An Interview with Paul Verhoeven by Rudy Koppl / Edited by Randall Larson
Originally published in Soundtrack Magazine Vol.16/No.64/1997
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor, Luc Van de Ven and Rudy Koppl
How did you meet Basil?
I met Basil around ‘84 when I was doing FLESH AND BLOOD for Orion. We were looking for a composer and Mike Medavoy, head of production at Orion, mentioned him together with Horner and Goldsmith. At that time we were beyond our budget. Originally I used the temp music of James Horner. I used STAR TREK 2 and one of his older Roger Corman movies. When I came to the United States I went to Medavoy and said, “What about using James Homer; I used his temp track?” James Homer at that time didn’t want to do FLESH AND BLOOD so Medavoy said “What about Basil Poledouris?”
What films has Basil scored for you?
FLESH AND BLOOD, ROBOCOP, and currently STARSIDP TROOPERS.
Of all these films, which do you think he scored most effectively?
It’s difficult to judge the one that you’re working on at the moment. I think he has done a really good job on this one. Although I think ROBOCOP worked extremely well. I think the music of ROBOCOP is ROBOCOP, more even than FLESH AND BLOOD. Ultimately the same will apply to STARSHIP TROOPERS. Later you can’t separate the music from the movie because the music has become the movie. You can’t think anymore about LAWRENCE OF ARABIA without that score and neither could you ever think about THE GODFATHER without the Rota score. The film is glued forever to that music and this applies for me to ROBOCOP and BASIC INSTINCT which Jerry Goldsmith did. I think this will apply to STARSHIPTROOPERS as well.
Do Basil’s film scores satisfy your vision as a film maker?
Yes. I’ve never worked with a composer, gotten the music, and thought, “This is it.” I always thought, “Is that it?” Then later, let’s say six months later, it always takes me some time to accept any score because I have my own score in my head. Basically you never get your own score, you get their score. If it’s Jerry, Horner, or Basil you always get toe score that they make.
It’s a very strange process because you have to hand your film over to them. The film will never be the same anymore after their music is added. You never get your vision. I’m not a composer, but you hear something or you think something, and then when the composer gets to the project it always is different from what you thought because it’s the composer’s inspiration and what he feels when he creates the music. It’s like giving your baby away to somebody else. I really like music and have to learn to accept somebody else’s music on my movies. It’s different from adding sound effects. Sound effects are clearly what you see, but the music colors all your scenes, and interprets all your scenes in a certain way. You have to say, “Is this really my interpretation or is this an interpretation I want from now on for that scene excluding all other possibilities of interpretation?” This is a process for the director which is very painful.
What did you use to temp STARSHIP TROOPERS to?
I used some of Basil’s music, some things from RED OCTOBER. Also I used the composer who did TERMINATOR, Brad Fiedel, and Homer’s score to ALIENS. This always works very well and I use a lot of ALIENS in all my temp tracks. Homer’s music is very easy to cut and there are shorter curves in his melodic lines. Basil’s music has a much longer curve and is more difficult to cut. I also used music from THE PHANTOM (David Newman), Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring, and Wagner. This time I used some classical music because a piece like Rites of Spring has those barbaric tones and Wagner has heroic melodies. This applies very well to the movie which is kind of heroic and barbaric in the way these insects kill you.
How is Basil’s technique or approach to scoring your films?
I don’t know if it’s a normal approach, but in this case we concentrated for a long time on melodies and motifs. This is because there are a fleet of different love themes, for example for Carmen, who becomes the pilot of a large spaceship, and a girl called Dizzy has her own romantic theme. There was thematic material for certain kinds of bugs, the warriors, the plasma bug, and the tanker bug. So a lot of material had to be selected. Basil would play me themes on the piano or synthesizer and I would say “Yes” or “No” or “What about this?” This was a pretty long preparatory process.
Was it easy to find these themes here?
No. It never is. Some themes came very easy. The Mobile Infantry theme and Johnny Rico’s theme came really easy. Some of the romantic themes were also easy, but other ones were much more complicated and we had to try them out and decide if it worked or not.
How is Basil’s technique or approach to scoring your films different than other composers you’ve hired?
We would try it a little bit on the piano and then he would compose it with different instruments on the synthesizer. He would play this for me and I would comment on it. Then he would change it and we would discuss it again till we agreed that this is more or less how the scene should play, and then he would go to the next scene. When I worked with Jerry Goldsmith it was really similar. I’m trying to be extremely involved and be very much a part of the process because for me music means so much. I think music is the most beautiful art that exists. I think it would be great if I would be able to write music, but I can’t. I certainly try to be involved in the process in guiding, coaching, and making clear what I think is necessary or what will help me enormously if they could express it. What would make the scene in my eyes stronger is if they would find the right music.
What do you find unique about Basil?
I think it’s this kind of gutsy quality that his music has. Basically it really goes for a strong emotional statement, more than other composers. If I look at BASIC INSTINCT I feel, for example, that Jerry Goldsmith was the perfect composer for that. He has this ambiguous, distant, tone to his music that is not right In-Your-Face. Basil’s music is much more coming from the underbelly. It’s more visceral. This is how he is, he doesn’t look at music in an extremely intellectual way, he looks at it in more of an emotional way.
Other composers, especially Horner and Goldsmith, are a bit more intellectual about their work. For certain movies this is absolutely great, Horner is perhaps a little bit in the middle and Jerry really has a kind of tone and a way of composing that is emotional in the long run, but the music is more like looking through a dark mirror. He’s more Apollonian in his music and Basil is Dionysian. Apollonian means you have a distant quality to it while the Dionysian approach is more visceral. So I would say the approach to BASIC INSTINCT is Apollonian and the approach to ROBOCOP and STARSHIP TROOPERS is much more Dionysian.
Will you hire Basil again?
Yes, sure, but not for every movie. I have always tried to work with a couple of photographers and a couple of composers; I feel one is more suited for this movie and one is better for another movie. For THE CRUSADES, for example, Basil would be an excellent choice. For MARQUIS DE SADE I would be much more inclined to go with Jerry. I feel these composers are real artists, but an artist expresses himself strongest in his own personality. If you feel the movie is close to that kind of personality I think you have to go to that kind of composer. If you listen to Goldsmith’s PATTON, it’s completely different than what we’re doing here. You have to really try and find for your music a particular composer whose personality is closest to the project.