Film Music in Holland

An Interview with Loek Dikker by Julius Wolthuis
Originally published in CinemaScore #15, 1986/1987
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor and publisher Randall D. Larson

Loek Dikker

The Netherlands (also called Holland). Population: 14.5 million. Location: Squeezed in between Belgium, Germany and the North Sea. Annual production of feature films: 10-15. However: a leading European country in the production of documentary films, including those of Joris Ivens and Bert Haanstra.

The interest in film music is limited in Holland. There is hardly any mention of the film score in film reviews. To fill the gap there is the Stichting Cinemusica (Cinemusica Foundation), the Dutch Centre for Film Music, which organizes all kinds of activities to increase the general public’s interest in film music, including the production of radio programs and the publication of the quarterly periodical, Score. Thanks to these efforts, interest has grown quite a bit in the last few years: film music concerts are not unusual anymore and the major Dutch film festival even bestows annually an award for “best music score.”

Film composers, as such, are hard to find for reasons of meager annual film production. There are quite a few Dutch composers, with classical, jazz or rock backgrounds, who occasionally compose for films. Best known are Rogier van Otterloo (TURKISH DELIGHT, SOLDIER OF ORANGE), Willem Brueker, Ruud Bos, Laurens van Rooijen and Otto Ketting. A very promising new composer emerged in 1981. His name: Loek (short in Dutch for Lucas) Dikker.

Loek Dikker (age 42) was born in Amsterdam. He has had no formal musical training but learned the trade by doing. He played keyboards in various groups specializing in improvidex jazz. In 1974, he formed his own jazz band, “Waterland Ensemble,” which went on tour into the U.S.A. and Canada. He recorded various records for his own “Waterland” label. Recently, he has also composed music for ballet, stage (in which he also acted under his own direction) and various films. In 1983 he studied a film music course under David Raksin. All of his film scores have been symphonic. He prefers the style of composing of French-Russian composers from the turn-of-the-century. His favorite composers are Rachmaninov, Moussorski and Bartok.

His first film score as for THE PAST (1981), a trilogy, but he really broke through with his score to Paul Verhoeven’s THE FOURTH MAN. Now, in 1986, another major step forward in his career: his first score for an American production, directed by Englishman Matthew Chapman, called SLOW BURN.

How did you get the assignment to score SLOW BURN?
I received a phone call from Hollywood. My last score for THE FOURTH MAN has had considerable success and that’s why the director was very eager to hire me. At first I had my doubts to accept the job. There were a lot of phone calls back and forth, and it turned out that they would allow me two weeks to complete the score. In the end, I accepted the assignment — after all, it may take another hundred years before I get another call from Hollywood. Fortunately, all went very well, although I lived on coffee and cigarettes for those two weeks.

Will this be a symphonic score, as was THE FOURTH MAN?
Yes. As a matter of fact, the music is very much in the style of THE FOURTH MAN. After all, that’s what the director expected. Otherwise he would not have called me.

Where did the recording take place?
The music was recorded with the (Belgian) Symphony Orchestra of Flanders. Although I only had two weeks I could work without any interference being here in Holland while they were in Hollywood.

How do you go about composing a film score?
Let me take THE FOURTH MAN as an example. Director Paul Verhoeven and I got along very well and had a real good rapport. First I saw the film several times on video. I wanted to have a full grasp of what the film was all about. I tried to summarize the film in a few words. If you’re able to do that it gives you a good idea of the themes to use. In the case of THE FOURTH MAN, the themes were love, destiny and liberation. These I translated in musical terms: themes, instrumentation and atmos-phere.
Such a page of notes form my starting point. Everything that I have written down doesn’t always have to end up in the movie. I start to make an analysis of the drama of the movie. That is why the atmosphere of a movie is so important to me, and I prefer to work with a big orchestra. That gives you enough choice of instruments and that results in a score with the exact color and warmth that I intended. After that you can fill in all the musical details that come with the individual images. I’ve got a feeling for working with split-second images and sounds.

Loek DikkerSpeaking of THE FOURTH MAN, there were two different soundtrack records released. What’s the story behind this?
I called Varese Sarabande Records to ask them if they were interested in making a record and was very surprised when they started to read to me the text of the cover of the record they were already going to make. This was exactly the record I wanted to ask them to make!
Producer Rob Houwer sold the picture to the U.S.A., including the rights to the musical score. Varese in turn bought these rights for the music from the company that released THE FOURTH MAN there. They received the music tapes from the American distributor, but he didn’t have all the music, so when Varese made the record they didn’t have all of the music tapes that we have here in Holland. I gave those tapes, which contained the complete score, to Milan Records in France, so their album is different.
That’s what you get when people interfere with things, when they don’t know everything or without asking the film music producer. These two worlds (producers on one side and musicians on the other side) are constantly colliding, which leads to all kinds of misunderstanding. That why I’m not only a musician but a producer as well. I’ve always been that way, because I like to do everything myself.

Last year you wrote a very sensitive symphonic score for a Dutch picture called BITTER HERBS (based on a book about a story of World War II). I understand that this did not go as well as did THE FOURTH MAN…
Until right before the opening of that picture I had been working to get the score right. After that I heard nothing more. During the first viewing for the press I suddenly heard, to my great surprise, that the music on the screen did not resemble what I had written at all. Later I learned that the producer, took the main theme (with a Mahler cue), had it copied endlessly and used that single melody for the whole picture. This killed my musical concept for the picture totally. Even in a small country like Holland these things happen, but it’s very nice to know that Milan made a record (using tapes they received from the producer) containing all my original music, so the score isn’t lost after all.

You have been working in both Holland and the U.S.A. What are the differences in working with filmmakers in these countries?
What I like about the U.S.A. is the fact that producers really care a great deal about film music. In Europe (and also in Holland) they forget the music much too easily. The Americans care, and are prepared to spend money for the music. The disadvantage of that is that they want to know quite a bit more about what you’re doing all the time. The influence of a director in Europe is very big. I don’t mind if a producer and director interfere, as long as they use their professionalism. In that aspect I have been very fortunate with Paul Verhoeven. Another important aspect is the personal taste of the production people. If Americans think it’s good they also think it will bring enough money in.
The general attitude (mind you, there are exceptions) in Holland is that if the picture (the image) looks good and the material looks good, all they need to do is stick some music to it to fill in the moments of silence, or use music to distract the attention of less successful acting. It also happens that if they still have some money left on the budget (say $200) they will start looking for a composer who will make music for that amount of money.

So we can conclude that in Holland they’re not so very interested in film music?
That is surely a fact. But don’t forget that we live in a very small country and have a very small film industry. That results in a situation in which not all aspects of film-making are equally understood. A lot of important things are not seen to be so important. Besides that, there is a general shortage of money to invest in pictures, which is in turn the result of a very poor budgeting and budget-control. In all this, film music is way down and out of sight with everybody concerned with producing pictures. If there’s not enough money, the first thing to drop is the music.

Will you continue writing music for movies?
I hope to score two to four films every year during the next few years. But not only film music — I also like to do other things that interest me, like music for the stage, touring with the “Waterland Ensemble,” writing jazz and improvisational music. It keeps me fresh and alive.

Julius Wolthuis is the editor of the Dutch film music magazine, SCORE, the journal of Holland’s Cinemusica Foundation. This quarterly journal, printed in Dutch, is available from Stichting Cinemusica, Box 406. 8200 AK Lelystad, Holland.

CinemaScore is indebted to Henk Korevaar and Hans Feenstra for translating this interview into English.

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