An Interview with Bruce Broughton by Daniel Mangodt and Luc Van de Ven
First published in Soundtrack Magazine Vol.15 / No.58 /1996
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor, Luc Van de Ven
In a previous interview published a while ago, you mentioned there were 2 films you would have liked to have done. One was HOWARD THE DUCK. Which was the other one?
I wanted to do HOWARD THE DUCK until I saw what it was. I don’t remember the other one. I was being considered for HOWARD THE DUCK and I even got a ticket to meet the producer and the director, and then it was cancelled when I heard John Barry was going to do it. That annoyed me, not because of John but because I didn’t have a chance to talk to them until I saw the movie and then I was grateful. A horrible movie.
Have you ever turned down any films?
I know that I have, but I can’t think of any at the moment. From time to time I’ll turn down some movies. There are some movies I don’t care to do: stupid films, real axe murderer movies. I don’t like excessively violent films or movies about Satanism.
Have you ever accepted movies because the director was a personal friend?
I actually accepted movies for worse reasons. I have accepted movies because my agent convinced me to do it. I got some very bad advice from time to time, which I regret going through. There are some movies in my filmography (I won’t name them) I wished I hadn’t done. I’m not ashamed of the music, though.
Many people would like to have the score to YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES on CD.
We are working on that. Doug Fake has been working on it and we’re hoping we will be able to do it. I heard there is a pirated disc coming out (one pressing with just 15 copies, with a pretty horrible sound; and another pressing of 10 copies with a far better sound – LVDV). I have an idea where it came from. It’s one of those things that we talk about, but it never gets anywhere. The rights are owned by MCA. Varese actually could do it if they wanted, because they have first choice. When Doug makes an offer, he makes a good offer. He does a very good product. I’ve been happy with all of his CD’s. The Rozsa CD’s are really first-rate productions. I don’t know how he makes any money at all. I know that his biggest sellers were TOMBSTONE and SILVERADO. I’ve actually made money out of it, so I’m grateful. That’s unusual.
Will there be a third volume in the Miklos Rozsa titles released by Intrada (Excalibur)?
I don’t know. We were talking about it, but I don’t think Doug is going to do it. We were talking about doing it somewhere else. He wants to continue the series, but it’s really expensive. He did a first class job: he had a great orchestra, a great studio – the conducting was OK. He really went first class the whole way. It’s really expensive, so we’ve talked about other countries, but we don’t know what we will run into. We don’t know the enthusiasm of the orchestra. The London orchestra did a lot of films. They are used to doing this kind of music. They enjoy it and they treat it with some kind of respect. Maybe in another country they don’t care about it and just run through it. I just hear things from time to time. A lot of orchestras look down their nose at film music, also in the USA, not in Hollywood, but a lot of the major orchestras don’t like doing pops concerts, although the audiences love it. The symphony orchestras do them because they make a lot of money; they are very well attended. But the orchestras themselves feel they are prostituting themselves, because they are doing something less than Beethoven. Years ago when we had the Sundance program, we used the Utah Symphony to record ‘A Night of Film Music’ they couldn’t play SILVERADO. I don’t care how snobby they are, but they couldn’t play the music. They couldn’t get through the strings parts. We did the concert, but it wasn’t spectacular. Their interest level is not that high.
Fans would like to have THE BLUE AND THE GREY or DESPERATE VOYAGE on CD. Would you consider doing a promo CD?
No, not really. There are 3 or 4 cuts of THE BLUE AND THE GREY on ‘The Best of the West’, with mistakes and everything. I gave them the scores, but they made a lot of mistakes. It’s not great. The only promotional disc that I put out was BABY’S DAY OUT and that was because Fox actually did consider making an album out of it, but when the movie didn’t do well, they didn’t want to do it.
Maybe you could put it out yourself?
This morning somebody gave me a copy of BABY’S DAY OUT to sign it. He said he had spent $40 on it. You shouldn’t spend any money on it at all, because they are promotional discs. You can’t sell them, because they are not for that. The BLUE AND THE GREY is an old TV show. Who will want to buy it?
It’s great music, but you can’t listen to it because there’s no CD…
Oh, it is. I’m the first person to complain about it. There are a lot of my scores I wish were more available.
You scored RESCUERS DOWN UNDER, an animation movie, for a straight orchestral score, no songs…
The reason why RESCUERS wasn’t successful was that it hadn’t any songs in it. It was Disney’s first try at making an adventure film and the one thing that Jeffrey Katzenberg wanted was that it had lots of ethnic sound. Australia doesn’t have too many ethnic sounds: there’s the didgeridoo and the boomerang. They either blow through the didgeridoo or they clack the boomerangs together and that’s about the extent of Australian ethnic music. So we had different other ethnic sounds, but the film itself just didn’t take off. They will get Hans Zimmer now. He is the big new cartoon guy.
(Here we were discussing ghost writing in general, and we had to leave out some juicy bits…)
You hear all the time that people didn’t write this score or that score, but then who did? These are times when composers, because they get busy, hand off incomplete sketches to people to finish them. That happens a lot. In some cases the orchestrators do some writing, but full-fledged ghost writing is not as common as that. There are some guys who just don’t write well and they need to have a lot of their music filled out. That does happen. Generally if you want to be a composer in the film business, you will have to do the work.
Somebody asked me this morning if James Horner used ghost writers. Not to my knowledge. Maybe he has had things filled out, but you can watch the scores. They’re his scores. I don’t want to be ignorant about this thing, but if he isn’t writing it, who is the real guy? Let him stand up. I listened to BRAVEHEART, which I liked. It’s not extraordinarily complicated music; it’s just movie-like. In terms of the notes written and the complexity, it is not one of the more complex scores, not like the ones he wrote ten years ago and you can get those down faster than an ALIEN score. We all write a lot of music in a very short period of time. We all have the ability to do 5, 6 or 7 or 10 scores a year, if we are pushed, if you don’t want to sleep or go on vacation.
When I was doing television I used to do 1 or 2 scores a week. I would do QUINCY in the weekend and DALLAS during the week or QUINCY at night and HOW THE WEST WAS WON during the day. I would do that for 6 or 7 months at a time. I would do 35 hours of television, which would mean about 10 hours of music. We did it every year. You can get it done. It’s not a big deal, if you have orchestrators and you are sketching. It’s not so amazing, if you’re not thinking about how original you are going to be.
A guy who is really fast is Dennis McCarthy. Dennis can write 8 tot 10, 12 minutes a day. It’s pretty good stuff. It works well. I asked him one time how he wrote so much music. He said “Never look back!” I couldn’t do it; I wouldn’t want to do it. My average now is 2 to 3 minutes a day. Composers think that 2 minutes a day is a nice amount to write, but we all write more. A couple of months ago I was working on a TV show and I had a limited amount of time and I was writing 4 minutes a day. I used to write 4 minutes and a half a day when I was doing television, and I wasn’t doing any chases. A chase needs a lot of music and you write a lot less. There are tricks to write more. It doesn’t mean it’s all great music. You just have to get it down on the page.
Leonard Rosenman said that ghost writers are called orchestrators now.
Yes, they are, in those cases where it happens. I’ve seen one composer, who is very well known, who was improvising onto a synclavier and he had this chase which was supposed to be a minute or two minutes long and he improvised maybe 8 bars and gave it to somebody who wrote it out and then gave it to the orchestrator and the orchestrator had to finish the other 120 bars. That’s ghost writing. In that way you can write 10 films a year.
I said about Henry Mancini a while ago, “Hank probably doesn’t need the money, he is probably pretty wealthy”. My friend said, “Maybe, but you just don’t know what people spend.” What’s a lot of money to you may not be a lot of money to somebody else and if they make $500,000 or $5,000,000 a year, some people may find it hard to live on that. Jerry Goldsmith just likes to write music, he likes to be busy. I don’t think he has any major business in life except to write music. He’s happy when he is doing it. I’m happy when I’m not doing it (smiles), but I can’t make a living without doing it.
How do you approach an animated movie? Is it any different from scoring a feature film?
The thing about animation is that the events happen quickly. Because they’re drawn they call more attention to themselves, they need musical treatment. Scoring animation is very slow going, because you have a lot of events to take care of and if you are trying to be dramatic you have to make a choice between what you are not going to play and what you are going to play. With a film like THE LION KING or the Alan Menken shows, those guys chose not to play too many events. They just play the background as if it were a live film. The problem with animation is that you can get stuck with so many little events to play and you can mickey-mouse too much. With the RESCUERS there are some things that I wish I hadn’t done. Maybe now I would handle it a little bit different. At the same time I’ve done cartoon shows where there was an excessive amount, where there was just a style, like the TINY TOONS, but I’ve gotten good at it, so I can choose between what I want to do or not; how to gracefully do it, so that is doesn’t look like mickey-mousing.
You were also acting as a kind of music contractor on TINY TOONS…
I was the supervising composer. I hired composers. I made a few enemies. There is at least one composer who will not talk to me. If he sees me he will turn the other way, he is so upset. I hired about 26 or 27 composers, and I found some guys who were really first-rate composers, like Joel McNeely, Mark Watters, Richard Stone, Art Campbell and Dennis McCarthy. Dennis actually did a good job on it, though it’s not his style…
What did you think of these composers?
I listened to a lot of tapes and I could tell who would be able to do this stuff, because we were doing a specific style and I had to pass up some guys who were good composers, but I could never hear anything in their music which could adapt to this specific style. Sometimes I made mistakes. There were some guys who I thought could do it who didn’t do it well.
How could you tell?
I would actually leave it to the producers, because the producers in this case had a pretty good idea what they wanted, what they didn’t want. Like this composer who won’t talk to me, he actually should have done a great job, but it wasn’t in the style at all and the producers hated it. So I can’t very well ask him back. It didn’t happen very often. Mostly the people we worked with did it quite well or did it satisfactorily.
You don’t do television scores anymore?
Just occasionally. A couple of months ago I did a pilot for a new series called JAG. The producer was a very good friend of mine.
You got an Emmy nomination for THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA.
The music turned out okay, but it wasn’t great. The way it was used in the film wasn’t terrific, but the score came out good on the album. One that came out better was O PIONEERS! I got a job out of O PIONEERS!, the new Matthew Broderick movie INFINITY. I was recommended to Matthew by a guy who worked on O PIONEERS!
So you don’t always have the final say in the use of the music.
You never do. In television the producer is in charge and if he doesn’t want to use your music, he doesn’t use it. And in movies the director is in charge. You don’t get the final say at all. This is something which soundtrack enthusiasts just don’t understand or appreciate. It’s not up to the composer what goes into the film and it’s not up to the composer how his music ends up sounding. The director has the contractual right to get it as the representative of the studio and the studio owns the music from beginning to end. The studio is the legal author of the music under the copyright law of the US. All our music is written under a concept in the copyright law called ‘A Work for Hire’, which means that we are just providing a service, but the result of our service does not belong to us and though they let us participate in the royalties, if they wanted to take that away they could legally take that away as well. And if they want to combine our music with somebody else’s music or if they want to cut it up or play it backward or upside down, they can do that, because they have the right to do that. It’s theirs. Period. The choices I’ve had to make on film were not always mine, usually in collaboration.
Sometimes you have to compromise…
Yes, but if you are too rigid, they are going to do it anyway. They are the boss and then it becomes their ego against yours. Their ego takes priority and in those cases where we have a disagreement, I’ll do it their way. So, why be stupid about it?
With a director like Peter Hyams, you know each other, so you can at least discuss things…
He would work with me, because there is something he wants from me. This is the way I feel with all the directors. I try to give them what they want, because it’s their movie and they worked on it for a long time. Every director has something slightly different that he wants to get out of a movie. Why should I always give them the same thing? If Peter wants something to be turned upside down and he feels that it works better for his film, I’ll turn it upside down. I don’t care. Sometimes I do and I’ll go crying and whining, but he’s not impressed that I work hard on a movie, because he works hard on a movie. I’m supposed to work hard on it. I learned a lot of stuff from Peter. And if he comes at me and says: “I hate this piece of music”, that’s no worse than a studio executive coming to him and saying, “I hate this scene”. So, why shouldn’t he come and tell me? “Your music stinks on this! Do it over again!” He has done that. “And this is what I want you to do, and here is the problem with it”. So I’ll rewrite it and he will say: “Great! That’s terrific!” He will compliment you when he can, and if he can’t he won’t. He is not ultra polite to save your feelings. He wants a good job. He is a tough guy, but I like him. He will look at you in your face and he will tell you what he thinks and you don’t have to worry about him going behind your back, because he is going to say it to your face.
A lot of scores are being thrown out nowadays.
Not because they are bad scores, but because the composers didn’t connect with the director or they are being used as a scapegoat for a film that has a lot of problems. Sometimes a film has problems that no composer can solve. Period. That’s it. I talked earlier about THE REIVERS, that John Williams did. It’s a great score, but he replaced a score by Lalo Schifrin and Lalo did a good score too. I heard it, but it wasn’t the score that the director wanted, and it wasn’t the movie that Steve McQueen wanted, because there wasn’t enough of Steve McQueen in it and they ended up blaming Lalo.
On TOMBSTONE, you took over from Jerry Goldsmith, because he didn’t have time to write it.
In fact he and George Pan Cosmatos have a personal relationship. Jerry worked with George a lot and they are personal friends. I was flattered, because Jerry is my hero and I was grateful that he couldn’t do it, and I ended up liking the movie a lot. The problem was that Jerry has a tight relationship with all these people, not only the director but also Vajna, the head of the studio. They are personal friends; they like what Jerry does. So do I. I’m a great admirer of his music. So, you’re walking in these big footsteps, in a sense, but on the other hand, now it was my film, so it was time to do what I was going to do. I talked to Jerry many times during the scoring, trying to get advice and his advice was, “Do what you are going to do.”
They never asked you to write a Tiomkin-like or a Goldsmith-like score?
No. George had very definite ideas musically what he wanted and I tried to give him that. We were all very happy with the way it ended up. Jerry came to the screening and he was very complimentary. I don’t know him well, but I really do admire his music. Every time we talked I get a little awestruck and I can’t be as relaxed with him as I might be with somebody else. I can’t say, “Go, piss off!”, because I have too much admiration for him. He has been very nice to me. He has very tight personal friendships and working relationships and it’s part of the reason why he is so successful. He is admired by more people than you can imagine. Jerry has an enormous range of relationships and he gets an enormous amount of respect, which he deserves.
At the same time they did another movie about the same story WYATT EARP.
This is my revenge. I worked on the better movie.
In recent years you have written music for theme parks.
I’ve done 3 or 4, and I do them because they are fun. I like to have variety. I did the CD ROM project. The best job you can get at Disney is with the theme parks or the animation, not the movies, which are not very good I liked HONEY, but I had a lot more fun doing the theme parks. They take you on as a partner, a creative partner; they talk to you; you get to go out and hang out with them; they ask you your opinion and they come to recording sessions. You get involved and you get on the rides. They are just fun. I went to the opening of Honey, I Blew up the Audience, it’s a big hit. The audience screams and yells, laughs. It’s exciting to be there. It’s better than a movie where they sit and worry whether it’s going to make $ 4,000,000.
You did the first CD ROM with an original orchestral score. Those games on CD ROM are made for younger people. Usually they are pretty cheap. An orchestral score makes them much more expensive.
This one will be pretty expensive. It may eventually go on to a cartridge. I only know that this was a lot of fun to do. I made a lot of good friends. Normally they are done for synthesizers.
Do you think there is any future in it for film music composers?
Yes, if they are interested in doing it. The problem is they are very disposable. It’s like working for television. You do all this work and no one sees it and the same could be with a CD ROM game, when the game doesn’t become popular and it becomes just another piece of machinery. I like to do these things just because they are different and I don’t like to do the same thing over and over again. I like to meet with people and I like to go on trips.
You conducted IVANHOE and JULIUS CAESAR for Doug Fake… What was it like to re-record those old scores?
I didn’t know them at all, because I don’t know old scores. I knew practically nothing about his music. Since then I’ve learned a little more about it. He was a very musical guy, he was a good composer. His concert music is more interesting as music. He is a really good concert music composer and it’s interesting to see how he adapted his style to work in the movies. In IVANHOE there are a lot of compositional techniques; it’s simple music. It’s very dramatic as well. IVANHOE is brilliant. It’s very big, very dramatic, very romantic, and very Hungarian. JULIUS CAESAR is a completely different style. It’s interesting to see how he would choose the style for the project. In that way he was really an A-one film composer.
Did you know Rozsa personally?
I met him once or twice. My grandfather had met Rozsa 40 years ago and I have a picture of my grandfather and Rozsa, and my grandfather was always proud that he had met Rozsa. Rozsa heard both those recordings and he liked them. He was amazed that anyone would take that much care with that music and he was very appreciative. It was nice.
You also wrote concert music.
I did a tuba concerto, a piccolo concerto. I’m writing a piece for a concert in London at the end of November. So, I do these things occasionally, but I can’t make a living out of it. I like doing them. The movies help this kind of music. You get an enormous amount of technique scoring movies and you want to place your technique some place where you can just work on ideas, which you can’t do in movies. So the concert music gives you an opportunity to explore some music and I find concert music harder to write, because there is no picture involved. But you can’t make a living out of it. For the tuba piece I think I get a royalty of about $30 a year and that’s a really popular piece. That piece is played a lot.