James Horner Scores A Beautiful Mind

An Interview with James Horner, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer by Rudy Koppl
Originally published in Soundtrack Magazine Vol.20/No.80/2001
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor, Luc Van de Ven and Rudy Koppl

James Horner It’s Tuesday October 9th at 1:30 p.m. as I arrive at the Todd-AD Scoring Stage on the CBS Lot. I’ve been at Todd-AD many times before, but this was the first time the control room was filled with two full blown MIDI keyboard set ups with racks and electronics all set up practically wall-to-wall behind the mixing console, a huge bulletin board on the right wall that was a map of all the cues, and assorted multi-colored lava lamps were everywhere around the room. A 99-piece orchestra dominated the main scoring stage, around which were five strategically placed grand pianos. On the right and left side of the composer’s podium were two orchestral harps. This was James Horner’s amazing set up for director Ron Howard’s new Universal Picture, A BEAUTIFUL MIND. Composer James Horner had been passionately involved in A BEAUTIFUL MIND for months, but when the time came to score Howard’s film, the editing dictated the short period he had to score it in. “I was given seven or eight weeks,” Horner explained. “I started early on in terms of seeing the film, but due to editing up to the last moment, I really only had twelve days to do this score.” The chore was accomplished, but not without difficulty – considering the score lasts an hour and a half, plus the addition of a song. To James Horner none of this mattered, he jumped at the chance to work on this project when he found out that Ron Howard and Brian Grazer were making a film from the book he once read, the story of a diagnosed paranoid-schizophrenic, John Forbes Nash, Jr. (Russell Crowe), who goes on to win a Nobel Prize. There was a gleam of enthusiasm in Horner’s eyes as he pointed out, “These are the kinds of projects I look for. No one would make this movie except for Ron.” It was a labor of love for this composer, who’s scored so many action-oriented movies while always searching for that rare character-driven project.

Horner’s first cue after lunch was 4M4, a two-and-a-half minute cue where Nash’s wife (Jennifer Connelly) goes in search of clues about Nash’s mental state. After Horner recorded the cue, he wanted it to be a bit gentler. He said to the orchestra, “Please, I need this to be quieter. Let’s record it again.” Even during the cue, while he was conducting, he put his forefinger to his lips, signalling to the orchestra to make this a quiet, gentle cue, and they did just that.

Next up came a classic scene of paranoia: a group of men led by psychiatrist Christopher Plummer, enters the classroom where Nash is giving a guest lecture at Harvard. When Nash sees these dark suited men waiting for him, he flees out the back door, but is soon caught up with by Plummer. Crowe punches Plummer in the face and races off to be caught by Plummer’s henchmen and shoved into a car outside the classroom building. An action cue at best, but Horner down played it with a completely unique musical scenario, employing some very playful string techniques.

All throughout this session James Horner kept the orchestra laughing, changed his music as the afternoon progressed, and stayed perfectly in sync with Howard and producer Brian Grazer. At one point the exchange of energy between the three was definitely amusing. In the end the conversation ended up in laughter all around as Horner realized he had to change the cue to make things work for Ron. This is when he said, “Just a minute,” as he grabbed his score sheets and sat down at one of grand pianos to ambitiously sculpt his cue into Howard’s requested vision. After doing this for 10 or 15 minutes, he took to the podium and explained the changes to the orchestra. The final result was completely successful.

This kind of collaboration has been a very creative relationship for Howard and Horner who have worked together for sixteen years, since their first working relationship on COCOON in 1985. Since then they’ve worked on five films together including WILLOW, APOLLO 13, RANSOM, HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS, and now A BEAUTIFUL MIND, forging a working relationship that’s based on trust and respect. On Monday morning, October 29th, I talked with James Horner about this collaboration and the emotional touch that defined the meaning of his score to A BEAUTIFUL MIND.

Composer James Horner

James Horner

After working on six films together since COCOON in 1985, do you feel you and Ron have a significantly close relationship?
I would say that A BEAUTIFUL MIND was the closest working relationship I’ve ever had with Ron. When I did RANSOM, that was done with very little time and Ron was in the studio the whole time, but it was done in a way that was very unconventional. We also did a little bit of that in this film, but Ron was much more part of the working process. I ran a lot more ideas by Ron on this film than I ever have before. The unconventional ideas had to do with the electronics, but also thematic and cerebral ideas I would run by him. Each project is different, having different insecurities and peculiarities. Even if you’ve worked on something with someone a few times, you never know what they’re thinking. With Ron it’s a question of trust, I trust his instincts more now than I used to. I’m sure it’s vice versa as well; both Ron and Brian trust my instincts. I would imagine it’s obviously helped by working with them so many times, but it depends. You can work with somebody six times and they can still be very distant or you could work with somebody once and end up very close. I think personalities have a great deal to do with that.

I found your dialog with Ron very interesting – you tried hard to get the musician’s point of view across even though he sees a particular scene differently…
What I actually said was that a director sometimes will sit there and they will watch the scene and they’ll judge whether the music works from the scene. It’s either a thumbs up or a thumbs down. That’s all well and good. I go with that and make changes as asked for, but depending on what the subject or the problem is with the cue in the director’s eyes, I also have to remind them that they haven’t heard all the cues. They may be right, but just by judging that one scene, they have to be careful that they don’t lose track of the whole thread of what’s trying to be accomplished. So if you make one scene really romantic, that’s only that one scene and it ends up sticking out in the scheme of things, whereas if it had been not so romantic in the scheme of things it would have worked much better, but the director doesn’t always have a sense of the whole thing because he hasn’t written a score. He doesn’t know what he’s in store for, whereas the composer more often does.

You loved the book before you even scored the film. Did you read the book again to get the feel of A BEAUTIFUL MIND when you found out you were scoring it?
I didn’t reread the book. I just remembered the story of Nash because I’d read the book a while ago. I found out that Ron was making the movie and I thought that was so bold of him. He sent me a screenplay; I read that and thought it was terrific. It was a brilliant reduction of what the book had been because you couldn’t tell the whole story of what was in the book. It was towards the end of HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS, a year ago, that I read the screenplay while Ron was still shooting GRINCH. Then I didn’t touch it again until Ron was done shooting and showed it to me because so much can change from that point. It was about nine months after reading the screenplay until I first started really seeing footage.

What was your reaction when you first saw the footage?
It came out wonderfully as a film. Obviously certain dramatic licenses are taken when one converts a novel or a biography into a story for the screen, but I thought they basically remained very true to this fellow and had told a very dry story in such an accessibly warm way. That’s what I reacted to. I stopped thinking about the original story or the screenplay and was just dealing with what Ron Howard shot. When I first saw the film I thought, “This is a story of discovery, warmth, and human frailty.” It’s one of the best performances I’ve seen from an actor in a long time. It’s brilliant. It’s not acting; Russell Crowe has become this character. Every twitch, everything, and I responded to the magic I was seeing. Ron did not want to gussy it up with a film score, he wanted it to be very dry and very true, and so my task was to narrate the film musically without making it too colorful or making it stick out. It’s a very quiet story and it was very important that the music didn’t sanitize it.

When you approached A BEAUTIFUL MIND what colors and moods were you thinking of?
I thought of five pianos interlocking with slowly changing patterns, but the notes moving very, very, very fast. It’s much like a kaleidoscope that you turn and everything shifts inside. Whether you turn it fast or turn it slowly, you have different shifts that go with all the little pieces of glass and that’s the kind of thing that I wanted to come out of the music. My first thought was five pianos, my second thought was a string section, and my third thought was using a girl as a soprano.

How did you come to the conclusion of using Charlotte Church as your soprano?
Charlotte has an absolutely marvelous range. She is at a point in her career where she’s never done anything like this. There were a lot of women who wanted to do this, but I wanted a very particular color, I didn’t want a soprano as much as I wanted a lower soprano, a mezzo-soprano.

You used Charlotte for both vocalizations in your score and a song at the end of the film.
The vocalization is what I hired her for, the song at the end was something that I wasn’t sure would work until I’d written three quarters of the score and I thought I could write something that didn’t sound phony. It had to come from the heart and completely blend in. I didn’t even say anything to Ron about it until close to the day of recording. I told him to just think of it as an end credit and not as a song because it’s wasn’t designed to be a top ten radio song, it was designed to be an end credit with a girl’s voice singing text.

How did Ron react to the song?
Ron was leery of the voice, conceptually, until he heard it. Both Ron and Brian trusted me, but they were nervous. The big worry was that using a voice in another Russell Crowe movie was going to paint Russell a certain way. Russell was worried that somehow people were going to think that all of his movies had vocal scores in them. Lisa Gerrard and those dark brooding colors that were in GLADIATOR and THE INSIDER are completely different from what I wanted to do, which was much more like a nightingale. Very bright, really very birdlike. I scored certain things in two different ways, just in case we used the voice or did not use the voice. Right from the first day of recording with Charlotte Ron said, “This is great. I see what you mean. This is beautiful, just wonderful,” and Brian said the same thing. I knew they wouldn’t be calm about it until they actually heard her singing.

Is the song melodically tied into the score?
Absolutely. It’s sung on the Main theme of the film. It’s in the last cue of the film where he wins the Nobel Peace Prize and the film quietly comes to an end. The voice is a very distinctive color and I needed it to have a lot of versatility.

Did you have to deal with a temp track on A BEAUTIFUL MIND? How does Ron Howard work with you in this context?
I sort of ignored it. Ron used my music as a temp score; I think he used a little of FIELD OF DREAMS or a couple of things from somebody else, but more or less it did the trick for audiences when they previewed the film. He’s never been married to his temp music and he’s never once said, “I like the temp better,” in all the times we’ve worked together. Dan Hanley, the film editor, is in charge of putting together the temp score. He sticks in a temp score because he has to play it for executives. I’m very close to the editors and the director on the movies I work on. There are two editors on this film, Dan Hanley and Mike Hill. Dan and I have gotten to know each other over the years and he’s a terrific editor. He has great instincts, so when he says he doesn’t think the music works or could I try something, I listen very carefully to what he’s saying. If scenes don’t work, he’ll know way before I get involved. He’ll know it’s because the music is wrong or the cutting is wrong and he’ll make little fixes and see if it changes anything, so by the time I get there they know what direction they want me to be thinking in.

Would you explain the concept of your score?
It closely follows the narrative of this story. You have this very bright group of guys, of which Nash is one, who are geniuses in their respective fields. Initially he is an expert in code recognition, number recognition, that kind of thing. It leads to an illness that gets worse and worse, where he cannot discern fact from fiction. The music has to reflect that sort of darkness in a very unobtrusive way and in a manner that sets that tone with a minimum of notes, so that right away you know mentally where an audience should be. Slowly, Nash treats his illness as a huge mathematical puzzle that just needs to be solved without drugs and comes out the other side, still slightly afflicted, but he’s learned how to deal with the illness. He knows more or less reality from fiction. The music had to reflect all of those things without being melodramatic or going over the top.

So you really didn’t develop your score by using different themes, it was more or less the emotions and the characters of the moment?
Yes, I never think of themes like that. I have a sort of general theme that develops into something else as we go along and then transforms into something else at the end of the film, that’s usually how I work. I don’t believe in a ‘Sadness Theme’, a ‘Happiness Theme’, a ‘Nash Theme’, or an ‘Alicia Theme’. There’s this ‘Beauty of Mathematics’ music, which overrides everything, and then as the film progresses this very pretty theme starts to come up as he meets Alicia and they fall in love. This also plays through the saddest and the darkest parts of the movie. It was that theme I relied on the most. I don’t abandon the ‘Beauty of Mathematics’ as it were, but it becomes much darker when we realize that his reality doesn’t really exist” that he’s seeing shadows and he’s working on codes that don’t exist and he’s cutting out newspaper clips. This mathematical thing that I’ve composed to show his mind at work takes on a very different tinge. It’s played against the scene, which the audience knows is a psychotic scene. Suddenly you realize that all this huge mental horsepower that this man has is being aimed at something that doesn’t exist and that’s how I tend to use it.

How much of A BEAUTIFUL MIND did you orchestrate?
I orchestrated about 90% of this score. Randy Kerber, one of my keyboardists, orchestrated five of the cues because I used five pianos in my score. I would run out of time after writing two of the piano parts, so I would ask him to orchestrate in a very particular fashion the remaining three piano parts. Actually there is a lot going on, but most of the score is acoustic. The synthesizer things were done as separate cues; they’re not really added into the acoustic music on this particular film. The real thrust of the orchestra was really just a large string section, five pianos, some woodwinds and one French horn.

Tell me about your electronics in this scare, how did you approach using them?
Some cues were done entirely electronically because I didn’t want it to sound like a string section or a standard acoustic instrument. I wanted it have a sound, a musical sound, but something where you could say, “What the hell is that?” or something that sounded very amorphous and abstract, and then put the voice in with it. Sometimes I look at a scene and I know how to score it emotionally but then the question is, “How am I going to get that sound in the air? What would make the sound that I’m feeling?” And the last thing that comes to mind is a flute and an oboe or a French horn or a violin or a harp – the last thing is an acoustic, standard, old-fashioned instrument. Sometimes I look at a scene and I say, “The only thing that will nail this scene is a human voice” or “The only thing that will nail this are string chords.”

Did your electronic music fit into the context of your orchestral score at all?
Yes, it is blended in within the film in places where you really wouldn’t notice it. It’s a very pretty color that permeates the score with something that can only be done on a synthesizer; there’s no acoustic instrument that makes that beautiful sound. I do that a lot, but on some of the cues, I know that going in I couldn’t get what I wanted because as soon as the basses or cellos start playing a low theme, it sounds like a monster movie. Whereas if I have an abstract sound doing it electronically, it brings different feelings to it. Suddenly you don’t think it’s monster music anymore, you accept it as being moody music and the only difference is the instrument that’s playing it. The coloring to me is vital.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00005UNWX/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=thecineandsou0f-20&camp=0&creative=0&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=B00005UNWX&adid=1BZK2RYZ416N92WDD85NSince a lot of your past films have been action oriented, was it a great change to underscore a character driven drama, and do you enjoy that?
Well, it is a change. Before this movie I did IRIS: A MEMOIR OF IRIS MURDOCH, which is an English film starring Judi Dench, Kate Winslet, and Jim Broadbent, they’re all wonderful theatre people. It’s a wonderful film directed by Richard Eyre. I did that film in England, it’s based on the life of an author, Iris Murdock, who gets a disease as she gets elderly and eventually dies. It’s the story of her life and I absolutely love these kinds of movies. I’m not an action guy, I never really have been. I’m much more soft-spoken than that. There are very few narrative I character-oriented movies actually being made. A lot of movies that are being made have to be able to sustain a box office of a certain size, so it will contain a huge amount of effects, big stars, fight scenes, car chases, and things like that. I must say that I have gotten so tired of this formula, I find it so conservative and there’s nothing new that can be said in a genre like that. All you can do is hang on and write a good action score that sounds fine; but doing a character driven drama is what I live for. It’s like doing theatre; I would do all my movies like this if I could. Unfortunately there are not very many movies being made like IRIS or A BEAUTIFUL MIND, but I do look for them.

Where does producer Brian Grazer fit into the equation of your working relationship with Ron Howard?
I always tease him by saying, “You can’t treat me like that, I’m an artist, and you’re just management! Ron and I can have this discussion, but only artists can have this discussion, not management!” I said, “If you come down to the sessions, then you’re an artist, and you can be part of the whole thing.” So he started coming down to the sessions, and it’s all in jest. He has great instincts, he’s very sophisticated, very savy, and he’s got a really great sense of the pulse of the common man, what an audience will accept. I really listen to him for guidance.
I love it when Brian comes down to the sessions and becomes part of it. He loves it and doesn’t really do that on a lot of the films he works on; it’s really only with Ron and me. He’s wonderful and he’s got a personality a lot like me, he has to be an adult on the outside, but he’s a child underneath it all. I’ve know him as long as I’ve known Ron and I love working with him. I like to run my themes by him. I want his blessing before I do anything too weird. Right from the first cue he just said, “Oh man, this is great. She sounds great.” In my old age I’ve gotten very collaborative, I love the interchange and exchange of ideas. My relationship is much more like a cameraman or an editor; it’s not just a composer going off for six weeks. It’s an evolving collaboration, I really enjoy working that way, and they take advantage of it, which I think is marvelous.

When do you know that a cue you’ve written is right for the part you’re writing it for?
I will say at the end of every cue I work on, I’ve nailed it. I have no doubts: “I nailed this.” I say that to myself because I work on it really hard and I don’t take any shortcuts.

What do you enjoy most about working with Brian Grazer and Ron Howard?
I love the way that both Brian and Ron are so unpretentious. I know there are times when they have to put on their moviemaker hats and do that whole thing, but with me we’re all of equal rank, there’s no pulling rank, there’s no feeling like, “I’m the boss, you’re working for me.” It’s so collaborative, ultimately I know who I’m working for and I know I have to service the film in a way that everybody can relate to, including an audience, and Ron knows that. Ron’s learned to trust my instincts and sensibilities about music, when I feel I’m safe in pushing an audience a little further than they might normally go, and when it’s better to be a little more conservative. You’re working for such consummate filmmakers that have been around it for so long. It’s not a question of the dog wagging the tail or the tail wagging the dog, it’s two or three people who really have a vision of what they want. Ron is great at hiring wonderful people around him and letting them do what they do and not trying to control the process. A lot of experienced people work that way. It’s the people who aren’t so experienced who sometimes make that mistake of not hiring experienced people because they’re insecure, and they suddenly hold themselves up to the world as being, “I’m the director and My Way is The Right Way,” when that’s not necessarily the case.

Does wearing so many hats and composing for such a large orchestra with so many keyboards and electronics wear you out physically and mentally?
That’s what you have to go through, that’s part of the job. What wears me out is having to take incoming ideas from people who don’t have a clue as to the project or haven’t thought about the project nearly as much as I’ve thought about it, and they’re saying things that are much more off the cuff or off the top of their head.
That doesn’t happen in a project like this, but on WINDTALKERS I worked very closely with the producer and director and then the studio looked at it and made suggestions, wanting things that had nothing to do with the images on the screen. It’d be fine if they wanted those things before the film was shot, but that’s not how the film was shot and that’s not what’s on the screen.

What else do you have coming up?
WINDTALKERS has been postponed because of the war. It was finished and they got a new release date of November 11th, they were going to do a big thing for Veterans Day, and then they thought because of the violence in it that people would be offended, so they shunted it off to June or July of next year. IRIS: A MEMOIR OF IRIS MURDOCH, which is a Miramax film, comes out at the beginning of December. Then the next movie I’m doing is another Miramax movie called THE FOUR FEATHERS, which is an English period piece, a big epic battle film that takes place in the Sudan and Morocco.

Director / Producer Ron Howard

Director Ron Howard with Composer James Horner

After directing over 20 motion picture and television projects, producing or executive-producing over 30, writing for films like FAR AND AWAY and PARENTHOOD, and acting or appearing in a daunting list of films and television shows that is endless, Ron Howard has become one of the most sought after directors in Hollywood today. When he first appeared on LASSIE in 1954 at the age of almost one year old, no one ever dreamed that Howard would become a great director in our time. With films like SPLASH, COCOON, WILLOW, BACKDRAFT, FAR AND AWAY, APOLLO 13, RANSOM, Edtv, and HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS under his belt, studios know Ron Howard makes studio projects into financial blockbusters. However, for A BEAUTIFUL MIND, this was a completely different situation. A book written by Sylvia Nasar, this character driven drama could seem like an art house film, but with Howard’s finesse and his crew of professionals, the story of mathematical genius John Forbes Nash Jr. has been translated with amazing depth and intense emotion to the big screen. It’s this director’s vision that takes you into a world seen exclusively by Nash that’s then transformed into a powerfully emotional score by Academy Award winning composer James Horner. When an event such as this takes place, it’s not ordinary filmmaking, but a dare for the composer and director to enter the mind of such a character in a dedicated collaboration. These are Ron Howard’s views on that collaboration.

What was it like when you first met James Homer and why did you hire him to score COCOON in 1985?
I first heard about James when he was doing SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES at roughly the same time Brian Grazer and I were finishing up postproduction on SPLASH. I even inquired about James’ availability for SPLASH because the executives at Disney were so pleased with his work on SOMETHING WICKED. James was unavailable, so he didn’t score SPLASH. When it came time to score my next film COCOON, he was available. I was absolutely intrigued by him because we’re about the same age. That meant at that moment we were two of the youngest guys on the Fox lot with major responsibilities riding on our talents. What continues to impress me about James is that he’s a terrific storyteller, he thinks dramatically, and he leads with his soul, I really appreciate that.

After working together on six films in sixteen years, do you feel that this is the closest relationship you have with a composer?
Certainly that’s the case, James and I have developed a real friendship and shorthand. We’re not only able to communicate well together, but we’re also able to give each other a fair amount of teasing. So there’s a lot of banter back and forth in addition to getting down to the serious work of trying to decide where and how music can enhance the film.

How has your relationship changed through these six films?
I think it has become more and more comfortable, but each film has its own brand new circumstance. That’s really what I love about making films and where the relationship changes a little bit. HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS demands something different from James than COCOON did or RANSOM. A BEAUTIFUL MIND is something altogether different than APOLLO 13. What I love about James is his range and versatility and I think A BEAUTIFUL MIND’s score is wonderfully original. I really respect James’ creativity here. On each film, I have to address myself to the side of James that will grasp the film noir I’m working on and the film that I’ve shot. You’re always getting a slightly different composer.

What do you want the film score to do for your film?
Film music should do a number of things for a film. It has to speak in its own language to the subconscious. You can hear music and think, “that’s great music,” but you have to actually feel something. When that feeling supports what you’re seeing on film or hearing in the dialog, it really allows the subconscious to further embrace or lose oneself in the movie. They say that films are a kind of hypnosis, so music should pave the way for the mind to fully feel what an audience is actually only seeing there.

When do you start thinking about what type of score you want for your film?
More and more I’m thinking about it in pre-production. If I know who the composer is going to be I will go ahead and begin a dialog. With James, on A BEAUTIFUL MIND, which is a film we were both passionate to do, he pursued me. In fact he congratulated me, he couldn’t believe we had acquired the rights to this wonderful book he had already read, loved, and thought would make a wonderful movie, but he assumed Hollywood would never be courageous enough to take on. James understood the dramatic underpinnings of this film and its story. In most of our early discussions – this was when I was still in the scriptwriting stage with Akiva Goldsman – we talked about themes, even colors, weather patterns, almost everything but music. As we got closer to shooting we discussed some of the things that Nash liked to listen to, Mozart, certain motets, and I didn’t even know what a motet was! James put together a compilation tape, so when I went to his studio we listened to some. All our discussions have found their way into this score. Even the way I shot the movie was influenced to some extent by my creative discussions with James. The staging and the tone of the entire film can be influenced by creative discussions with the writers, the actors, the cinematographer, as well as the composer.

What kind of a score did you want for A BEAUTIFUL MIND?
This film is about an internal struggle. It’s a life and death struggle that really starts within Nash. It involves his ambition, his intellect, his struggle to find love, to compete, to find peace of mind, to deal with mental illness, and to gain health. It’s a fascinating survival story! James had several different themes which dealt with several different feelings and states of mind that Nash has, stressful times, creative times. These all seemed to intersect beautifully and that’s what I think is extraordinary about the score.

How do you know what kind of a score you’ll get at the scoring stage?
James will play me themes. I’ve worked with him so many times that we’ll discuss those themes, I’ll understand them, and then we’ll talk about where those ideas intuitively feel to me like they fit. He’ll always talk about his sense of it; we also have several spotting sessions where we discuss each scene at length. James will come to screenings and we’ll talk on the phone. One of us will get a thought and we’ll just pick up the phone and talk about a particular scene or moment. We’ll hear some music somewhere else and talk about that. I always have said that I’m not a musician and it’s very difficult for me to discuss anything musically, but I can talk to James like I would talk to a very talented creative actor or writer and find that he can absorb that and apply it. That’s what’s so extraordinary about what he does.

Where does Producer Brian Grazer fit in the scoring process?
Brian loves music and has really great instincts about it because music is so emotional. Brian responds emotionally to things, first and foremost. We knew this film was going to be musically challenging, so I really wanted Brian to be around. He and I are very different people in terms of personality, but our instincts often lead us to the same conclusions, so it was really nice to hear a completely different point of view on the scoring stage from somebody whose instincts I trust.

What did you learn by working with James on this project?
I broadened my respect for James, which is hard to imagine because I think he’s just one of the really extraordinary talents in his field. I’m very fortunate to have worked with him as many times as I have, but I’m very proud of James. I was joking with him, the running gag with composers is that they’ve got all stuff in a trunk, closet, or a drawer somewhere, they talk, they pontificate, and then they just go back and thumb through the old music and tweak it a little bit. Not so with James and it’s certainly not the case with this score, which is really wholly original and delicately deals with some very complicated dramatic ideas with sophistication and with great effect.

Does the score to A BEAUTIFUL MIND satisfy your vision as a filmmaker?
It exceeded my vision, which is hard to do when making a film, but because I’m not a musician, when I see and hear something that moves me in ways that I hadn’t expected, that’s a fantastic feeling. It’s also wonderful when the music achieves what I was hoping it would achieve. It can also be a little frustrating on that odd occasion when it doesn’t meet what I think are the dramatic requirements. Musician or not, it’s my job to sit there and have those opinions and make those decisions, and with this score as with every score, there’s a little discussion, there’s a little debate, there’s a bit of head scratching that goes on, but I’m very, very happy with where we landed. I was pleasantly surprised because there were a lot of ideas that aren’t traditional in this score and as a result it was hard for me to imagine what it was going to be. I appreciated dramatically what James was going for, what we had discussed, and what he was going to try to achieve, but I just didn’t quite know what it was going to sound like. It’s hard to equate it or compare it to other scores, so I was so happy to hear what he’d written, how it was being played, and what it sounded like and achieved.

Producer Brian Grazer

Director Ron Howard, Producer Brian Grazer and Composer James Horner

Brian Grazer has produced over 60 film and television productions, was a writer for SPLASH, ARMED AND DANGEROUS, and HOUSESITER, and has collaborated on 11 of his film projects with director Ron Howard, four of them being scored by James Horner. In 1986, Howard and Grazer formed their own production company, Imagine Entertainment. With more than 23 Academy Award nominations and 17 Emmy Award nominations for his productions, Brian Grazer is one of the most creative and prolific producers in the entertainment industry today. He’s responsible for some of the industry’s most critically acclaimed projects and is the thriving force behind some of Hollywood’s most successful box-office blockbusters. His films have grossed more than $4 billion dollars worldwide.

What are your impressions of working with James when he’s scoring your films?
When I go to James’ home studio he’s incredibly relaxed, accessible, and he demystifies the art of music, which is such a pleasure for someone like me. Moviemakers, whether they are producers or directors, have a very hard time understanding the language of music because they don’t write it or read it. A composer, especially if they’re insecure, can keep it mystified. That’s something that James does not do. James is confident with himself and his skills as a musician, as a composer. He explains how the music shifts gears and finds ways to decode the music so that filmmakers like Ron Howard and myself can understand it, collaborate with him, and be part of his process. He doesn’t have to do that; a choice he makes and I think it’s a very generous choice.

How do you view Howard’s and Horner’s collaborative relationship?
They’ve worked together on several films and have had such success that it’s pretty clear that the marriage between them works. James demystifies it for me, but on the sound stage he’s really in such control, and things are happening quickly, so it can be a challenge for us to try and communicate in a way that makes sense musically.

As a producer, where do you see yourself in the process at the scoring stage?
Whether it’s true or not, I view myself as an equal (laughter). If I have a really strong point of view, people listen and I can enforce it. Whether it’s Ron or James, I don’t do this through my power base. They both know that I don’t express myself in extremes unless I feel that way. James’s music is always original and great. I don’t think James needs any help from us in the creation of the music. On A BEAUTIFUL MIND I didn’t think we needed a voice, but he brought Charlotte Church to it. I felt strongly, not emphatically, that everything that James needed to get accomplished could be accomplished musically without being punctuated with a voice, but I was wrong. I think her voice is unbelievable; I had to call and almost apologize because James’ judgment was brilliant. I think James’ music with Charlotte’s voice is absolutely beautiful and central to the emotional resolution of the movie.

What do you think of Horner’s score to A BEAUTIFUL MIND?
I think it’s magnificent in two ways. One, the subject matter needs weight and importance and James did that without it being self-conscious. That’s a very difficult artistic balancing act and he achieved that.
The second thing is, it’s just really, really emotional and that’s what I wanted it to be. James found ways to make things that were emotional go further and make you cry, and that’s what I want the movie to make you do, I want the movie to make you cry.

Author’s Note

My deepest appreciation and thanks goes out to the people that made this article possible: Julyce Monbleaux (Music Supervisor and James Horner’s Assistant), Jim Henrikson (Music Editor), Kirsten Smith (Manager Todd-AO Scoring Stage CBS), Anna Gulp (Brian Grazer’s Assistant), Louisa Velis (Ron Howard’s Assistant), Rachel Saunders (Michael Rosenberg’s Assistant), President of Imagine Entertainment Michael Rosenberg, Producer Brian Grazer, director Ron Howard, and especially composer James Horner.

Scoring Facts

Composer / Conductor: James Horner
Where: Todd-AO Scoring Stage at CBS Studios in Studio City
When: Synthesizer: October 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 13th Orchestral: October 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th
Recording Charlotte Church: 10th, 11th, and 12th
Final Mix: 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th
Orchestra: 99 Players
Engineer: Simon Rhodes
Music Editor: Jim Henrikson
Music Supervisor / Mr. Horner’s Assistant: Julyce Monbleaux
Vocalist: Charlotte Church
Piano Players: Mike Lange, Ralph Grierson, Randy Kerber, Gloria Chang, and Chet Swiatkowsky
Synthesists: Ian Underwood and Randy Kerber
Length of Score: Approximately 90 Minutes
Contractor: Sandy DeCrescent



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