Oscar-nominated composer Marco Beltrami on navigating his way through 'World War Z' and Brad Pitt
POZNAN, POLAND—Oscar-nominated composer Marco Beltrami recently found himself in a rather unenviable position, caught between “World War Z’s” producer/star Brad Pitt, director Marc Forster and Paramount Studios as the different factions clashed over the direction and tone of the zombie action pic.
He kept his head down and tried to serve all his masters, including writing two score for the same picture. Luckily, things normally go a little smoother for the Yale School of Music graduate, who broke into the business by scoring a number of horror movies, including “Scream,” “Scream 2,” Halloween H20,” “Resident Evil,” but has expanded to all genres. He has scored TV series, including “The Practice,” as well as “3:10 to Yuma,” “The Hurt Locker,” “A Good Day To Die Hard,” “Trouble With the Curve,” “The Wolverine,” and the upcoming remake of “Carrie” and Tommy Lee Jones’ new film, “The Homesman.”
After teaching a master class at the Transatlantyk Festival here, Beltrami sat down with Hitfix to discuss navigating the “WWZ” waters and his upcoming projects.
You got hired for “Scream” in 1996, even though, by your own admission, you are not a horror movie fan. When you look at your resume there are a lot of horror movies on there. Have you become a fan?
But you continue to work in the genre, including scoring the forthcoming remake of “Carrie.”
See, a lot of the movies that I’ve done, I don’t consider them to be real horror movies. They’re not in the ‘Saw’ or torture-porn movie [style]. The “Scream” movies are over the top and there’s a lightness to them. “Carrie,” to me, is a weird coming of age story for a girl. But it’s like maybe it’s more of a drama about her that has turns bad, but I don’t see it as that horrific.
Did you reference any of the score from the 1976 movie when you did yours?
I like Pino Donaggio’s score a lot and it’s very thematic, but there wasn’t really a way I could put it in.
You scored this summer’s thriller “World War Z.” How did you keep from getting caught in the crosshairs after the director Marc Forster, Brad Pitt, and Paramount all clashed? Did you just keep your head down?
A lot of it was coaching from my agent. I just make everybody feel like they’re getting what they need, even though there’s a lot of different parties involved. It took a lot of extra work, but it felt like it was an important gig and it was worth doing what needed to be done to keep it. It would have been easier to throw up my hands, and say, ‘You know what? I’ve had enough’.”
Did you think about walking away?
Every day. I thought one of two things was going to happen: either I would get fired or [I’d say] “This is it. I couldn’t take it anymore, I’m going to walk away.” I felt like an alcoholic, I had to take it one day at a time (laughs). One note at a time.
You also had to create two scores? Right? A quieter score Brad Pitt wanted and a more dramatic one Paramount wanted.
Not quieter. Not necessarily quieter, but less epic. More of an intensity of hearing almost the rosin on the bow on the strings as opposed to when you have a big orchestra and it becomes more diffuse.
Paramount wanted the more dramatic score so you were working at two different studios on two separate scores?
Right. So [we] ended with a combo of the two, and everybody was a happy. It could have been a combo and everybody hated everything, but it worked out.
For “World War Z,” what kind of research did you do?
The first time I saw the movie, there was an opening scene in Philadelphia and then it cut to an Emergency Broadcast Signal. That struck me as the crux of the movie right there. And I thought there’s a way to musicalize it. [Beltrami’s assistant] Buck [Sanders] went out and got tuning forks and we experimented with how do you create that in the purest way.
The score also includes your playing havalina skulls. That was Tommy Lee Jones’ idea, right?
We were at dinner and he was working on “Lincoln” or something He was like, ‘What are you working on?” So I was telling him about it and that we were looking at ways of trying to get the sound of teeth gnashing because it’s such an important part of the movie: the mystery of zombies. He said, “Have you checked out the havalina?” and I said, “The what?” He lives in Texas and he’s very knowledgeable about everything. So that was great.
So did the sound of some of their teeth clacking some make it in?
Yeah, it’s there, but way in the background for the most part.
You worked with Tommy Lee Jones on the “Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” score and you’re working on his new directorial project now too. What can you say about that?
It’s called “The Homesman.” It’s a western period piece [with Hilary Swank, Meryl Streep and Jones]. They came to homestead the land in Oklahoma and so forth. It turns out it wasn’t uncommon for women to go crazy from not seeing people for days at a time or death and illness of the kids. Famine. Just the wind.
People talk about how intense Tommy Lee Jones is to work with? What’s your working relationship like with him?
He likes what I come up with. I think I sort of understand him when he’s talking. I very much enjoy working with him, He thinks totally outside of the box.