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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 your idea?

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 get it.

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 the theme].

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 you?

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 musical guidelines?

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 with him?

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 the Side.

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 that?

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...

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