William Ross on Adapting Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

An Interview William Ross by Ford A. Thaxton
Transcribed and edited by Randall D. Larson
Originally published in Soundtrack Magazine Vol.21/No.84/2002
Text reproduced by kind permission of the publisher, Luc Van de Ven, and Randall D. Larson

William Ross Like many contemporary composers, William Ross got his start in television. His filmography begins with scores for episodes of MACGYVER, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, and TINY TOON ADVENTURES, for which he won an Emmy. In addition he was gaining notice as an orchestrator for composers such as Michael Kamen and Alan Silvestri. But it’s his own scores for nearly two dozen feature films that have given Ross his place in the film music community, starting with things like the Michael Keaton crime drama, ONE GOOD COP, the comedy sequel LOOK WHO’S TALKING NOW, Don Bluth’s musical rendition of THUMBELINA, and Michael Ritchie’s COPS AND ROBBERSONS.

His scores to THE AMAZING PANDA ADVENTURE and the IMAX film T-REX: BACK TO THE CRETACEOUS are highly prized by collectors while popular features like TIN CUP, THE EVENING STAR, and MY DOG SKIP have earned Ross well deserved recognition. With the 2002 release of Disney’s charming 19th Century fantasy TUCK EVERLASTING and its beautiful, romantic score, and now his role in adapting John Williams’ music into the final score for HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS, Ross is emerging very much as a composer to be noted.

Interviewed on November 15th 2002, opening day for POTTER II, Ross described his responsibilities on this film and his working relationship with composer John Williams.

How did you become involved with the second HARRY POTTER film?
John requested a meeting, and at that meeting he shared with me his intention to compose the score for the new HARRY POTTER film. John communicated how important it was for him to establish musical continuity between the first and second instalments of the series. He also explained that he may have a scheduling conflict that might in some way affect his participation on the second film. Although he planned to write the new themes and new musical material for CHAMBER OF SECRETS, there would be areas of the new film in which he intended to utilize and adapt themes from the first Potter score. John asked if I would be interested in taking that original material and adapting it to make it work within the context of the new film. He had no way of knowing how much work that would entail since he hadn’t yet spotted the movie and didn’t know at the time the extent to which the scheduling conflict would be a factor. He also was interested in having someone available to conduct the score, should his schedule preclude his travelling to London to do so himself. Because of his deep commitment to the POTTER films, I got the feeling that he wanted to have a plan in place to accommodate the uncertainties in his schedule.

That was because he was starting work on the Spielberg film CATCH ME IF YOU CAN?
He didn’t say. I suspect his schedule is filled with many things. I didn’t feel it was my place to ask.

Did he indicate what he’d heard of yours that would make you a contender for the job?
He didn’t mention anything in particular.

How did your journey into the CHAMBER OF SECRETS begin?
John suggested that I accompany him to London to meet [director] Chris Columbus. He spotted the film there with Chris last May (2002). Shortly after we returned, he called to discuss some areas where I might begin. He was very specific about what material and themes would be played where. By this time he had begun writing new themes and material.

How did you work with John’s new themes to craft a new score out of the material?
William Ross: John wrote the themes and new material in the movie. There were a few instances where he suggested I use some of the new musical ideas to elaborate and expand the music from the original score that I was working with.

How much music is in the film?
It may surprise you to know I’m not sure! In addition to the new material he wrote specifically for the film, he took several themes and expanded them into more developed pieces for the album. I was stunned by the amount of music he wrote. We were on the 12th day of a 13-day recording schedule and I received a package with new cues to record. That night I actually called John and told him I was sending the music police to confiscate his pencil. I think he just couldn’t stop writing.

Essentially, for you, this was an adaptation job. Everything you wrote was based on John’s material?
Yes. I believe I was there to take some of the work load off of John due to his schedule. In those areas where he would be using material from the original film, I think he felt it would be expedient to have someone else adapt the music to the new film, etc. That, in addition to conducting the score, was the job.

Conducting John Williams’ music in front of the London Symphony for the recording sessions must have been intimidating for you!
I’d be a liar if I said it wasn’t! Of course it was intimidating. But I’ve always found that if you show up prepared, ready to treat the musicians with respect, and go about your work with a certain degree of humility, the musicians will treat you with respect. I really enjoyed my time in London with the LSO. They truly made me feel at home and comfortable. It would be hard to ever repay the courtesy and warmth they showed to me and my family.

Are there any moments in the score that you can identity as being predominantly John’s work, versus those that you can identify as being primarily yours?
I’m not sure how to answer that question. I think some people get confused because they see the “Music Adapted by” credit. That was something that John insisted on from our first meeting. The reality however is that CHAMBER OF SECRETS is a John Williams score beginning to end.

Did you get any indication whether John Williams will continue on with the POTTER films, much in the way he does with STAR WARS?
There was never any mention of that. You would have to ask John.

In addition to HARRY POTTER, you did another film called TUCK EVERLASTING, which is pure William Ross. How did you become involved in that particular project?
TUCK EVERLASTING is the second movie that I’ve done with Jay Russell (Director). The first was a movie titled MY DOG SKIP, and so TUCK is the extension of the relationship that we had developed on that film. As well as being a studied and knowledgeable musician, Jay is a wonderful man to work with. MY DOG SKIP was a period piece, with a very romantic, emotional kind of score. In TUCK EVERLASTING, Jay wanted, in addition to the emotional and romantic nature of the music, an element of mysticism and timelessness. He had a vision for the score that would involve instruments from many different countries blended together in various rhythmic settings. He didn’t want it to seem like an Americana piece, much the way MY DOG SKIP was. In the case of TUCK, he really didn’t want audiences to know exactly where the story takes place. I thought it was wonderful approach. I was very pleased with the score, and I hope people enjoy it as much as I did.

What is next up for you?
That’s a good question. I’m never certain what the next call will be. Somehow I’ve found myself working in several areas of music. I like the diversity. I’ve been asked to produce part of Barbra Streisand’s next album. Josh Groban (a new artist at Warner Records) is preparing to do a second album. I really enjoyed his first album and I’m looking forward to working on the next one. In the more distant future, Jay Russell has asked me to work on his next film. I think Jay’s going to continue to make wonderful movies and I’m delighted that he would ask me to work with him again.

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