An Interview with Graeme Revell by Ford A. Thaxton
Transcribed and Edited by Randall D. Larson
Originally published in Soundtrack Magazine Vol.20/No.78/2001
Text reproduced by kind permission of the publisher, Luc Van de Ven, and Randall D. Larson
With a talent for the musically eclectic, Graeme Revell has found a comfortable niche in scoring ‘outré’ films – macabre thrillers, fantasies, and science fiction efforts. His first score, Phillip Noyce’s acclaimed thriller, DEAD CALM, brought him notoriety in Hollywood, which beckoned him to score Tobe Hooper’s SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION. A number of unusual and innovative films followed, including STRANGE DAYS, TANK GIRL, SPAWN (the live action movie), THE CROW (Parts 1 and 2), GHOST IN THE MACHINE, CHILD’S PLAY 2 and THE BRIDE OF CHUCKY, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, and PITCH BLACK.
The latter film inaugurated a series of science fiction scores, including RED PLANET, TITAN A.E. and the DUNE miniseries, and gave Revell great opportunities to score bigger budgeted films. At the same time, Revell relished the opportunity to score an emotional historical drama for the small screen, last April’s miniseries, THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK.
His latest effort, TOMB RAIDER, returns him to the spectacle of big screen action with a full-blown score. Revell came in at the very last minute, after the departure of composer Michael Kamen, and found he had only ten days to write more than an hour of music. Interviewed days after completing the recording of TOMB RAIDER, Revell described his efforts on that film and other recent scores.
How did you end up on TOMB RAIDER?
Originally, they had in mind to do something similar to CHARLIE’S ANGELS, with a lot of songs, and no score. Along the way, they realized that CHARLIE’S ANGELS had something like 39 songs, and they had only about 13 or 15 good ones for TOMB RAIDER. They also decided that the person the director had chosen to do the little bit of score writing was not sufficient, so they got in another composer (Michael Kamen). Then they decided to go into a different direction, so I ended up with the glorious 10-day period to write the 70 minutes of action music!
Was that a case where your agent rings you up and says, “Oh, Graeme, do you want to write 70 minutes of music in ten days?”
More likely, it’s “is there any way you can do it with your schedule?” And, in fact, ten days was ALL I had available in my schedule just then! In fact, I had been tracking the project for a while and my name had been in the mix all along. Some people had wanted to use me right from the beginning, and I had also asked my agent to keep following it because it was something I did want to be involved in. When it came back ‘round I was already in the hat.
What were they looking for in terms of a score for the picture, at this late stage?
They’d got some great locations. They actually went to the Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia; another location was ostensibly Siberia but they actually shot in Iceland. So they needed something to create a different mood, a different ethnicity for those different environments, which I think I’m well suited to do. They also needed someone to work with the songs. For example, there’s a big set piece where the bad guys break into Lara Croft’s house early in the picture. They have a big track from Chemical Brothers, but it only goes to the first half of the scene, and they didn’t want to change suddenly to a different style. So they needed somebody who could stay in their groove for the whole motorcycle chase, the second six minutes of the scene — somebody who could do that, and who could payoff the big orchestral stuff needed in the end of the movie.
Now because the time was so short you couldn’t get on a plane and go to London where the orchestral portion was recorded. You did a kind of telecommuting thing, where you’re on monitors and digital links and whatnot during the dub. How did all that work exactly?
The first time around we didn’t even do that. I was still so busy writing all the electronic portions of the score that I didn’t have time to do the pre-mixes of my electronic playbacks when they recorded the orchestra the first time around. I wrote the cues and had them orchestrated; they went and recorded it in London and sent it back to me during the night time. I would have time to review it and mix it into where my electronic tracks would be to see if it worked. I had them do one or two cues over again. This last weekend (May 26-27) we had to do some new scoring because they had completely reshuffled the last reel, and this time we did a direct phone thing where I was in Capitol Records hearing the orchestra “live” as it was recording, and that was much more satisfactory. It was almost like being there, because I could then do what I normally do and that’s make changes and refinements as I heard them rehearse. I loved doing it that way, but I would never do it the way we did it the previous week again!
Who were the people helping you out in England?
Nick Ingman and John Bell were the main orchestrators, Rick Wentworth was the conductor. They recorded it in seven sessions.
Is there going to be a score-driven album?
Yes there is, it’s on Elektra and it comes out on June 24th. We mixed it overnight the other day and they held off mastering the last two cuts until I had finished mixing it.
Now, your next project is a new Schwarzenegger picture, COLLATERAL DAMAGE, which I think is the first time you’ve worked with Ah-nold. What’s that picture going to be about?
It’s very good. It’s about an L.A. fireman whose wife and kid accidentally get killed by a terrorist bomb, and he finds out it was done by the guerrillas in Colombia, so he goes off on a journey to try and avenge their deaths. But it’s very realistic. He doesn’t have guns, he doesn’t have all the technology, and it raises some good issues about whose side we’re on and who’s at fault here. It gets very complicated because there are so many sides in Colombia, but it’s a real hero story. I think Arnold’s going to come out and be considered to be a better actor than he has in the past.
Another recent picture that took you to that part of the world was BLOW. That was a very different film; it was actually a story about a real person, played by Johnny Depp, who was one of the major cocaine drug dealers, and that was a film that was very heavy with, period songs and such. I would presume, in that film, the trick was to find a way to weave in and out of those songs and still remain consistent with the period?
That’s very true.
Were there any moments in that score that we should pay attention to?
I like the ending, because in a way, we’re not really concerned with period – there’s some guitar work that’s going through a few scenes – but the theme that’s really important is the family theme. Ultimately it’s about how he betrayed his father’s trust and eventually the drugs make him betray his daughter at the end, and so it’s almost like one of those one-theme movies, where it percolates along and then flourishes at the end when you realize what the whole movie’s really been about.
It’s not exactly an uplifting ending, really.
No, but people like it because it’s a little moral tale.
The other project you did a couple of years ago that was only released last year was a science fiction film called PITCH BLACK, about a group of people shipwrecked on a planet and treated pretty savagely by these aliens that only come out at night. You’ve done a number of science fiction films in the last few years; what drew you to that project?
I like David Twohy a lot, the director/writer, and he talked me into it. It seemed good because it was a fairly static film, there’s not that much action going on in it, partly because it’s not a big budget picture, so it was a challenge for me to try and inject pace and a pulse to the movie, which was not necessarily there in the script or the shooting. I think that’s what he enjoyed about my approach, anyway, very percussive. There’s also kind of a hero theme that is a little bit tragic and a little heroic, for Vin Diesel’s character.
It was also one of your few completely synthesized efforts of recent years. You haven’t done many of those of late.
That’s true, although we did record real horns, but only one session.
I understand you’ll be scoring Twohy’s next film?
Yes, probably in September. It’s called BELOW, a submarine drama – but it’s not like U-571 or anything like that.
The other project that we’ve been hearing rumors of is that they’re finally going to go ahead with THE SEED OF CHUCKY – your ongoing saga with the little doll boy!
Yes! I’m good friends with the producer, David Kirschner, and the writer, Don Mancini, so every time it comes around, it’s fun to get back together again and come up with something else.
The last one, THE BRIDE OF CHUCKY, was, a kind of satire of itself, which had Jennifer Tilly becoming a doll (imagine that). When I heard that score, it struck me that you had taken what people might call the Graeme Revell licks and threw them into a pot and just twisted them at over the place.
That’s right, bent them all sideways!
How big was the orchestra on that one?
I think it was around 45. We recorded it up in Canada, not many sessions, though. They had very little money to devote to the music, so I mapped out all these blocks of material and we inserted them. I was actually thinking very much of that on TOMB RAIDER – probably even three or four years ago it would have been impossible to pull something like this off in that time, All the loops and the sample banks and the sort of contemporary way of writing has really made it possible. The trouble is, if you use the same loops too many times you end up repeating yourself. Using the same bag of tricks can get any composer into trouble.
A recent project you did for television that was quite a departure for you was a miniseries called THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK, which was, of course, a retelling of that classic story but a much fuller reading than the 1959 feature film. Were you familiar with the original film, or did you just kind of come into it completely fresh?
I did see it, many years ago. But I remembered the score.
With a few exceptions, like DUNE, you normally don’t do television work. What were the elements of this project that brought you into it?
It was mainly the opportunity to get out of, the typecast image I’d suffered from, and the idea that I can’t score emotional drama. Of course there’s no reason to suggest l can’t, except that I’ve never done it before. So it was an opportunity to have somebody trusts me to do that. Also, the approach interested me. It wasn’t just dark and doomy kind of stuff, it was also the story of a young girl whose adulthood is unfulfilled, so it has a charming retro feel about it that then develops into the darkness of the death camps. If it had been just the latter I probably wouldn’t have done it.
It was kind of ironic that this score was recorded with the City of Prague Philharmonic. What was the biggest challenge with this project, just getting a theme for Anne Frank?
Yeah, it was just getting the main theme. I needed something that would work in a childlike way but also carry through to the second night. It’s very difficult to have a lyrical, innocent theme that worked for Night 1, which then can play all the way through the horror of Night 2. Whatever I came up with in terms of melody also had to work on its other side, its dark side, I suppose. That was what I was concentrating the most on. But once I found that theme – and it had a tiny bit of cynicism about it, but not much – then I was happy. I think everybody was extremely happy about the outcome of the whole production.
You are also scoring HUMAN NATURE. What’s that about?
That’s a Michel Gondry film of a Charlie Kaufman script, who wrote BEING JOHN MALKOVICH. It’s got Patricia Arquette, Tim Robbins, and Rhys Ifans and it’s a bizarre comedy, unsurprisingly! I got to write a really retro score using all these old Melotrons and Oberheims, very much inspired by Raymond Scott from the ‘50s…
Whom everyone knows from “Powerhouse,” which was used in all the old Warner Brothers cartoons!
Exactly – and probably wrote every advertising jingle in the US in the 1950s and early ‘60s!
And a guy who couldn’t read a note of music! It was just all from ear.
That’s right. It was just fantastic to pour all of these old sounds out of the woodwork. The main theme is whistled. It was really cool. It was such a change for me.
Is that something that’s likely to get a CD release?
It will be on a CD. I think the movie comes out in November, so let’s wait a little while.