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ScoreKeeper With Composer Harry Gregson-Williams About PRINCE CASPIAN, THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123, And More!!

Greetings! ScoreKeeper here returning from my little romp in the wardrobe to enlighten your minds with an interview of Lord Harry of the Gregson-Williams clan of Narnia. Harry Gregson-Williams has slammed the film scoring scene hard whilst taking no prisoners. His filmography includes some of the highest grossing films of the last decade and he tackles new projects like he’s just getting warmed up. Films sporting keen Gregson-Williams scores include CHICKEN RUN (2000), SHREK (2001), SPY GAME (2001), MAN ON FIRE (2004), SHREK 2 (2004), KINGDOM OF HEAVEN (2005), THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE (2005), FLUSHED AWAY (2006), SHREK THE THIRD (2007), and is currently fresh off his own return to Narnia with THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN (2008). With upcoming scores to X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (2009) and THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 (2009), Harry’s Aslan-like dominance continues to impress. Not long after the release of PRINCE CASPIAN, I had the opportunity to chat briefly with Harry Gregson-Williams about his rare foray into sequel scoring and how the experience affected his creative pursuits of film. So, dance with the trees, feast on Turkish delight, swashbuckle with the mice, and when you’re finished, relax while reading this brief interview with Harry Gregson-Williams. Enjoy!

ScoreKeeper: I’d like you to start off by bridging the gap between THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE and PRINCE CASPIAN. When you set off to score a major sequel like this, what elements of the first score were brought over and why? HGW: I wanted to do something different this time. The fact that PRINCE CASPIAN takes place twelve hundred years later, I wanted to do something different with the Narnia theme and significantly the children’s themes, or rather, the music that surrounds the children in the first film. It’s appropriate that I would bring those themes forward in order to give the viewer and listener some sense of the history there. Andrew Adamson, the director, was very keen for me to strike an odd chord of, not quite nostalgia, but have a sense of feeling that it’s something big that is being continued. Not something starting out new.
SK: Did that making working on PRINCE CASPIAN easier or more difficult? HGW: I haven’t made a living out of doing sequels, obviously. I’ve done the SHREK movies and I thought that was different. It’s a very different task of scoring. When I started work on CASPIAN, which was at the beginning of this new year, I did find it very difficult at first to find a spot where I could feel like I was striking a new chord. The title character of Prince Caspian is new to this movie so I dealt first with the eight minute opening sequence of the movie. It’s very dark and driving of Prince Caspian galloping through the woods being chased by soldiers. I was able to push the boat up there and get a slightly darker tone that I had in the first movie and run from there. It was pretty essential to me to not start with some old theme. You know what I mean? I felt I wanted to start something fresh and new and then incorporate the old thing. So that’s what I had to do. If I were ever to do a bunch of sequels – which I don’t plan to do – it would make life quite complex. On one hand I would want to embrace what has come before but on the other hand, I wouldn’t want to be stuck in the past. I would want to strike a different chord. It’s a balance. In fact, one of my assistants the other day added up out of 128 minutes of music in CASPIAN, only 32 of those minutes are related thematically to THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE.
SK: Did you find any other unique challenges specific to doing a sequel? HGW: No, not really. That was the main challenge and it did concern me all the way through. “Was I generating enough new material or was I using enough of the old material?” Andrew Adamson is a good director, especially with music. He really does direct and we really discovered it together. It was certainly his vision for the film to have some of the themes from THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE brought into CASPIAN and I had to give CASPIAN a bit of a darker edge. That’s what we set out to do.
SK: What are some of these new musical elements that you brought to PRINCE CASPIAN? HGW: Prince Caspian’s theme and then his nemesis which was Lord Miraz. I really liked the way that actor played him because it could have been quite tricky. I thought he did really well. I actually took Lord Miraz’s theme from an old theme and turned it into a new theme for this movie. Lord Miraz’s theme is actually the children’s theme inverted. Lord Miraz is the nemesis and the root of all evil where as the children were on the path of good. So I flipped that theme over and presto I had a theme for Lord Miraz. But I doubt anybody in the world, apart from me, will hear that. It was pretty fun.
SK: One of my favorite aspects of the film is how you scored Reepicheep’s character. Specifically, there is that one scene where they are invading the castle and he is darting and climbing up the ropes. You have this non-diatonic trumpet fanfare that is echoing off into the distance. Would elaborate on your motives and approach to scoring this character? HGW: I didn’t get to put that on the soundtrack…that particular moment. Reepicheep is a great new character and obviously it had to be a little bit playful. I wrote his theme quite quickly and then it was a case of “what instrument shall I play that theme on?” I had, for a long time, thought of a little pennywhistle and I tried that. We decided that it would probably make him a bit too cute. He’s quite a noble mouse and in many ways he is rather military. He’s got his army behind him…his small army of mice. So it seemed to me a trumpet would be the best thing. To give it a slightly different flavor, we stuck a mute in the trumpet and to accompany that, with some very small parts, col legno strings. The wooden parts of the bows are closer to the head on the bows so it makes a kind of scratchy wooden sound. It’s a really cool little technique. It can be used in an aggressive way but in this instance it served as a scratchy blissful sound to accompany the trumpet.
SK: And it’s in a non-diatonic context with the rest of the harmony, correct? HGW: You are right. It is verging on that. It’s a little confused and it’s a little mischievous. I didn’t want it to be a straight up and down tune. It was interesting that you pointed that moment out because Andrew beat me up about that for a long time. He kept feeling that it mustn’t be too cute for Reepicheep. I wanted to give it a vibe that was something more fun but still kept some of the tension. That particular scene with the night raid on the castle when Reepicheep shows up was necessary not to let the tension drop out of the scene, yet allow the viewer to feel that this was a fun moment. It was pretty cool when I actually got to see what Reepicheep looked like. For the most part what I saw was a kind of blue spot where he was going to be. I had no idea what he was going to look like.
SK: Yeah, I think you met the challenges you faced scoring that particular character. It’s a great solution to keep that balance. It was a very cool moment. When you compose – and this can relate to CASPIAN too – how do you start off on the compositional journey? What catalyzes the process? Are you a melodically driven composer? Do you set up harmonic patterns first or does a particular rhythm get the ball rolling? HGW: I always sit down at a piano and start with melodies. Then I move myself over to my sequencers and samplers and start to flesh out a theme that I think might work. The proof is in the pudding as they say. One could write what one thinks is a really great tune but if it’s not going to work for the character in the film then that’s not going to help out at all. When I first wrote Caspian’s theme, it came to me in 3/4 time as opposed to 4/4 time. I played the song for Andrew on the piano and he really liked it. He was surprised by it. It wasn’t what he was expecting but he said, “I mean that in a good way.” We looked at it and I could tell in his mind, “That’s a good melody but how the hell is that going to work during that eight minute night sequence as Prince Caspian is charging away?” We agreed that if I couldn’t make it work in four and quite robust and heroic, then it wasn’t the theme for us. I got it to work in 4/4 in a kind of driving manner but that’s often the case with themes. I find melodies and especially with a movie like PRINCE CASPIAN, it’s what, a hundred and twenty-eight minutes of music? You’ve got to be able to use your theme or you are dead. I think once I’ve got a tune and it’s right for harmonization and then I’ve got to flesh it out and orchestrate it while looking up with my samples against the picture. The next stage, if I was confident enough, would be get the director in to come listen and tell me what he thinks.
SK: Let’s talk about Andrew Adamson a little bit. You have worked on all of his films, if I am not mistaken. How many hours of collaborative time have you spent together? HGW: We have spent a lot of time together. We went through SHREK, SHREK 2, SHREK THE THIRD, the first NARNIA, and now the second NARNIA. He’s a really good friend and I really respect him and like his musical taste. I did from the word “go.” When he showed me the first cut of SHREK, one minute you have this Joan Jett song and the next minute a beautiful Hallelujah song which actually has a lot of emotion with this movie of a green ogre. Who would have thought it? A lot of those song placements came from Andrew so I trust his musical instincts and I think he trusts mine. We are in quite a good spot now. I’m not quite sure what is next for him. I think he’s going to take a year off. That’s what I think he is going to do. He’s been in NARNIA for three or four years just swamped.
SK: I’m always interested in comparing composer/director relationships and how they develop from the beginning to their present states. Now that you guys are friends and you have worked for so many years together, does that friendship cause you to relax perhaps or maybe even lower your guard a bit? Without any inhibitions you may be freer to speak ones mind which can be both an asset and a liability. HGW: I think it’s important for a director to be able to collaborate whether it’s with an editor or composer. In post-production it’s a pretty lonely place for a director and although Andrew’s movies have amassed billions of dollars at the box office, this is only his fifth movie and his second live action movie. I don’t hesitate to tell him what I think about various things but it works both ways. Getting to know someone better helps to create a more creative situation as opposed to anything negative. I know what you are saying that the danger might be bit too relaxed or not trying as hard as we should be, but that certainly is not the case. If anything, someone you actually liken to care about you, you don’t want to let them down. You want to do the best possible job.
SK: Is there a moment or two in PRINCE CASPIAN that stand out for you? A moment in which you are most proud of? HGW: The opening sequence is close to my heart only because that was the first sequence that I wrote and it’s so very different than anything we had in THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE. It was quite…I wouldn’t say pyrotechnical but it’s got a lot going on orchestrally. It was a lot of fun to record. It took quite a while. The orchestra was so brilliant and the sight reading was really quite amazing. But that was a lot of months.
SK: Is there going to be a special edition CD release of PRINCE CASPIAN as was with THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE? HGW: That I don’t know. I can’t help the feeling of disappointment because the first film blew up so incredibly and this one didn’t seem to have. I don’t know. It has yet to open in the UK but I think people in the UK are going to like it a lot. We will see what happens. As you probably know, I won’t be doing any more NARNIA films. They went and hired a different director who works with his own composer. So that should be interesting.
SK: That was going to be my next question. Do you lament not being able to take the series to completion or is it a relief to be finished with that world? HGW: I’ve been really fortunate to have done the two to date and I think it’s going to be exciting and fascinated to see what David Arnold does. I spoke to David about it and he is equally excited. I’m very fortunate to have done two and I think when we started this conversation I was pointing out that sequels are not necessarily the spot a composer wants to be in. I think it would be better for David to push the boat up fresh and new and see what happens. It’s a very different film, the next one.
SK: But there could be a theme or two of yours that pops up. That will be a weird experience, don’t you think? HGW: Who knows? I don’t know it that will work for David or not, but yeah, that would be a weird experience.
SK: What are you currently working on right now? HGW: Tony Scott’s next movie which is a remake of THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123. Are you familiar with the original film?
SK: Very much so! HGW: Fantastic! So we have Denzel (Washington) and John Travolta and it’s pretty good. I’m just looking at a very early cut and it’s going to be tense.
SK: Any thoughts of resurrecting David Shire’s urban twelve-tone approach to your score? HGW: No. Why would I do that? David Shire, he nailed the twelve tone urban approach. So that won’t be my approach. If he hadn’t nailed it there might be something worth going after. But no. I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to do with it. I’m just enjoying the early days and getting to know the film.
SK: Well Harry, I’ll certainly look forward to hearing what you come up with. Best wishes to you on the film and thank you so much for taking the time out to chat with me today. HGW: Thanks.

On behalf of Ain’t It Cool News, I’d like to thank Harry Gregson-Williams for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk. I’d also like to thank Allie Lee of Chason & Company and Beth Krakower of Cinemedia Promotions for their help with this interview. If you would like to check out an array of awesome photos from the PRINCE CASPIAN scoring session at Abbey Road Studios in London, check out the spread over at ScoringSessions.com. If you would like to check out an array of awesome photos from the PRINCE CASPIAN scoring session at Abbey Road Studios in London, check out the spread over at ScoringSessions.com [HERE].

ScoreKeeper!!!



Readers Talkback
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  • July 1, 2008, 10:52 a.m. CST

    Fuck McG

    by ingloriousjedi

  • July 1, 2008, 10:53 a.m. CST

    No words on Metal Gear?

    by SpencerTrilby

    His collaboration with N. Hibino was fantastic on the games' OST.

  • July 1, 2008, 11:07 a.m. CST

    Really, about Metal Gear

    by Gd00

    The sheer cinematic power of the series and its scores is at least worthy a mention!

  • July 1, 2008, 11:07 a.m. CST

    David Shire's score for the original was great

    by Tacom

    Perfect urban funky music for a 70s urban crime movie.

  • July 1, 2008, 11:11 a.m. CST

    Loved his Kingdom of Heaven score

    by kwisatzhaderach

    Great score, does ScoreKeeper know why a brief piece of Jerry Goldsmith's 13th Warrior (another great score) was used towards the end of the film though?

  • July 1, 2008, 11:16 a.m. CST

    Metal Gear Solid

    by RayVinyard

    You really should've asked him about his work on MGS 2-4, cause it's really outstanding. I get fucking goosebumps everythime I here the Theme of MGS 2.

  • July 1, 2008, 11:20 a.m. CST

    More Metal Gear...

    by seanny_d

    His Metal Gear work is truly amazing. Not only the main themes, but also the track "Debriefing" on the MGS3 soundtrack is one of the most powerful pieces of score I've ever heard.

  • July 1, 2008, 11:22 a.m. CST

    Not everyone's a video game fan..

    by skimn

    ...but yea, the MGS scores are great..

  • July 1, 2008, 11:29 a.m. CST

    Why remake "The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3"?

    by Drunken Rage

    Guess they expect it to make a shitload of money.

  • July 1, 2008, 11:39 a.m. CST

    Good to see some Metal Gear love

    by SpencerTrilby

    Since ScoreKeeper asked John Debney about his video game soundtracks in last year's interview, I thought it would be the same here. Too bad it wasn't mentioned, but very good interview nonetheless.

  • July 1, 2008, 11:43 a.m. CST

    Taking Pelham

    by EriamJH

    Great 70s movie and perfect score! Really, I don't think I would have felt "the vibe" if it wasn't for the great cast merged with the score. I want this on DVD... do I have to wait for the remake to come to DVD, before they release the original? (Hollywood marketing and pocket liners, you are so obvious in your schemes!)

  • July 1, 2008, 11:49 a.m. CST

    Prince Caspian is the best movie of the year...

    by Sith Witch

    Thank you for posting this awesome and illuminating interview!

  • July 1, 2008, 11:54 a.m. CST

    you guys beat me in mentioning Metal Gear

    by T 1000 xp professional

    that's all i was looking for in this article..::sigh::

  • July 1, 2008, 12:02 p.m. CST

    I hope he scores a Metal Gear movie

    by MattmanReturns

    if they make one.

  • July 1, 2008, 12:09 p.m. CST

    DAMN YOU M NIGHT SHYAMALAN!

    by --- Emperor ---

    Damn you to hell, asshole!

  • July 1, 2008, 12:10 p.m. CST

    Watched Gone Baby Gone yesterday and before

    by CreasyBear

    I could even hit "play movie", I could tell that Gregson-Williams did the score. Not slamming him at all, it's just that he does have a distinctive style. His score for Man on Fire is amazing, raw and brutal when it needs to be, and elegiac in all the right places.

  • July 1, 2008, 12:59 p.m. CST

    No MGS theme in MGS4...

    by photoboy

    I would have liked to hear Gregson-Williams thoughts on not using the MGS theme that had been in every MGS game until #4 came along.<br><br> I've heard it's because Tappy who original composed the MGS theme ripped off Sviridov's "Winter Road", and they do sound awfully similar. But I don't see why that should mean the MGS theme had to be dropped. Having listened to the MGS4 score the lack of the MGS theme is just a gaping hole. To be honest I only buy the MGS games for the music, as only the first MGS was fun to play. :(

  • July 1, 2008, 2:47 p.m. CST

    photoboy

    by Rickey Henderson

    The MGS classic score is definitely included in MGS4 at the end if you listen carefully. It's just in a different key than what you've heard before. Sure, it's not as rousing as the MGS2 theme (which is far and away the best version) but the same chords are there nonetheless.

  • July 1, 2008, 3:08 p.m. CST

    Kingdom of Heaven Soundtrack was great

    by Stollentroll

    Very nice job on that.

  • July 1, 2008, 4:03 p.m. CST

    Ba-WOMP-WOMP-WOMP...ba-WOMP-WOMP-WOMP...

    by Nasty In The Pasty

    David Shire's score to the 1974 Taking Of Pelham 1-2-3 is ICONIC.

  • July 1, 2008, 4:15 p.m. CST

    So when asked about copying Shire's approach to the score he say

    by PumpyMcAss

    "No. Why would I do that? David Shire, he nailed the twelve tone urban approach. So that won’t be my approach. If he hadn’t nailed it there might be something worth going after. But no." So does that mean that Tony Scott thinks that he can improve on Joseph Sargent's original film in general? Fuck Remakes In Their Unoriginal Asses.

  • July 1, 2008, 4:42 p.m. CST

    Rickey Henderson

    by photoboy

    I'll have to give it another listen to see if I can pick it out this time. Really though I was hoping they would try to outdo the MGS2 version of the theme, even though it's a nigh-on impossible task given how fantastic that version is.

  • July 1, 2008, 6:45 p.m. CST

    MGS4 is his best work...

    by shagg187

    I think not asking him about MGS4 i.e. his recent work is kinda a disgrace to his awesomeness.

  • July 1, 2008, 7:47 p.m. CST

    A little thing called METAL GEAR?

    by sevadro

    Scorekeeper dropping the ball! I want to know if he will score the live action movie!

  • July 1, 2008, 9:08 p.m. CST

    New PELHAM is pointless.

    by Darkman

    INSIDE MAN hit the nail on the head in this department. <br><br> And my fave HGW score has to be FLUSHED AWAY. Pity it wasn't released.

  • July 1, 2008, 11:11 p.m. CST

    Prince Caspian best film of the summer so far

    by AntoniusBloc

    <p>I predict Dark Knight will only come close, but cowbell, the quality of Caspian surpasses the major films released this summer, including Iron Man, because Caspian had more depth, and is more epic. Mori in his glowing reviews of Dark Knight and Hellboy mentions the quality of the stories because they compare to mythology, a comparison I also make to comic books. Myths represent an objective, true desire. Why the modern myth of comic books will always still have a childish aspect is that we now know what the desires of the old myths pointed toward: to the true myth, the story that all myths pointed toward, the true fulfillment of the true desire. When 'new' myths like comic books, ignore this, they will always seem childish, yet wise because they point to our deepest desire that we are more than what we appear to be, and so is he universe. We desire to be gods. However, we now know we are in the image of God. Tolkien and Lewis realized this, and include the awareness of this truth in their myths. Therefore, they have more depth in the message, that doesn't ignore history, and has a better understanding of our true desires. </p> Prince Caspian lives up to such a story, and even though it is a children's story, it contains the depth of the true myth, and makes the film very different from anything you will see on film in modern times, and refreshing. The exception, of course , is the similarity to Tolkien's world, but if you know the history of Tolkien and Lewis, you will understand this similarity, along with the understanding they both had of myth, i described above. They both told Christian myths, Lewis a little more directly. This film is much darker than the first, but so is the book. In fact, the book is much darker than the film. An example is the scene where they summon the White Witch, a very scary and dramatic scene. In the book, this is only hinted at by a hag and a werewolf. The mysterious werewolf's lines hardly sound like a typical modern day children's story, esp. a disney story. But the film actually had to leave out a line when the mysterious creature first introduces himself. This is the line in the book, guess which part they left out, which wasn't much: "I'm hunger. I'm thirst. Where I bite, i hold till I die, and evern after death they must cut out my mouthful from my enemy's body and bury it with me. I can fast a hundred years and not die. I can lie a hundred nights on thie ice and not freeze. I can drink a river of blood and not burst. Show me your enemies!" The significance of this scene in the book and the felm is the temptation of power, an unnatural one, but clearly as the werewolf points out, a very great one. It is an unauthorized power, a manipulative one, the manipulation of nature without the approval of its true creator. Before Lewis became a Christian, not satisfied with the logic of a materialist philosophy, he just avoided the dangers of dabbling in the occult when seeing a close friend suffer insanity as a result of being deeply involved. But the temptation of this magic is power, and immediate results, no matter the cost. It is destructive power rather than creative, not in the image of God. Anyway, it's a great film, and Harry Gregson Williams does a great job with the score, sadly, not all of it on the original soundtrack that was released for sale.

  • July 2, 2008, 2:40 a.m. CST

    Prince Caspian = bland shit

    by kwisatzhaderach

    Horribly directed and acted.

  • July 2, 2008, 8:16 a.m. CST

    Wow, nobody has said

    by Seph_J

    "who cares!!!" yet! I'm surprised. That's usually been stated within the first 4 posts by some fucking idiot! <p> Maybe the cretins who read this site are finally beginning to understand how important film scores are! Thank fuck for that! <p> Oh, and nice one Scorekeeper. You are still the only person who writes on this site that I read without fail. <p> Now interview Howard Shore please... ask him what's cooking...

  • July 2, 2008, 8:44 a.m. CST

    Nothing about Metal Gear? How shameful

    by zerogundamx

    His work in Metal Gear Solid 2, 3 and 4 are excellent.

  • July 2, 2008, 10:24 a.m. CST

    The New Pelham is the THIRD version

    by JIMBOCOP

    Sadly, there was a shit 90's remake with Eric Roberts in it. BTW the first version IS available on R2 DVD (I own one - brilliant movie!)

  • July 3, 2008, 8:11 a.m. CST

    Looks like a cheap ass peice of shit

    by sugarbess

    Seems he is seeking extramarital relationships on the rich men seeking affairs club 【wealthybeauty.c o m】 , reported by the magazine wealTHY GOSSIP, the man wants to find a sugar girl there.