Exclusive: Composer Marco Beltrami Talks The Wolverine, Snowpiercer, Carrie And More
Tomorrow sees the release of The Wolverine. The reviews have been coming in over the week, and the majority of them are positive. James Mangold and Hugh Jackman have delivered the Wolverine movie we’ve been waiting for. One of the things that helps make it such an impressive movie is the score. Earlier this week I got the chance to speak to the film’s composer Marco Beltrami. You might have heard some of Beltrami‘s work in some of your favorite movies. He’s an Academy Award nominated and Satellite Award winning composer of films such as The Hurt Locker, 3:10 To Yuma, Soul Surfer, The Woman in Black, I, Robot, Hellboy, and more recently World War Z to name but just a few. I spoke with Beltrami about his work on The Wolverine and his upcoming movies Carrie and the Snowpiercer.
You worked with James Mangold before on 3:10 to Yuma. What was it like working with him on The Wolverine? How did that working relationship change or stay the same?
The thing with the composer/director relationship is that oftentimes music is an abstract language for filmmakers when it comes to that end of the process. The more time you have working with a director, the more comfortable you get working together. You gain almost like a shorthand of talking and so forth. From relaying ideas, what the likes and dislikes are, how to interpret the words that somebody says. I think the fact we worked together in the past gave me that much more understanding of Jim and where he was coming from. I think it was one of the reasons this project went very smooth. It was a very smooth running project from beginning to end.
I know you did some unique stuff on World War Z by using the sound of snapping jaws and teeth. What did you do to get working on the score for this film? What sort of research or inspirations helped you tackle it?
I didn’t do much research. Even though the thing is set in Japan there was a conscious decision not to do an authentic Japanese score. I used some instruments that were Japanese but took license with them and didn’t use them in a traditional setting. Wolverine’s theme in this is actually just solo Harmonica. It’s just a very simple musical motive that developed as the film goes on. That’s probably the most non-orchestral musical element of the score.
Mangold tweeted out a list of films that inspired him for The Wolverine like The Outlaw Josey Wales, the Samurai Trilogy, and 13 Assassins Were there any particular films that influenced the way you went about working on the music for the film?
I think I do every movie as a western whether it is or not [laughs], so there’s definitely some of the spaghetti western influence on my music throughout the score, and I guess throughout a lot of my work. I wouldn’t say there was a particular movie that influenced me more than something else. There was nothing that I was trying to mimic or anything.
Can you talk a little about the recording session itself? Did you use a full orchestra for many of the pieces?
We did some work here at my studio beforehand. We recorded percussion, some Japanese taiko drums, and koto Japanese string instruments which were not played in the traditional way but more of a percussion instrument, and some specialty flutes and harmonica. We did all of that here before the session. Then the recording we did at Fox was because we needed the big room for the orchestra. It was maybe 85 to 90 players.
The film isn’t a typical super hero film. How did that effect what you were doing with the music? You do have your action pieces, but your score seems more psychological and pensive for this movie.
Yeah, absolutely. The thing that I loved about it was that it was a very un-traditional superhero movie in a respect. It had film noir aspects to it, a mystery going on, and Logan’s character is sort of a dark isolationist character. That ultimately led to my choice for the harmonica being his instrument. It has a very lonely sound to it. I was a little worried at first, but what I was doing fit the picture or at least what I was experimenting with. The fact that it was a superhero movie and I had harmonica for his character, I was wondering how well that would fly. Jim was very supportive of it. I think the way it develops in the film…hopefully it works.
It’s as if you’re listening to the music that would be playing in Logan’s mind almost.
Yes. A lot of it is sort of identifying with him.
I wanted to ask about the piece titled Logan’s Run specifically. The score feels tense and ominous at times but that particular piece was sort of pounding and intense. Can you talk about that composition?
The scene that it accompanies is a street chase in Japan. It’s very intense running and all kinds of action-type set pieces. It’s fueled by adrenaline as much as anything else, so the score there was mainly to provide the backdrop energy for what was happening on scene. Later on in the cue there is a little thematic motive that comes in, but for the most part it’s less thematic and more a percussive action piece.
And another piece just as action-packed is Bullet Train. That seems like it’s going to be the stand out scene in the film. You’re known as THE thriller guy when it comes to scoring a film, but can you talk about working on that one and trying to convey that level of action and danger?
That scene, he’s on the train and the Yakuza is after him. There’s a musical motive for the Yakuza that I employ in that scene. I believe that the music was moved a little bit later. Originally on the top of the train when he’s having to fight, there wasn’t going to be any music. There was just going to be the sound of the wind and so forth. From what I understand, they may have cut some of my music from earlier and put it on top of that.
The score for The Wolverine is great, but is there one piece that stands out to you or you’re just really proud how it turned out?
I really like the sequence The Hidden Fortress. It covers a lot of ground in terms of the sound of the score and thematically with Logan’s theme. It starts out with a harmonica, which is him really angry and he’s going after Mariko after she’s been taking. He’s riding on the motorcycle to get to the castle and he has to fight some of the ninjas there, so it has some of the action themes included. When he starts fighting them and is getting shot, it’s a fuller statement of the scene and it takes the harmonica theme and develops it into his theme and closes it with that. I think that cue is a good summation of the music in the film.
You’ve worked on several comic book movies before. Do you enjoy doing those? Does it let you do something a little different or do you just like taking on projects with big scopes like comic book movies?
I’ve enjoyed it. I find it fun because you can sort of play with reality and be motivic with the ideas. It affords the opportunity to be a little larger than life in many respects. In that sense it’s refreshing to work on some of these comic book movies.
One of your next projects is Carrie. You have some impressive horror movies on your list of works, but are you going about this one any differently since it’s a reboot of a more classic horror film?
I really liked the original movie and the original score. There’s no homage to the original score, it sort of works on its own. The thing that might be a little bit different, I’m working from the girl’s perspective and less of a horror picture. To me it’s like a coming of age story for this girl. Even though she has this possession or superpower, she’s almost like a force of nature. I’m treating it more in that respect and that’s how I looked at the film. Hopefully that works as well. I don’t know if they’re finished dubbing that yet.
You’re also working Snowpiercer. That’s a film a lot of people are really looking forward to. Can you talk about what sort of soundscapes you’re making and the story you’re telling with the score?
It’s a great film. All of director Bong [Joon-ho]’s work is really unique and this is no exception. It’s really visually stunning and incredibly creative and imaginative. In that respect it was very inspiring, musically, to work on it. The first thoughts I had on it since it takes place on this perpetual running train, there could be some sort of perpetual motion idea with the music. So it’s a combination/hybrid score with electronic and processed instruments with standard orchestral stuff. I think musically it’s very thematically based. There’s a couple of different themes in it. There’s one for the revolution or struggle to move forward and the outside world. All of the themes are interrelated and come from a really simple idea. Everything comes together at the end of the movie. It was a really satisfying movie to work on and Bong’s encouragement of thinking outside of the box on this was really helpful.
And finally, you have a list of credits for a lot of different types of movies but is there one particular type of movie or a genre you’d like to do or even do more of?
It really depends on the movie itself. If the movie is something I respond to, the genre is not really that important. I think the only thing I found I don’t have much of an affinity for is like romantic comedy type stuff. I don’t know, maybe I take myself too seriously [laughs].
I don’t know. I think there are more things to explore in the western genre. I think it’s such a great American tradition. There’s a lot of exploration that can be done to come up with new stuff. Actually, I’m looking forward to doing this new movie with Tommy Lee Jones called The Homesman. I’m just starting on it. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun coming up with some new ways of scoring. I think I’m going to be doing some things I’ve never done before and trying some things I’m not sure will work yet. I’m looking forward to that.
Our thanks again to Mr. Beltrami for speaking with us about his work. The Wolverine has a very impressive score, and like we said above, it fits with the non-traditional superhero movie Mangold and company made. Beltrami sounded excited about his time on the film, and seemed to really be looking forward to doing something different with Snowpiercer and The Homesman. When you watch The Wolverine this weekend, pay special attention to the music. It seems like that harmonica pops up quite a bit. That’s an odd choice of instrument, but from everything I’ve seen and heard, it fits in perfectly with Logan. What do you think? Are you a fan of Beltrami‘s composition style?