Interview With Film Composer Henry Jackman


Remember the name Henry Jackman because it’ll soon be in the same pantheon as John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Alan Silvestri, Danny Elfman, Ennio Morricone, Howard Shore, and a handful of other elite film scoring maestros.

Jackman has only been in the industry for a little over a decade, but has already worked on some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbuster productions, with most of them being comic book-related properties — Kick-Ass (2010), X-Men: First Class (2011), Kick-Ass 2 (2013), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), Big Hero 6 (2014), Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015), and the upcoming highly anticipated Captain America: Civil War (2016).

His latest completed work is on the video game-centric science-fiction comedy Pixels directed by Chris Columbus and starring Adam Sandler.  For the release of this summer popcorn flick, Bam Smack Pow was fortunate enough to interview Jackman and have him speak to us about his creative process.

Having a formal education in music and pairing it up with a variety of programming and production work, Jackman draws on his diverse background in creating epic scores that sound both classic and modern.  For a career that’s still in its dawn, it’ll be interesting to see what Jackman will add to his already impressive resume.

Bam Smack Pow: In regards to creating the music for Pixels, what were your initial discussions with director Chris Columbus about?

Henry Jackman: We discussed the conceptual nature of the film.  It was a very interesting discussion that involved 1980s culture, BMX bikes, things of that sort.  Like Wreck-It Ralph (2012), another video game-related film I composed the music for, we wanted to make some particular references to the 1980s.  We originally thought that we wanted 8-bit music, but that would’ve been a hat on a hat.  What I mean is that we didn’t want to have this artificial music on top of a symphonic orchestra.  With that in mind, I went with a proper classic film score.  I wanted something grand, something legit.

BSP: Were you a video game fan growing up?  How did your knowledge of these games affect your score for Pixels?

“… know the heart of what we’re telling the audience.”

HJ: I have to admit, yes, I was!  I had a collection of floppy disks with a range of video games.  I also had a handheld Nintendo that I would play for hours.  Donkey Kong was one of my favorite games.  Now, as a film composer, the way my score was affected in terms of this was that I had to figure out the heart of the story … know the heart of what we’re telling the audience.  I have specific nods to composer John Williams.  For example, when the spaceships arrive, I had the music be reminiscent of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).  You know, something grand.

BSP: For a movie like Pixels, how do you balance creating music for the action against creating music for the comedic parts of the movie?

HJ: Generally speaking, if the comedy is working, get out of the way.  You never want to force it.  If it’s a funny moment, let it take its course.  The score should take a backseat.  One example would be the scene where Sam, played by Adam Sandler, and Violet, played by Michelle Monaghan, head to the White House.  I used a more whimsical tune than forcing it with something comedic.  This also helps when we need to go to grandeur.  It would be jarring if we jumped from total comedy to something dramatic.

BSP: When composing for film, what is your process?  Do you watch the film without a soundtrack and create the piece in a solitary manner?  Or do you collaborate closely with the director taking most of his/her input?

HJ: I had lots of freedom on this one [Pixels].  I was on Christmas holiday and away from it all.  I had already seen bits and pieces of the movie, but not much.  It was enough to allow me to compose some of the score on a piano.  I knew that I wanted to go in the direction of a good orchestral score.  When I presented it to Chris Columbus, he loved it.  Our collaboration was very harmonious.  It’s always nice to compose away when the movie is also very thematic.

BSP: You’ve certainly worked on quite a few films that deal with superheroes (e.g. X-Men: First Class (2011), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), Big Hero 6 (2014)).  We all want that heroic theme, but they also have to be unique to the character.  Can you tell me what your process is in making the music distinct?

“The key is to be creatively honest.”

HJ: It’s not something you do on a conscious level.  It just somehow plays out that way.  The key is to be creatively honest.  If you do that, then it all works out in the end.  Also, you need to try and understand the vision.  The more you understand that aspect of it, the more you understand the creativity.  For example, when I worked on Kick-Ass (2010), I had a hero theme, but I gave it more of a pop feel due to the movie being more modern.  When it comes together, the distinctiveness will all be inevitable.  There really is no secret ingredient.

BSP: Can you name a defining moment that put you on this career of scoring films?

HJ: Whoa!  It’s such a combination of things.  First, I’m very lucky to have a diverse background in music due to having a strict music education and also being a former producer.  Second, I was lucky enough to meet Hans Zimmer who thought that I should score films.  I was then given an opportunity by producer Jeffrey Katzenberg to score Monsters vs. Aliens.  It’s always great to have people believe in you, and I was very lucky to have that.  So in the end, it’s a combination of having a good set of skills, luck, and opportunity.

BSP: When I think of a definitive name in film music, I think of John Williams, and you do also cite him as an inspiration.  Can you tell me how he and other composers before you have influenced your music?  Also, how does their influence affect your evolving work?  For example, Captain America: Civil War (2016) will be the second Captain America movie you’ll be working on.  How will that character’s overall theme change and what can the audience expect?

“My background as a producer also comes into play when I’m scoring.”

HJ: Yes, John Williams is the absolute governor of symphonic music!  But at the same time, I can’t forget about other heavyweights like Jerry Goldsmith and Hans Zimmer.  Oh, you also can’t mention film music without putting the name Ennio Morricone up there.  Hans Zimmer may not be synonymous with symphonic music, but he has certainly reinvented music — especially with synthesizers and such.  He’s a minimalist and he’s an absolute master at electronic scoring.  Both Zimmer and Williams represent polar opposites, but they’re revolutionary in their own right.  I also found that I’m subconsciously influenced by Alan Silvestri.  My background as a producer also comes into play when I’m scoring.  For Captain America: Civil War, I’ve only briefly talked to directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo.  They still wanted something heroic and rousing, but also with contemporary textures as well.  So that’s the current progress on scoring the film.

Pixels has a United States release date of July 24, 2015.  The film is directed by Chris Columbus, written by Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling, based on the animated short film Pixels, with music by Henry Jackman, starring Adam Sandler as Sam Brenner, Kevin James as President Will Cooper, Josh Gad as Ludlow Lamonsoff, Peter Dinklage as Eddit Plant, Michelle Monaghan as Lieutenant Colonel Violet van Patten, Matt Lintz as Matty, Brian Cox as Admiral Porter, Ashley Benson as Lady Lisa, Jane Krakowski as First Lady Carolyn Cooper, Denis Akiyama as Toru Iwatani, Sean Bean as Corporal Hill, Affion Crocket as Sergeant Dilan Cohan, and Dan Aykroyd as 1982 Champion MC.

Henry Jackman is an English composer, conductor, arranger, pianist, musician, and songwriter.  Born in Hillingdon, Middlesex, Jackman studied classical music at St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir School, Eton College, Framingham College, and the University of Oxford.

Jackman’s experience includes programming and production work with Mike Oldfield, Sally Oldfield, Trevor Horn / Art of Noise, Elton John, and Gary Barlow.  He also co-produced Seal’s unreleased 2001 album Togetherland.  The track This Could Be Heaven — which was released separate from the album and co-written by Jackman — was used in the Nicholas Cage film The Family Man (2000).  The track was also later included in Seal’s compilation album Hits.

Since 2006, Jackman has worked on scoring various films.  Working with his mentor — Hans Zimmer — Jackman has been involved in the scores for multiple blockbusters: as a music programmer for The Da Vinci Code (2003); as a music arranger for The Dark Knight (2008); and creating additional music for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006), Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007), The Simpsons Movie (2007), Kung Fu Panda (2008), and Hancock (2008).

In 2009, Jackman, along with Hans Zimmer and John Powell, won the 2008 Annie ward for Music in an Animated Television Production or Short Form for their work on DreamWorks Animation’s Secrets of the Furious Five (2008) — a sequel to Kung Fu Panda (2008).

As a sole composer, Jackman has worked on the scores for Monster vs. Aliens (2009), Henri 4 (2010), Gulliver’s Travels (2010), X-Men: First Class (2011), Winnie the Pooh (2011), Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012), Wreck-It Ralph (2012), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), Pixels (2015), and the upcoming Captain America: Civil War (2016).  His first foray into scoring video games will be for the upcoming Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (Q1 2016).

Jackman himself has released a number of albums: Utopia (2003), Transfiguration (2005), and Acoustica (2007) with Augustus Isadore.

Source: Wikipedia

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