An Interview with James Horner and Jean-Jacques Annaud by Rudy Koppl
Originally published in Soundtrack Magazine Vol.20/No.77/2001
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor, Luc Van de Ven and Rudy Koppl
James Horner has scored over one hundred motion pictures in his twenty-two years of film composing. These years of hard work have paid off by winning two Academy Awards and two Golden Globes (one for Best Original Score and the other for Best Original Song) for his music to the Best Picture of 1997, TITANIC. He’s also earned five additional Academy Award nominations and four Golden Globe nominations, and has won three Grammy Awards. Horner’s soundtrack album to TITANIC is the largest selling instrumental score album in history, having sold approximately thirty million copies worldwide. At present he continues his passionate affair with film scoring by composing around three projects a year.
In the new Paramount film ENEMY AT THE GATES, James Horner’s collaboration with Director / Writer / Producer Jean-Jacques Annaud has produced an epic / classical score that highlights this film’s humanity. Russianesque compositions, which blend in with Horner’s strong scoring style, underscore the real-life story of hero Vassili Zaitsev, whose exploits at Stalingrad form one of the most famous sagas to emerge from the war. The score supports a story that’s based around the Battle for Stalingrad, which was one of the defining moments of World War II. Jean-Jacques summed it up well, “This is about duels and duality, about contrasts and extremes. The event is miniscule, but the propaganda makes it extremely important. Two individuals track each other in the midst of millions who are dying, but the focus is on these two. The smaller part is only one little piece of the large canvas, but it subsequently becomes the central symbol of the whole.”
It was late morning as I drove in the rain on Tuesday, February 20th towards composer James Horner’s studio located somewhere in a secluded valley in Calabasas, California. Getting out of my car, I noticed that there were different sets of wind chimes hanging from the tall trees all around. I proceeded up the stone path that leads to Horner’s World of Wonders – his studio. When you enter the studio, it’s like discovering the modern day workshop of Leonardo Da Vinci. The room’s visual magnificence takes you back to the age of Jules Verne and the Wright Brothers. I took in Horner’s amazing world that starts at one end with a rack of hundreds of tools, a work bench, mechanical wooden models and puppets, small toy robots in shapes and forms, strange models of ancient flying machines and a zeppelin, a variety of model windmills, a huge model sailboat, a variety of toy buses and cars, a multitude of mechanical objects, toys, and sculptures everywhere, a huge group of clear multicolored flashlights, hundreds of mechanically working devices that bring to mind the great inventors of our times. Just the very thought of this room would make Jules Verne jealous. On three of this room’s walls are pictures of Horner’s children, showing his connection to the real world. In the midst of all this exists the composer’s studio and the grand piano upon which he works on his symphonic film adventures. Even the hundreds of wires that hang from the rear of his equipment fit in with this room’s visual spectacles. It had been 15 years since Horner had worked with director Jean-Jacques Annaud on THE NAME OF THE ROSE, but this time everything was different. The film, the development of their careers, even their styles and techniques when directing and scoring, all this has led to their current collaboration on ENEMY AT THE GATES. Horner, who loves to talk about scoring and his approach to it, shared his thoughts with me about composing for a different kind of film and the intense drama behind ENEMY AT THE GATES.
Can you remember what it was like at the beginning of your film scoring career?
The world was very different then. I did a lot of films for the American Film Institute and Roger Corman, all at the same time. I was finishing my doctorate at UCLA and just gave up on academia. My very first film ever, which was by Roger Corman, was this gangster movie called THE LADY IN RED (1979). Then I did HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (1980) and various other things. These were very, very, ultra low budget – eight or ten thousand dollar budgets. The point of them was not the salary for me, but experiencing the art of music production and getting to write music for film.
What are your thoughts on your first film score, THE LADY IN RED?
It was very primitive because I knew nothing about film music up to that point. Obviously at that point in my career, even though I was writing music for film, the tail was wagging the dog a bit, the technology was dictating how I would be writing. Now that’s not the case, but in those early films I never had music scoring lessons since I’d never done anything like that before. I was studying and played the piano since I was five. When I was about ten or eleven I decided I didn’t want to play the piano recreating music, I wanted to write music.
My education was based on studying composition and theory. I attended the Royal Academy of Music in London, then went to the University of Southern California and got my Masters degree, and finally got my doctorate at U.C.L.A. I practically gave up teaching the day I got my doctorate. I had been studying to write serious music, classical music, and teach, but never even looked at scoring movies until THE LADY IN RED.
What do you think is the key to composing a successful film score?
First of all, you have to have a very strong bond with the director. Producers are secondary to me. The guy who is making the movie, the artist who’s moving the paintbrush, you have to have a very strong bond with him. You have to be close enough to the movie that you understand all the ins and outs of the film, but you also you have to have enough distance so you can still be objective.
What sometimes happens is composers are asked very early on in the composition process to be part of the movie. They get hired and see filming, all the rushes, all the cuts, and they lose track of what’s good or bad about the film. I think that’s deadly, because you fall into the trap of being too close to the movie. I think it’s very important to keep a distance, because the composer is the first outsider who’s in the nuclear family of the filmmakers – the director, cameraman, editor, and composer. You’re the first outsider who’s not seen all the rushes, the dailies, and you get to see it assembled in some way. It’s very important that you remain very objective and stay in touch with not only what the director wanted initially, but the way it ends up, the way it really turns out. If you don’t keep that objectivity, you tend to get sucked into what the director wants and what he’s telling you is true, even though on the screen it’s not necessarily that way. That’s the most important thing to me when I do a film.
When you approach scoring a picture, is your technique to usually find a theme and develop your ideas around it?
No. I don’t think in themes at all, that comes later. I think in terms of colors and moods. What orchestra do I want to use to score this movie or what instruments or what quality do I want in the score that narrates what’s going on under the surface? What gives me an opportunity to write for some kind of an ensemble that is more unusual? I like using a lot of ethnic instruments when it’s appropriate. So the first thing that comes to mind when I see a film is not really thematic material so much as orchestral approach. Do I use an oboe or a boy soprano? Those kinds of decisions. That dictates what kind of music gets written because if it is a voice it can only do a certain type of thing. It it’s an oboe or trumpet, it can only do a certain type of thing – it sounds best in a certain key, it has a limited range. So that’s the first thing that I think of when I see a film – what type of orchestra, what type of colors should be playing? The themes come in much later.
A lot of your scores, like TITANIC and THE PERFECT STORM, for instance, sound theme-driven. It’s hard to believe that writing a strong theme isn’t one of your composing strengths.
I don’t think of that; that’s secondary to me. When I scored TITANIC one of the main talking points initially was not themes, because we didn’t want to do a big Hollywood sinking epic. We didn’t want to do a period film; we wanted to find something that transcended that. The themes in TITANIC happened very quickly. Once I knew what Jim was after I knew what I was after, I probably wrote all the material in about three hours. The next day I called him – he was about to go to Baja, and we got together. I played him everything on the piano. The main thing again was the scale, the size, the color of the orchestra, what kind of mood the orchestra’s going to portray. The thrust of this score was something much more Irish, that he and I wanted to go after. That’s what really drove it; the themes literally came to me in twenty minutes.
Listening to your new score, the distinct feeling I get from the music is that it’s not thematically driven. Did composing ENEMY AT THE GATES bring your type of composing style more to the forefront?
In a way, yes. ENEMY AT THE GATES has a much broader canvas; it’s more of a film that points at humanity rather than the three characters of the movie. Initially I’m not writing themes, I didn’t want the opening of the film to have a DR. ZHIVAGO type theme. I thought that would be a mistake. We’ve all gone down that road so many times. It also says something about the movie, that the movie is a certain conventional type of movie. I wanted to be a lot more amorphous. In the beginning of ENEMY AT THE GATES it opens with this flashback, this little boy shooting at a wolf. It’s the little boy that ends up being Vassili Zaitsev, this famous sharpshooter played by actor Jude Law. At the beginning, Jude is having this flashback before you ever go to the Russian front, you start in the deep snow in deep winter and this little boy is learning, he’s being taught by his grandfather in the snow how to shoot at a wolf. I wanted to write something very atmospheric you can’t quite touch that blends in with the sound of the wind blowing, the winter surroundings, and the coldness. The themes come out of that slowly, but the first time you see our lead characters, they’re in a freight train amongst thousands of Russian soldiers. There is no big theme, it’s more like the humanity of it all and you see Stalingrad burning. By the time you get to the end of the movie it becomes much more thematic, because now the whole big story is focused on three people and their final destinies. The end credits are very thematic, but most of the score is not quite as theme driven as other scores I’ve written – but that’s on purpose.
How did you get involved in scoring ENEMY AT THE GATES?
Jean-Jacques and I worked together fifteen years ago on THE NAME OF THE ROSE. It wasn’t such a great experience for either of us. For whatever reasons, the movie wasn’t as well laid out as ENEMY AT THE GATES. I probably was a slightly different personality at that point. It was not a great experience. My experience with Jim Cameron on ALIENS wasn’t a great experience either, because I didn’t have very much time. I had ten days to write the score for ALIENS and THE NAME OFTHE ROSE. There’s no way you can really do justice to a film in that time the way you want to. You get into all kinds of collisions that have to do with time and procedure.
The second time around was the best experience you could have with the director, with Jean-Jacques and with Jim as well. Jean-Jacques and I got along absolutely famously and I’d like to think it’s probably because I changed. ENEMY AT THE GATES and TITANIC were similar experiences because I was working with somebody that didn’t work out the first time; the second time out I made it a point for it to be one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. As it turns out they were thinking about having me score it, but I was also very interested in the script. They contacted me first and asked if I would do it and I said, “I think so, but let me read the script.” Everybody knew about my nervousness if I worked with Jean-Jacques again, including himself, but he wanted to try it and when I read the script it was terrific. It’s an epic, a great story, a love story, and it gives me a chance to do all kinds of things that in other kinds of films I don’t get to do, so I agreed to do it.
Was it a leap of faith on Jean-Jacques’ part to try a second collaboration with you?
I’ve scored a lot of films between then and now. I guess he was willing to take that chance. He’s worked with other composers in the past and I don’t think anything made Jean-Jacques like these guys over anybody else. He loved BRAVEHEART very much, a different era of course, but a similar love epic within the context of a huge war story. He was very enthralled by that and he asked me to do ENEMY AT THE GATES somewhat based on that. We met in Germany, it was great and we connected instantly. It was the story that really got to me and he’s a very good filmmaker, so I knew I would not be disappointed with what he shot versus what I read.
Was ENEMY AT THE GATES temped? If so, how did you deal with it?
Dina Eaton, an English music editor, temped ENEMY ATTHE GATES, while Joe E. Rand, one of my regular music editors, temped THE PERFECT STORM. It’s murder for me when a lot of my music is used in the temp. It’s very hard for me to solve film problems in a different way when a film is temped this way. Joe E. moves music around in the temp and does a great job of making this work for me.
On ENEMY AT THE GATES I didn’t want my music to be included in the temp, my request was to please use somebody else’s music, but don’t use mine. For the most part that’s the way it worked out. There might have been a couple of sequences where they wanted to use my music, but they used other people’s music instead. For the most part, it just wasn’t a very good temp score, which is great. That helps me out later on, but it solved problems for Jean-Jacques in projecting it for the executives, that’s the whole nature of it. I basically ignore the temp anyway.
Did you electronically mock up your score for Jean-Jacques?
No. I’m not equipped to do electronic mock ups, I’d have to rent space, equipment, etc., etc., which is an expense they usually don’t want to go to. A lot of composers don’t work like I do, I’m literally a throwback. I write everything at a desk with a pencil and orchestrate pretty much everything myself. There’s not a lot that I do that’s automated. To go into a place and do a temp score for a week to two weeks, first of all, takes away from my writing time because they are not giving me two to three weeks extra to write it and it’s an expense. If you already have a setup and you’re writing on a synthesizer, then there’s nothing lost, but I don’t work that way. I tend never to do mockups. I did a little bit of it on TITANIC because Jim wanted some idea of what he was going to get beforehand, especially in some of the more controversial sections, but for the most part I don’t do it. I write out the music and I’ll always play themes for people or give them ideas on the piano, but I don’t like mockups. There’s a certain objective quality that I have to maintain, so they don’t get too close to the process. If I get too close to the film process, I’m not being objective anymore and I’m not solving some of the film’s problems because I’m so deep into the movie that I don’t see them as problems. If you’re not so close to the movie you can say, “The love story’s not really working for me.” If you’re looking at it every day and mocking things up, you’re not able to see that quite so easily.
What was the key scene, thought, or inspiration that opened up your ideas to score ENEMY AT THE GATES?
It was when I visited the set and saw something that I’d never seen on a movie. I wanted to see a big action charge. I’ve scored plenty of them, but I’d never seen how one was actually laid out with all the explosives, the guys rigging it, and with fifteen cameras. They were shooting in old East Germany, about a two hour drive from Berlin. It was snowing, very cold, sort of miserable, and there were hundreds of people on their stomachs for this battlefield scene. It was very good for me because what I wanted to do was give some feeling as to the coldness, this sort of realism, but how do you do that with music? It’s almost impossible, but I wanted to give it an icy feeling. This is why I didn’t use themes, I didn’t want it to be too warm or too romantic or too movie-like, at least initially. I wanted to make it a lot colder literally and figuratively. That’s what my inspiration was initially.
I didn’t see the love story when I was hired because, I was waiting to see how powerful that was and if wasn’t powerful enough; could I make it more powerful? I was waiting to see a couple of things that hadn’t been finished yet, but I saw the opening sequences, which were dazzling, all these troops going to the Russian front on one of those Auschwitz type trains, those boxcars. These Russian soldiers were not given any rifles, they were just given bullets and every other soldier was given a rifle. The idea being if the soldier with the rifle in front of you goes down, you’re to grab his rifle and continue on. They didn’t have enough rifles; they just had a huge amount of manpower. The Germans had tons of technical stuff, but they didn’t have the manpower that the Russians did. AII of this was part of it, just the sheer numbers of what you see on screen, the sort of human fodder.
You said you wanted to write something that was “epic in feel, but was also just slightly understated and quiet… the shadows as it were, as opposed to the sunlight.” What were your reasons for taking such a musical approach?
That approach is sort of typical in my film scoring. The stuff that’s really obvious on screen I don’t worry about. Battles, there’s no point in me having a 300-piece orchestra fighting machine guns and artillery. There’s just no point, it’s not the kind of movie where you have to generate excitement in an audience because the battle scene is lacking excitement.
I tend not to score battles, I tend to score the aftermaths. It’s the emotional effect after the battle is finished that I try to score. That’s what I meant by “the shadows as it were, as opposed to the sunlight,” it’s the things that aren’t so obvious or the things that take place in private moments. There’s this one sequence near the beginning of the film where the Russians are charging and are being mowed down by the Germans. At some point they decide to turn around and retreat and in retreating the propaganda officers are behind them urging them on with flags, bullhorns, and such. They turn around and start running back and the propaganda officers call them cowards and it’s, “Stop, go back or we’ll shoot!” They start to fire on the Russian troops as they run back from the German lines. I convinced Jean-Jacques to not have me score the big battle stuff, but to have music come in after the Russians are shooting Russians. He dropped all the sound effects and it’s just this plaintive music playing as the Russian guys are shooting their own men, it’s so sad, it’s so-real in this sort of montage. It’s the emotions that I like to score, as opposed to the big, broad, screaming, yelling, gung-ho, banzai type charges that have been done a thousand times. Some directors get nervous without the traditional adrenalin going, an audience might think something’s missing, and they worry about it, but the amount of notes written to be heard on screen is dismal in sequences like that.
Gould you explain the structure of your score by breaking it down in themes or parts?
There’s thousands of concepts and characters in a movie like this, so it would be easy to turn it into an opera with thousands of different themes. For the most part I try very carefully to have the minimal amount of thematic material so that it’s very easy to follow, so one person’s theme not only plays when that person is on stage, but it becomes a concept. In terms of the score there was no sort of structure like that. Initially one of the early themes in the film was somebody’s specific theme, but as the film played on it became more a theme of humanity, emphasizing more the general condition of all the Russian people at that point, and not just being used as one person’s theme. I tended to start quite intimately and then expand as the film went on. As the issues became more dangerous, the score became more complex. It was like scoring variations on specific emotional moments in the film.
Do you write out your score with pencil and score sheet or use a computer program?
I don’t use any automation at all – it doesn’t help my process. To me it’s a very painterly process and it’s straightforward. I stand in front of a big canvas; I just start sketching and coloring at the same time. I use paper, I use pencil, and I’m writing at a desk myself. I don’t bang everything out at a piano necessarily. I check things mathematically at a piano to measure the timings are perfect and things like that but in terms of writing I don’t use the Piano. I tend to orchestrate a lot myself because that’s like coloring and I can’t imagine doing a painting in charcoal and then handing it off in charcoal to somebody and say, “Here, you put in the colors.” It’s a hand-in-hand process for me – but now, because of my time constraints, I might not have time to orchestrate the whole thing myself, in which case I will notate in very, very, intricate detail what I want. It takes a lot of time to orchestrate and write a piece of music than when you’re just writing a couple of melody lines and handing it to a staff of people. I don’t use automation at all, it just doesn’t help my process, and it doesn’t make it go faster.
How much of ENEMY did you orchestrate and who else orchestrated with you?
J.A.G. Redford worked with me, but I probably did 90% of the orchestrations as I usually do, because they were so specialized in each scene. However, on a film like THE PERFECT STORM, J.A.C. did a lot more work because once I had established a style of orchestration, I wasn’t changing concepts, I wasn’t changing coloring as much as I did in ENEMY AT THE GATES. So J.A.C. did a lot more work for me on THE PERFECT STORM.
With some of your tight schedules, it’s surprising to hear this.
I usually have about five to six weeks maximum, from the first note to recording. I work very intensely until it’s done. I don’t work from nine to five, but from four in the morning until ten at night, I go very intensely. I never really run out of time; what ends up taking a lot of time is doubling a line in an oboe or a clarinet that’s already in three other instruments. I might not take the time to do that, I’ll put it in English, “Please double the first violins,” but for the most part, I do all that myself. I also think that I’m not just a colorist and that’s a very personal point of view. It’s a problem I have with orchestrators who do what they do and they color everything very much the same. A lot of big movie scores all sound the same, it doesn’t matter who wrote the notes or what the notes are, and they all get a very similar sound from the orchestra. That’s something that I notice a lot, so coloring is very important.
Five minutes into cue two (‘The Hunter Becomes The Hunted’), there’s this orchestral ascent that creates an enormous amount of tension. Was part of your approach in ENEMY AT THE GATES to catch the tension of the moment?
That actually is a sequence where the sniper, who are heroes, are in a building and they’ve bee set up by this German sniper. Here they realize they’ve been set up and now they’re being hunted. They went in to find the German, now they realize that the German is there to find them. They’ve fallen for the trap and now they’re trying to get out. At the same time there are these bombers approaching Stalingrad to bomb the city. There’s this whole sequence where this woman is screaming, she can’t take it anymore, “I’ve got to get out of here.” Jude Law (Vassili Zaitsev) says, “Don’t move or he’ll find you!” She says, “I can’t take it,” as you see the bombers coming through the window, coming closer and closer. They start bombing and she freaks out, runs, and gets shot. There’s a whole five or six minute sequence here. I’ve never ever done a sequence like that, when you see it the tension is overwhelming. It was very interesting scoring this.
What inspired your use of choir parts and what approach did you take when using voices?
So much Russian music has vocals in it… I wanted it to have a Russian flavor without having to rely on a balalaika and an accordion. I used a choir and sort of Russianesque themes, but for the most part I tried to keep it from overtly sounding like trite Russian themes. It was sort of like Russian opera. It has a certain flavor to it if one knows Russian music, and that’s the kind of flavor I tried to impart to the score. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, based on my knowledge of Russian music and Russian sacred music. In my score the choir came first. The score for the most part accompanied the choir, or there were a lot of times when the choir sang a cappella, where they were not accompanied at all.
I noticed that ENEMY AT THE GATES seems to be one of your most classically-oriented scores. Was that your intention here?
Yes, it had to sound classically Russian. Jean-Jacques wanted it to sound like Russian army music, Russian socialist music of the fifties and sixties. I knew exactly what he meant, that very military Russian music of the Stalin years. I have a bunch of CDs that he gave me. I wanted it to have that quality, but at the same time I wanted it to have a quality that wasn’t as military as that. I didn’t want it to sound like Rachmaninoff, which is way over-the-top romantic and movie-music like. I had to find some middle ground, so my middle ground was aiming more towards Shostakovich and Prokofiev than Rachmaninoff on one end, being really romantic, or Russian army chorus music on the other end. It was sort of a Russian classical music fusion, but definitely Russian classical.
What does film music and classical music have in common? Is there a crossover?
There is, but it depends on the project. My classical music upbringing means I lean more towards long structures, long melodic lines, and I tend to think classically as opposed to short little four bar phrases. It depends on the composer; it depends on where you were brought up. I tend to think much more classically than other composers, having studied that music all my life. How can it not become a part of my film scoring? You’re doomed and cursed at the same time. If you develop a strong style then people accuse you of writing the same score for every movie. If your style is really eclectic and different, then they accuse you of not having any point of view and you’re being faceless. It’s very difficult.
In the film music world, I’m like art. If I’m an artist and I paint fifteen canvases of water lilies, I can have a whole exhibit like Monet. They can all be for different clients, all the clients are happy, and I will have done a whole series of water lilies and they’re stunning. There’s no proprietary thing about it, while in film music it’s very proprietary. I’m not allowed to repeat more than three notes from one project to the other because they belong to Warner Brothers or Paramount.
I’m not writing for myself, I’m writing for hire for somebody and they own the finished product. When they’re finished they don’t want to know that I used the same three notes in another score. That doesn’t exist in any other art form. It’s only in film music or in the film world where you have this proprietary thing that you’re going to get the shit sued out of you – not so much if you copy yourself, but if you have such a strong style and somebody who’s not a real musician says, “Hey, isn’t that the same score we got in such in such-a-movie?” Even though they’re different scores, the point is that it’s only in the film world that it’s a problem. In the art world, that would never be a problem. It’s considered part of history how artists do massive series of paintings before they gradually shift into a new series.
In the last cue on the score CD, ‘Tania’, the music feels very spiritual, in fact religious and peaceful. What was your intent here?
That’s composed for the end credits and it starts with mandolins. It’s the only place in the score, after the final scene fades to black, where I use mandolins and accordion. I just didn’t want to use Russian instruments that were cliché. I did use them at the beginning of the end credits and then it becomes more symphonic and ends in my customary austere way. The humanity and scope of it is definitely in that quasi-religious thing in the chorus. This movie is so intense and doesn’t let up. Through the whole course of the movie three of the major characters die, there’s only one left at the very end ostensibly and it’s a very hard thing to get through. Part of my thing at the end of the movie was to very quietly not let the audience off the hook. I didn’t want to end by saying “it’s the end of the movie, it’s ok, you can get up and leave,” I wanted them to stay in their seats, keep them thinking about it, and s till be engrossed in the loss, the things they went through in this movie. That’s typical of a lot of my end credits – I don’t like the feeling of the lights coming on, it has all been entertainment, and now the next audience comes in. I like to nail an audience and keep them there; have them be so involved in the movie that they don’t get out of their seats. The music can help that – that’s what I meant by manipulating an audience. It’s not that the music is so fantastic that they sit there praying for every next note, it’s that the movie’s still going on as the credits roll. That’s very important for me and that’s something I try to do, encapsulate the feeling without it being an overtly sad ending. I like to keep them nailed to their seats. No matter how spiritually uplifting, even in a movie like FIELD OF DREAMS, I purposely wrote something that I knew was spiritually compelling enough to make them sit there and think about the movie.
What did you learn by working with Jean-Jacques Annaud?
I really didn’t learn much that I didn’t already know before, but I think Jean-Jacques trusted a composer like he’s never trusted a composer before, which is very flattering. I worked especially hard to make the process easy for him. I went out of my way to make sure he got every atom perfect in his own mind that he wanted. There was very little to redo here. Actually I nailed about ninety five or ninety eight per cent the first time around.
The most important thing here was “complete trust.” I trust Jean-Jacques’ instincts. Sometimes you work with people and that’s what I meant by staying objective or subjective: you take on a film, you read it, it’s a great script, but you don’t trust their instincts and it’s really hard because you know they’re wrong, but they’re your boss. If you do it their way, they are going to still be wrong, and what you’ve written is going be wrong. I see composers getting skewered all the time in the press about a particular score. Sometimes that’s the composer, but a lot of the time that’s the director. They’re following orders, they’re being asked to do a certain thing, a certain style, and whether they like it or not, their employers are requesting this. It’s very hard working for a director. With Jean-Jacques, I trusted his instincts implicitly and I think he really trusted mine. I like the fact that Jean-Jacques is open, as really great directors are; they are really open to other input. They have a certain idea of the way they want it to go, but once they’ve said their words, they’re open to other people saying, “Well, that’s interesting, but what about this?” and Jean-Jacques does that.
What are your future plans?
I’m working on a film for Shekhar Kapur called FOUR FEATHERS, which comes out next Christmas. He directed ELIZABETH, an English epic period piece. Also I’m scoring a film for Ron Howard called A BEAUTIFUL MIND; it’s just a wonderful turn around for Ron. These are the kinds of projects I look for. No one would make this movie except for Ron. The fact that Ron is making this after doing HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS is like my career. They would go and do a movie that’s so different than what they’ve done before. I’m also doing John Woo’s movie WINDTALKERS and that takes me through Christmas.
After I finished the photo shoot and interview, as I was walking with Horner back down the studio path to his driveway, he made one final comment about his film music to me that I found quite interesting. He said, “Out of all the scores I’ve written, the one I’m the proudest of is BRAVEHEART.”
Director / Writer / Producer Jean-Jacques Annaud
It’s 1 a.m. in Paris, France, as Jean-Jacques Annaud has just finished his interview with me about his collaboration with composer James Horner scoring his newest baby (as he calls it, ENEMY AT THE GATES. Through our whole conversation Annaud was ecstatic about working with James, Jean-Jacques made it quite clear, he couldn’t pass up this chance to talk about one of the greatest collaborations in his filmmaking career. In 1976 Jean-Jacques Annaud directed his first film, BLACK AND WHITE IN COLOR (NOIRS ET BLANCS EN COULEUR). This first cinematic achievement, which strangely enough was a war drama, went on to earn him his first Academy Award for Best Director of a Foreign Film. He points out, “It was a small French language film that I shot on the Ivory Coast. It was a bizarre thing, but it was a very sincere movie I did with all my passion.” Since his amazing break into the film making world, Annaud has directed QUEST FOR FIRE, THE NAME OF THE ROSE, THE BEAR, THE LOVER, WINGS OF COURAGE, and SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET, all these projects having unique challenges and being quite different as Annaud confirms, “Because I’ve been doing movies that are quite different, people do not connect my movies together.”
When it came time for ENEMY AT THE GATES, Jean-Jacques’ own special brand of recreating history for film would surface again. “We have taken a historical event and tried to understand what happened in the hearts of people who lived through it,” as he puts it. So when it came time to score ENEMY AT THE GATES, Jean-Jacques needed something special. These are Annaud’s views on the scoring of his new motion picture and the amazing experience he had with the composer who brought his hopes and dreams musically to life, James Horner.
Do you remember the first time you met James Horner when you worked together on THE NAME OF THE ROSE, fifteen years ago?
Absolutely, I remember seeing this shy young man coming to Munich, seeing the movie, and being very interested by what he saw. He very wisely said, “This is going to be a hard sell in the Midwest.” (laughter) I must admit, he was right. We had a delightful, simple meal where we shared our passions about classical music in a lovely Italian restaurant in Munich. It was all very friendly. I loved his humility and charm, but right after that we went through a difficult time and ended up not speaking to each other for fifteen years, because we were different people in those days, we were more like young terrorists, more intense.
However, this time it was like a honeymoon and was one of the pleasures of my career. His impression of my film was completely accurate. It was like a fresh pair of eyes that were helping me to rediscover my movie.
James showed up in Germany when I started shooting and he explained things about what he had read in the script. A lot of what he was saying to me was not even written in the lines, it was written between the lines, but he perceived it perfectly. Frankly it has been my most beautiful experience, not only in film music, but in a creative partnership. James came up with solutions I would never have thought of.
When do you start thinking about what type of score you want for your film?
Almost as I write. Very often when I stop creating the scene, at an initial impasse, I can hear what kind of music goes behind this. It’s the initial chemistry, either I hear the sound of wind or a distant bird or I hear an orchestra that’s full of fury or just the mood of a distant oboe. I don’t express it as well as I do now, but sometimes I even give a hint of this in my script. Sound is very important to me, it’s always been 50% of my final film. This is why I’m reluctant to show my movies before all the elements are together, because the way I construct, the way I write, the way I shoot, requires the input of the soundtrack. What causes the chemistry is when the music put together with the image creates a new feeling that is not in the music, that is not entirely in the image, it’s the two together that create this chemistry.
What kind of a score did you want for ENEMY AT THE GATES?
I wanted scope on some occasions, then silence between extreme close ups and extreme wide shots. I wanted to make an intimate epic, and how should you score an intimate epic? You can go from very discreet solo instruments and then bounce back into the full strength of a one hundred and forty-piece orchestra. This was one of the aspects that excited James, to create this in the format of a concerto where you go from a single instrument carrying the melody and then bounce back into full orchestra responding and answering the main theme.
In Horner’s score there were Russian elements to it, but I think his style sometimes consumed these influences.
That’s absolutely right because it’s very dangerous to make it too ethnic; then the score doesn’t fulfil its purpose, it doesn’t support what the images are doing. If it doesn’t convey the emotion for the audience then it’s very different. The score is there to underline the emotions. I’m very grateful that James underplayed it. I’d sent him a selection of my favorite Russian music, which was about ten hours of Khachaturian, Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninoff, and definitely Prokofiev, but once we heard it all, we both decided that Prokofiev was probably the person we respected the most.
If you don’t hear an electronic sample of what the score sounds like, isn’t it a leap of faith on your part to get to the scoring stage?
Absolutely, but this is the beauty of it. It is so frightening for a director when after just giving birth to the newborn baby, to give him or her to a composer, who is going to paint this baby in a different color or dress the baby in clothes that you don’t necessarily like. It’s a very, very frightening process. It’s the only moment where I lose control of the movie in a way. This is a leap of faith you have to have with your composer. If you leave him alone, he knows what to do; he’s a professional and will do his job. You hire him for his skills and I think this is that leap of faith you need to have, trust. When you feel that your composer understands what you want to do as well as you do, then you should trust him and let him do it in his own medium.
What have you learned by working with James?
He is a man who absolutely loves composing and directing, just doing his work. The accomplishment of feeling that you have a skill and you love to practice it is wonderful. Seeing James working, his strengths and fragilities, made me feel very close to him and taught me that conviction through passion is the ultimate creator.
Did the score to ENEMY AT THE GATES satisfy your vision as a filmmaker?
I felt so much harmony in what he came up with and what I needed for the film that I cannot even think of any other thing than full pleasure.
A Personal Note
My deepest appreciation and thanks goes out to the people who made this article possible. Carol Della Penna (VP of publicity at Sony Classical), Joy Kopaloff of PMK (James Horner’s publicist), Dafney Ortiz of PMK, Julyce (James Horner’s assistant), Gail Silverman (Paramount Publicity), Melanie Hodal of DDA (Jean-Jacques Annaud’s publicist), Jill Diraffaele of DDA, director Jean-Jacques Annaud for talking to me at 1 a.m. and especially to composer James Horner.
Composer / Conductor: James Horner
Where: E.M.1. Abbey Road Studios, London, England
When: October 24th, 28th, 30th, 31st, and November the 1st
Orchestrators: James Horner and JAC. Redford
Orchestra: 96 Players
Choir: A 48 (SATB) piece choir attended sessions on the 25th & 27th of October
Engineer: Simon Rhodes
Music Editor: Jim Henrikson
Keyboard players: none
Composing Time: 5 1/2 Weeks
Length of Score: 116 Minutes
Contractor: Isobel Griffiths