BASIL POLEDOURIS: IN HIS OWN WORDS
PART FIVE: SEQUELS, SAILING, SEAGAL, AND A SCORE COMPETITION
(All sources for Poledouris quotes are listed at the bottom of this
column. Paragraphs in italics are contributed by the editor)
Poledouris followed his Emmy-winning Lonesome Dove with another
project with its director, Simon Wincer, the lighthearted Australia-set
Western QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER. He reunited with his USC classmate
Randal Kleiser for their third feature together, an adaptation of Jack
London's classic WHITE FANG, but the project proved to be
a troubled one for the composer -- not only due to confusing dictates as
to the film's musical approach, but because Poledouris found himself competing
against an alternate score composed by Hans Zimmer (with help from Shirley
Walker and Fiachra Trench):
It was a very interesting exercise in how to spend a lot of money on
a film which was reported to have had a minimal budget. I think there was
a strong desire to keep the production costs minimal on the score. On the
other hand, there was the conflicting directive which requested in general
the score should be very melodic, and the example was "like Lawrence
of Arabia," which as a composer I interpret to mean very large orchestra.
There was a strong desire on the part of the music personnel over there
to keep the cost down. I was instructed to think in terms of real ethnic
kinds of music, after which I did some research about Eskimo music. It's
not terribly rich, Eskimo music. In fact it's essentially chanting. And
even the instruments themselves (and I suspect because trees are scarce)
are primarily percussive. There are very few, if any melodic kinds of instruments
involved. So what this essentially led to was a small group consisting
of about six musicians: flutes and drums and synthesizer, because I knew
that I would need some dramatic sense in a few of the scenes. That represented
about one quarter of the score, that size group, and I proceeded scoring.
And the rest of it was not exactly giant orchestra, but I think it was
around sixty, or sixty-five musicians.
Then the score [for the] first six reels was completed, it was screened.
And I think at that time whoever desired the Lawrence of Arabia-type
stuff really freaked, because all they were hearing were small indigenous
kinds of Indian flutes, and rattles and shakers. Unfortunately, that comprised
most of the first six reels and the orchestra then kicked in, with the
exception of the main title and a couple of other sequences.
At that point, Hans was set to re-score the picture. I finished mine,
knowing that Hans was writing another. Hans finished his, having no idea
I was in fact still at work. I must say that it is a really underhanded
thing to do to a composer, to both composers. You should fire one, and
let the other one do a score. It just really markedly shows they had no
idea what the hell they were looking for so they're going to try potluck.
Now the director was always on my side because it was Randal, and I had
worked with Randal, he knows I sort of have an understanding. So they brought
in the [exec in charge], they showed him the first reel with my score,
and then they showed him reel one with Hans' score, and Fiachra and Shirley.
And then he would choose. He'd say "Oh I like that, and that, and that."
The way it ended up, percentage-wise I think I have 83% of the score,
Hans has 14%, and Shirley has 1.2% and Fiachra Trench has about 3.6%.
I just saw it the other night for the very first time. I never saw it
in the theater. I was too heartsick about the whole dynamic, because the
way it ended up it was ludicrous that they put everybody through all that,
and probably spent well over a million dollars on the music, and the budget
was originally $230,000. That's why when people talk budgets to me I like
go TOTALLY NUTS. (S44)
Poledouris scored his fifth and final feature for director John Milius,
the Vietnam-era military drama FLIGHT OF THE INTRUDER (Poledouris
was unavailable to score Milius's next project, the TV movie Rough
Riders, with the assignment going to Peter Bernstein with help from
his father Elmer):
With the exception of the Intruder March, I don't think this score is
about patriotism. I think it addresses the individual who would break all
orders to circumvent political non-action. It also addresses the terror
of what it must have felt like to be in the cockpit of an A-6 jet plane
and watch Surface-to-Air missiles screaming toward you. It is also about
a recurring Milius theme -- loyalty to one's friends. Unfortunately, the
sound effects are so loud, I can understand why these concepts may be impossible
to hear! (M17)
Poledouris returned to familiar subject matter with RETURN
TO THE BLUE LAGOON, a long-in-development sequel to his first big
hit film, starring Milla Jovovich and Brian Krause as another marooned
young couple in love (despite Jovovich's resemblance to original Blue
Lagoon star Brooke Shields, it is actually Krause who plays the child
of the original film's lead characters):
I was disappointed that they didn't use the next book [The Garden
of God, by Blue Lagoon author Henry De Vere Stacpole], which
is in fact a continuation of the first Blue Lagoon. It seemed to
me that [what] we ended [up] with in the second one was really a remake
of the first Blue Lagoon, with new people for, again, a new generation.
It was ten years ago that the first one was made -- a new audience. So
yes, I was excited because when I wrote the first one I was still close
enough to my own adolescence to get a lot of that into it, and the second
one gave me an opportunity to sort of re-live my life at the time that
I wrote the first one. So I was flooded with a lot of the memories of the
way I felt, the way my family situation was. My children were much younger,
I was much younger, so there was a kind of walking down memory lane. They
weren't bad memories, so I think there's a lot of nostalgia in the second
And you know, one of the criteria for doing [Return to the] Blue
Lagoon was that it would have all new themes, with the exception of
the only time we see the original two characters, for they're dead. You
know, you play that over the main title. But I think it's always interesting
when a composer gets to go back and re-work the themes, if you can develop
them and take them to new places. Just repeating them is kind of boring.
So in that sense it was kind of challenging too, to cover the same territory
with new ideas, but stylistically I don't think I tried anything wildly
different from the first one. (S44)
Poledouris had his third project (and second feature) for director
Simon Wincer, HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN, a light-hearted
action film pairing Mickey Rourke as a biker and Don Johnson as a modern
I think Simon Wincer is a fabulous director. As an artist he gives me
almost complete control, once he establishes the ground rules. I think
the material he chooses is interesting stuff, and I'd go with Simon any
day. It certainly wasn't a favor. A challenge, yes. Basically, you're dealing
with two great American myths: the Cowboy and the Biker, but you set them
in 1996. To me, the quintessential biker sound is "Green Onions" or "Born
to Be Wild," and the quintessential Cowboy is French horns and large orchestra
-- y'know, Tiomkin, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. That is the Cowboy.
Here, we have an audience which may or may not have ever seen Rebel
without a Cause or Gunfight at the O.K. Corral -- basically
kids. So the challenge is trying to carry over some of the mythical qualities
of that music and those musical styles into the future, which basically
I tried to affect with synthesizers throughout the score. Also, the score
was primarily action. It wasn't like Lonesome Dove, where character
was the predominant, overriding issue of the film. The overriding issue
of Harley Davidson and The Marlboro Man is action. So by definition,
I think action always needs rhythm, so there's a lot of that in it.
Mickey Rourke is a tough [guy] to score with music, he's so powerful,
He's got such a strong screen persona, to come up with a sound that even
begins to stick to the screen with him is a very difficult thing. I remember
when I did it with Harley, I screamed for joy because I had been going
bananas for two weeks. (S44)
Poledouris scored NED BLESSING, a Western TV movie
written by Lonesome Dove's William Witliff and starring Daniel Baldwin,
which became an extremely short-lived TV series starring Brad Johnson.
His next feature was WIND, a romantic drama about sailing,
starring Matthew Modine, Jennifer Grey, and Stellan Skarsgard, directed
by the acclaimed Carroll Ballard (The Black Stallion, Never Cry Wolf):
I've been sailing since I was seven years old. So sailing is something
I know a great deal about and have some very strong opinions about what
it sounds like musically. Wind was a grand opportunity to lay those
ideas out. It's an interesting score because a lot of this was done in
my studio. In fact I did a lot of the solo synthesizer work and I really
enjoyed it. (S64)
Carroll Ballard probably thought I was a stalker when he was doing Wind.
I'd been sailing all my life, and when I heard about Wind, it's
like I camped out on his doorstep in San Francisco. I must tell you, for
me there's always been this fine line between selling yourself and begging,
and it just depends, like anything else, on the attitude with which one
pursues it. That was a film I was born to write, and I knew it, and I just
wanted to make sure that he knew it, too. I think this was probably the
most aggressive pursuit of a film ever. (KS)
But it was a joy to score those sea sequences. The director, Carroll
Ballard, came up with shots of those boats and those races that are absolutely
fabulous. It gave me a chance to use my banks of synthesizers and multiple
keyboards and electronic gadgetry. I thought that the effects you can get
with all this stuff -- the pounding and surging and the almost illusory
feeling you get with that kind of action on the water -- was the right
way to go with those sequences. But you have to be very careful about the
use of electronic music in film scoring. You can do all kinds of wonderful
things with these modern computer systems, but you can never duplicate
the feeling you can get with real instruments played by humans. You must
never lose sight of the difference. (MM)
Poledouris parodied his own action scores with the spoof sequel HOT
SHOTS! PART DEUX, and scored another sequel, ROBOCOP 3 (Leonard
Rosenman had scored 1990's RoboCop 2, directed by Irvin Kershner).
As with the original RoboCop, Poledouris was interviewed about the
project before he scored it...
Fred Dekker, who's the director of RoboCop 3, I think one of
his criteria for hiring me is that I will use thematic material from the
first RoboCop, particularly the heroic march stuff, things like
that. Maybe the home theme -- there is a sequence where he remembers his
past again. So yes, there will be elements of that, but in RoboCop 3,
there are some really good villains as usual, and this time he comes up
against "Ninja-Robo." So I think that's going to present a really rich
basis to draw from, in terms of Kabuki music and Seven Samurai kinds
of music. What I've got in mind basically is I'd like to use some of the
sounds -- not necessarily the styles -- but the sounds of the koto, the
Japanese ceremonial drum, things like that.
I have seen it. I saw the rough cut about a month ago. The post-production
schedule is very comfortable. I think they're taking the kind of time and
care that most films should have in post-production, so it'll probably
be another couple of weeks before we spot the film. So they've had a great
deal of time to hone it down to its proper pace and length. I've started
working on a couple of the other major characters. Interestingly enough,
one of the main characters in the film is a fourteen-year-old girl -- she's
actually the heroine of the movie. So I've been working on her theme which
is like counter to Robo. (S44)
...as well as afterwards...
I found this interesting because the character had regained some of
his humanity. He knows who he is, and he isn't so disturbed. With the character
more resolved, I didn't feel the need to use electronics extensively. The
score is more grounded in human emotions. This is the approach I prefer.
I like stories that have to do with people, I like to write for human relationships.
I like the intimate rather than the violent. (MM)
The sleeper hit FREE WILLY, about a troubled boy and
his friendship with a whale, inspired two sequels and a new trend of animal-themed
family films, and reunited Poledouris with director Simon Wincer:
I like all the movies I've scored, you know, and you don't really think
about...I don't choose them because I think they're going to be hits nor
not. I choose them because I can find something to write for them.
The thematic material came very quickly, as in Lonesome Dove.
I think I saw Lonesome Dove and came home that afternoon and sat
down and had the three main themes by six o'clock that evening. The same
thing happened with FreeWilly.
What I wasn't sure of was whether it would work. I suppose...Simon also
is quite taken by melody, so I've been quite fortunate. Obviously directors
are attracted to me for that reason, perhaps, but I was unsure about whether
we should do that kind of a...it's almost, it's quasi-classical...ballet
is exactly what it feels like.
But I wasn't sure if he would go for it, so I remember the day he came
over. I just played it for him, very loosely on the piano, and he had tears.
And I thought well, okay, maybe this is it.
I get to a place that I call very raw, and I really am unable to make
any kind of assessment about what I'm doing, and that's when I really have
to rely on the director.
Let me digress a bit. I have this feeling, that I grew up with my children.
I kind of went through their childhood, I suppose, because I was there
all the time. I was at home writing. So there's a kind of sweetness that
they brought to my life, a softer side, and Free Willy kind of played
But, again, it was the ocean. (BP)
Poledouris next scored the ecologically-themed action adventure ON
DEADLY GROUND, the directorial debut of its star, Steven Seagal:
Seagal was cool. It was one of the more meaningful experiences I've
had with a director. I found Steven to be an absolute gentleman. He was
very well versed in my scores and had strong ideas of what he thought the
music should be for his film -- he knew he wanted an orchestral, sweeping
kind of thing to match the grandeur and scope of Alaska, and he also knew
he wanted some Native American music.
His instruction with the main theme was that he wanted it to be very
strong, and have kind of an indigenous flavor to it, utilizing the native
rhythms, which are very straight, they're not African or Tahitian. I needed
them to give it a surging, driving quality, and I think it also gives it
an exotic kind of quality. I guess you could interpret it as oil wells
going up and down too. He really wanted it to have that drive, and more
importantly he wanted it to speak clearly and directly.
I used a lot of electronic flutes blended with acoustic ones, and electronic
sampled native drums along with Steve Foreman who played real percussion.
Frankly, I was a little scared at the start because of Seagal's image
as a tough action hero. He not only turned out to be a sensitive director
but a man with a love of music -- in fact, he can actually read music.
We could discuss the use of music in his film, and he gave me ideas that
I accepted. Working with such a director makes all the difference for me.
I think composers should be hired by directors, since they have to work
so closely on the concept and texture of the film. More often than not,
directors and composers get stuck with each other. Both directing and composing
are rather subjective arts, and it helps the film when you have someone
with whom you have an understanding. For example, one of the problems in
scoring films is that it's easy to be misled by the personalities of the
actors. It helps if you have a director who can point out that it's the
characters about whom you should be writing. (MM)
NEXT TIME: From the jungle to the highway.
Poledouris: His Life and Music, Written by Jon Burlingame, Produced
by Nick Redman and Michael Rosendale, Directed by Rosendale (Vineyard Haven
F44: Interview by Lukas Kendall in the April 1994 issue of Film
Score Monthly (issue 44)
KS: From the book Knowing
the Score by David Morgan (Harper Paperbacks, 2000)
by Mikael Carlsson from the Summer 1997 issue of Music from the
MM: From the 2nd edition of the book Music
for the Movies, by Tony Thomas (Silman-James Press, 1997)
S44: Interview by Darren Cavanaugh and Paul Andrew MacLean in
the December 1992 issue of Soundtrack
(Vol. 11, No. 44)
S64: Interview by Rudy Koppl in the December 1997 issue of Soundtrack
(Vol 16, No. 64)
of this series can be accessed on the website.
Edited by Scott Bettencourt