Friday, May 8, 2009

Jerry Goldsmith and POWDER

This blog was in part posted on my now defunct MySpace and Facebook pages, but while I am in the chaos of trying to get Jeepers Three into preproduction, and am putting together a detailed Jeepers Creepers blog, I thought I would share it for those who haven't read it and for those interested in my experience working with the late, great film composer JERRY GOLDSMITH who scored my film POWDER.

When Disney decided to make POWDER and had okayed the final screenplay I was unaware that the script made the rounds to more than just agencies representing actors. It went to agencies representing composers as well.

So in the late part of 1994, as we went out to the young and talented Matt Damon, Johnny Depp, and Leonardo DiCaprio for the part of POWDER, and waited patiently for their responses, I was told one day -much to my shock- that not only had John Williams expressed an interest in scoring my yet to be made film, but that Jerry Goldsmith had as well!

The film was months away from shooting and I was speechless. These two guys were my music Gods all through high school. Seriously --I didn't own a Beatles album, I owned movie soundtracks by both Jerry and John and I played a hole through most of those LPs I listened to them so much.

At first I didn't know what to make of such incredible news about my little film POWDER. I always think the film I am working on is something special -and POWDER was no exception, but with this news about John and Jerry, I began to think that maybe I really was onto something here and that even I didn't understand how special it could end up being.

Let alone the thought that with the participation of one of these brilliant musical powerhouses it could become the first possible milestone in my nonexistent career.

I had a problem though. I had just finished a low budget film for New Line Home Video and had worked with a young composer on it named Bennett Salvay who had done an incredible job for no money and who demonstrated that he was a Williams and a Goldsmith himself, just waiting to happen.

In fact, I was so happy with Bennett's score to NATURE OF THE BEAST, that I had told him, he would score my next and possibly every film I ever make. When you find someone this talented and this easy to work with --believe me, you want to repeat the experience. Not just because it increases the quality and success of your storytelling but because you want to work with great people who are great to work with!!!

I didn't know how to tell Bennett that my two movie music icons had each expressed an interest in scoring POWDER. But Bennett is the kind of gracious guy who once I told him the news, told me that he would understand if I felt the need to go and work with one of these guys on the picture.

This was the kind of incredible guy Bennett was and still is to this day. He knew that it was the chance of a lifetime for me and I think understood, through our work together, just how important and passionate I was about film music and the people who wrote it.

In other words, Bennett absolved me of any guilt for wanting to go with one of these movie music icons and for that, I will always be grateful to him. And it is just another indication that he is as wonderful a human being as he is a composer.

Ironically, the fact that I got to work with Jerry -cemented my relationship with Bennett Salvay forever. Both as a friend, collaborator and my composer of choice.

I moved forward on deciding between John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith for my strange tale of an albino boy with supernormal powers. But in fact, I had no idea how to decide between these two and thought that at any moment, I would wake up from this bizarre dream and discover it all was just some fantasy.

Soon after, Disney not only gave us a start date but also a date they wanted the film in theaters and the movie was suddenly "fast tracked".

That's an industry term meaning a film was now going into production as quickly as humanly possible. It was time the choice of composer had to be made --and as it turned out the particulars of each of these talented composers made the decision for me.

Because John William's representatives explained to me that when John offers to score your film, you agree to the following protocol: You shoot the film, you edit the film and then John views the film with you -with NO temp score or music on the picture at all- and then decides if he will score the film or not.

Actually none of this was a problem for me. Even the temp score stipulation. Every movie gets temporary music put on it during its editing and previewing process. These are usually bits of other scores from other films, helping to make the early versions of the film play more like a finished film.

I thought it made sense that John Williams didn't want to hear other scores (even pieces of his own scores) on the picture he was about to see. He didn't want other music put in his head before he came up with what he thought would be right for the story.

For either Jerry or John Williams it made perfect sense. The genius of both Jerry and John I think is about their intrinsic talent to find the right musical sound and musical language for any particular film.

There are many talented composers who can write a melody or a song or even a riff and put it to film --but to envision and create music, which is basically another character in your film -a musical character but still a character --you want the Marlon Brando of film scoring the same way you'd want the Marlon Brando of acting.

John and Jerry both had this trait --true genius in the field of film scoring . A trait that I found in my own Bennett Salvay not coincidentally.

However, the fact that John Williams could decline to score the film at a crucial point in the film's post production gave Disney (or specifically Caravan Pictures and Hollywood Pictures under the Disney umbrella) concern -especially if the film was to make its' planned release date.

Disney/Caravan did not want to suddenly be without a composer only weeks away from POWDER's release -which could happened if the talented Mr. Williams decided after seeing a rough cut, that he did not want to score the picture after all.

Jerry Goldsmith's camp had no such criteria and was willing to commit to the film before a frame had even been shot and so it was decided that one of my movie music heroes would be adding the score to my first studio picture.
My first meeting with Jerry was a lunch somewhere along Rodeo Drive where I bubbled over with more than my share of fan boy enthusiasm and I think I was taken by his humility and gentle demeanor. Looking back, it couldn't have been more of a love fest. I think Jerry was equal parts delighted that I had so much love and respect for him and such a working knowledge of many of his scores.

And as we spent more time together, my hours of listening to Goldsmith scores during my painful adolescence and turbulent teen years actually paid off.

I still remember the awestruck look on both Jerry and his lovely wife Carol -when I recited the lyrics to the love theme from "The Omen" -a song called "And the Piper Dreams" in their Beverly Hills kitchen one afternoon.

As it turned out, not only had wife Carol written those lyrics but she performed them on the soundtrack album that was one of those records I had played a hole in during my late teens. Who says being a soundtrack geek doesn't pay off?

More evidence to my theory that true artists are true fans first. I think I found a way deep into Jerry's heart simply by being the basic, simple fan boy that I am. And the true fan of his music that I genuinely was.

We truly bonded. And not just because the movie POWDER was so special to him -and I think it truly was a film he felt an immediate and deep connection with- but our bond also grew out of my appreciation for so many of his scores -many that turned out to be better than the films they accompanied- and I was not afraid to tell him so.

Even the great geniuses of film, need, like all of us, to be appreciated and valued. This is one of many lessons that Jerry taught me, simply by letting me be part of his life and his filmography.

After our lunch in Beverly Hills, Jerry not only agreed to score the picture but he started inviting me to scoring sessions. The first one I attended was on the Paramount lot and I got to sit and listen all day as he recorded his score for CITY HALL (a film with Al Pacino) with a 100 piece orchestra and an enormous percussion team - for the pounding drums that became that score's distinctive heartbeat.

I was a rapt audience and sat through the session next to his long time music editor Ken Hall who would later be the music editor on POWDER.

Kenny Hall as it turned out, was one of Hollywood's grand master music editors. He had been John William's editor on E.T. and had worked with just about every great composer in the movies before settling down with Jerry and being his editor exclusively for the last decade.

A music editor, in case you don't know, takes spotting notes for the composer (basically taking notes as to where the director and composer agree music should start and stop at each moment throughout the film) and does a million other crucial chores both personal and technical for the production, orchestration and the recording of the score.

In the instance of Ken Hall, he also overlooks the mixing of the score into the final film as it blends with FX and dialog. It is a huge job and another of those invisible but vital parts of filmmaking that the average movie goer doesn't even know exists.

Ken's stories kept me enthralled believe me. For a kid who basically lived his life listening to movie music, I could have listened to Ken Hall's stories for weeks at a time. One thing he made clear to me that day: that I was very lucky indeed to have such a talented man agree to score POWDER. "And if I didn't," Ken said smiling, "I would find out."

Off I went to Houston Texas and shot the film in the Spring of '94. It was literally one of the best -if not THE best experiences I have ever had making a film. The script was mine, the casting was mine, the composer was mine -they (meaning Caravan head Roger Birnbaum who would go on to discover M. Night Shymalan when he produced THE SIXTH SENSE) really let me make my movie.

Though Disney did have a say in the choice of cast - we luckily all agreed together that after reading over a hundred talented young actors, Texas native Sean Patrick Flanery (who at that time was known for playing Young Indiana Jones in the George Lucas TV series) was the only one to play POWDER. His read was phenomenal. And to this day I see his performance and thank my lucky stars that we found him.

It was also the only film I had ever made where the only cut I was asked to make from my finished director's cut -was fourteen frames. That's right -fourteen frames. Some other time I will tell you about those fourteen frames if you want to know.

When the film was shot and edited I brought the film to Jerry's house and we watched it together in his living room. We talked a little bit about the movie but mostly about how much he adored it.

The next time I saw Jerry was when he attended a sneak preview of the film in Pasadena. Apparently Jerry wanted to see, as did Disney/Caravan, how the film played before an audience.

(Shooting the emotional finale of the film. The cast is singing some Irish ballad -- inspired by what we are all watching on the monitor in front of us: the playback of the incredible clouds and spectacular sky God saw fit to give us for the final shot of the film where everyone looks toward the heavens and Jerry's score soars)

A recruited audience that sat and watched POWDER for the first time. And with my temp score made up mostly of music from the films THE WAR and FRIED GREEN TOMATOES -each by Thomas Newman who back in 94' was just coming onto the movie music scene as a new, unique and incredibly moving and eloquent musical voice.

The screening went incredibly well. Numbers were high and even the president of Disney, Joe Roth, liked the film and had only one suggestion.

But when I went out into the lobby and found Jerry, he told me that he really didn't like the temp score. He said it was hurting the picture and really slowing it down.

I was kind of crushed. I had carefully selected and patched together each moment of music in the film and got just the right texture and feeling from every piece of the temp score that I wanted.

I didn't know what to say to Jerry's off hand comment about basically my idea for the music in my movie -which is what the director's temp score is.

After Jerry's remarks, I was worried about what he had in mind. This was one of the greatest composers in the history of the movies and he was telling me that my music ideas for my own movie -were all wrong.

Looking back on that night, I am glad that at the same screening Roger Birnbaum came up to me and asked "Who temped the film?" I did, I said. "That was the best temp score I have ever heard on a movie." I beamed with pride. "We'll never be able to top it," Roger added.

I couldn't believe he said that. We had Jerry FU****G Goldsmith. But he maintained that even Jerry would have a hard time topping the score like the one he had just heard that had been so appropriate and had helped the film so much.

As Jerry began to write the score, he would have me come over and listen to basically "synth sketches". These were his cues performed on a synthesizer. I still have a VHS tape with many of the synth cues for POWDER that Jerry gave me to listen to --always warning me that I shouldn't judge them for anything but "feeling" because when a real orchestra would play them they would sound completely different.

This left me with little or no way to really evaluate what Jerry was giving me. These synth sketches were really bare and very electric sounding so only on rare occasion did I hear something I really loved. But when I did, I would get very enthusiastic and say "That's the sound right there! That little passage right there is what I think this movie sounds like musically."

Not coincidentally it was always a passage of music that was pure and quintessential Jerry Goldsmith. The sound I had loved for what seemed like my entire life.

It didn't take long to realize that Jerry was going through a phase as an artist that was resistant to what I wanted the score for POWDER to be. Jerry was tired of his dark scores. His actions scores. He didn't want to go dark anymore. Jerry wanted to write beautiful music. Music full of emotion and power and light. He was in effect through with his darkside. At least this is what he alluded to. Even though he was one of the greatest that ever lived at writing dark, scary and just plain strange filmusic unlike anyone else.

As a result, the score I kept hearing in his sketches was continually sweet, ethereal and upbeat -in direct opposition to how I felt the first half of the film should feel. I didn't want the audience -or the music- to decide what this strange albino boy was.

Not too early. I wanted the music to be eerie. Maybe even scary sometime. I wanted the audience to be caught up in the mystery of POWDER. Jerry from the moment we first glimpse the boy in his basement had the music announcing him as some kind of angel that we did not need to be afraid of.

(Sean Patrick Flanery relaxing between takes and listening to music of his own.)

This was killing the edge that I had in my temp score that I was certain I needed to off set the ideas of love and unity that the film ultimately is about . There needed to be a healthy skepticism in the music so that its true sweetness and beauty couldn't be too easily discarded by audiences who might feel they are being manipulated by the story.

In the same way, they shouldn't feel manipulated by the music. The problem was getting this message across to Jerry.

And I couldn't. I was too in awe and too intimidated. See the problem with working with Jerry Goldsmith was the same as the joy that came from working with Jerry Goldsmith --and that was that he WAS Jerry Goldsmith!

And as a result, I couldn't tell Jerry when I wasn't happy. Who the Hell was I to tell one of the greatest composers in the movies that I wasn't happy with what he was doing?

Finally one day I just mustered my courage and said, " Jerry, to me the score feels too sweet too soon." I said that I was afraid that the music was becoming something that is rushing what should be our gradual discovery of the innocence and goodness and the very human being that POWDER turns out to be.

When I said this, he patted me on the head, said he understood and sent me on my way, not changing even one note and leading me to believe that I didn't understand what my own film needed.

Now there were plenty of cues that were just out and out wonderful and it was clear that I had one of the greatest composers ever working on my film. But there were several cues early in the film that I didn't know what to do with because I objected to their gentle and sweet tone which was not right for the early parts of the story.

During the final mix of the picture, when the score was being mixed in with the effects and dialogue, one such sweet cue I left out completely for this reason. And Ken Hall, from the mixing stage called Jerry to tell him. (This was after all Ken's job)

Jerry gets on the line with me -and I swallow dryly- with fear in my heart as Jerry said, "Why am I taking my name off this picture?" I was horrified. I mean it sounded like he was joking with me --sort of...

Looking back on it, he was half kidding, half not. But I stuck to my guns and the cue is not in the final film. And in all fairness, years later, I have said the same thing to many a producer when changes were being made in my films that I did not approve of, "So why am I taking my name off this picture," I would half jokingly say --so here I am being Jerry years later.

Back on a sweeter note about our collaboration. Jerry was a true gentleman and delighted in watching this very green, upstart of a director, slowly come into his own. For instance, one day he asked me, "Victor, where should we record the score?"

I didn't know what he meant until he said, "Have you ever been to London?" I looked at him and said, "I've never even been out of the country." He picked up the phone and told Disney that we would be recording the score for POWDER at Abbey Road Studios in London England.

And mainly because I think he wanted this small town country boy to see London!

As it turned out we recorded in the same studio where the Beatles recorded many of their most famous songs. It was a true delight. Alexander Courage (Sandy as I learned to call him) who had written the original STAR TREK theme for the TV series, did the arranging for the POWDER score. Jerry made a point to me that when his work was arranged it had already been orchestrated by the master himself.

I have heard others tell me Jerry was mistaken or that I had misheard but my memory of what Jerry told me was that the arrangers who worked on his scores were not to be confused with orchestrating the score -which Jerry did himself.

And so Disney flew me and Jerry and the film's producers to London and put us up at the Dorchester -one of the most lavish and elegant hotels in the world. To a little white trash kid like me who had never even flown first class before, believe me, this was like the greatest week of my life!!!

Listening to Jerry's score for my film suddenly explode from London's National Symphony Orchestra was truly four or five of the greatest days of my life. Talk about watching a dream come true. Ironic though isn't it?

It was a dream come true but it was also a score that for me didn't always work the way I thought it should. In this way, the dream and the reality are again two different things.

I watched Jerry conduct for four days -and along the way, watched him make various changes both for himself and for me right there on the recording stage.

At one point a cue needed much more emotion than was present and Jerry stood at the podium and in two minutes had written the entire string section into the cue. Ken Hall leaned over to me and said that Jerry was one of the only men alive who could do such a thing on the spot like that.

Sometimes Jerry would take an instrument out -like a basoon or something because he thought the cue sounded too comical for the moment. Often times it would be something I was also thinking at exactly the same moment, but was unsure about going up to him in front of the entire orchestra and saying something.

We made a few last minute adjustments like that -though the darker cues that I needed remained sweet and angelic.

One of the sweetest moments I remember from those days of recording was Jerry reminding me that I had told him that the french horn was my favorite instrument. He then conducted a short but beautiful cue where POWDER is packing his things to run away from the boy's home he has been sent to --and the Powder theme is performed by one elegant french horn solo. "That is for you," Jerry told me.

And I think of him whenever that moment in the movie comes up and I hear that incredibly sweet and lonely horn.

One more funny story about London. By the end of the recording days, we had some time left with the orchestra and I asked Jerry if he would mind if I conducted the orchestra for a moment. Just to see what it would be like.

Jerry looked at me with that crooked smile of his that this time said "Be careful what you wish for, kiddo..." Ken Hall had told me earlier that many composers in film cannot conduct their own scores because conducting is an art unto itself and that it takes a lot of education and practice and that Jerry was one of the great conductors.

Jerry however, agreed to let me try. And handed me his baton. I asked if I could conduct one of the cues from the film but he said I should try something simpler. He told the orchestra that I would conduct "Old Langzine". You know, "For Old Acquaintance be forgot..."

The orchestra came to attention and I raised my baton the way I had seen Jerry do so many times. I brought the baton down and this large orchestra played like absolute SHIT. So bad that I suddenly realized that they were playing bad on purpose and that Jerry was having a great laugh about it.

I was clearly not the first director who had foolishly asked to do this. And clearly not the first time the orchestra and Jerry had played this little prank. I did laugh. It was funny. And the playing --SO HORRIBLE.

Through it all, Jerry and I remained friends. When the film came out and became ridiculed and attacked because of my past, Jerry stood by me as did Roger Birnbaum, stating that regardless of what anyone was saying, "We had made a brilliant film and that nothing could change that."

Though Jerry did say he was troubled by several reviews that called his score too sweet and too saccharine -ironic since these were my concerns as the score was being written. I don't know if Jerry told that to me as if to say I had been right --or if he had simply forgotten my protests about some of the early cues in the film and was honestly bewildered about these reactions to the score.

When I think back on Jerry it is always with fondness. He told me some amazing tales.
Too many to go on about here in any detail -but I will bullet point some of them:

One was his relationship with Bernard Herrman -a man who truly inspired, admired and then in turn personally devastated a young Jerry Goldsmith.

And the legendary Miklos Roza who I think Jerry might describe as his true mentor.

And Alfred Newman (of Randy, Thomas and David composer fame) who had heard Jerry's music for radio dramas and how he gave Jerry his first big break at 20th Century Fox.

And I liked hearing his tales of working across the hall from John Williams at 20th TV -when they were both young guys writing music for Irwin Allen's TV shows. They would even write cues for each other when one or the other fell behind schedule. And Jerry said that on occasion, John, who was an excellent pianist, would play piano on some of Jerry's scores.

FILM FLAM MAN with George C. Scott seems to come to mind as one of the scores where Jerry said that Williams plays Goldsmith.

And interesting tales and observations during his assignments with Spielberg concerning Jerry's work on POLTERGEIST and GREMLINS.

One of the last times we were together he told me that the former Miss Andrew Lloyd Webber, Sarah Brightman, had hired a lyricist to put lyrics to the theme from POWDER and had recorded the song with the London Symphony.

He said that the legend goes that she went to the head of Disney (no longer Joe Roth, probably Eisner or someone) and said that she loved this film POWDER and the theme was so beautiful that she wanted to record it with lyrics.

Jerry said that the Disney big cheese reportedly said, "POWDER? We made a film called POWDER?"

Anywho, she hired friend and Disney lyricist David Zipple (Hercules, Mulan) and made her recording and put it on one of her many albums and performs it on tour. The only video of the performance is an abridged version (the album version is twice as long with a stunning finale) she did in Las Vegas on her Harem tour DVD.

No one like you

And we too - will it not be soft and kind
That rest from life, from patience and from pain
That rest from bliss, we know not when we find
How can I have enough of life and love

In your eyes are my secrets that I've never shown you
In my heart I feel I've always known you
In your arms there's a comfort that I never knew
You're what I've been waiting for, there's no one like you

Sure as the sunrise, pure as a prayer
You fashioned hope right out of thin air
Ev'ry dream I abandoned, seems it could come true
I believe in miracles, there's no one like you

Innocent as a newborn in a world so fright'ning
It's as if my world's been struck by lightning
Ev'ry dream I abandoned, seems it could come true
I believe in miracles, there's no one like you

The song is still one of my favorite songs to this day and always reminds me of my brief but indelible experience with one of the great musical voices of the 20th Century and how he became not just a friend and a part of my life but part of one of the films I am most proud of.


Me, with Jerry and my producer Dan Grodnik at Abbey Road. Behind him our legendary mixer Bruce Botnik.