Interview: Composers From The Musical Anatomy of a Superhero Panel At SDCC
One of the cooler things I got to do was take part in my first press room. It was for a panel called Musical Anatomy of a Superhero. I’ve been trying to find a copy of the panel which is why this is so late but I’ve been unable to do so. I got the opportunity to talk to the composers behind our favorite movies in science fiction and superhero movies and television shows. The interviews themselves don’t have the best audio for the questions so I pulled the best ones from each interview and you can learn a bit about the music behind some of your favorite media.
WARNING: There are some spoilers for Mad Max: Fury Road and CW’s The Flash in these interviews
Blake Neely is an Emmy nominated composer that is mostly working on all of the DC Comic television adaptations. He is a three time primetime Emmy nominated for Pan Am, Everwood, and The Pacific. Along with the CW’s Arrow and The Flash he has also composed for CBS’s The Mentalist and CNN’s The Sixties. He is composing for CBS’s Supergirl and it’s the third time he’s worked with producer Greg Berlanti who gave him his break on Everwood.
“It’s going to be fun. Its characters from the other shows that I’m already working on so they already have their themes. This is the first project where I can take things with me into the show and then I’ll want to find a way for the show to have its own sound. But also house these established theme so it’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s going to be huge. They’re going all out.” – On composing Legends of Tomorrow
“Arrow is kind of dark and Flash is kind of light but I tried to keep instrumentation and stylistically the same so I could combine them and not be so weird to the audience.” – On composing for Flash and Arrow but keeping them similar since they are in the same universe.
“Reverse Flash’s theme appears in the pilot when the Mom dies before we ever knew who he was. I introduced it there so when Reverse Flash was introduced in the 9th episode it was always kind of there subconsciously. Audiences don’t really pay attention to that sort of thing but I like to lay those little breadcrumbs.” – On whether there was foreshadowing for Reverse Flash’s identity in the music.
“Don’t tell me anything because I want to react it then score it that way so the audience can also react to it this way.” – On whether or not he knows anything about the upcoming seasons.
Tom Holkenborg is a Grammy nominated composer who has worked on such projects as Divergent, 300: Rise of an Empire, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Run All Night. He is known for musical experimentation such as the 200 instruments and 80 vocal choir to create the score for Mad Max: Fury Road. His next major project is teaming up with Hans Zimmer for the score of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
“It was very intense. It was eighteen months of extremely intense conversation with the director who is probably one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met in my life. Very nice to work with, very soft spoken, but really high in demands. He pushed me to levels that I didn’t know I had inside and it was really great. But he never settled, even from the start, like even if I would write a ten minute action scene and he would go “very interesting”. The best experience I had with George was the last chase up to Furiosa almost dying I did this one piece of music and I played it for him. He cried, after I played it for him, and said “ah, it’s so beautiful, but I have a few notes” and then took the whole track apart. So I had to start again.” – on working with George Miller on Mad Max: Fury Road.
“I met Hans [Zimmer] a few years ago and we started collaborating and more and more and Man of Steel we rally worked on together extremely hard. Then after that I did 300: Rise of an Empire with Zack [Snyder] and he’s doing this movie [Batman v. Superman]. So Hans just called me up and said “hey you want to do this together? Could be fun” and it’s like “yeah could be a lot of fun.” On man of Steel we tried all of these things that sounded crazy on paper and in the room it was like “oh man what noise is that?” Like twelve drummers in a circle. It was fantastic.” – on working with Hans Zimmer for Batman v Superman.
Brian Tyler is an composer and conduction of over 70 films that include major Marvel titles such as Avengers: Age of Ultron, Iron Man 3, and Thor The Dark World. He has also composed music for Fast Five, Furious 6, and Furious 7 along with The Expendables and Michael Bay’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. He has also done work on television series such as Sleepy Hollow, Scorpion, and Hawaii Five-O.
“I grew up loving scifi and comics and all that so it kind of made sense I just never thought I would end up working in that field. How am I going to take music and turn it into one thing and now I’m doing Marvel films so it’s amazing and it’s the stuff I grew up with.” – on writing nerd music as a nerd.
“That was a pretty crazy movie [Iron Man 3]. I love Iron Man and it was setting the table with a new theme when I in. it was kind of a Star War meets James Bond kind of vibe and you wanted that snarky Stark thing, Snarky Starky, but at the same time you wanted to believe in him as a hero. So when that lead into doing Thor [Thor The Dark World] and Avengers [Avengers: Age of Ultron] and then there was something else I grew up with Ninja Turtles right in the middle , they’re all different enough that it kept it very interesting. Billionaire playboy invented, Thor’s a God, Turtles that are completely what they are, and the team coming together for Avengers. They all have their own vibe and in the meantime I’m writing the music for the Fast and the Furious series was so different that it kept it interesting as well.” – on writing for so many different types of movies.
“Before I was being interviewed I came to Comic Con every year. This is my wheelhouse and these kind of shows and comics and scifi, gaming. So I’m really working in the field that I would be watching this stuff and playing this stuff if I wasn’t doing this. … There have been things I’ve jumped into where I’ve turned to the writers and been like “don’t you know this is wrong?” I’ve always loved it.” – on being passionate about the things he’s writing music for.
Marco Beltrami is a Grammy nominated composer who has worked on many projects across many genres including Snowpiercer, The Wolverine, Scream, Mimic, Fantastic Four, and World War Z. He is often seen a genre innovator since his unconventional score for Scream. He has used many different objects to achieve this unique sound such as gnashing animal teeth for World War Z and an outdoor “wind piano” made from nearly 200 feet of wire for The Homesman.
“One of the challenges is that the movie is always in a state of flux. I still don’t know if it’s done. Sometimes later, especially when there are more CGI scenes, I’m not quite sure what is happening and writing for a scene that you aren’t quite sure of. Also, coming up with a theme that would unify all of the characters together and it takes some exploration coming up with something for planet zero. When I started there wasn’t any visual to go from so it was a challenge.” – on writing for the Fantastic Four.
“What I did was I had a couple of key elements and I adapted them in the differences scenes. Instead of coming up with different music in each car there were new arrangements of similar material. And because of that the picture also needed some continuity, like the music needed to provide some continuity for it.” – on composing for Snowpiercer
“The question of “how the theme is played” changes depending on the character. So I think it was hard to carry a movie with four distinct characters and feel close to all of them and feel like you’re involved with all f them. So I think the job of the music, more than anything, was to tie the characters together and the individual performances play that. In that realm thematic themes can play be played a host of ways and Ben [The Thing] is much more tragic than the other characters. I think Victor (Dr. Doom) is a bit of a tragedy too and he has his own theme, which is separate, and it evolves out of the Fantastic Four theme.” – on the tone of the music changing for each character.
Chris Beck is an award winning movie and television composer who not only has the highest grossing animated film, Frozen, under his belt and the highest grossing R rated comedy, The Hangover. Other movies he has worked on Edge of Tomorrow, Crazy, Stupid, Love, and Pitch Perfect. He received an Emmy for Outstanding Musical Composition for his score of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. His current projects include Ant-Man and scoring The Peanuts Movie that is opening in November.
“It’s hard. You can’t think in those terms [of trying to write an iconic theme]. For Ant-Man, I knew I wanted a good theme and I know that Marvel wanted a good theme, you can’t just make a great theme happen. If I’m being honest about it it doesn’t come out that way every time I go up to bat. Honestly, the more time I have to let myself stew in it the better the results will be. In particular I think one of those great examples of a great theme is Ant-Man and I attribute that to having a month to just sit on it and just thinking about it. In using my inner ear and my music and my inner musical imagination to run through all these permeations of ideas. Until, finally, an idea started to form around a few key concepts some of which I’ve been playing with for years. It’s as simple as odd timing but a lot of the score and the main theme is in a great of seven beats per bar instead of four and that gives it a bit of an offkiltr vibe but you can still get pretty groovy in seven beats. That was just one of the few things that I kind of wanted to explore and then there’s executing it which is another matter entirely, changing one note here and one note here. As soon as I can’t get it out of my head I know I’m on the right track.”—on composing a great theme Ant-Man.
“The whole idea of contrasting Hank and Scott musically, which would be a sort of blue collar and white collar comparison to a simplistic explanation, it kind of fell by the wayside and instead we really focused on Ant-Man as opposed to Scott Lang because that’s more what the movie is about and that’s where the musical opportunities lay. Of course then the characters become more similar because Hank Pym was Ant-Man at one point and they’re both heroes. It’s more a passing of the torch than comparing very different characters.” – on the decision to focus on Ant-Man instead of Hank and Scott as individual characters.