Click here for part 1, in which David Arnold discussed the changes that were made to the score of ID4 as well as his work on the Bond franchise. Here he looks in more detail at the creation of Stargate and Independence Day…
How did the process work on Independence Day?
This is going back obviously quite a long time, before people mocked up scores with computers. It was a little more basic when we started doing that.
[Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin and I] had a great relationship and success with Stargate. [For that] I got sent the script and started sending them ideas and themes, right from the start, before they’d even shot. I was on the set with them when they were shooting – writing some music on the set, getting the people in the shot to do certain things that were composed.
I felt very close to it as a production, then moved to Los Angeles and was holed up in a hotel room writing it, going backwards and forwards. Dean Devlin would come over and listen to a few key scenes, but [he and Roland] never really heard the whole score – in fact they didn’t hear it until we had the orchestra playing it. They didn’t realise that till they were on the plane on the way over.
At that point it would have been very difficult to make it hearable because a lot of the technology wasn’t there – or I didn’t have very much of it, being as it was only the second film I ever did, and the first one I did virtually for free. I had very little money and very little resources to do that kind of thing. They took it on trust, and it paid off.
So when it came to Independence Day, they sent me a very early draft of it and I made some notes on what I thought the music could be. I started playing around with themes, and did the same thing: started sending them ideas, went to the set, talked to the actors, got into the whole feel of what the film was about, the tone of it, and stayed very close to the production all the way through. It was exactly the same process: moved to Los Angeles, rented a room and lived in it with the equipment for four or five months and wrote the score. Dean or Roland would pop over and hear a few key scenes, but certainly not the whole thing, and didn’t really hear 70% of the score until the orchestra played it.
At that point I was using an Atari with a thing called a Pro24, so I had 16 MIDI channels, and a Korg M1, a couple of Akai samplers, and a couple of Proteus things – it was pretty crude because I knew it was all going to be recorded with real instruments.
I didn’t really mock up anything with any great detail apart from some key sequences. The president’s speech was something that they were very keen on hearing completed before we went to the stage to record it, simply because it’s a very important part of the film and we wanted to make sure that was right. When the aliens arrived for the first time, that whole sequence… things like that I would mock up to a more complete sense using the equipment that I had, and when I got the okay for those scenes, I would turn those sketches over to Nick Dodd who’s my orchestrator. He would then take it away and do his stuff and I’d move onto the next thing. That was how we did the whole thing.
What sort of indications did you give Nick in terms of voicing, or was it clear from what you’d given him?
I tend to leave the voicing to him – he has his own ideas, and we’ve worked together for quite a long time. He knows how I like things, but I would do a general “high brass” “low brass” part and leave the greater detail of that to Nick.
I did until the point when I could afford to have an orchestrator and then I called Nick. I’d done about 25 student films up to that point, and done them by hand. I tend to do everything in the computer now because people want to hear everything and it’s almost like you have to do it twice – you’re putting it on paper and then putting it in the computer.
Also the more you work at a computer, the less your skills on paper retain themselves – I’ve found that my playing has really deteriorated since I’ve been writing, because writing is a slow thing. It’s something that you take your time over and you never really play anything. People say “Can you play me something you’ve done?”, and half the time I can’t because I never have played it. I’ve worked it out on a keyboard but I’ve never had to sit down and perform it. You have to rethink those things.
When you’re working it out a line at a time or a bar at a time you tend not to do much playing. My playing skills have really withered and because so much is automated, my transposition skills have probably got worse – touch of a button in Sibelius and it’s transposed. It’s like my mobile phone: I used to be able to tell you anyone’s phone number that I knew, but now I hardly know anyone’s phone number because you call it up on a pre-set. It’s that “use it or lose it” thing.
Nick always writes everything down. Whereas he used to come in and take down the parts line by line in the room next to me, now I give him or email him MIDI files and a demo. He’ll do his thing, then we’ll go over what he’s done and the next thing we do is record it. It’s a very effective partnership and it means that I can get on with writing the next three minutes rather than tidying up the last three.
If you’re a purist, I realise it’s not the greatest way to be writing music, but this is film music, and film music sadly has to be delivered on a certain time, on a certain day, on a certain budget – and that wall doesn’t move away. It comes ever closer.
If I were writing a concert piece, I’d approach it very differently but it’s functional music. I’m not saying that it can’t be artistic, I’m not saying that it can’t be any of the great things that concert music can be, but its primary ability is to serve the film, and you’ve got to get it on to the screen in the time that you have and that timeframe is getting ever smaller. You become an architect rather than a builder as well.
With something like the stage musical of Made in Dagenham, how much were you in the same mode, or was that a much slower process?
Musicals tend to be slower because there’s no money for anyone to do it. People do it in times in-between other things. In the development of a musical, it’s pretty much done on good will, everyone being on the same page and wanting to do it. You might spend two or three weeks working on it, but then two months before you come back because they have other jobs that they have to get to.
And also, it’s a much smaller group. I think on the end of Independence Day, there were something like 2,000 on the credits, and I met maybe 20 of them. With a musical, the thing is really put together by me, the lyricist, the book writer, the director and producer – and sometimes the director doesn’t come on until much later. It’s a very very small group of people, which means it felt more intimate, and I felt much closer to it in a way.
It’s very personal, you’re working with a group of people – live, carbon-based human beings – and they’ve got to go out there every night and sell it. It’s not like you do three takes and move on. Every day they’ve got to do the show. You want to get it right for them as well.
It becomes like an extended family; everyone gets very involved in the whole thing, because you’re together the whole time working on it and trying to make it as good as you can. It’s a very different experience to film, principally because it’s sociable. Film is an unsociable gig for a composer because you’re largely by yourself.
On a musical as a composer, you have a lot more heft, a lot more weight and a lot more influence in what happens because it’s your show. As a hired gun on a movie, you are part of a team. It’s a team sport, film music. You’re no more or less important than any of the other people – costumes, wigs, scriptwriting, editing, lighting, cinematography, sound mixing: all of those things are as important as anything else. With a musical, the material is the most important thing; everything else is important but if the material’s not there, nothing’s going to happen.
At the moment I think there are about 47 productions of it around the country! I saw one the other week; three people have come up to me and said “We’re doing Made in Dagenham, do you want to come and see it?” I know it’s doing well, and I think it will do well in smaller places with people who you don’t necessarily know who they are. The story is that; the story is the mouse that roared. It’s easy to believe someone making that change, going on that journey, if you don’t know anything about them.
It’s a working class musical, if there is such a thing. Its roots are in that thinking. A lot of people who go and see those kinds of shows are working people, who might be in a provincial town who wouldn’t have a chance, or couldn’t afford, to go to London to see a show. It’s nice for it to have a life outside of the West End, and for other people to have a go at it. I think it is a very broadly appealing show. It’s not like a specialist show.
I was quite surprised that it didn’t do as well as it needed to…
If we knew what made things work, we’d be swimming in rivers of money!
I might play the last chord at the end of the titles on the organ in the Albert Hall, but no, I’m doing a talk on stage before the actual show happens then I’ll be sitting watching it. There’s very little that I could do which would be worthwhile my being there. Particularly when you’ve played in orchestras as I have and sat next to people who are infinitely more talented than you are, even as the author I would feel such a fraud sitting there playing something very simple. I will let the skilful do the job that they need to do, and it’s really hard.
What’s great is that Nicholas is conducting and he basically lived that score as much as I did. He was there every day, as I was there every day. I was producing in the booth, Nick was conducting in the room. He knows every note – he’s got to relearn it, but he knows every nuance of it.
You can’t have a more perfect combination. It’s sort of the way that we did the whole of the original score – I’ll be there saying let’s do this, and this and he’ll be using his brilliance to make it happen.
Independence Day Live is at the Royal Albert Hall on Thursday 22nd September at 7 pm. Tickets available here.
Thanks to Rick Burin for his help facilitating this interview.