Henry Jackman – The Interview & Big Hero 6

January 2, 2015 by  
Filed under Interviews

Composer Henry Jackman is no stranger to writing music for animated and superhero-themed films, so when he was asked to merge the two together in a score for last year’s hit Disney film “Big Hero 6,” he thought it was the best of both worlds. Along with his work on “Big Hero 6,” Jackman, 40, worked on the most controversial film of 2014, “The Interview.” During our own interview, Jackman and I talked about the difference between writing for animated and live-action films and what it was like creating music for a fictional version of reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

What kind of sound were you going for with “Big Hero 6” and what kind of conversations did you have with the directors about the music you wanted to create?

Well, that’s interesting because we started our conversations quite early on. The thing with animated films is that they take about four years to complete – from the very first idea to the finished film. So, for “Big Hero 6,” I actually saw a rough version of the film about six months before I actually started working on it. The first thing that was clear to me was that it has this superhero element that definitely had to be embraced. I really wanted to write a strong “Big Hero 6” theme. Although that might sound obvious, I’m saying that because with a lot of contemporary, live-action superhero movies, a lot of directors shy away from that. They’re shy about having an actual lyrical melody. The good thing about “Big Hero 6” is not only is it a superhero film, it’s an animated film. So, you’re into more of that tradition of orchestral, melodic, harmonic music. The other thing that was clear to me when I saw the film were the characters – these aspiring kids, who are using their scientific and technological skills. Instead of just making [the score] symphonic, I wanted to add more beats and make it electronic, so we added electric guitars and other things to describe these characters. I guess the most important thing for me was to have real themes and melodies because it’s an emotional film.

You also wrote the scores for “Captain America: The Winter Soldier, “X-Men: First Class” and “Kick Ass,” so even though “Big Hero 6” is an animated film, you weren’t a stranger to superhero movies. Did you use elements from those films or other superhero movies or did you want “Big Hero 6” to be completely different?

The great thing about any superhero movie whether it’s animation or live-action is that unlike a film like “Captain Phillips,” where you have to stay super realistic and minimal and hide behind the movie, is that [these characters] are reaching beyond themselves. So, there is probably a bit of crossover in terms of me celebrating characters with qualities beyond average human skills. (Laughs) Heroic music in the wrong context could be a way to completely ruin a film, but when you have superhero characters it’s great because you can just unleash it all.

On that note, do you feel animated characters can project the same kind of emotion to help your music resonate as much as real actors would on screen?

Definitely. If you had a “tissue test” to see how many people were tearing up during “Big Hero 6,” I would guess it was more than “Captain America.” (Laughs) There are two or three big emotional scenes in the film. I think it’s a mistake to think that just because something is animated that [the production] will pull their punches so that the heroism wouldn’t be as big as a live-action film or an emotional scene wouldn’t be as profound. Especially with Disney, I would argue that the story and the characters are even stronger.

Flight sequences in films are always interesting in terms of how composers write the music for audiences to feel what it’s like to be swooping through clouds. How did you confront those specific scenes, especially with a track like “First Flight?”

Well, I started out with this fully fleshed out “Big Hero 6” theme. You can’t write a track too early because, for example, Hiro (the film’s main character) hasn’t mastered his technology yet and his relationship with Baymax is still forming. So, that particular piece, “First Flight,” is the first time I was able to use the theme from beginning to end. It felt appropriate to marry it with the electronics.  Hiro is super excited to be flying around. Hopefully, inside the melody, it feels like it has more of an aspirational quality to it. Then at the end of that piece, it’s a much more emotional, quieter piece where [Hiro and Baymax] are just sitting there in the aftermath of their successful flight curling their toes together.

This is so silly, but I love the track called “Hiro Hamada” at the beginning of the film during the bot fights. When Hiro’s bot’s face changes from red to yellow at the end of the piece, there is a short electronic accent that hits perfectly that I found hilarious. Are those little details something you pay special attention to while composing?

(Laughs) Yeah, sometimes I can’t help doing little things like that, especially in an animated film. It’s like you’ve got more permission to do little charming gestures and jokes. There’s no harm in supporting stuff like that in the score. There is more of a tradition in animated scores to do things like that. Often you have to change emotion and style quickly because the story happens faster in animation. You often find yourself turning on a dime and throwing in little jokes. But you don’t want to go too far. What you don’t want to do is find every single joke in the film and try to use musical gags to support it. But you can get away with it once or twice.

There is a scene in the film where Hiro is about to start brainstorming for ideas for the tech competition he’s entering and a few seconds of “Eye of the Tiger” start playing. Of course, most people think of “Rocky II” when they hear “Eye of the Tiger” and the idea that a character is gearing up for a big challenge or fight. Do you think that is something all musicians and composers aspire to create – a song or tune that is so ingrained into peoples’ minds as the “go to” melody to play during a certain theme?

I think that might be the ultimate accolade for a songwriter or a record producer or a band, but not so much a composer. The thing about “Eye of the Tiger” is that is has this sort of hard-working aspiration to it. The other accolade people would be super happy to get would be that a song is so descriptive of its time; like if you’ve got an 80s movie with a really strong song that immediately denotes the 80s. I’m wondering how many times “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees has been used in movies. I wonder how many times The Doors’ songs have been used to instantly call up the 60s or how many times a song like “I’m Walking on Sunshine” has been used. There are a lot of songs out there that can describe things like loss or effort or challenge. Then there are certain songs that are so descriptive about an era, that it will immediately transport someone back into a certain time period.

I would argue that composers do that, too. I mean, think of the theme to, say, “The Godfather.” Often times it’s used for comedic effect, but it’s called upon when a character is being introduced to someone of high status. Also, every time I see someone riding a bicycle, the instrumental theme from “The Wizard of Oz” pops into my head – the scene where Miss Gulch (The Wicked Witch) is riding her bicycle.

(Laughs) Or “E.T.” and the bicycle scene there.

Right!

I guess I only say that because with songs you have more of a direct connection with the actual lyrics. But, yeah, I can definitely think of several iconic scores like [Jerry] Goldsmith’s “Alien” that call upon certain themes. To an average listener, it might not be as catchy or memorable in the same way as “Eye of the Tiger” because it doesn’t have a direct, sing-song melody. But, personally, I think “Alien” is just as iconic. It’s just a little harder to sing along to it, you know?

You also wrote the score for “The Interview,” which, of course, has had some major controversy behind it over the last few months. We both know Kim Jong-un probably won’t watch the film, but do you hope he might listen to your soundtrack?

It’s so funny. I had worked with Seth [Rogen] and Evan [Goldberg] before (for “This is the End”). Because I always treat writing the score as an artistic process, I didn’t give the political implications a second thought. I’m always thinking about script, story, theme, who I’m working with, etc. So, when [the controversy] came I thought, “Why is this causing such a fuss?” But, of course, the way I think and the way the North Korean regime thinks is probably different. (Laughs) I come from England where vicious political satire has always been part of the culture for hundreds of years. The first track on “The Interview” soundtrack is called “Suite for Kim Jong-un.” My approach to the music was that in order for this film to be funny, I didn’t want to write lampooning, mocking music. It was like my job in “This is the End” where I took the theme of the Apocalypse very pompously serious and did a sort of cross between “Carmina Burana” and “The Exorcist.” So, the music I wrote for Kim Jong-un was a straight-up concert piece. I mean, I really wanted to use my classical chops. My pitch to Seth and Evan was to write music that Kim Jong-un would actually like to hear. I wanted to take it incredibly serious. I wanted the music to be a cross between Beethoven and [Dmitri] Shostakovich. It’s far from music that is goofy or silly. It’s actually quite high-brow. I don’t know what [Jong-un] would make of it though.

Oh, it would be so funny if he started using your piece like the U.S. President uses “Hail to the Chief.”

(Laughs) Yeah, the harmony is a little slanted in [“Suite for Kim Jong-un] so it feels like the imperial entry for a slightly off-kilter person. But, you know, for all we know, Kim Jong-un might very well listen to Katy Perry.

Ep. 31 – The Christmas Episode – The Interview, Into The Woods, Big Eyes, Unbroken, and The Imitation Game

December 25, 2014 by  
Filed under Podcast

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Click here to download the episode!

Merry Christmas!! In this week’s special episode of The CineSnob Podcast, the guys from CineSnob.net discuss all the Christmas Day movie releases! We review the much talked about “The Interview” as well as “Into the Woods,” “Big Eyes,” “Unbroken,” and “The Imitation Game.”

[0:00-3:45] Intro & christmas talk
[3:45-44:53] The Interview
[44:53-1:08:06] Into the Woods
[1:08:06-1:31:17] Big Eyes
[1:31:17-1:45:39] Unbroken
[1:45:39-1:57:10] The Imitation Game
[1:57:10-2:05:17] Christmas movie box office speculation, teases for next week and close.

Subscribe to The CineSnob Podcast via RSSiTunes or Stitcher.

To give your feedback, e-mail us at podcast [at] cinesnob [dot] net, or leave a voicemail at 920-FILM-210.

The Interview

December 25, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: James Franco, Seth Rogen, Randall Park
Directed by: Evan Goldberg (“This is the End”) and Seth Rogen (“This is the End”)
Written by: Dan Sterling (debut)

Following a bizarre amalgamation of Hollywood controversy and serious political incidents over the last six months, Sony Pictures, in a quick and unforeseen move after pulling “The Interview” from its docket for a Christmas Day release, decided to drop the film on a handful of VOD platforms Christmas Eve afternoon, and allow theaters that still wanted to screen their film on Dec. 25 to do so. What changed the minds of Sony executives is still unclear (Barack Obama’s wagging finger of disappointment? George Clooney’s smackdown on Sony via – ironically – an interview with Deadline), but at least moviegoers (and VOD users) can put everything behind them and enjoy a classic assassination comedy comprised of enough jokes about assholes to make your grandma blush this holiday season.

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last few months, “The Interview” stars James Franco and Seth Rogen as Dave Skylark and Aaron Rapaport, a host and producer of a fluff TV show where getting celebrities to drop juicy TMZ-worthy bombshells is the name of the game. When Dave and Aaron find out they have been given the opportunity to interview North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, they jump at the chance to do some real journalism. The CIA, however, step in and insists that Dave and Aaron kill the North Korean leader during their planned visit.

Although inconsistent with its humor, there are major portions of “The Interview” that are gut-busting funny, especially during the first half where we’re introduced to Dave and Aaron and what their TV job entails and the set up for their trip to North Korea. Franco and Rogen play off one another with ease even when some of the jokes barely register and when the middle part of the movie begins to drag. Keeping up with both is actor Randall Park who plays Jong-un just as the script asks – a lonely and oftentimes sympathetic character that is also lined with playboy tendencies and venom running through his veins, which doesn’t figure into the story until the third act. It’s an interesting and somewhat bold characterization for Jong-un by screenwriter Dan Sterling, who could’ve taken the easy route and made him the kind of fat, pouting diaper-baby Americans love to imagine he is. Sterling finds a lot more comedy in scenes where Dave and Jong-un can pal around and find they have things in common with each other before the shit hits the fan.

Don’t expect some sort of biting satire about the evils of North Korea and the real-life insane man that runs the country. Directors Evan Goldberg and Rogen aren’t those kind of storytellers (if that were the case, we would’ve seen some damning message in their Book of Revelations-inspired comedy “This is the End”). Instead, go into “The Interview” expecting pop culture references to be at an all-time high, hilarious one-liners and someone sticking something large up their rectum. Wouldn’t we be in a better place if that combination was the catalyst for fostering peace and security across the globe?

Ep. 30 – The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Annie, Wild, Foxcatcher, and Sony caves to North Korea by cancelling The Interview

December 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Podcast

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Click here to download the episode!

In this week’s episode of The CineSnob Podcast, the guys from CineSnob.net review “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” “Annie,” “Wild,” and “Foxcatcher.” They also discuss and get into a heated debate about Sony cancelling “The Interview” in the wake of threats from North Korea.

[0:00-11:23] Intro, White Elephant and Pizza Talk
[11:23-1:07:38] Sony finally pulls The Interview. The Great CineSnob Podcast Debate of 2014.
[1:07:38-1:26:26] The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
[1:26:26-1:41:25] Annie
[1:41:25-1:56:38] Wild
[1:56:38-2:18:18] Foxcatcher
[2:18:18-2:23:24] Teases for next week and close.

Subscribe to The CineSnob Podcast via RSSiTunes or Stitcher.

To give your feedback, e-mail us at podcast [at] cinesnob [dot] net, or leave a voicemail at 920-FILM-210.