Although the process has existed since the dawn of motion pictures, much of the theater-going populace remains unaware that film scores are sometimes cut out from their given movies and replaced with different music. Some view it as one of the seedier parts of the movie industry, but it is actually more common than one would think…so much so that film music historian Gergely Hubai has collected many of the unfortunate (or fortunate, depending on which side of the table you happen to sit) instances of film music replacement in the Silman-James Press published book, “Torn Music: Rejected Film Scores – A Selected History”.
While it would seem painful and disheartening for a composer to have his work cut from a film after spending months (and sometimes years) writing and recording the score, it turns out that many composers have grown a tough skin and have accepted it as simply a reality of the movie industry. We caught up with Mr. Hubai to further bring light to this peculiar phenomenon.
Did you feel, at any point in the creation of this book, that you were peeling the curtain back and exposing one of Hollywood’s dirty secrets?
On the contrary. When I wrote “Torn Music,” I tried to make the book as scandal–free as possible – I had to use my academic credentials in convincing composers and researchers that the book isn’t just some juicy collection of scandals. If you want exposing dirty secrets, there are far uglier stories about what agents and composers are willing to get a certain job – but those tales are truly horrifying and lack the educational value that I hope “Torn Music” possesses.
It seems that, through many of the stories in the book, three factors frequently are used as the reasons for a score being rejected – communication issues, egos, and time. Why do you think, after all these years, those three hurdles still cannot be overcome?
Because people don’t change that much – but some of the hurdles have been modified over the last couple of years. The biggest difference is the technical issue of demoing the full score before recording it. Back in the old days, a composer could show a piano demo of the key thematic material, but the filmmakers could only hear the music once it was being recorded. If they didn’t like the music, then they were up for a nasty surprise. Nowadays composers are expected to demo the whole score and fix everything to the last minor detail before they could move ahead with the recording. Film music rejection didn’t disappear with times – it just appears at a much earlier stage and less manpower is wasted on a dead end direction.
One of the most publicized films regarding rejected scores in recent years was “The Wolf Man”. Why did that not make the cut for the book, or did it happen after you were finished?
The manuscript was finished way before “The Wolf Man” came out – the book spent about two years in editing and layout and I recall seeing the film in theaters after I had handed in the “final cut”. If I really wanted to, I may have been able to discuss it alongside another major score replacement (“Edge of Darkness”) that happened at around the same time, but both projects were simply too sensitive at that stage – neither one was a particularly happy story, though “The Wolf Man” resolved itself eventually.
Regarding “Edge of Darkness,” I was honored to participate in the release of a CD that was “strongly influenced” by that project so to speak. As it stands now, the book runs a full circle – starting with a film that predates the symbolic birth of film music and ending with a video game that shows how the notion of score replacement bled into another medium as well.
Why did you choose “Predator” as the centerpiece for discussing temp scores?
The “Predator” story was a great discovery and Patrick Moraz was one of the most generous interview partners I had the pleasure of talking to. He gave exhaustive answers to my questions and even supplied a funny photo of him on the set of “Predator,” showing Schwarzenegger some music from his Walkman. But as I went through the answers, I realized that this story wasn’t a typical rejected score by definition and was a bit closer to original demos that were eventually used as temp music. Since I already had such great research material on this title, I didn’t want to discard it so I used it as the jumping board of a slightly wider discussion on this type of scoring (which was and to some degree is still quite frequent).
With regards to rumored replacement scores that never existed, as you explored with “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” I found a similar situation with one of the “Twilight” movies. IMDB had Harry Gregson-Williams listed as the composer, but when I interviewed him for another project, I brought it up, and he said it was the first time he had heard about it. How does stuff like this even get out there?
The story behind “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” is discussed in the book and reveals what is one of the more problematic aspect of discussing these scores – namely that Silvestri was involved at one point (his name is on some early posters), but he didn’t write a complete, fully recorded score, only some spec demo material which is very frequent. The reason I chose to discuss this project in particular is because my readership would most likely believe this rumor (there are even fake bootlegs out there) so it’s the best possible project to explain how being attached to the project does not equal getting a score replaced. The other example you mention (Harry Gregson-Williams supposedly involved with a “Twilight” film) can be anything from fan speculation, an early announcement or just the rumor mill working. That’s one busy mill…
Something that blows my mind every time I pick up the book is when I come across a film that has a heavyweight genius of a composer getting replaced, like all those entries with Elmer Bernstein being given the boot. My jaw drops at the audacity of the producers/directors. Did you ever feel this way when you were researching?
I believe Bernstein used to go around telling this anecdote in which a young producer asked him what had he done lately to which Bernstein replied “You go first” (or something to that effect). I could see this anecdote happening with many of this projects because fans of film music only see legendary composers being humiliated by a new generation of filmmakers – however, in many cases I could understand where the filmmakers were coming from when they decided not to use certain scores.
Of all the three very big names that came up frequently in the 1990s, Bernstein was putting the Ondes Martenot in many of his scores even when it was clear certain filmmakers didn’t care for the instrument – something similar happened to Goldsmith who got some scores replaced in the early 90s when filmmakers didn’t like the electronic sound he perfected in the 80s.
In John Barry’s case, producers and directors cited his unwillingness to rewrite anything as the primary reason they went a different route in these projects. From a practical point of view, you can understand what these filmmakers didn’t like – to them, the score is just one part of the film and not the major attraction.
Why do you think so few composers are given a second chance to correct scores before getting ousted by the director/producers?
I think that’s because most of the disagreements have a personal rather than a musical reason. You rarely hear directors or producers taking full responsibility for the dead end direction they’re taking so it’s easier to change the composer than to exactly pinpoint what doesn’t work. Most of the filmmakers even lack the vocabulary to express their dissatisfaction – they simply “don’t like” something about the music. Composers re-write and correct cues all the times and that’s fine with everybody as long as the direction is agreed upon – otherwise it is much easier to start with a blank slate.
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