Hollywood and movie/music lovers everywhere are still coming to grips with the death of Academy Award-winning composer James Horner. One of the many professionals deeply affected by this loss is Academy Award-winning director, James Cameron, who collaborated with the composer on some of their most memorable projects. The pair was likely going to work together again on Cameron’s suite of Avatar films, which Horner talked about a little less than two months ago. So now, in the most business-like of perspectives, Cameron and the rest of Hollywood will have to look elsewhere for someone to fill Horner’s shoes. And in the most personal of reflections, Cameron himself remembered his time spent with the composer, a retrospective he now shares with the world.
In speaking to Kim Masters of THR, Cameron looked back on his career and the times he and Horner crossed paths. What follows are some select quotes from his missive, the entirety of which can be read at the provided link. Cameron starts by remembering back to their first meeting and name-dropping the films they worked on together:
I was doing a lot of thinking about James when I heard the news and I checked online. The beginning and end of his filmography are films that he did, or would have done, with me. It’s a curious bookend. We both started out on the same film in 1980, and his last listed films are the Avatar sequels, which he would have begun later this year.
We only worked together three times, and each time it was a decade apart — Aliens in the mid-eighties, Titanic in the mid-90s and Avatar in ‘08 and ‘09.
I met him on Battle Beyond the Stars, which was my first film getting a paycheck. I entered as a junior model builder and ended up three months later as production designer, which could only happen on a Roger Corman production. The score was absolutely the best thing about the film. It was a full-on orchestral score, not some rinky-dink synth score. After that I ran into him a few times and Gale Hurd and I, being Corman alums, watched him skyrocketing.
On their Titanic success:
When I was doing Titanic, he had just done Apollo 13 and Braveheart. I thought, “I don’t care what happened, I want to work with James.” We had this very cautious meeting where we were falling all over ourselves to be polite. We laughed about it so much in subsequent years. But we developed a very transparent means of communication which made for a great working relationship. He totally committed himself to the movie. He blocked out his schedule and sat down and watched maybe 30 hours of raw dailies to absorb the feeling of the film.
I asked if he could write some melodies. I believe that a great score really consists of something you can whistle. If that melody gets embedded in your mind, it takes the score to a different level. I drove over to his house and he sat at the piano and said, “I see this as the main theme for the ship.” He played it once through and I was crying. Then he played Rose’s theme and I was crying again. They were so bittersweet and emotionally resonant. He hadn’t orchestrated a thing and I knew it was going to be one of cinema’s great scores. No matter how the movie turned out, and no one knew at that point — it could have been a dog — I knew it would be a great score. He thought he had done only five percent of the work but I knew he had cracked the heart and soul.
On fighting for the Avatar score:
Avatar was in some ways the trickier film. It didn’t lend itself to big, sweeping themes the wayTitanic did. He did a lot of research with an ethnomusicologist to find different sounds. He did an awful lot of experimentation. The score is a bit richer than maybe people perceive. You start layering in all the sound design and some of the texture of the score gets lost in the mix. I wound up having to fight for the score, as you typically do. Composers always think the score should be more prominent.
Again, if you’d like to hear more about Cameron’s history with the late Horner, check out the full tribute at the above-mentioned link. Horner’s death was confirmed recently by his representatives, and the statement – which includes some of Horner’s comments on Cameron – can be found here.