19 August 2007

Henry Jackman & The Simpson third and last part, interveiew by Christine BLANC & Jérémie NOYER

Voici que se termine la publication en trois parties de notre interview d'Henry Jackman, compositeur de musique additionnelle pour les Simpson Le Film.
Un immense merci à Henry pour sa gentillesse, la qualité de ses réponses et la générosité du temps qu'il nous a offert à l'occasion de cet entretien. Nous esperons le retrouver bientôt à l'occasion de ses prochaines compositions.
Mais les interviews sur les Simpson le Film ne sont pas pour autant terminées.
J'ai le plaisir de vous annoncer qu'en octobre devrait être publiée l'interview de James Dooley, qui a lui aussi participé à cette partition qui a enthousiasmé nombre de spectateurs! Alors, en attendant, vive Spider Pig!
You told me about Homer’s new theme, created by Hans Zimmer. Can you tell me about the other new ones?
There was a theme to represent the environmental protection agency. It was sort of the baddies, the Darth Vaders, with Russ Cargill as the head of the EPA. He’s the one who takes the decision to seal the dome. He represents the threat that’s gonna destroy Springfield. So we initially got a classic somewhat military theme for him, created by James Dooley. But this character ended up being a bit more complicated than we imagined. First, we though we’d keep using that theme, with a big orchestration in the vein of Gustav Holt’s Mars Planet. But as the film progressed, Jim became convinced that that was being overplayed. As well as being threatening, he was also an annoying bureaucrat. He wasn’t actually Darth Vader. This guy was like a wormy bureaucrat. In fact, we ended up using some material for him that came from the suite that I wrote, something less declamatory, but more kind of sneaky like his political machinations creeping up on Springfield subtly. The first 32 bars of the suite I wrote have an ostinato at the bass, and then we began using more Prokofiev harmonies with the strings pizzicato that were a little bit off, a little bit wrong. So we used some of that while he’s going to see the President at the White House to present him every option. We got a combination of “threatening”, “declamatory” theme mixed with a sort of a more bureaucratic busy-body, a little bit less “in your face”. Before that, it was a little bit absurd: you imagined Darth Vader whereas he hasn’t got the same screen presence as Darth Vader at all! In the end, it’s more about a texture than a theme you can actually write down. It’s more like a feel that we accidently discovered worked quite well with that character. Then, there’s something that Atli Örvarsson wrote several months before we started doing the music. He wrote that just away from the picture. I think he called it Lisa’s theme and the Simpsons guys all loved it. And they started to use it the temp score, in which it worked fine.

Can you tell me about some specific scenes you were in charge of?
The differences between Pirates of the Caribbean and the actual movie is that, instead of having continuous long cues that last, say, six minutes, here you’ve got twenty seconds of music and then Homer Simpson can burst into the door and say something ridiculous. So, it’s a very challenging process, not to get fragmented because you have to get out of the way for comic moments. So, often, cues are 20-22-second long and gap! It’s very broken up. But actually, there is one cue that became very clear it would be quite a long cue. Half way through the movie, when it becomes clear that it’s Homer Simpson who is responsible for the ecological disaster, the whole of Springfield gather together in a violent mob to come and get him. The cue begins quite early on with the mob arriving at home, and it’s a long sequence where they get chased and they jump across from one house to the next, to Flander’s house, and they jump in a car, and the car gets lifted up by the mob. Then they’re gonna get hanged and then they hide in a tree house, and the mob is putting it down. It’s a big five-minute thing, and I got put onto that one quite early. That kind of cue was very, very well temped. The music editor, Dan Pinder, did a fantastic job of getting a good shape, a good idea of where things should be moving, where the feeling of action should start, the feeling of suspense. He spent a long time on that cue getting a good structural shape, even if the actual little beats of music they used weren’t necessary right. It’s a bit like sending a scout out over the hill before you actually invade with the army.

As you said it, the orchestration is very elaborate whereas the design of the Simpsons has always been very simple. How did you deal with that difference?
There are a couple of ways to answer your question. The first is : just experimenting. For instance, when Hans started talking about this idea to raise the bar and use a little of Prokofiev and Gershwin, he said : “you just have to try. Let’s go and see what happens.” So, when I wrote the suite, we went and see if that worked with the picture. And it did! It didn’t make the film pompous. It didn’t feel like we were trying to impose some inappropriate concert-hall values on the American simple cartoon. It somehow worked. And the second answer is : you really have to disappear in a way that you never did on Pirates of the Caribbean. And the jokes really have to dictate that. There is some elaborate orchestration, but at the same time, at key jokes and key moments, when there’s slapstick humor, things that are quintessentially “Simpsons”, it’s all about the characters and you quite literally just have to get out of the way. There is often no musical solution to Homer’s ridiculous behavior. And some of the jokes appear so suddenly that they would be too overproduced if you would have continued the cue. That would have become too invasive. So I think part of the trick of reconciling something as visually simple with some symphony orchestra is actually be how discrete you are. If you listen carefully, there isn’t that many cues that last a long time continuously. It’s a combination of good judgment and discretion and getting out of the way. You’re not going to impose yourself on these four animated characters in a way that is irritating or distracts from the Simpsons we all know and love.

You seem very enthusiastic about this production…

Was it different, working on the Simpsons, from any other movie you did?
Be it on Da Vinci Code or Pirates of the Caribbean, the powerhouse is the director. Both Ron Howard and Gore Verbinski know what they’re doing and the film is their responsibility. On the Simpsons, that was a little unusual. It was much more a collective work. These guys have been doing the Simpsons for quite a long time and they know what they like and they know what they do (which they’ve been doing for years). So, during the meetings we had, you’d got Matt Groening, Mike Scully, Al Jean, etc. They have an idea and one of the guys would write something down on a pad, then one other would do a quick sketch and someone else would give another idea, etc. It’s a like a film tank. They don’t stop bouncing ideas to each others. I didn’t do a million movies, but it’s quite unusual.

Can you tell me about your projects?
The next thing may be the Nixon/Frost movie, based on the famous play. There is also The Darknight. It would be another James Newton Howard/ Hans Zimmer collaboration because it was very successful the last time and it worked out really well. That is a ferocious combination of talents, to be honest. If you’re a director, you’d be lucky to have one of those guys doing your score. To have both of them at the same time, that’s incredible! I remember the first opus when I was doing Da Vinci Code. At the end of the film, just after Gary Oldman says he had never had a chance to say thank you, and Batman goes : “and you never need to”, there is a massive widescreen shot of Batman standing on top of some building. It’s an incredibly inspiring shot and they got an amazing music then. And then, I discovered in the end credit that that was Hans and James Newton Howard’s collaboration, two of the greatest Hollywood composers! No doubt the next movie will be done the same way!

If you could choose a film to do, and a director…
I’ve always loved Ridley Scott movies. I really like patient movies, without a lot of dialogues, developing slowly, visually and poetically, which is often not very fashionable. Not that many blockbusters can take that risk : they need action and all that. Take Maximus in Gladiator. Instead of wasting dialogue scenes to set up how much he loves his wife, it’s all done poetically. It’s a very important piece of the emotional information, explained without dialogues. So it leaves more room for beautiful cinematography and beautiful music! Another film I totally loved (not the critics!) was The New World by Terence Malick. That’s my kind of movies. Nobody says a word during the first ten minutes! And the first cue is 11 minutes of Wagner before anything happens. It’s a beautiful shot of Virginia. I love that movie. By the way, Hans worked once with him, on The Thin Red Line. I love that sort of movies. In brief, if there’s a film I would have loved to do, it would have been The Mission. It would have been an honor, because it’s a beautiful movie with an incredibly serious theological and cultural content. I’d love to have this kind of opportunity to inspire the audience just with beautiful music, without having to get out of the way because of dialogues or sound effects.

My last question is crucial… do you like donuts?
That’s a very good question! Fairly enough! In fact, I’ve never eaten donuts in England. But when I moved to LA – I think I was working with Seal at the time- and he asked me : “do you want a donut? –No, I don’t eat donuts!” And he goes: “No, no, no. You have never tried crispy cream donuts, trust me! Let’s got in the car and get some. You’re gonna love them!” And I have to say, I think I had about ten of them! God knows what they put in that, certainly really, really bad things. But what an experience!

Merci à J. NOYER pour la transcription!

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