6 Movie Composers on Severed Heads, Stubborn Directors and Feeling ‘Like Frankenstein’

Alexandre Desplat (Argo, Moonrise Kindgom), Mychael Danna (Life of Pi), Marco Beltrami, (The Sessions), Patrick Doyle (Brave), Danny Elfman (Tim Burton’s films, Hitchcock, Silver Linings Playbook), Fernando Velazquez (The Impossible) sound off on their professional passions at the Warner Bros. Studio’s Eastwood Scoring Stage.

Writing music often is a solitary pursuit, so it was no wonder that when six renowned composers – Marco Beltrami, 46 (The Sessions), Mychael Danna, 54 (Life of Pi), Alexandre Desplat, 51 (ArgoMoonrise Kingdom, Rise of the Guardians, Zero Dark Thirty), Patrick Doyle, 59 (Brave), Danny Elfman, 59 (Frankenweenie, Hitchcock, Promised Land, Silver Linings Playbook), and Fernando Velazquez, 36 (The Impossible) — gathered in one room, they relished the chance to discuss the complexities of their trade as part of THR‘s roundtable series. The setting for this gathering of scoring heavy hitters and potential Academy Award nominees: a soundstage sans musicians but with the familiar trappings of a workspace they know all too intimately. Indeed, the high-pressure undertaking of putting music to picture can be a painful process, but the rewards, like a perfectly formed, unforgettable melody, are worth every sacrifice — and there are many.

The Hollywood Reporter: What were the biggest musical riddles you all had to solve in the last year?

Mychael Danna: I have, I don’t know, a hundred films on my IMDb page, but at the beginning of every project I truly can’t remember how to do this job. (Laughter.) It’s like: I know I did one a minute ago, but I really can’t remember. Step one is just talking with the director and really getting inside the film, inside the story and inside the director’s head. On Life of Pi, that was something we took a long time on. Ang [Lee] worked on the film for four years, and we’d been talking about it for four years. I started writing kind of in the way that we’d talked about, and it wasn’t really working. It was too intellectual. So we discovered that really what Pi needed was something kind of more effortless. All those intellectual ideas had to be in the music, but they had to be disguised in a way that they were not, so they wouldn’t shake you out of the main thrust, which was this emotional level that it had to work at. That was a struggle. It was hard for me because my natural way of writing is complex. I think simple is hard anyway, but simple for me is really hard.

The Hollywood Reporter | Read the Full Transcript