Scoring ACTION: Interview with BRIAN TYLER (Part 1 of 2)
Scoring ACTION Presents:
An Interview with BRIAN TYLER
By Barry Lee Dejasu
CONSTANTINE. WAR. RAMBO. THE FINAL DESTINATION. LAW ABIDING CITIZEN. BATTLE: LOS ANGELES. Do any of these films sound familiar? That’s probably because they’re tent pole examples of summer cinema from the past decade—big-screen tales of action-packed suspense. There’s something else that they all have in common, however: the vibes of epic excitement and suspense were in no small part the result of the musical contributions of film composer Brian Tyler.
With a resume reaching back into the 1990s that runs the gamut of comedies, dramas, made-for-TV specials, and horror movies such as FRAILTY (2001) and DARKNESS FALLS (2003), Brian Tyler been making an increasing splash for himself with scores to numerous franchises, including the third, fourth, and fifth movies in the FAST AND FURIOUS series and both EXPENDABLES films. He’s also done a bit of work on video games and TV shows, including TERRA NOVA and HAWAII FIVE-0.
Most recently, Mr. Tyler lent his talents to the first major blockbuster of 2013, a little something called IRON MAN 3. This film furthers the adventures of genius billionaire inventor Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), in the wake of the explosive events of THE AVENGERS (2012), as he faces a mysterious and powerful new enemy, the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), as well as Stark’s personal demons in his efforts to protect the woman he loves (Gwyneth Paltrow).
Later this month, moviegoers will hear Mr. Tyler’s music in NOW YOU SEE ME, an all-star suspense caper about a group of stage magicians utilizing their talents to conduct mystifying thievery.
Mr. Tyler was kind enough to share some of his time to dish about his work on IRON MAN 3, NOW YOU SEE ME, and his musical approach to suspense and thriller films.
Part One: Brian Tyler and IRON MAN 3
BARRY LEE DEJASU: What was your first instance of “noticing” music in movies?
BRIAN TYLER: My first memory, I’d say, would be STAR WARS (1976). Huge STAR WARS fan. I wanted the music to go along with the action figures. The double-album (was) pretty amazing. I really walked out of that thinking, “Wow, this is cool! This is something I want to listen to.” And as I started playing instruments and started writing music, it was just kind of… I always had scores around, I always collected them, and I was into it. So it naturally kind of influenced the music that I would write, and it led me to what I do now.
BLD: With the majority of the movies that you score falling into a suspense/action vein, you obviously enjoy them to some extent. Do you find that you’re just drawn to them, or does the work just get brought to you?
BT: Yeah, where I seem to have landed in my career is partly what I like to watch. I love all kinds of movies, so I’m not really genre-specific in that sense, but I love genre films. I love scifi, I love horror, I love action, and pretty much everything. But certainly, I got started in offbeat, quirky films, some quirky horror stuff like BUBBA HO-TEP (2002) and FRAILTY, and then it just kind of expanded into different kinds of adventure films. IRON MAN 3 is such a great canvas to do a superhero film. I’ve done movies based on comics before, but never a legit superhero. So that was really cool to jump on board.
BLD: How did you come about jumping on board this movie, following Ramin Djawadi’s and John Debney’s respective scores for the first and second films?
BT: (The filmmakers) were looking for something very specific. The music for the first two was a little more rock-based, hybrid-orchestral kind of vibe. On this movie, for the majority of the score, they needed something that reflected the post-AVENGERS sort of world of IRON MAN 3. Tony Stark used to be this billionaire, playboy, inventor dude, who’s brilliant, but he had this vibe of kind of devil-may-care smartass kind of thing, which is great, and I think that worked with the score with the Black Sabbath songs and AC/DC and all that, and that kind of had his attitude. Then all of the events happened in THE AVENGERS, and he fell in love with Pepper, and he has something that he really cares about now.
The post-Avengers world, in Marvel, you can mark everything pre-Avengers and post-Avengers, kind of like pre-9/11 and post-9/11. And it was such a huge event that the stakes are raised, and all of a sudden, the music for Iron Man can be superhero music; a legitimate superhero theme. Even though he’s a reluctant superhero—he’s been thrust upon this position, in a way—it still nonetheless needed one of those soaring melodies. In the first two movies, it just wouldn’t have worked; it would have been strange to hear that.
So (IRON MAN 3 writer-director) Shane Black, and (producers) Kevin Feige at Marvel, and Stephen Broussard, and Dave Jordan, (and) a lot of other Marvel people… I had no idea, but for years they’d been listening to my soundtracks, and really loved the thematic writing, the melodies, and things like that on films that I did that were not as well-know, like THE GREATEST GAME EVER PLAYED (2005) and ANNAPOLIS (2006), and films like that that had big, soaring melodies. They wanted a melody that you could walk away with and be like, “Oh, that’s Iron Man,” the way that (the melody in) RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981) is Indiana Jones, the melody, the march, it’s like, “Oh, that’s him.” So that was the drive; that was the goal, so I did my best, and it’s cool seeing how people have reacted to it. It was my best whack at that kind of thematic writing.
BLD: It must have been pretty flattering and an honor for you.
BT: For sure, and as a fan, as a kid before the IRON MAN movies, you know, (I read) Iron Man, and Tales of Suspense (and other comics). It was great, it was really cool. To have had the fortune to happen to have landed this, and to come to different projects like STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE (TV series, 2003) and ALIEN VERSUS PREDATOR: REQUIEM (2007), and RAMBO (2008)…all these different kinds of established franchises there, I’d come into as a fan long before I began writing for them.
BLD: How do you approach genre-blending films such as BUBBA HO-TEP (2002) or BATTLE: LOS ANGELES (2011) and right up through IRON MAN 3 and NOW YOU SEE ME, in which radically different genres are mashed together?
BT: (Laughs) All these things kind of tap into something that, for me, probably just comes from being a movie fan. I can’t help but think of my favorite alien invasion movies when I watch BATTLE: LOS ANGELES., but at the same time, it had a tone like SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998) or PLATOON (1986) or something. You end up subconsciously merging (and) doing genre mashups in your head.
IRON MAN 3 has a lot of different things going on there, because you have this great writer in Shane coming along, and I think that wanted to use something that was risky, and he uses dialogue in a certain way that’s snippy—all these different things that went into the story. I think that Kevin Feige over at Marvel, and Shane and I, all of us were genre film score fans and comic book fans. IRON MAN 3 is an example of the inmates running the asylum. (laughs) We’re all really big fans of film, and we got a chance to do what we really wanted, and that’s hard to do, and it’s rare, when you talk about how expensive movies like that are to make. That’s why I love those guys so much; they’re kind of like me—they just got into it because they love movies, and so it’s really not far removed at all from what goes into making something like BUBBA HO-TEP, in a way. For me, I approach it the same way; just like, “Hey, this is cool, let’s try to do something that’s really great, that will give audiences something to walk away with that actually has some kind of emotional impact.” It’s definitely not like churning out a product; none of the people involved on IRON MAN 3 had that approach—they approached it like film fans.
BLD: Going all the way back to silent movies, film music can be light and cheery when the heroes are on the screen, then drops to “dun-Dun-DUN!” when the villains appear. How did you approach this pairing-off for IRON MAN 3?
BT: (Laughs) Well, sometimes you go with conventions, sometimes you don’t. I think the most important thing for me to keep track of is how the whole thing works together, and writing scenes that will embed themselves in the subconscious of the viewer. (If you’re) watching the scene, and all of a sudden you do some melody over on the English horn way in the background of a character that’s not even on the screen, you start to think of that character, subconsciously, even though you don’t know you are, you know? I do a lot with identity in the IRON MAN 3 score, and if you go back and watch it a second time, you realize certain themes for certain people are playing at the times that you might not think would be—should be—playing, but it all makes sense when you see the whole movie.
I think you can also put convention on its head slightly when you do things that are melodic-based, because you can play melodies in so many different ways that you don’t expect. There’s a scene where Tony Stark is dragging the Iron Man suit through the snow, for instance, and in that scene you could have gone with something really powerful or whatever. I don’t think many people would have thought, “Gee, let’s have a solo instrument for Tony, what’s it going to be? Oh, it’s going to be a harp!”—but that’s exactly what it is, it’s a harp, and it feels really, really lonely. Those are sometimes the things you try to give it a flavor that really resonates (even if) it might be really out of the box.
And certainly the Mandarin’s music is kind of quasi-religious and spiritual, almost as if he sees himself as some kind of televangelist, in a way, but there’s this artifice as well, like he’s kind of full of shit, a little bit.
So all of these things kind of come together, and you try to make it work as a whole, and I kind of thought how the original STAR WARS had such a great grasp on how music works in a movie. (There) you have the score theme playing super lonely and sad when he’s looking at the twin sunsets on Tatooine, but then you can have it during the Death Star battle and it sounds badass, but it’s the exact same melody, and it’s triumphant at the end in the throne room, and you don’t necessarily realize it’s the same melody when you’re watching it. I think people remember the main theme and the Imperial March as good guy/bad guy, but there’s a lot of different nuance in there that I find to be the fascinating part of scoring.
BLD: It’s kind of impossible to watch a film like this one and talk about the score without making some kind of cliché comparison to the sound as being industrial, especially in tracks such as “War Machine,” where there are literally clangs and pulses.
BT: It was a combination of different stuff. The majority of the sound was the London Philharmonic, you know, that’s kind of the base sound of it. Then of the little extras, about ten percent of it, you get those sonic little “hinges” that are unique to your film. There’s choir work in there that’s sometimes kind of big and heroic, and other times it feels like a falling choir, like you’re falling towards the ground, and instead of a literally falling, the choir goes in reverse, it goes up. I scored the scene where they fall out of the plane and are plummeting towards the earth, so instead of being like they’re falling, the music is really like the earth is coming up towards you, so actually that cue goes upward. Things like that, I was like, “Ooh, I want to take a twist on that.”
And certainly for “War Machine,” and for “Iron Man,” I used literal metal. Not metal like Pantera, but hitting big chunks of metal, you know, anvils, big brake drums from a truck, and hit them with a hammer, things like that, give it some “clankiness.” And then there is, with “War Machine,” since the story kind of takes it in kind of a dark turn with War Machine, there are some manipulations of some old 1970s synthesizer stuff, distorted and kind of weird and floaty, and you combine it and it all just sounds kind of weird on paper, but somehow, internally, it all makes sense. Even when you’re dealing with like instruments from score to score, it sounds very different, just like the Beatles’ “She Loves You,” and “Black Dog” by Zeppelin, and there are the same instruments, but do they sound anything alike? No; you know? So it’s also the way the actual instruments are played and written for. So for IRON MAN, I tried to make it match the personalities of the characters, and make it tweaky, and kind of unexpected for the scenes.
BLD: What were some challenges in scoring this film?
BT: The challenge was definitely finding that main melody, wanting to make something that was memorable, and that’s of course one of those things that’s of course very subjective. But I did my best to kind of find the voice of Iron Man in a way that also, since it’s this sort of post-Avengers/pre-Avengers scenario, I needed to find something that the director wanted, which was to build this instant nostalgia, so you hear the theme and you go, “Oh yeah! I know this is Iron Man!,” even though it’s brand-new; that was the thing—it wasn’t established yet, this type of theme. I had to build in. It’s like buying games that are trashed already when you get them; (we) wanted the music to sound like it was always there. That was a huge challenge.
BLD: Were there any favorite scenes that you scored?
BT: No, I totally hated all the scenes. No, I’m kidding. All the scenes, one to the next, I loved it. To pick a favorite is like, “What’s your favorite cute puppy of the litter? You have to choose.” So I guess the finale is pretty awesome; it was a great scene that I loved scoring, (SPOILERS) with all the different Iron Man suits showing up, and the big battle, with Tony running around and doing a lot of his work outside of the suit, which I thought was so cool; he was just a man having to use his cleverness. It was a lot of fun doing the whole last ten minutes of the movie, which included the end title sequence, which was kind of a retro thing; that was a lot of fun, too. If I kept going, I love the scene where he’s dragging the suit across the snow, and so much of the ramping-up of the music as the movie kind of reveals one twist after another; that’s always fun as well, because you can build in little Easter eggs in the music, and they’re certainly all over the movie.
BLD: Would you like to work on other superhero films?
BT: Oh, sure! I love superheroes, and the movies are just such a great canvas, because there really are not a lot of borders to what you can do, musically, and IRON MAN 3 was just a total joy to score, no question about it.
© Copyright 2013 by Barry Lee Dejasu