Gergley asked me to submit entries for his regular film-music
series blog called "SEVEN SCORES", about (7 of) my
scores. Here are those entries:
Sid & Nancy
Original underscore for Samuel Goldwyn Co. feature
film. Cast includes Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb. Producer Eric Fellner
Director Alex Cox
Director Alex Cox's second feature film, Sid & Nancy, was
the first non-student film I composed music for. I met Alex through
my sister, Abbe Wool, who went to UCLA as a film student with Alex.
Among the first things I learned about Alex was that he was a Spaghetti
Western fanatic and had already written a book on the subject ("10,000
Ways to Die"). As I recall, he immediately started initiating
me to the scores from those films. I was just out of high school
and tunnel-visioned into punk music at that time so I was only
vaguely aware of Ennio Morricone's classic scores. Somehow Alex,
who was also enamored with the punk scene, gave those scores context
and relevance for me and I began collecting and admiring Morricone's
innovative approach to composing for film. However, even as Alex
made his first film, Repo Man (score by The Plugz) it hadn't occurred
to me to write film music. I was playing in what would eventually
become the band Pray for Rain and I was far more concerned with
moving that project along than anything else. It wasn't until my
sister and Alex were green-lit to write the script for Sid & Nancy
together that I thought it might be wise to try to get some music
into a film. So based only the script Alex and Abbe wrote I created
a set of instrumental demos on my 4-track recorder that I thought
might work in various scenes in the film. Although the demos weren't
Western sounding in any way I did try to give them Morricone-esque
orchestral haunting qualities. The script was like a dark, post-modern
fairytale and that was how I wanted the music to sound. Philip
Glass's Koyaanisqatsi and Morricone's Western scores were the only
film score soundtracks I owned. I was trying to get the music to
set somewhere in between.
It's important to note that Alex hated the band
Pray for Rain at that time. We were much more of a pop band than
punk band, and not his thing at all. I remember the same night
I handed Alex the demos for Sid & Nancy he told me "you
should quit Pray for Rain, man! ...join a band like the Red Hot
Chili Peppers" - who had recently become all the rage in LA.
It's also important to note that by the time I gave him the demos
he and my sister were at the tail end of an epically acrimonious
relationship, both professionally and romantically, and were barely
speaking to one another (they've since forgiven and forgotten)
so I didn't think Alex would be all that open to my compositions.
However, despite all that he loved them! So much so that he called
me a few weeks later from England, where post-production was being
done, and asked if I would bring Pray for Rain to London to score
the film. Joe Strummer and The Pogues were also contributing music
and the production company wanted everyone in the same city.
What Alex and the production company didn't know
was that there was no real need to bring the entire band. The demos
were just me playing guitars and synths, but I was very much into
the band-thing and saw this mainly as an opportunity to promote
Pray for Rain. In fact, when our bass player turned out to be unavailable
I insisted that my step-brother (Zander Schloss) come along to
play bass despite there not being any bass on the demos. Somehow
the company bought all this and the four of us went off to England
with absolutely no clue as to how to write a film score. Because
of the strong labor laws in England, when we got there we discovered
that we were not even allowed to play the instruments on the recordings!
A counter-part for each of us had been hired and they would be
required to execute the performances to placate the musicians union
in London. So there were now eight musicians in a very expensive
English studio hired to redo what I had done by myself in my bedroom.
When I say redo, that's pretty much what the recording session
was. From reading the script, I had composed pieces that I thought
might fit the mood of specific scenes, but when they sent me a
tape of the rough cut, all the music I wrote had been cut in, but
switched around and placed into completely different scenes than
I intended. Plus the editor had actually cut the picture to match
my 4-track score demos (something that rarely occurs outside of
music-video productions and/or when a hit song is used in a film).
There was only one cue that needed to be extensively arranged to
hit the action and the cuts. The rest were essentially hi-fi recreations
of the demos. In fact, the synths that my English counterpart brought
to the session proved to be much
too expensive sounding and we had to hunt down the same $50 Casio
I used on the demo to get it to sound right.
Arguably, the most enduring image from this film
is the slo-mo sequence with the silhouetted Sid and Nancy kissing
as garbage cans fall and my strummy synth cue plays. It's safe
to say that piece of counter-point that editor David Martin had
the foresight to cobble together started my career in creating
music for film. Although the credit is getting uncomfortably old,
I feel fortunate to have it. Looking back, I can't honestly say
I technically scored that film. It was as much Alex and David Martin's
ideas that made the music work, but it did give me a very good
lesson on how images and music work together and how powerful they
[So iconic was the slo-mo garbage scene that
The Simpson's chose to parody it in the 2008 Valentine's Day
episode (in the parody Homer is the one throwing the garbage
down!). The parody includes a sound-alike of my composition that
easily crosses the line into legally indefensible plagiarism
(music does not fall under parody laws). It didn't come to my
attention until recently. It was very strange to see it! My reaction
was equal parts flattery and "hey,
F you!". Since my legal team is not quite as sharp as FOX's,
I'll have to live with just the flattery as compensation.]
The original music for Sid & Nancy
(plus 3 other clips from a Pray for Rain mini-reel)
Original underscore for independent feature film, Roger Corman/BBC
Films. Distributed by Microcinema Interntional. Cast includes Jaclyn
Jonet, Ed Pansullo, Del Zamora, Sy Richardson. Producer. Jon Davidson
Director Alex Cox
2.0 was an ultra low-budget film directed by Alex
Cox in 2008 (released 2010). It was the tenth project I scored
for him. Over the years Alex had become weary of the never-ending
slog to find funding for his unique films and had put matters more
into his own hands by developing a series of films that could be
made for $200k or less. No one would get very rich making them,
but this approach has enabled him to continue to make films he
likes with very little outside financial help.
Although the box-office for Alex Cox films has
always been uneven (even Repo Man and Sid & Nancy had been
modest financial successes compared to mainstream movies) Alex
has earned a reputation for creating artistically worthwhile projects
and for being easy to work with. Because of this rep people are
always happy to get on board his projects for much less money than
they might get otherwise. All the key above-the-line people agreed
to partially deferred salaries or profit-sharing in order to have
the opportunity to contribute to the film. The sound designer,
Richard Beggs, in particular is someone who is considered an A-Lister.
Richard was the sound designer on many classic and/or successful Hollywood
films: Apocalypse Now, Rumble Fish, Harry Potter.....the list goes on and on
and on. He had a role in the sound design for Alex's first film, Repo Man,
and they have remained friends since. One of the nicest things about composing
for Alex's films is that I'm able to work closely with Richard. With most films
there are several people between the composer and the re-recording mixer (music
editors, music mixers etc), especially on the films Richard is accustom to
working on. But on Alex's mini-budget films, it's pretty much just me and Richard!
I've done a little sound-design of my own and a lot of music engineering and
Richard has an extensive background in film music so we've developed a comfortable
relationship that makes the mixing process on Alex's films fun and easy.
I learned early on working with Alex never to
send him a demo that I wasn't prepared to live with in the final
film as-is. More than one time I've sent very rough demos that
ended up in the final film because the subsequent "final" versions
I created differed (often incrementally) from the demo in a way
that Alex didn't like. This isn't all that uncommon. Once people
make a creative decision they tend to move on to the next. It can
be difficult to get them to revisit something they've already signed-off
on. This isn't so terrible nowadays but when I first started working
with Alex, demos were created on cassette 4-track recorders. There
are a couple of 4-track cues that ended up in Alex's Straight to
Hell that still bug me. With very few exceptions, Alex defers to
me about how the music should work in a film. This is not to say
he's not involved or doesn't care about the music. Music has always
played a big role in his films, but how Alex works, not just with
music, but with all the department-heads in his projects, is to
let them do what they were hired to do. He's very careful about
whom he chooses to work with, but once that decision is made he
gives them a lot of room. Only when I get it very wrong will he
reject a cue. Since we've been at it so long, that's very rare.
I usually know exactly what he's looking for even before we've
spotted the film.
S2.0 takes place largely in Monument Valley, Utah.
The two main characters are washed- up actors who spout endless
half-baked film references throughout the film. So we decided that
a highly referential Western score would work well - they are petty
men with small ideas so the grandeur of an epic score would dwarf
them further into insignificance. We had discussed referencing
American Western scores, but since the climax of the film is an
extended Leone-style standoff, an Italian-Western score seemed
more compatible. Plus, neither Alex nor I care for American Western
scores all that much and we love Morricone's! Although it's a comedy
(though you may not be able to tell by my description), I kept
the music as serious as I could. I didn't want even a hint of levity.
This earnest counter-point serves to make the absurdly self-absorbed
characters even more ridiculous. Alex and I have always used the
music as counter-point, but this score goes a step further than
anything we'd done before in that regard.
One problem was that I would have to rely on technology
to deliver the grand orchestral parts. I was able to pull this
off by spending the small amount of money there was for the music
on live players to sweeten the parts I recorded using an orchestral
synth library. The combo of the two came out well. With only six
live orchestral players (strings, horn and woodwind) I was able
to create something that sounds pretty realistic, I think. I'm
very happy with results.
There was only one time in the course of scoring
this film that Alex didn't immediately approve of what I did. The
end title song was supposed to reference Spaghetti-Westerns just
as the rest of the score did. If you're familiar with those soundtracks
you know that the end title songs from those films were often horrible!
I imagine, then as now, the powers-that-be would want a song that
would help them sell the soundtrack album so they'd ask the composer
to write a pop song with a vocal using the motifs from the film.
Maybe it's cultural, maybe they were trying to be funny, but whatever
the reason, there is often a song that outright sucks at the end
of many classic Italian-Westerns. I never liked those songs, so
for the end title of S2.0 I had the radical idea to go off script
slightly and create a song that did NOT suck for the end title.
Despite Alex's reluctance (to not suck), I managed to create a pop song that
quoted the score that (if I may be so immodest) was actually good and that
Alex really liked. The only problem was that I couldn't find the right vocalist
to pull it off. I demo-ed several people that were pretty good, but Alex wanted
something "extreme" sounding, like the vocals on those kitschy old
tracks. Everyone I tried was either too straight or too jokey sounding. Also,
it was a very tough part to sing technically and required someone with wide
vocal range. After about a week Richard (the sound designer) finally said, "Hey
my niece is a singer. You should try her". I thought, “uh oh, this
could be turn out very badly. Despite his A-List cred, Richard might not be
all that objective about his niece’s ability to sing this incredibly
difficult part.” If it didn't work out it could make working with him
very awkward from then on. However, she turned out to be perfect! His niece,
Vanessa Beggs, I soon found out is an extremely versatile fully-trained soprano
who has an enormous range. She had literally graduated the day before the session
from Mills College where she had earned a scholarship based on her unique vocal
ability. She managed to deliver a completely earnest yet over-the-top Shirley
Bassey-esque performance without a hint of irony. ...that did not suck.
The Trailer for Searchers 2.0 that features my score
Original underscore for Orion Pictures feature film. Cast includes David Johanson,
Fran Drescher and Rosie O'Donnell. Producer Robert H. Solo
Director Bill Fishman
54 Where Are You? from Orion Pictures is the only Hollywood studio
film I've ever been involved with. The movie was not well received,
but it was an excellent experience for me - and the film has many
worthwhile moments in it. The original script for the film was
really good. The writer/director Bill Fishman had managed to take
the original premise about dim-witted New York City cops and make
it into a smart, political satire that commented on police corruption
However, the studio slowly imposed incremental changes as things progressed
that brought the film back to being the broad comedy it became. Originally,
I think Billy and the music supervisor, Sharon Boyle, wanted a score that was
much rawer and underground than what the studio was looking for, but by the
time I got involved it was clear they were looking for a score that sounded
like what was currently on R&B Pop radio. I had been involved in a lot
of music production at that time so I was able to put together a pretty strong
reel that reflected those trends to get the job of scoring the movie. Not really
an ideal situation as a composer, but it was a studio film and it did present
some interesting challenges.
Most of this studio-wrestling occurred in production
and didn't effect post-production and the scoring process per se.
That experience couldn't have been better for me. Billy had mainly
done music videos (plus the celebrated cult movie Tapeheads) and
had extensive connections in the music industry. He managed to
convince Bernie Worrell from Parliament Funkadelic to co-compose
the score with Pray for Rain. I was of course a fan and really
excited to get the opportunity to work with someone of his iconic
stature - and a little nervous. I had a meeting with Bernie in
LA and he turned to be very low-key and very cool. However, I had
developed specific ways of working and organizing film score projects
and I still wasn't sure how things would work with a bona fide
star thrown into the mix. There was no way of knowing if we'd get
along creatively, but everything ended up falling into place pretty
easily. Whereas Bernie is a classically trained musical genius,
who operates on a level far above that of most musicians, he is
also a world-class sideman and studio musician who was equally
comfortable in either roll. Since I had more experience with mechanics
of film scoring, it quickly became apparent to both of us that
I or one of the other members of Pray for Rain (Gary Brown, James
Woody) would handle the musical structure and blocking of the cues,
much if it R&B/beat-based, and Bernie would give the pieces
the character and legitimacy with his signature Moog, Clavinet
Another great thing about working on the Car 54
score was that, in addition to the R&B influenced tracks, it
also called for a few orchestral cues as well. It was the first
chance I'd ever had to work with an arranger (Barry Phillips) and
live orchestral players. Again, Bernie's classical background came
in handy. It was only a nineteen-piece chamber orchestra, but it
satiated the need all film composers have to have their scores
performed live by an orchestra.
One of the most interesting, if not surreal, things
about the process was that Bernie Worrell basically moved in with
me in my apartment in San Francisco for the duration of the composing
and recording process! Bernie is a charming charismatic man and
an incredible musical talent. It was a real pleasure to work with
him. I'll always be grateful for the experience.
Original underscore and source composition for television Movie of the Week,
NBC Productions. Cast includes Tiffani-Amber Theissen and Brain Austin Green.
Producer Bonnie Raskin
Director Christopher Leitch
She Fought Alone was the first of several MOWs (Movie of the Week)
I did throughout the nineties. Although I'd already composed for
over a dozen feature films and an episodic television series, I
may have learned more about the craft of scoring from composing
for this project than I did from any project before that. I'd worked
in broadcast television before on the FOX series Key West, but
that was a unique experience in that the producers had complete
confidence in my abilities and with very few exceptions gave me
free rein week-to-week to deliver what I wanted.
SFA ended up being much harder than what I was used to and what I expected.
I'm not sure I'd seen a TV movie since I was a kid and didn't have all that
much interest or respect for the "genre" as a viewer (still don't,
frankly). Since I was brought into the project by Key West producer Alan
Marcil, I wrongly assumed I'd be given the same kind of room as I had on
Key West. This however, was very different. This was for NBC and they took
the genre very seriously. In fact, it was during this project that I learned
that there were people who considered MOWs to be a distinct genre!
The script, written by the director Chris Leitch,
was strong. It read like a heart-felt independent film. Not TV
Movie-ish at all. It had the working-title of Scared By Love (it
wasn't until after I was done that the network slapped the much
more TV Movie-ish title on it, much to the chagrin of many involved).
The indie-rock, guitar-based score they wanted was right up my alley, but the
movie needed a ton of music and it needed it in just three weeks! A much faster
turnaround than anything I'd done before. To complicate things further, there
were extensive notes coming back on almost everything I composed. Nearly every
cue I delivered was the subject of debate in LA and I had to redo many cues
more than once. The director and producers, Alan and Bonnie Raskin seemed to
be happy enough with what I was sending, but the picture editor, John Duffy,
definitely was not, and said so in extremely blunt terms to everyone who'd
listen. Me, the director, the producers, the network, his assistants all got
to hear what a crappy cue I'd tried to pass off on them. I was sending what
I thought was called for and what had been discussed, but John didn't buy any
of it. He wanted the score much more on-the-money than I did. I wanted to kill
him. I hated his ideas. They seemed conventional and obvious to me, and nothing
like what I was comfortable composing. Since it became apparent that the network
and everyone else were deferring to him on many decisions and because time
was so short, I finally gave up fighting and did just exactly what John said
for each cue almost by rote.
As it turned out John was right. What I had been composing was fine for an
art house indie film, but John was cognizant of what was needed for the MOW
genre. He also knew from listening to my previous work that I wasn't likely
to compose something that completely sucked even if I tried, so he pushed me
as hard as he could into delivering as conventional a score as I had in me.
Until this project I had built my reputation as a composer on scores that relied
on broad musical counter-point and irony, and not on milking the emotions in
every beat, in every scene as is the norm in many conventional movies. But
with SFA I learned that I can do both, if need be. By the end of the project
I had an enormous sleep-debt, but also a score I was happy with and new respect
for John Duffy. The network loved it. She Fought Alone ended up getting very
high ratings and was extremely well received. I ended up with much more TV
work because of it. The lessons that John force-fed me: to think within the
scope of the project, and more importantly, that sometimes the score really
does need to be conventional, helps me on every project I've scored since.
One side note: The director happened to be friends
with Jerry Casale from the band Devo. I think Jerry was trying
to be the music supervisor or something, and for whatever reason
he showed up at the spotting session (in a three-piece suit I should
add! You don't see a lot people in LA dressed like this, especially
in the entertainment industry. He looked like a stock broker).
No one seemed to know why he was there, but he started making comments
on each cue we went over. The temp score had a lot of current and
classic music tracks, Neil Young, Nirvana etc., and with each one
he would say things like "what we should do here is just take
that song and rip it off! Do a sound-alike. Change one or two chords.
Most people won't know the difference between what we do and the
Neil Young song, yet no one will be able to sue us". Since
he was Jerry Casale and I loved Devo, I didn't say much. No one
in the room did for the same reason. I just tried to be
polite and say, "um well, let me see what I can come up with
first before we start the doing sound-alikes". We took a break
for lunch and Jerry never came back. That was the last we saw of
him. No one knew where he went or why he was there in the first
Original underscore for independent feature film, BBC Films. Cast includes
Peter Boyle and Chris Eccleston. Producer Lorenzo O'Brien
Director Alex Cox
and the Compass was a unique project in that it was completed in
two parts. Originally commissioned as a one-hour television drama
for the BBC, the director Alex Cox wrote the screenplay (based
on Jorge Luis Borges's short story) with the hope of one day expanding
it into a feature length film for theatrical release. So the one-hour
version was completed in 1993 and then reconfigured and expanded
six years later when additional funding was found.
This was the third feature I'd worked on for Alex.
It was partially funded by Churubusco Studios in Mexico City. All
the major production and post production for the film took place
in Mexico. The score was composed and recorded in San Francisco,
where I live, and subsequently brought to Mexico for the dub.
The film is set in a beautifully dystopic non-future. The main character is
an over-thinking, absurdly spiritual detective (played by Peter Boyle) who
attempts to track down his comic-book-like arch-nemesis (Christopher Eccleston).
The look of the film is over-the-top and gorgeous, with heavy use of mattes,
primary colors and deep shadows. Alex really wanted the score to help the film
feel like it took place neither in the future nor the past and came up with
the idea of doing an obviously period-80’s score ala Tangerine Dream
(among others). At that time in the early 90's the 80's weren't all that in
focus yet so it wasn't easy figure exactly how to do that, but it was an interesting
idea that forced me digest the sounds of that era while virtually still in
it. The impressionistic results helped the film exist in a place outside of
time. Alex also asked me to have a listen to the soundtrack for the William
Friedkin film “To Live and Die in LA” by Wang Chung as a study
for what might be appropriate for “Death and the Compass” (it's
a great film and a great score if you've never heard it). There are several
Wang Chung-isms in my score and a lot of Tangerine Dream-like washes of ambient
This was a fairly collaborative score compared
to other efforts by Pray for Rain. James Woody and Gary Brown both
were involved in several of the compositions. Jimmy was much more
of a synth aficionado than I was and had lots of input and knowledge
about how to access the sound and feel of those not-quite-yet classic
80's tracks. Also, a lot of score was needed. Not only was the
music nearly wall-to-wall, but we also ended up creating all the
source music. Since the source music was often playing over/at
the same time as the score, the running-time of the film is actually
shorter than the running-time of the music. Unlike Sid and Nancy,
where the rough cut was nearly completely scored with my own demos,
the temp score for Death and the Compass had none of my music and
consisted of completely off-the-mark cliché police
drama cues. The editor, Carlos Puente, was a great picture-editor,
but didn't have the time or budget to do a proper temp score so
he just used music that he had available at Churubusco, which was
largely from Mexican police dramas. Having a really awful temp
score that everyone hated, had
an interesting effect. Pretty much everything I wrote was a major
improvement! Usually the temp diminishes your chances of getting
your own ideas into the film. Inevitably everyone wants the score
to resemble the temp, but this truly rotten temp did me the favor
of having the opposite effect.
About six years after the one-hour version was
put to bed, Alex managed to get additional funding for the feature-length
version. Every composer, when watching films they scored in the
past, sees things they'd like to fix. This gave me the rare opportunity
to do just that, but first I had to unearth the original score's
assets (computer files, mixes, spotting notes etc). When I finished
the one-hour version, the feature-length expansion was only a vague
possibility, so I didn't really archive the project as well as
I could have. This was before DAWs were able to effectively recall
everything. Plus there was tape involved so much of work on the
long-version was forensically recreating the original score in
order to seamlessly knit in the new cues. Also, the original was
delivered on two-track DAT and I wanted to deliver multiple stems
for the final mix of the feature. This meant remixing everything.
The post-production resources at Churubusco for
the one-hour version were beyond primitive. The film was edited
on a Movie-ola (!) and the mix took place in what looked more like
a broken down radio broadcast booth than a dub stage. There were
literally packs of wild dogs that would roam around the studio
lot. Alex taught me to keep rocks in my pocket for when they got
too close. However, when we went back to do the long version something
had happened. Someone had sunk a lot of money into the facility
and everything was now totally state-of-the art. THX and Dolby-certified,
SSL console, ProTools, non-linear video and a fully trained and
knowledgeable staff. It was as nice, if not nicer, than anything
I'd seen in LA or London. And, no dogs.
Original underscore for independent feature film, co-composed with Zander Schloss.
Cast Includes Rebecca DeMornay, Vincent Donofrio, Frank Whaley.
Winner was the fourth feature film I'd worked on for Director Alex
Cox. What distinguishes this score from the rest of my body of
work is that this score was, over the directors strenuous objection,
completely removed by the producers after I had completed it and
re-scored by another composer. Having one's score replaced is akin
to being inducted to the Composers-Hall-of-Shame. It can be demoralizing
and discouraging to have all you're months of hard work tossed
out - the ordeal took place years ago and the wounds have since
healed. It now provides for a very interesting anecdote about how
a score comes to fruition.
The following is an excerpt from an interview
with me conducted by Hubai Gergely as research for his book "Torn
Music", that focuses on the rather common phenomena of entire
film scores being rejected and redone. Inevitably it happens
to most film score composers that are active in the business
for any length of time, including all the greats. A fact that
gave me great consolation when my own score was rejected (see "Seven
Scores: Dan Wool - Trust Me", where I discuss how I ended
up on the other end of the equation by replacing a score by the
great Elmer Bernstein). The interview provides details on the
scoring processes for the film and the politics behind the score's
What were Alex's instructions
on the score (for The Winner)? How did you communicate?
Since Alex and I had worked together on several
projects previously the lines of communication were open and clear.
Alex's basic MO is to pick the key people involved with his films
very carefully and then stay out of their way to let them do their
jobs. Ninety percent of his input on most films is given very early
on, well before post production begins. In the case of The Winner,
which was set in Las Vegas, the one thing Alex didn't want was
a score that played obviously to the scenery. The production design
was so heavily laden with old Vegas sleaze that to have the score
continue along those lines with a 'lounge music' soundtrack would
have been redundant. A joke on a joke. Also, Alex hates Jazz, always
has, and was adamant that the score not go in that direction no
matter how loudly the locations asked for it. To Alex the only
relevant "Vegas music" was done by Elvis Presley - which
composer Zander Schloss brought to The Winner soundtrack along
with other compositions. The original score for The Winner was
carefully and deliberately designed to play to the characters and
to the comically metaphysical sub-plot. In doing so we organically
created counter-point to the visual that framed the natural vulgarity
of Las Vegas.
You've described the score as "experimental".
What kind of unusual solutions did you use? Also, were there
any guest performers?
Much of the original score was heavily synthetic
and atmospheric. Extremely processed and over baked sonically.
Tangerine Dream with a hangover. Atypical for a noir-y, Vegas-y
film. The rest of the music was guitar based with both Zander and
I often abusing the instrument to generate the desired tone. The
guitar-based parts that did have melodic content we left as raw
as possible. Nothing sounded remotely the way a Hollywood film,
even an 'indie' would be scored. In no way did we attempt to cater
to the norms of what the genre called for. While the score was
hardly on the frontier of sonic innovation, it at least didn't
sound like any film we were aware of. Also, while scouting locations
for the film Alex went to several casinos and was struck by the
deafening maniacal din created by the slot machines and wondered
if these sounds could be incorporated into the score and/or the
sound design. While they were shooting in Las Vegas I visited the
location and went around with a field recorder and captured an
hour or so of various casino ambiances. The recordings were later
sampled, chopped, filtered, mangled and used as plastic musical
elements in the score. Much of the original score was either based
on these samples or had them playing underneath as a sound design
There were some guest performers (Josh Freese,
Matt Tecu, James Woody), but the vast majority of the score was
performed by either Zander or myself. Rebecca DeMornay's character
had two on-screen performances that were written into the script
that needed to be composed and recorded during pre-production for
her to lip sync to during the shoot. Rebecca has an adequate singing
voice so that process went smoothly as I recall.
The movie was heavily re-edited. Was the
music replaced only because of the edits or did the producers
deliberately want a different type of score?
Actually the picture edits were relatively minimal
so none of the decision to replace the score was based on that
- I should say that, although the edits were small they changed
the film drastically. Most of the cuts were designed to minimize
Frank Whaley's darkly eccentric character, a character that Alex
felt was pivotal to the film. Indeed, much of the timbre for the
score was drawn from the chorus that Whaley's character provided.
There were some differences early on between Alex and the producers
(Mark Damon and Rebecca DeMornay) on several points regarding the
the direction of the film in general, and the direction of the
music in specific. All the notes that they gave regarding the score
were attempts to impose a more cinematically conventional approach
to the music. Clearly they didn't understand what we were trying
to do. If they did they definitely didn't like it!
Alex Cox described Daniel Licht's replacement
work as "porno music". What's your opinion on it?
Alex's quote on the subject: "(the Pray for
Rain score) was completely stripped out and replaced with fake
jazz, of the kind producers buy by the yard for pornos."
I didn't think it was so bad. I probably would
have never heard it except the director's cut with the original
score was accepted to a film festival. Through some mix up the
festival ended up with tapes of both versions. Alex was out of
the country and asked me to have a listen to make absolutely certain
the right version went to the festival. I thought it was a fine
score. Daniel Licht is a very capable composer. Much more so than
me. However the music was exactly the opposite of what the director
had envisioned - a faux noir Jazz-score that played to the location.
Watching both versions of the film is a fairly good study on just
how much influence a soundtrack has on the film viewing experience.
I think even the layman film goer might agree the footprint the
Licht score has on the film fundamentally changes the film and
the statement that the director was trying to make. I'm sure Licht
was underpaid, overworked and doing as his employer asked, but
his score is utterly void of creativity. It is a very "proper" film
score that flows nicely with the film and draws no attention to
itself whatsoever. Also, Jazz scores were trendy at the time so
even that choice (made by the producer no doubt) lacked original
thought. The Pray for Rain score was composed deliberately, not
only as counter-point to the story and locations as I've described,
but also to prevent the film from being a redundant adjunct to
the independent films that were the rage of that period in the
Some copies of the movie (in Japan) still
retain your score. How did that come about?
Although they're notoriously commercial as a society
the Japanese retain a great deal of respect for the artist. Specifically
the director. As I recall, since Alex was so vocal about his disapproval
of the version that the producers were releasing the Japanese distributor
asked if they could show the cut with the original edit and score
as the director intended. Since Alex's cut was fully delivered
and in the can it was easy to create prints.
Original underscore for feature film, Cinecom/Virgin Pictures. Cast includes
Adam Ant, Talia Balsam and David Packer
Director Bobby Houston
for Rain's third film score was for a low-budget film called Trust
Me, directed by Bobby Houston. It was by far the most collaborative
score we did as a "soundtrack-group". Since I had composed
all the music from our first two films we scored, I took the lead
in spotting, producing and coordinating the score for Trust Me,
but there were compositions in the score by all members of the
group at that time (Gary Brown, Paul Trupin, James Woody and myself).
We created demos at my home studio in San Francisco and then went
to LA for ten days to record the score.
It wasn't until we had been hired for the project
that I found out the film had already been scored once before,
and that the director had rejected the music. It isn't all that
uncommon for producers to reject a score and have it redone by
a new composer, but this one happened to have been composed by
Oscar-winning, film music luminary Elmer Bernstein! It wasn't until
years later, when one of my own scores was rejected (see Seven
Scores: Dan Wool - The Winner) that I came to appreciate the effect
this can have on a composer. I'm sure Elmer Bernstein was very
confident in his ability as a composer. I doubt he had as much
anxiety as I did about having his work tossed out, but that couldn't
have been his desired outcome.
The following is an excerpt from an interview
with me conducted by Hubai Gergely as research for his book "Torn
Music", that focuses on the rather common phenomena of entire
film scores being rejected and redone. In this excerpt I go into
some detail about how Pray for Rain came to replace the great
Elmer Bernstein's original underscore for Trust Me.
Regarding the re-scoring of the film "Trust
Me", originally scored by Elmer Bernstein: How were you
contacted to do the movie?
Victor Ratto, Pray for Rain's manager at the time
(Pray for Rain was primarily a band until the early 90s) was friends
with the music supervisor, Peter Afterman. Since we only had two
scores under our belt Victor was calling in a favor by asking Peter
to give us a shot. We ended up doing demos of a scene or two that
impressed the director (Bobby Houston) enough to give us the job.
What kind of instructions did you receive?
This is the only time in my career that I can
recall where the type of score was was left entirely up to the
composer. I think the demo was mostly a test of our instincts so
we were given no instructions. They just wanted to see what we
came up with. I think we thought it'd be fun to try something completely
outside the pop genre that we were used to as a band so we chose
to try a modern Jazz score. The main character of the film was
sort of a slick pretentious modern art dealer so the choice to
use a slick (pretentious) modern Jazz score seemed to make sense.
Have you heard Elmer's score? If yes,
what did it sound like?
No. I'm not even sure they told us initially that
we were replacing a score. When the tapes showed up they still
had Elmer Bernstein's credit on it! I thought it was just a joke
- a place-holder with Elmer Bernstein's name being used as a generic
composer-credit-goes-here slug. Trust Me was a very small film.
It didn't occur to me that Elmer Bernstein would actually have
been involved. At some point while we were scoring we learned that
the director didn't care for Bernstein's score and that was why
it was being re-scored. It wasn't until several years later that
I happen to run into an engineer that worked on the original score.
He told me that Bernstein had composed the original score using
a Theremin - an esoteric electronic instrument - as the main instrument
and in fact he (the engineer) got the impression the only reason
Bernstein agreed to score the film was so that he could experiment
with the Theremin.
Why was the change necessary? Do you know
of any drastic edits?
I don't think there were any big changes to the
picture. As I recall the the director had very little input on
the original score. It was like "do you want Elmer Bernstein
to score your film?" "Um, yes". Who wouldn't? But
what happened, I suspect, was that they sent Elmer the tapes and
he sent back the Theremin experiment.
How would you describe your own score?
There were a couple of guitar based, "pop-ballad" cues
(it was the 80s), but mostly it was a "Jazz" score.
The irony of course is that my own experimental score for Alex
Cox's The Winner was replaced with a Jazz score by another composer
a few years later. It's a fairly traumatic thing to happen to a
composer really. When The Winner score got tossed I took comfort
in the fact that even the great Elmer Bernstein had had scores
rejected. Even Elmer must have felt a little hurt that his music
had been swapped out. It's just a part of the business. And not
that surprising really. The last major creative element to be added
to a film is always the music. It's the last chance for anyone
to have input.
There are reports
of Bernstein's score retained in some prints of the movie.
Do you know anything about that?
I never heard that before. I hope so. Since Elmer
Bernstein's notoriety far outshines Pray for Rain's, any of the
actors' in the film and the director's combined I would think that
score would be a very good selling point of any DVD rerelease.
Even if it's only for the soundtrack-philes.