(L-R): Mike Simpson, composer, Henry Jackman, composer, Junkie XL, composer, moderator Jason Bentley, music director, KCRW (Photo: Arnold Turner)
Dealing with the expectations, frequent mixed messages and huge budgets of Hollywood studios requires an important choice for EDM artists:
"Be a politician, or you will become a schizophrenic."
That was the advice EDM-centric composer Henry Jackman ("X-Men: First Class") gave attendees at Billboard's Film & TV Music Conference on Wednesday at The W hotel in Hollywood. He was part of the "EDM Invades Hollywood" panel moderated by KCRW's Jason Bentley. Jackman and Bentley were joined by Tom Holkenborg - better known as Junkie XL - and Mike Simpson, one-half of the legendary production team The Dust Brothers (Beck, the Beastie Boys' "Paul's Boutique").
The politics of big studio pictures can be very tricky. Each of the three talked about getting their start in scoring in terms that emphasized the amount of hard work, long hours and expectations that come along with it, though none of them seem to have regretted moving in that direction one bit.
(L-R): Mike Simpson, Henry Jackman (Photo: Ryan J. Downey)
After achieving a No. 1 song around the world (No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Singles chart) with his remix of Elvis Presley's "A Little Less Conversation," electronic veteran Junkie XL decided to move to Hollywood to try his hand at composing. "In the first 'Blade' movie, the club scene where all the blood comes down and he starts slaughtering all the vampires, they used one of my tracks from my first album," Holkenborg recalled. "They mashed it with a New Order track. I was blown away by it. That's when I knew, 'Oh, I want to do this myself.' Not just make a track that gets licensed, but get hired to create something for specific scenes."
Jackman started off "in an extremely antiquated English church singing church music" and studying classical as a kid. In the early '90s, he got swept up in the house and breakbeat music that was kicking off in the UK. In 2005, Hans Zimmer (also a mentor to Junkie XL) encouraged him to combine electronic sounds with his classical roots. "There's definitely something in electronic music that liberates you from a lot of the idioms you pick up," he said. "The first time I ever waited to for the end of a film to see who wrote the music was 'Predator,' which was scored by Alan Silvestri."
Simpson met his Dust Brothers partner doing a hip-hop radio show in the early '80s. Among many notable works, the Dust Brothers made their mark with the retroactively classic Beastie Boys album "Paul's Boutique." His first movie was David Fincher's "Fight Club."
Working on the "SpongeBob Squarepants" movie was a personal highlight for Simpson. "It made quite a huge impression on my son," he said to much laughter and applause. "I think he for the first time realized what I did and was very proud of me."
Jason Bently, KCRW (Photo: Arnold Turner)
The conversation turned back often to the balance between personal creative impulses and the pursuit of the greater good - the film itself. Jackman recalled the time "X-Men: First Class" director Matthew Vaughn told him he hated anything that sounds like "film music." "What he meant by that, which I now completely understand, is that a piece of music should be able to survive as a single piece of music but also support the film."
"The music has to serve the film," Simpson emphasized. "I'm a huge film fan. I love watching movies. One of the things that bugs me the most is when I notice the music. So I have no ego about making music for film. As long as the director's happy, I'm happy. David Fincher's marching orders were, 'Have you seen the movie 'The Graduate'? Do you know how perfect the music was in that film? That's what I want for 'Fight Club.' That's all the direction that I got. It was very easy to work with him because he'd say either way, 'I love this' or 'I don't like it.' He didn't say, 'Oh, can you add some guitars' or…"
Teamwork is essential. "Many of my colleagues who want to get into film scoring find it really hard leaving their egos at the door," noted Holkenborg. "They have difficulty listening, dealing with a team, dealing with 30 picture cuts and all the changes that come with it."
Zimmer's mentorship has been invaluable to Jackman and particularly to Junkie XL, who has worked with the Oscar winning German composer on "Madagascar 3," "The Dark Knight" and the forthcoming Superman reboot, "Man of Steel." "Everyone thinks Hollywood is such a commercial place and everyone is talking about money. But when you're in a meeting with [director] Chris Nolan, nobody is talking about that. It's an extremely creative discussion. The pressure is high when you get to the deadline. When things need to be orchestrated, recorded, mixed. It's an awful lot of stress."
(L-R): Mike Simpson, Henry Jackman, Junkie XL, Jason Bentley (Photo: Ryan J. Downey)
"You need to be a very good manager," he added. "You need to not only manage your own work but also manage the people that work with you. Doing a score, it's such a massive undertaking. I'm not even a full blown composer yet and I have three assistants to get the work I need to get done."
Each guy chooses a different workload for themselves. Holkenborg is constantly working on video games, his own tracks, remixes, ad campaigns and films. Jackman said "I'd say four [movies per year] is pretty tight, five is getting a bit silly and six, you might want to get your doctor involved."
Simpson likes to keep it to one movie per year. After his kid was born, he "made a commitment that I would only work with people that I like, so that narrowed the field considerably. I'm happy doing one project a year."
"There's a handful of guys who do all the good movies and the rest of us have to fight for the scraps," he noted.
"And sometimes you can't tell," Jackman chimed in. "The journey of making a film can make so many weird left and right turns."