsend has asked me if I had the tapes. I did prepare an album for THE RIGHT STUFF at the time, so I had a master copy, but when the film did not do well they cancelled the album. So there might be an original soundtrack.
Along the same lines, NORTH AND SOUTH, another wonderful, massive score, which did just come out on a multi-disc set, again from Varese. Now this was an epic Western story covering the whole of the Civil War. What was your approach to scoring all of that?
That was David Wolper. It was 24 hours of television, 12 hours in the Fall, and 12 hours in the Spring. He said, “I want GONE WITH THE WIND.” So to me that meant, again: you have to come up with a big theme – something that really evoked that sweep. In other words, GONE WITH THE WIND has a feel, so I did it in my way. I certainly didn’t imitate GONE WITH THE WIND in any way, except that I think it feels as big and as sweeping, and David liked it, which was the most important part because if he didn’t, it wouldn’t have been there! And then everything else after that becomes a love story. You’ve got the setting, you know where you are, this is the Civil War, John Jakes, the North and the South, Oh my God! – but what is it really about? Well, guy falls in love with this girl, he falls in love with the other one, it’s a setting for “Once Upon A Time,” and then you tell a story, so then the music becomes the same old thing – she loves him, he loves her, scare me, go get ‘em, it’s either helicopters or guys from the South against the guys from the North! The music doesn’t care, it’s just pursuing an emotion. And it was one of those blood-bathy moments of it all had to be done very quickly, so I would write every day up until 6 o’clock at night, and then eat and at 7 o’clock till midnight I would record at Burbank, and then come back home and just continue writing for twelve hours, and then go back and record. And I think in two or three weeks the first 12 hours was over. It’s a good thing I was young! Painful!
Now you’ve scored in a great variety of genres – romances, heroic films, boxing films, but you haven’t done a whole lot in the area of horror, with the exception of an episode of TALES FROM THE CRYPT.
I have not done a straight up horror film. PRAYER FOR THE DYING was pretty scary but it certainly wasn’t a horror film. I’ve never actually done that. Or a Western, I guess.
I wanted to ask you about the remake of THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR. Coming into that film, it’s a remake but obviously you’re brought in to do something new and not simply replicate Michel Legrand…
Let me back up. John McTiernan directed THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR. My connection with John McTiernan was from a movie called NOMADS , which John McTiernan directed and Pierce Brosnan starred in. It was scary type picture, but it probably didn’t go anywhere. So I told John that I was actually afraid of it [THOMAS CROWN] because the Michel Legrand score is great.
Another iconic score.
A wonderful score. And the movie was a classic. So I asked, “John, are you afraid? Because I’m afraid!” He said, “No. We’re just telling a story. We’ve got the same characters, but we’re just telling a story. You just do you, I’ll just do me.” And it was true. I was a little but more intimidated but he just took the curse off. “Come on – we’ll never change the original. We’re not trying to be better than or as good as, we’re just going to tell a story and do it our way.” Which is true, and if someone says “oh, I like this one better” well, of course!
Apples and oranges.
It really is. If you say Beethoven is better than so-and-so…, at a certain level, if they all work at that level then it’s, as you say, apples and oranges.
The thing that struck me about THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR is that it’s a very playful score. Just as the story is teasing the audience with what’s really happening, the score does that too, especially in the museum scene with all the top hats.
For that scene I thought of something that was interesting. Besides the four pianos that were banging away, I used a tap dancer. I brought in a professional tap dancer and I gave him the music, and he’s like a percussionist, like some people use a typewriter – in fact, a typewriter was just used this year by somebody in a score…
Yeah. Well, THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR had a tap dancer. No one should notice, but those little tappy things that are happening are a tap dancer.
I’m glad you mentioned NOMADS because that reminds me that it’s actually a fantasy-horror film, about a guy who is followed by evil spirits…
Yes, that’s right. I did that all synthetically with Ted Nugent on guitar.
What was your approach to evoking the kind of spooky/scary needed by this film? What did a horror film need, musically, in 1986?
What it needs… [thinks]… sometimes the most chilling things are achieved with less. In other words, if you’re supposed to jump out of your chair, sometimes the unexpected shot, the dead body, the people jumping out of the closet, whatever it is, that’s like a device that is heavy handed, and the director can use it at any time he wants. He can’t use it too many times because you’ll get used to it, so he’ll probably only do it once in a movie, when all of a sudden this cut, and kaboom, and you’ll jump. So it’s accompanied by music and usually loud. The other kind is internalizing something where you’re imagining it – it’s actually not happening in front of you eyes, but you’re imagination is taking you there. So the scene can look very benign, but the music can be getting a little spooky and you play between the obvious and the misdirection – misdirection works in comedy as it does in horror, where you think this is going to happen and then something else happens. Except for the 20th Century music that has become a part of the nomenclature, before that we only had PSYCHO and Bernard Herrmann’s shrieking violins making grotesque sounds and scaring people like that. Now we have an entire battery of things to use…
Especially with the revolution of synthesizer and computer samples…
Yeah, and generated sound design people that show up with.
Now, on NOMADS, how did you use Ted Nugent’s guitar as a texture in an environment that would create suspense and mysterioso?
It was all done in the studio, including the synthesizers. The film was there and it was the kind of creating that was improvisational rather than written down. If you had a big orchestra then you would create sounds from your history and vocabulary of sounds that you’d write down on paper – the orchestra would play them and as a conductor you’d say, “no no, like this,” or “like this.” But a synthesizer and the guitar that can make a bunch of strange and funny sounds from the hands of a great guitarist…. So we worked every day and we began at the very beginning. I had some thematic ideas that were just rough ideas that, between myself on the synthesizer and the guitar of Ted, in two weeks we worked our way through the movie, producing what we thought was either scary or making the film come alive. Whether it was successful or not is always a judgment call of, first the director, and then the audience. It doesn’t get on the screen if the director doesn’t like it, and then he could love it and everybody goes to the theater and says “so what? I don’t get it.”
Another film I wanted to ask about was the TV movie JUDAS, in 2004. Here you are, again, creating an environment, but instead of an Alien environment or that of the Civil War, you’re creating the environment of the biblical era.
Which has a Hollywood history in terms of Miklós Rózsa, who didn’t know any more about Romans and Egyptians than we do now – we don’t really know what it sounded like – so he picked: “it’s going to sound like this.” And Puccini never went to Japan to know what it should sound like, he just said “no, no, Madam Butterfly should sound like this.” In The Girl of the Golden West, he never went to the West he says “American music sounds like this.” So we’re kind of arrogant in that way, as composers, we go: “oh, Jesus is walking around” and you get to hear 16th Century counterpoint and what we think is liturgical music, since the Gregorian chants – of course Arabs in that time had nothing to do with what the Vatican felt was church music, so it’s just kind of fun.
What was your thematic approach to scoring JUDAS?
For me it’s the same kind of thing. There’s got to be a theme that works, that evokes some kind of emotion. It becomes reduced to a story in that it is a film and you have to just plug in the same old things, he’s going to his death – you might know the story on a spiritual level too, and you might feel it, but a story being told, once-upon-a-time, has a linear progression to be followed musically.
I think what’s interesting is that here with JUDAS is that it was the first attempt to personify him as a character and what may have been his motivations…
And it was produced by the Paulists, a religious order that’s been in Hollywood and makes movies and documentaries. They’re very much involved but they’re essentially Catholic priests who are producers.
Obviously, speaking of movie icons, you created one of the most impressive icons with your ROCKY score, and you’ve developed over the years a number of sequels, and finally we have ROCKY BALBOA a couple of years ago. How would you describe your journey from the first ROCKY to what you did with ROCKY BALBOA and how the score developed over the five films you did?
Well, you know, I learned a lesson on ROCKY II that was a lesson to be learned for all time – for me, in my personal time, anyway. I wanted to do something in ROCKY II which was different because I didn’t want to do the same old thing. So I actually got into kind of words with both Sly and the producer, and I said “No, we can’t do the same thing!” And so I had a disagreeable time doing ROCKY II. But then I did the James Bond film, FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, so Cubby Broccoli said, “Bill, when James goes into action, I mean, I hate to say it, but would you mind playing his tune?” And I, as a Bond fan, said, “well, you have to play his tune! It’s a given!” What was happening was that Rocky had his own music, and I didn’t know that. And in ROCKY BALBOA, Sly made the same mistake that I made twenty years ago. He says, “We want to do something new.” Okay. So I worked on something new. It went to a preview, and all the cards asked “where’s the Rocky music?” and all of Sly’s friends said “what did you do with the Rocky music?” So it just seemed like it will not accept a transplant. It’s a part of the body and you can’t pry it away. As a composer, you go “why do I want to rehang stuff I did in 1976?” And the truth is, in the end, they just want the same old thing. It’s not creatively challenging, but it’s doing the same old thing because the same old thing is what everybody wants. It was an evolution of some kind. It took me doing the Bond picture to realize it, and it took Sly – I can’t explain his reasoning, but I understood it totally. Let’s do something that’s today – let’s try to freshen it up. So did it evolve? No! It rejected evolution. It had to be “Yo, Adrian!” He had to talk like that.
It’s almost like audiences won’t accept something different of a favored character or a favored franchise. How restricted does that make you feel on the creative end, as if your hands are tied, at last with this series?
Actually, in one sense you feel blessed – you can’t fake that. You can’t make people like the Rocky thing, and when they do, you can’t turn it around and say “oh, I wish it were otherwise.” You’re very lucky that you’ve established something – in my case, a tune – that people not only accept they want it around. What do you do, try and push them away? So enjoy it!
So what did you have to do to restore the Rocky music in ROCKY BALBOA?
We replaced all the music with music from 1976! I mean, I rerecorded it, I made it fit in all the new places, but everything that we had thought about before we had to took out. Of course no one was ever thinking of changing the training montage, but everything else was changed. It went away in an instant!
Did you play it the same way you did in the 70s or did you bring it up more to where your head is today, musically, but using the same themes?
Same themes – in some cases, played by the same musicians who performed it 32 years ago! So I came in and we had the guys there and I asked “who was on the first one?” And there were guys who said “yea, I was there, I was on the first one!” Old guys like me, now!
What’s been most challenging for you in your film music career, so far?
Well, the challenging part is the psychological part, without a doubt – getting into the head of the film and understanding what it really needs. I get up in the morning, if the film goes left, I have to go left, no matter what I want to do. And then, it has to be accepted by the person who is really running the ship, the director – the person who is gathering all these forces into one entity. So if he doesn’t like it, then I have to change it. I have to interpret what he’s thinking of. I can use my creative skills, but I have to be a part of the whole. It’s not all about me – it’s not about me at all. So the hardest part is psychologically getting in the same place and fulfilling that need for “oh yes, we want your music, on my terms,” which is what the director is actually saying. And not in a negative way, but someone’s got to pull it together. It’s just not a willy-nilly project, so that the most difficult thing is seeing eye-to-eye and making the chemistry work, and getting it right. The music is not a problem.
You’ve been doing this for 30 something years now, how do you approach a new score, such as HOLD UP and then THE PERFECT GAME, which you’ve just completed…..
Kind of the same way. I did THE PERFECT GAME, that’s the one I just finished, and you know, it’s just the same. The problem is – not a problem, but you would think that, and you said 30 years, that with experience it must add something to it, that if just by years alone, and numbers alone, you might get better. However, that is not the criteria, ever. It’s something new, something fresh, a different twist to a product that’s going to go out there. That’s not a cache, to have done it for 30 years and even possibly get better. That could ever be a deterrent. I can’t think of another profession where you could be at the peak of your form but the goal is to be the newest, freshest, hottest flavor of the month.
You’re also being judged by this “what have you done for me lately” kind of attitude, right? It doesn’t matter what the history is.
That’s right. That’s the business.
It’s interesting, speaking today of THE PERFECT GAME, which is almost going full circle for you to ROCKY, because it’s another kind of sports-based story where you have the underdog becoming victorious. So what is your music like for this new film?
If you get typecast you have to be thankful, again, that you are typecast because you could be not known at all! So, it is not unusual that I get an underdog picture to do, but by the way, I know how to do that kind of picture! Not that others don’t also, but I can do that. THE PERFECT GAME really came out well. I’m really happy with the way it came out
So how can you invest something like THE PERFECT GAME with something new and fresh that wasn’t more of ROCKY or KARATE KID even though the film is of the same basic breed?
Oh I can’t! I have a friend who is an artist – this is a true story – and he went to Salvador Dali, the painter. It took him a week to get an audience with him. He went to a little town in Spain and he had an appointment, and that was the one question he asked Dali, he said “you know, my stuff comes out and it’s like yours.” And Dali was so offended, he says “anything that you do is yours – it could never be mine.” And he said, “but it looks like-” “No! Not at all.” So in that arrogance, in that way, the big ending of THE PERFECT GAME: they’re going to win the game – it’s KARATE KID, it’s ROCKY: he’s going to win the thing, whatever it is. That day, that moment, the way I feel about that, is going to come out in a vocabulary differently but it will be uniquely me. It will be done my way, and if you’re familiar with my music, then you’ll recognize it – “oh, yes, that’s the way he does that.” It can’t be the same, but it’ll be me. I have a signature. I have a way of doing things that I’m not looking to change, but I have no fear of duplication because every day that I get up it’s a different way of explaining something. The answer’s going to be the same answer.
So what’s next for you?
Oh I really want to stop! Since I do concerts, I did the Academy Awards at the same time I was doing THE PERFECT GAME, then I went away to do two concerts in Maine, and came back and I just finished preparing a concert in about a week and a half with a concert band, which requires different arrangements, so I just want to stop! I claim that I don’t need to do this anymore, but then all of a sudden you get caught up in a project and it seems like you’re doing to again.
As a composer, though, do you think could ever really stifle that creative impulse?
It’s not a question of stifling, it’s can you say no when all of your life – this is untrue but you’ll get the gist of it – you can’t sell your music to anybody? You can’t force anybody to have your music. You only hope that the phone rings. So you spend your entire professional life trying to get a job, begging to get a job, donating your music, anything so that somebody can hear your music, and then all of a sudden you get the job, and then you get more jobs. So you’re in the habit of saying yes for so long that all of a sudden you’re going to get in the habit of saying no? So even though it happened young enough for me – ROCKY was 32 years ago in 1976 and I’m now 65, so I was in my 30s – I’ve been saying yes for a long time now. You would think that that feeling of not having another job would go away! But from zero to 30 it was trying to get the job – so I don’t know! The traveling – the concerts, the movies, the Academy Awards show… if they all came one right after the other, it would be cool, but when they happen all at the same time, then it’s a little like overload. So I just need a little break right now!