An Interview with Gerald Fried by Randall D. Larson
Originally published in Soundtrack Magazine Vol.9/No.35/1990
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor, Luc Van de Ven and Randall D. Larson
After studying music in New York, Gerald Fried began film scoring in the 1950’s with low-budget B-movies such as THE CRY BABY KILLER (1958), THE RETURN OF DRACULA (1958). TIMBUKTU (1959) and the like (including his childhood friend Stanley Kubrick’s first three films). Fried eventually gained a reputation in the ‘60s and ‘70s as a top-notch television composer. He scored such notable mini-series as ROOTS and MYSTIC WARRIOR, but also worked behind the scenes on the scores for many TV series, including THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., IT’S ABOUT TIME, LOST IN SPACE and STAR TREK. Interviewed in 1982 about his work in fantastic films and television, Fried provided his recollections on scoring STAR TREK and other genre films.
You’ve scored a number of the original STAR TREK episodes. Did you find any limitations inasmuch as the series had a set musical theme and a musical style dictated by those who scored the previous episodes?
The limitations were less than the limitations of TV in general. The people who wrote the themes, Sandy Courage and whoever else came before me, knew the realities of television, that we could just go so far, so our limitations were built in up front. That wasn’t a problem. You write what you have to write and be as creative and as different as possible within the obvious limits.
Were there any specific times that you had to use the main theme in your episode scores?
They told me every time the starship pulls away in a long shot; use the STAR TREK fanfare, period. I used it. Simple.
Did you treat each episode separately, or was there an attempt to link them musically (other than by the main theme)?
No, each show had a separate quality and whenever I write any film I try to write music that could not be used for any other picture or any other purpose; that it is that specific. I just described the limitations of TV and I’m probably kidding myself, but nevertheless I like to think that my approach is that each picture is a unique thing, even a TV show. There was such a thing as a “Mr. Spock Theme”, which I think I wrote for the “Amok Time” episode, and they liked that. They asked me to use it in subsequent ones, and I’m told that when they tracked the shows that don’t have original scoring they used that a lot, but that was out of my control.
How would you describe your Spock Theme?
I wrote it for an instrument that couldn’t possibly be romantic, a bass guitar, down in the low register with no resonance, It just klunks out the theme, but nevertheless I told Barney Kessell, a jazz guitar player who performed the theme, to play as expressively and as warmly as possible. I thought the tension between trying to play esprivo and the impossibility of doing it would be the kind of thing that would be appropriate for Spock.
You also scored episodes of the more humorously-oriented series LOST IN SPACE and IT’S ABOUT TIME. Were there any unusual musical situations there?
What was unusual about IT’S ABOUT TIME was that they gave me an afternoon to write it! I just wondered what cave-man music would sound like – a lot of primitive sounds and bones rattling – so I wrote for percussion and bass clarinets.
How about LOST IN SPACE?
Once again, that was under a lot of pressure… but I really don’t remember what I did there. I didn’t do the first year, I came in towards the end, and I know for this interview I should say something clever and profound that would uplift the level of music composing, but, as I remember, I was just struggling to give the Impression of being a professional, with two days in which to do it! I just did it, but I really don’t remember any specifics about doing it.
How have you coped with the commercialism and the assembly—line mentality of much of TV in order to contribute your own musical expression to series such as STAR TREK and the others?
The intent of STAR TREK was to be serious as well as commercial. I have nothing but respect for the STAR TREK people, so everything I said about LOST IN SPACE and IT’S ABOUT TIME does not apply to STAR TREK. There, we did everything we could to bring dimension and class and points of view that might not be obvious on the screen, and that could be brought out with music. I treated that like a Kubrick movie, where there was clearly thought beforehand,
In your early days in the ‘50s, you scored several horror and science fiction pictures. While realizing that the form usually dictates the means, do you have any specific approach or feeling towards scoring these kinds of films?
It’s the same approach I have towards scoring anything. To the best of your ability, you try to get the audience into the movie. I suppose credibility is a key word. A fantasy, horror film, or any film isn’t worth anything unless people can get into it. Some of those films I did weren’t very interesting; on some of them I just tried to scare the audience. But once again, an audience gets scared only if they believe it, and in order to believe it there have to be real people with whom they can identify, and once we help accomplish that with music, than we can do our tricks with scaring them.
How do you accomplish that in a film, say, that may not have very realistic characters? How do you overcome that with your music to create a believable atmosphere?
You pray a lot! I’ve done some pretty crummy pictures in my life, as well as some good ones, and I think what I do is believe that this is really a great picture and these are important people and their emotions are valuable and pertinent and relevant, and I just try, within the discretions of taste, to elaborate on that. The fact that there’s going to be a vampire or am monster coming out of the scenery soon is incidental to that premise. Once again, a dramatic work is a dramatic work, and if there is dramatic reality, then it works whether or not the threat or the antagonist is psychological or another army, a jealous nephew or a monster. It’s funny, I’ve never thought of this until you asked these questions, but I would say that the dramatic values hoed whatever the genre. Craft is what defines one genre from the other, not dramatic intent.
I note the use of the Dies Irae in your score for RETURN OF DRACULA, as well as another hymn/chant in I BURY THE LIVING. Do you find the incorporation of traditional music such as this useful in a horror score?
It’s useful to me, because it conjures up in me many centuries of association. It lets me get real scared and dig deeper. Also sometimes you get a producer who is somewhat literate and he may have heard that, and then I do that to impress them with how literate I am! (laughs).
I liked your score to I BURY THE LIVING. Would you describe your musical approach here?
I have fond memories of working with Louis Garfinkle and Albert Band. Albert’s father was Max Band, who achieved some fame as a German expressionist painter in the ‘20s and ‘30s, and he felt that movies can be commercial as well as say something to people. I thought I BURY THE LIVING was quite a good movie, it had a hell of a premise: about a cemetery caretaker who has a map charting the plots; he put white pins in the unoccupied plots and black pins in those that were occupied. He made a few slips and accidentally put a black pin in a plot which was not occupied, and within a week the person who owned the unoccupied plot died. Then he got carried away with this power. I thought that was a helluva beginning for a monster movie which also projected some of our childhood fears and wishes and fantasies – you know, if we hated somebody so much, our parents for example, that we could put them away by sticking a pin in their grave plot. I thought that it was a darn good movie and I’m sorry that nothing happened with it.
On that movie, I tried to imply to the audience that something that something bigger was going on than just a Friday-night-teenage-scare-and-giggle-movie, that there was a philosophical content larger than what appeared, and I wrote in fugal form. Somehow I wanted a classical structure, perhaps unconsciously or perhaps I was deceiving myself completely, to imply to the audience that this was not your ordinary movie.
You seem to have returned to the genre with a number of horror-oriented telefilms in the late ‘70s, such as THE SPELL, MANEATERS ARE LOOSE and THE BEASTS ARE ON THE STREETS.
I’d rather talk about one I did called CRUISE INTO TERROR. That was another of my Dies Irae jobs, and in spite of its problems I thought it worked. I used voices mumbling chants. One of the lead characters was a minister who would think in terms of Gregorian chant and mumbling monk, so I tried to treat it as if, once again, it was on a larger dimension than what was actually there. Those others you mentioned, I was just trying to scared kids. The rules that we discussed at the beginning of this conversation apply there, you try to make the people real so that when the tigers start chewing at them, you care more. But nothing more than that.
On a somewhat more technical side, does scoring for horror films afford you any special opportunities for unusual instrumentation?
Yes, sure. You can get away with a lot of stuff that would be hooted out of a concert hall. I owe a debt, actually, to those monster movies for that reason. You can do all kinds of things that would elsewhere be treated with ridicule, at best.
How has this affected your work in the genre?
Commercially, probably unfavorably. I must have assumed that I could just take these chances in the more commercial films, and possibly wrote scores that were not liked very much! (laughs). I should have been smart and written for violins and all!
The Star Trek Scores of Gerald Fried
The Paradise Syndrome