Emilio Estevez on Basil Poledouris

An Interview with Emilio Estevez by Rudy Koppl / Edited by Randall Larson
Originally published in Soundtrack Magazine Vol.16/No.64/1997
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor, Luc Van de Ven and Rudy Koppl

Emilio-Estevez

How did you meet Basil?
I’ve been a fan of his work for years and I was thinking, with a movie with a total budget of 4.2 million dollars, the chances of getting someone like Basil, who does enormous orchestral scores, was slim to none. I don’t really know that many film composers. On the two previous films I directed, Danny Elfman did WISDOM and Stuart Copeland did MEN AT WORK. These were both sythesized scores and I knew THE WAR AT HOME needed a big orchestral sound to it.
I shot the film to 3:5 and for a small movie this was considered kind of odd, but there were two things that I always wanted for this movie, which was a big look and a big sound. Rick Alexander was the head mixer on this film. He is an amazing mixer who does only large films. I thought his involvement would make a small movie big. Also I have a relationship with (agent) Richard Kraft because he handles the best composers in the business. Richard said, “Let me send you some tapes of Basil Poledouris.” I said, “Richard, let’s be serious here for a second. Do you think there’s anyway in hell Basil would consider this movie because I don’t have the money?” He said, “Basil’s looking to do a smaller type movie and a more personal film. This could be it.”
Basil read the script and then I invited him to an early screening of the film. He was very moved and we hit it off wonderfully. He decided to do the film even though we couldn’t pay, so I promised him my next-born. He doesn’t know this yet, but I’m done having kids and I didn’t let him know that at the time (laughs).

How effective is the score to THE WAR AT HOME?
I think he elevated the movie about another 30 or 40 notches. He brought it up to that one hundred per cent I was looking for. While the performances and the look of the film were there, it needed that sound. He just cranked it up and gave the movie that bigger feel. While there was a lot of emotion on the screen, the music did not get in the way. Basil’s whole approach to music is that you shouldn’t notice it. I have a tendency to want to crank the music so you do notice it in the mix. There were times I wanted it louder and he wanted it softer and I’d eventually say, “Yes.” He brought the emotional level way up.

Did Basil’s film score satisfy your vision as a film maker?
And then some. He exceeded it. When you’re working with a limited budget, you have a tendency to compromise. I made a lot of compromises on this film because we were restrained by a four million dollar budget. Basil didn’t compromise when it came to the score. He gave it everything that he would have given a forty or fifty or sixty million dollar movie. The film was very emotional for me. I’d been working on the project a total of four years by the time it got to the screen. This was a movie that was very personal to me. This really needed a composer that connected with the movie personally. I know Basil called in a lot of favors and I’m forever grateful to him.

How is Basil different from the other directors you’ve worked with?
I think my approach was different here because I was much more hands-on in this case, I know more now about the process and I have more of an interest in it. A lot of times with electronic scores it’s a guy isolated in a room. This time I was very much part of the process. We sat down at the piano and Basil said, “I’m thinking about this,” and he’d play it out. I’d say, “Wow, that’s great, let’s go with that.” He’d say, “The brass will come in and play this part and the strings will play this part.” I could hear it all together.

Would you hire him again?
Absolutely. I’d love to work with him again. He’s a great guy and a great composer at the same time. There’s no arrogance with Basil. It’s ego-less creativity.

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