TV blog

Sound Of Cinema: The Music That Made The Movies

Series Producer

Walking into the Californian studio of Hans Zimmer, king of the blockbuster soundtrack, I’m greeted by a series of epic, thundering chords.

Instantly, I feel like I’ve been transported onto the high seas of Pirates Of The Caribbean, or into the middle of an exploding dream in Inception.

Then the music fades and the illusion ends. It’s just a couple of Zimmer’s assistants testing out the studio equipment. But for a moment…

Hans Zimmer on a director's dilemma when ceding control to a composer

The extraordinary power of film music is the subject of Sound of Cinema: The Music That Made The Movies, the series I’m producing for BBC Four.

Like our presenter Neil Brand and the rest of the production team, I’m a lifelong film devotee, and the series was a remarkable opportunity to meet and hear from some of the greatest talents of modern cinema.

The world of actors and directors tends to be a closely guarded one, but composers rarely get their share of the limelight, and our interviewees proved refreshingly open and approachable.

Amiably holding court in his studio - which resembles a high-class 19th Century bordello with synth components on the wall – Hans Zimmer recalled his own early days working for the BBC (remember the theme to the 80s game show Going for Gold?).

He discussed how comedies can be the hardest films to get right – he "agonises" over every note of a comedy soundtrack.

I was surprised when he claimed The Lion King is the most serious score he’s ever written, until he explained how its story reminded him of the early loss of his own father.

Zimmer was candid about how he still feels vulnerable when presenting a piece of music for the first time. Making the series really brought home to me just how tough a composer’s job can be.

Scripts and actors’ performances can be tweaked and worked on as they evolve; film scores are much more a matter of taste.

Being a well-established composer is no guarantee that your latest work won’t be rejected by a director or studio.

The director discusses the effect two Hitchcock films had on him as a child


The series is told very much from the point of view of the composers, but we also approached Martin Scorsese, arguably the most musically literate of all directors.

I didn’t hold out much hope, but Scorsese turned out to be so keen to take part that he gave up a rare morning off from filming The Wolf Of Wall Street to talk to us.

He discussed his two classic 1970s films – Taxi Driver, scored by perhaps the greatest ever American film composer, Bernard Herrmann, and Mean Streets, which had no composer at all, just Scorsese’s favourite tracks from his own record collection.

Scorsese was as sharp and fast-talking as we’d hoped – just like a character straight out of one of his movies. But when he recalled Mean Streets and its links to his own childhood, it brought out a more emotional side of him that I don’t think is often seen.

We were surprised to learn that for someone with such an instinctive feel for music, Scorsese can’t actually play an instrument himself.

We were taking on a huge subject, and we knew from the start that it would be impossible to include all the scores and composers we admired.

At all stages of making the series we faced painful decisions about what to leave out. I’ll never forget when the great Disney composer Richard Sherman performed his classic song Feed The Birds from Mary Poppins in Disney’s own recording studio for us.

Richard Sherman introduces and performs Feed the Birds from Mary Poppins

It’s one of the most beautiful songs in the whole Disney canon, but for reasons of length we couldn’t include it in the finished documentary. But I’m pleased that you can watch it above although the clip ends before you can hear a crew of grown men, carried back to their childhoods, sniffing away tearfully off camera.

There was a similarly powerful moment when Vangelis turned to his keyboard when we were interviewing him and played us his sublime Blade Runner theme, segueing into Chariots Of Fire.

Hearing the two pieces brought together sent shivers down the spines of everyone in the room.

Like Zimmer and Sherman, Vangelis took us to thrilling, emotional places in just a few notes. Watching the series, I hope you’ll feel similarly transported.

John Das is the series producer of Sound Of Cinema: The Music That Made The Movies.

Sound Of Cinema: The Music That Made The Movies starts at 9pm on Thursday, 12 September on BBC Four. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

The series is part of BBC radio and television's autumn season dedicated to the composers, songs and film scores that form the soundtrack to the big screen. Please see the Sound Of Cinema season page for details.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments.

  • Comment number 35. Posted by Warren Henery

    on 13 Oct 2013 07:41

    This comment was removed because it broke the house rules. Explain

  • Comment number 34. Posted by Paul

    on 7 Oct 2013 17:23

    Whoops, I forgot (above) to mention the Neil Brand series. I really enjoyed it - yes there were lots of omissions but I'm sure Neil himself would have preferred his series to be at least twice as long. I completely agree with his opening statement about the brilliance of John Barry's score for The Ipcress File. We've known about Neil for years (Paul Merton's silent film series, for example) and I'm glad we're seeing more of him - and hearing on R3.

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 34: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 34: 0
    Loading…
  • Comment number 33. Posted by bensloper

    on 4 Oct 2013 20:09

    I very much enjoyed the series, and hopefully learned quite a lot about the subtleties of film scores. Ah, I recall the 1980s when Leslie Halliwell programmed seasons of early 1920-40s Hollywood movies on C4, and when BBC still put Laurel and Hardy/Chaplin/Lloyd films on in the mornings for kids along with re-runs of Flash Gordon and Champion the Wonder Horse / Lassie etc.!

    I daresay everyone has their favourite film music, but I know what stays in my mind always - the short catchy pieces scored by, I think, Leroy Shield, for the Hal Roach studios, and which accompanied Laurel and Hardy's short films so wonderfully - not a film score by any means, but performing the same job in their way. I often hum several of those pieces without realising it!

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 33: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 33: 0
    Loading…
  • Comment number 32. Posted by Paul

    on 4 Oct 2013 09:51

    I am so grateful to the BEEB for running the Sound of Cinema season. I have gorged myself silly on most of what has been on offer and kept lots of it to enjoy again. There only two negatives I can think of. The concert on September 16th, Europe on Film from Watford Town Hall, which was available on the red button all week, suffered from sub-standard sound quality - pretty awful, in fact. This venue is widely used for recording so I'd be interested in knowing what went wrong. Then there is the dreaded voting list, a truly embarrassing collection assembled by so-called experts. The thought of Mary Poppins winning (excellent though it was for its purpose) filled me with dread. For that reason, I wanted no part of it. As has been said, I'm not sure musicals originating from Broadway should have been included.

    How lucky we are that we have the BBC that is able and willing to run these 'seasons' - the Light Fantastic series two years ago was equally excellent. Doodlebug (above) will soon be able to return to his usual R3 world, but he/she should not begrudge us these precious moments. (Actually, I am just as passionate about the usual R3 fare).

    For the record, my top film composers: Steiner, Korngold, Waxman, Barry, Williams, along with many others.

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 32: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 32: 0
    Loading…
  • Comment number 31. Posted by Doodlebug

    on 4 Oct 2013 06:12

    I've never felt like writing in to any TV/radio ststaion before... But, I have to say, previously I have always been able to escape film scores, as regularly played by your commercial competitor, by switching back to Radio 3. Now no longer I realise.

    I hope your recent exuberant dalliance with such music was simply a test of the water. I can at least be thankful I have CD players as alternatives, both at home and in car, so I need not be followed around by such as Superman or Darth Vader.....

    Warm regards - of course, most of your music is wonderful!

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 31: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 31: 0
    Loading…
  • Comment number 30. Posted by RacingSage

    on 4 Oct 2013 00:13

    And while on the topic of omissions, how could there be no nominations of ANY works by Steiner, Waxman, Korngold, Tiomkin or Alfred Neuman? The argument cannot be made that all the scores that were nominated were from films made after World War II because Arlen & Harburg's score for the 1939 Wizard of Oz was included. The nominations made by the BBC "experts" look more ridiculous by the minute.

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 30: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 30: 0
    Loading…
  • Comment number 29. Posted by RacingSage

    on 4 Oct 2013 00:01

    I am appalled that the "experts" who selected the 20 film scores for the public voting did not include a single movie scored by Elmer Bernstein. He received 14 Academy Award nominations and won for Thoroughly Modern Millie -- certainly not his best work! The public vote would most definitely have been different if it had included The Great Escape, The Man With the Golden Arm, The Ten Commandments, To Kill a Mockingbird or my personal favorite, The Magnificent Seven. To omit any of these five in favor of such drivel and tripe as Billy Elliott, Bombay, Dark Knight Rises, Django Unchained, Planet of the Apes, Solay, and There Will Be Blood is an insult that shows that, at the very least, the "experts" were pandering to modern audiences under the mistaken belief that they do not seem to have memories longer than the life of a fruit fly. Had you included just one of the five Bernstein scores I mentioned above, it undoubtedly would have received more COMBINED votes than any two of the other seven films I mentioned. Shame on you for not including any composition from someone whose career body of work clearly ranks among the top 10 composers in film history. I would love to read some feeble justification for the omission. This is an injustice that is truly embarrassing.

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 29: 1
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 29: 0
    Loading…
  • Comment number 28. Posted by LAWRENCE

    on 30 Sept 2013 12:20

    I greatly enjoyed listening to the interview with film composer John Williams (Radio 3 composer of the week), in particular hearing some of his early television work - jazzy and very reminiscent of the style of the likes of Elmer Bernstein & Henry Mancini. Personally speaking, I find some of Williams early work enriching and rewarding, long before he became better known due to his collaborations with Spielberg & Lucas. In fact, one of my own particular favourites of all his many scores originates from a 1965 war film that was directed by Frank Sinatra no less, called "None But The Brave". He is credited as "Johnny Williams" at the beginning of the film, but there is no mistaking his distinctive emotional musical style, which helps elevate the film, during many of the tension filled action scenes.

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 28: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 28: 0
    Loading…
  • Comment number 27. Posted by clanger

    on 28 Sept 2013 08:27

    Enjoyed this series could not understand why Jerry Goldsmith was ignored. Surely a composer of his importance should have been included.

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 27: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 27: 0
    Loading…
  • Comment number 26. Posted by OXMUSEXO

    on 27 Sept 2013 20:29

    This is turning out to be one the best documentary series I have seen on TV for a long time. The interview with Scorcese is a real triumph. Well done to all those involved.

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 26: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 26: 0
    Loading…
More comments

More Posts

Previous

Next