With a career that spans three decades and encompasses well over 100 films, Hans Zimmer is one of the film industry’s leading and most influential composers. At the press junket for Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Collider got the opportunity to talk to him for this exclusive interview about the challenges of scoring a sequel, incorporating the culture of the characters, particularly with the Gypsy music in the film, how much fun he had scoring for Moriarty, and that he enjoys the family atmosphere of this franchise.
He also talked about his attempt to create a sound for The Dark Knight Rises that nobody has ever heard, opening it up for the fans of the franchise to record themselves chanting, the influence that reviews and online posts have, especially when it comes to The Dark Knight franchise, and his anthem for Amnesty International’s 50th anniversary. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
HANS ZIMMER: The challenge is, how do you not get bored? The only way around that one is to go, “Okay, let’s throw everything out that we had before and let’s just see it as an autonomous movie, and let’s just start again.” And then, down the road, once you’ve invented some new things, it’s a bit like having old friends come to visit. Don’t let them stay too long, but bring the old themes back in, here and there. But, what’s so great about this crew is that they know I’m going to go off and be reckless. They know I’m going to go do something that may not be entirely orthodox. They never once said, “Hey, that’s quite nice, but where are the old themes? Where is that Oscar-nominated score from last time?” Honestly, I’m not interested in that. Not at that moment in time.
How did you approach the Gypsy music for this?
ZIMMER: I went from the script. On page 5, there is the Gypsy fortune teller. I phoned Guy [Ritchie] and I said, “I have one word for you – road trip. We’re going. We’re going to figure out what that music is.” I love that music, and we were hinting at it, in the first one. We went to eastern Slovakia. I realized that I had no idea about that culture, other than all of the prejudices and all that stuff you always here. I had heard that France and Italy were getting particularly tough on its Roma population. So, I thought, “I want to go there and see what it’s like,” and it was incredibly tough. It was incredibly poor. The racism was beyond anything I had ever experienced. In America, if you’re racist, you know it’s a bad thing. Over there, you don’t necessarily acknowledge that that is a bad thing.
So, we went into these communities. We’d stay in a town, and then get into our van at 5:30 in the morning, and we’d drive until we came to these villages. We’d hear these incredible musicians, but at the same time, we were incredibly moved by and found out more about the lack of opportunities that exist for these communities that are really cut off from the world and not given a voice in government. That became an important part of it. At one point, I had to make a decision and pick myself a band. We put them on a train and then a bus, and we took them to Vienna to spend a week or so in the studio. The score itself is very orchestral and very classical because there are all these classical references in the movie, but at the same time, a lot of it is played by these amazing virtuoso musicians from the Romany culture.
ZIMMER: Interestingly, they were so happy that somebody actually came because they’re so segregated. We went to this one settlement where there literally is a wall, like the Berlin wall, between them and the rest of the village. It’s just outrageous, that that can exist in the 21st Century. The other thing we were doing is my daughter is a photographer and it was her idea to go and take some photos. It’s little things that really moved me. We were told, “Please ask for permission before you take a photo.”
At first, it was like, “No, you can’t take photos of us.” I thought it was because they didn’t want to be seen in poverty. They have a lot of dignity. But, it turned out that it wasn’t that. What it was, was that people had come before and said, “Let us take your photo and we’ll send it back to you,” but these people never sent the photos back. There’s that whole part of the world where a mother never has a photo of her child because they don’t have cameras. So, I decided that I was going to make promises that I could keep. The photos we took, we made these books and sent them to the community centers because there’s always more than one person in the photograph. So, if you want to know what makes this different to another sequel, I started off in the right way.
Has it always been important to you to incorporate the culture of the characters into the music that you do?
ZIMMER: The Roma culture was something that I gave to Sherlock, in the first movie. There have been many Sherlock Holmes interpretations, but the one thing he does is play the violin. He’s always been playing classical music, as far as I know. I thought that, in the Victorian Age, they were looking for the exotic and the East was this exotic place, so I wanted to widen the gaze. I thought he would be interested, not in playing classical music, but in playing a great virtuoso Gypsy violin. It’s something I talked to Guy about, and Guy loves that music, so it was a no-brainer for us. So, to be able to build on that was great.
Was there a scene or a moment in the film that you were most excited about scoring, or a character that you were most excited about scoring for?
ZIMMER: I loved Moriarty. I got happily stuck on Moriarty, for the longest time. He’s a Schubert fan. I grew up in one of those typical middle class German families where classical music was everywhere, and the first song I could sing as a kid was “The Trout” by Schubert, so it seemed like a good, rebellious act to go destroy that and put a lot of Schubert influences into the score. The score is this lop-sided thing where you have the very Germanic Schubert and Mozart type of sound for Moriarty, and then you have the lightness and fun and adventure of the Roma music. Just being able to have these two worlds collide constantly was a lot of fun.
ZIMMER: The way it was very much like a family. I didn’t write the score in Los Angeles. Part of the whole idea of the road trip was that I was going to pack up my studio. I moved it to this dingy little room in London, right where the editors and the sound effects guys were. We all worked together. It was a family affair.
How far along are you in the writing process for The Dark Knight Rises, and how does it compare to the other Batman films?
ZIMMER: Well, before I started on Sherlock, I had an idea for Dark Knight. I said to Chris [Nolan], “Would it be okay if I got the most outrageous orchestra together and tried this experimental thing?” It involved chanting and all sorts of stuff. And, if I decided that it was just complete rubbish, then we could just throw it away and nobody would ever mention that Hans went and spent all that money. So, I went off and spent weeks writing it. I recorded the piece, and Chris came by and said, “Well, you’ve done half the movie now.” I said, “Well, I don’t think that’s quite true.” But, I think I figured out my cornerstone to the thing.
I’m hellishly ambitious on that. The chant became a very complicated thing because I wanted hundreds of thousands of voices, and it’s not so easy to get hundreds of thousands of voices. So, we Twittered and we posted on the internet, for people who wanted to be part of it. It seemed like an interesting thing. We’ve created this world, over these last two movies, and somehow I think the audience and the fans have been part of this world. We do keep them in mind. And I thought it would be something nice, if our audiences could actually be part of the making of the movie and be participants in this. So, we’ve got this website up, www.ujam.com, where you can go on and be part of it. It was fantastic. The first Tweet that went out just melted our server because we had tens of thousands of people a second, trying to get onto the site.
You always want to create a sound that nobody has ever heard, but I think, this time, we might be doing that. As a musician, I think about what environment things are recorded in. Now, you have hundreds of thousands of voices, all recorded in their own individual environment. Up until now, that’s been impossible to do. There’s a lot of people doing a lot of editing, as well.
Do you read film reviews and online reports about the movies you work on?
ZIMMER: I read it. My character is flawed and I read it and suffer terribly, when people don’t like what I do, or misunderstand it, but I learn things from it. Every and any conversation you have about the thing that you’re most interested in – which in my case, happens to be the movies I’m working on – might not be a novel conversation, but somebody’s point of view does make me think about things. Other than the really bitter and twisted stuff, I think people, especially with The Dark Knight franchise, are very interested in us making a good movie, and they’re trying to cheer us on, and they’re trying to make suggestions that are actually helpful to us. So, I am very aware of what’s going on out there.
How did you come to be writing a human rights anthem (entitled “One More Voice for Freedom”) to salute Amnesty International’s 50th anniversary?
ZIMMER: It all flows together. Here we are, making this fun Sherlock Holmes movie, but at the same time, the people involved in it are not uncaring human beings. I’ve been interested and involved, in one way or the other, with Amnesty International, for as long as I can remember. My friend, (film score collaborator) Lorne Balfe, who is very much a contributor to Sherlock Holmes as well, and I set out, as a gift to Amnesty, write them a little anthem.
The idea is that we’re going to use UJAM (at www.ujam.com/amnesty), so that everybody can join into it. I think all of these human rights organizations are vital, if we’re going to survive this world. It’s very close to my heart. It’s complicated to talk about because you instantly can become one of those pretentious Hollywood prats. In a weird way, talking about Amnesty, for me, is more personal than talking about many other things because I think it’s vital.
There’s a power that movies and music has, that can move you and motivate you to look at your neighbor in a slightly more respectful way, and look at cultures in a more inclusive way. That’s part of the idea of why we wanted to go and document what we were doing in Slovakia. In Sherlock, it was just fun, but my daughter is really a rather excellent photographer. I’m trying to keep it very separate and be careful about saying it’s my daughter because nepotism wasn’t part of it, as much as you would think. It was more that I needed somebody who could go and take amazing photographs of this culture and show it to the world.