Lost Issue: David Newman Interview Part 2/3
Continued from the last Lost Issue...
By Jorg Kremer
Jorg Kremer: A movie I really enjoyed was Coneheads, where
you incorporated Herrmann's The Day the Earth Stood Still. Was that
David Newman: No, actually they were going to put several cues
from TDTEST in Coneheads but we decided to go in the direction
of a sort of homage. I really liked that score and the movie as well. The
only problem was that the movie got all cut up. That was kind of a troubled
movie. Unfortunately, sometimes a movie you start is pretty good at the
beginning, it's very singular and has a certain point of view. Then by
the time it's done, it's all changed and cut. People are scared that something
isn't going to work, so they cut this out and do this and that and by the
time you're done, it's a completely different movie.
JK: When I hear that music with all the references to The
Day the Earth Stood Still, I think to myself: 99% of the people don't
DN: Actually in Coneheads it's really just that motive.
There is one original Herrmann cue tracked in the movie in one scene. It's
a slow brass piece in one of the scenes where the mother is speaking to
the daughter. Otherwise all I used was the motive with the tritone [hums
JK: A lot of directors turn to you over and over again, like
Danny DeVito, Steve Miner, Simon Wincer, Herbert Ross and Brian Levant.
In the CD booklet to the album of The Phantom they call you a director's
composer. Is there a secret behind the relationship between directors and
DN: I don't know. I'm suppose I am not a very prima donna-ish
person. I'm fairly flexible. I accept suggestions if I think they're good
suggestions. I might even accept suggestions if I think they're bad suggestions
depending on the point of view and how insistent the director is about
it. Sometimes you get so immersed in things, that it is hard to see the
forest for the trees. Film really is a collaborative experience and it
can be really great in the best sense of the word. If somebody suggests
something to you, your first reaction might be, that it's completely idiotic.
But if you respect the other person, you try to sit down and think about
what they're saying and why, and a lot of times they're good suggestions.
Sometimes it's hard to know. I have quite a few directors who come back
to me but I've also had several that have not. It depends on whom you click
with. I don't think there is anything you can do about it. I used to think
that it was a big deal and that you ought to make sure you end up with
a nice relationship with the director. But honestly, you really can only
try to do a good job for the movie. I'm absolutely oriented towards the
movie. Maybe some people realize that and appreciate it.
JK: Talking about directors who didn't come back, Michael Lehman
and Steven Herek. They turned to another composer when they got big-budgets
projects: Hudson Hawk and Three Musketeers. Both actually
hired Michael Kamen.
DN: That was just a coincidence. I think Michael Lehman would
have preferred to hire me on Hudson Hawk. But the studio thought
that Michael Kamen had more experience on that kind of action-adventure
picture. Also it was Joel Silver's company; he did all the Lethal Weapon
movies that have Kamen's music. So that was really a studio/producer decision.
I think Michael would like to have hired me on that one. Steven Herek,
well I don't know. He once asked me to do Three Musketeers but I
think the studio pushed him to use Michael Kamen. Steve obviously liked
Michael and has hired him ever since.
JK: One of your most varied scores is the music to the baseball
picture, The Sandlot. It features a lot of different musical styles.
Somewhere I read that you're a big baseball fan. Did the subject of the
movie inspire you?
DN: You're right, I am a big baseball fan. Actually that was
my second baseball film. The first one was Talent for the Game.
The director had a heart attack during post-production. There was nobody
around and I had to record the whole score in one-and-a-half days. That
movie was an awful experience. On The Sandlot I had a great time.
I had to do a lot of the music at home. There is a lot of blues guitar
music in it but also a lot of big band stuff, and regular orchestral material.
It's a playful amalgamation of different styles. I think the whole movie
was a nice idea. There was a movie I did called Mr. Destiny, which
had a big baseball scene, which I really loved too. There is a very nice
cue in that movie, where one of the characters goes back in time and is
actually able to hit a home run, when before he could not and it changes
his whole life.
JK: You've mentioned the time pressure on Talent for the Game.
Which movie was the your worst experience timewise?
DN: Definitely I Love Trouble, where I had to replace
Elmer Bernstein's score, though I did think that the score ended up being
very good. There were quite a lot of people involved in it. I actually
wrote about 40 of the 55 minutes of music, but I only had 10 days to do
that. I was actually rewriting and reorchestrating while the orchestra
was there. I'd just sit down at the piano and dictate 10 to 12 bars of
music. The whole experience was the worst in terms of time and intensity.
JK: Honeymoon in Vegas was heavily temp-tracked with The
Grifters. Is it difficult to develop your own ideas when you have those
DN: Well, sometimes it is. The temp-track stuff is endemic to
the whole experience of film scoring. I am sure your readers have heard
tons about temp tracks so I won't go too much into that. But there is a
lot of music in it that is a lot different than what it was temp-tracked
with. There is a big cue, as Nicholas Cage jumps out of a plane at the
end of the movie, that they were having a big problem with. In the end
I was able to solve it in a way that nobody had thought of. The track in
the end was an Elvis kind of rocking orchestra cue. It took a few attempts
to get it but it finally worked.
JK: A lot of your scores are monothematic but on The Flintstones
you used several different themes. Why was that?
DN: A very simple answer: That's what they wanted me to do. The
Flintstones was unique because there was all this existing music in
it. It's such a popular show in America so it comes with a lot of baggage.
I had this theme for the Halle Berry character, then the "motoring around"
theme, then there was a theme for Barney and Fred and a couple of other
motives. We discussed a couple of themes before we started and I actually
wrote and recorded some cues six months before I finished the score. The
movie had, I think a one-year post-production. They ended up waiting for
computer-animated opticals and it took quite a while. A lot of those themes
we decided way up front.
I don't like lots of themes in a movie. I prefer the more constructionist
view, that you have motives or a theme and you then develop it as the characters
develop or change. To me, the metamorphosis in characters or situations
is the essence of narrative fiction, which is the basis of most movies.
You can't have too much material because it gets in the way. However, in
The Flintstones, the director [Brian Levant] wanted lots of themes.
We sorted of treated a good portion of the score like a TV show. He wanted
a theme for everything. So we settled on actually using some of the original
Flintstones TV music, which we re-recorded, and incorporating the
style of the original scores, the whole mickey mousing thing. There ended
up being a lot of different types of music in it. It really is a fun score.
I think at the end Brian thought there was too much of the "Flinstone's
music" (original TV music) in the score. We were always talking about that.
JK: What happened with John Williams? Wasn't he originally to
score the movie?
DN: I don't know what happened. He actually recorded a temp version
of the main title while he was doing Jurassic Park. I don't think
he was ever going to do the movie. That probably only was a rumor.
JK: I once did an interview with the late Miles Goodman, who
was one of my favorite composers...
DN: Yeah, he was really great.
JK: We talked about his work with director Herbert Ross. He did
Footloose with him. He said that Herbert Ross really didn't care
about music at all and wasn't interested in the score. What was your experience
DN: I had a nice time with him. I did two movies with him: Undercover
Blues and Boys on the Side. I do not agree that he does not
like music. He loves music. I don't know that he particularly dubs or mixes
music very well, or at least to my taste but I know that he is a music
person from way back. I don't know what it would be like to do a musical
with him and be involved from the beginning. My two experiences with him
were perfectly nice. I enjoyed working with him and I loved Boys on
JK: I especially enjoyed Undercover Blues. What impressed
me was the large number of cues that you wrote, and most of them were very
short, like 20-30 seconds. I would love to have heard some of that great
music a little longer. That's why I think Miles Goodman was so unsatisfied,
because it must be frustrating when the director says: "The music is okay
but only for 15 seconds."
DN: Well, Undercover Blues was a very troubled movie.
JK: Although it was very funny. I really enjoyed it.
DN: Yeah, it's just that this movie had a script where everybody
thought that it's such a great story. When they read the script, it seemed
like such a good idea. You know, these two people floating through these
dangerous situations nonchalantly with their baby. But the reality was
that everybody was fighting with each other: the director, the producers,
everyone. So they couldn't really finish the movie correctly and it got
to be one of those situations where everything went wrong. I think all
of that affected the product. But Boys on the Side I think was very
good. You know, Herbert Ross can be difficult, but I don't mind. I really
like him. He also loves opera, so we have something that is important to
me in common.
JK: You know what I like about Boys on the Side? First
of all, it's one of the very rare movies where I also like the songs. They
were very well selected and they fit the spirit of the movie. And what
I really enjoyed was when you segued from a song into the score. You took
over the harmony of the song and also the mood and created a perfect harmony
of songs and score.
DN: If you're doing a film that has a lot of songs in it and
they can actually pick them, it's great. And they had already done that
when I started on the movie. I could go in and out of the songs, because
I knew what the key, the feel, etc. If you don't know which songs they
will use, there is nothing you can do to ease the transitions. The only
think I regret about that movie is that there wasn't more music for me
to write. Some of the best scenes were scored with songs.
JK: But the music that there is is great and is really important.
There is this one country rock theme for the childhood memories and then
there is this dramatic theme for their friendship. It really works great.
DN: Well, thank you.
JK: I really love the Undercover Blues score with the
whistling, the Mexican stuff and the Pink Panther-like cue. Who
came up with the whistler idea?
DN: That was my idea. I thought it would be appropriate to have
a whistler throughout the score, because the two characters were kind of
dancing through the whole movie with their baby and nothing seemed to faze
them. It was as if they were walking down the street whistling despite
all the danger around them. That was the conception of the score. It also
had the New Orleans kind of elements, Latin based music (I use a sort of
Flamenco guitar motive) even some Russian elements. That was an interesting
experience. You know, it was very hard to whistle that music. There are
not too many people who are good at that.
JK: There is one track in Undercover Blues where you used
a typewriter sound effect in addition to the orchestra. Why did you do
DN: Just because I thought it was fun. There is really no intellectual
reason why I used it. A lot of the stuff you play around with, when it
sounds good, when you put it against the picture, it just makes sense to
use it in the finale score. I thought of the typewriter sound effect more
as percussion instrument, it really can create a nice additional sound.
To be concluded in the next Lost Issue...