We can easily confer legendary status on composer Hans Zimmer. The German-born composer fell in love with storytelling and music as a child, which lead him to win an Academy Award for The Lion King among another 86 wins and over 100 nominations. Zimmer was present to screen and discuss clips of his work from films such as Rain Man, Gladiator, The Lion King, The Dark Knight and the trailer for Interstellar on The Hollywood Masters series on October 29, 2014. Here are a few notes on some of his projects.
The Lion King
Growing up in England with German heritage and having lived in the U.S., Hans Zimmer says he is “homeless in a sense.” In school, Zimmer only wanted to study music, fueling his natural “healthy disdain for authority.” His mother set him up with piano lessons, but he didn’t stick with them since he didn’t like the discipline.
She then introduced him to the opera in Zurich. This event and the loss of his father influenced his approach to his work for The Lion King. “I suddenly realized the story is about a child losing his father,” he said. “And my father died when I was six years old and I didn’t know how to deal with it, and suddenly I was confronted with having to deal with it, and so I really wrote a requiem for my father.”
“It’s a road movie and road movies have a tradition of either being jangly guitars or strings,” he said. “So we thought let’s, first of all, take out everything that is the normal convention.” For example, the wheels of the car match and blend with the rhythm of the music. When Rain Man Director Barry Levinson approached Zimmer, it was his first chance to come to the U.S. Being dropped into Los Angeles helped Zimmer relate to Dustin Hoffman’s character’s experience. “I was Rain Man,” he says.
Zimmer called Ridley Scott a painter and a poet, and he wanted the Gladiator music to reflect these qualities. “I would somehow figure out what would help Ridley to be poetic, because I know that’s what he wants to do.” With the music in this film, Zimmer felt he was going back to his roots with German composer Richard Wagner, known for his operas, as a big influence. “It’s a really undisciplined score. There are actually 19 scores. Rather than going ‘here are my three themes’ and ‘I’m going to really go and develop them’, there are 19 if I’m conservative. There are 19 big themes in this thing. They’re going from Germany to Spain, then we go to North Africa, then we go to Italy, or let’s go around the world in 80 bars or something like this.”
The Dark Knight
Zimmer considers this film a “punk opus.” He loved Gary Oldman’s lines at the end of the movie so much that he wanted the music volume to be turned down in order to hear the words better, but Director Christopher Nolan liked the edit the way it was. “You have to realize this Batman trilogy is nine years of my life. With Chris, I will actually go and read the script and then we spend a lot of time talking before.”
“I so noticed it just now on Interstellar, that people say, ‘oh why do you write such good scores for Chris Nolan?’ Well, the answer is in the question, isn’t it? Because it’s Chris and I.” The Interstellar story is in part based on a conversation Zimmer had with Nolan and his wife in London. Although Nolan hadn’t written the film yet, he asked Zimmer to write the music. “I really just wrote about what it meant to be a father. And he came down and sat on my couch, and I played it for him. He goes, ‘Well, I better make the movie now.’ He starts describing this huge journey, this vast canvas of space and philosophy and science and all these things. And I’m going, ‘Hang on, I’ve written you this tiny little thing here.’ And he says, ‘Yes, but I now know what the heart of the story is.’” This way, Nolan had the music to listen to as he wrote the film.
The Hollywood Masters is a new series that examines the careers of Oscar-winning filmmakers and successful executives, with The Hollywood Reporter’s Stephen Galloway and presented by LMU School of Film and Television.