Q&A with Marco Beltrami
Marco Beltrami, composer of the score for Matthijs van Heijningen Jr's
The Thing (2011), was born in 1966 in Long Island, NY. After
graduating from Brown University and studying at the Yale School of Music, Marco
moved, via a spell in Venice working with Italian avant-garde composer Luigi
Nono, to the USC Thornton School of Music in Los Angeles, where he
continued his studies under the illustrious Jerry Goldsmith.
Marco's work consistently receives the highest levels of public and critical acclaim. His scores for 2007's 3:10 to Yuma and 2009's The Hurt Locker earned him Academy Award nominations for Best Original Score, with the latter film winning that year's Award for Best Picture. More recently, Marco's score for Soul Surfer won the 2012 Satellite Best Film Score of the Year Award.
We are very grateful to Marco for taking
time out of his busy schedule to answer questions about his
powerful and evocative score for The Thing (2011). We would
also very much like to thank his assistant Tyson Lozensky for all of his help in making this
Q. On the DVD, the deleted scene that shows Colin killing himself uses part of Morricone's score. Did you ever create any music for that scene, or did you have any discussions with Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. about this?
A. No. Never we saw it while we were working on it.
Q. Why the title
'God's Country Music'?
A. Someone on the production saw the opening shot as “God’s Country”. Just had fun with the title. We did several versions of the opening and this was the nickname for the one that stuck.
Q. The manner in which
you referred to Morricone's 'Humanity (part II)' in this piece is very clever
and exquisitely executed.
A. Thanks. We used Morricone’s original recording.
Q. Which instrument was used for the famous 'heartbeat' sound on your soundtrack?
A. The opening is Morricone’s original recording. No use in trying to duplicate it. The original has great simplicity. Later on when we referenced it we did it with combinations of modular synths and orchestra.
Q. What are your own thoughts on Morricone's soundtrack?
A. He’s a master of “full value simplicity”. In so many of his scores he sets the tone with a very unique and original signature. The Thing is another prime example.
Q. What was it like
working with Matthijs van Heijningen, Jr.?
A. The Thing was the first movie I had done with Matthijs and early on in a Director – Composer relationship it takes a while to get a dialog going, I mean you have to share ideas and play things and the thing that I really liked early on with Matthijs was that he had this sense of the music being really different for The Thing, The Spaceship and so forth. Not being perhaps what you might expect for a big panoramic scene of a spaceship, he wanted it to be more almost evocative like something was calling these people to the landscape to investigate and to face their inevitable destiny. The other thing that struck me about Matthijs was that I really liked how the film was dark and moody and has a style about it that was really refreshing to see in a studio picture and something that musically I found myself playing off of.
Q. Did you find that Matthijs and yourself had a lot in common in terms of your musical tastes? How did any similarities and/or differences between you in this regard come to determine the direction taken for The Thing soundtrack?
A. We’re both big fans of Goldsmith and in particular his Alien score.
Q. How closely did you collaborate with the sound effects people to achieve the overall effect?
A. Since the wind is an ever-present character in the film we decided to experiment musically with it. Buck worked with the sound FX department and “tuned” the wind tracks using EQ to follow the music in a few scenes, in particular the opening and the scene where Kate inspects everyone’s mouth.
Q. Who else did you collaborate with in relation to the soundtrack? In particular, what kind of input was given by the production team? Did screenwriter, Eric Heisserer, have any input in relation to the musical articulation of the story’s settings, characters and themes?
A. Mainly from Matthijs and the picture editor Julian Clarke along with a few of the producers.
Q. I can imagine that
when a movie comes to be edited, this can play havoc with a composer’s best-laid
plans. Were there any edits made to the film that were particularly inconvenient
from your point of view?
A. It’s not a surprise with a film like The Thing to get evolving edits. Horror films are experiments in terror that should be explored. Generally the edits help make a better film which helps to make scoring the film easier. Sometimes the picture edits can screw up a piece of music’s original development but again it’s usually for the better of the film. I can’t say that any scenes were recut to a degree that the original vision of the score was harmed.
Q. Your soundtrack has a wonderfully unnerving, signature, pitch-slide sound that recurs throughout which seems to signify the presence of the creature itself in your soundtrack. I'd like to ask how this came about? What aspects of the creature inspired this musical representation? Also, what instruments were used to create this sound?
A. The bending motif was designed to be a sort of musical breathing. Originally it was written for 3 cellos during the demo process. We enjoyed it so much that we incorporated it into many different variations. The opening wind sound is “tuned” to reflect the motif and the 3 cellos emerged out of that. In later scenes we have the full orchestra doing the effect. We also pitched bowed piano and pump organ doing the glissing with computers.
Q. I'd like to ask which sequences were the most interesting and/or challenging to provide soundscapes for?
A. Lengthy dialog scenes are the hardest since you don’t want to get in the way of the dialog but need to keep things supportive and developing. The most interesting scenes to score on this film were the ones where we worked with the sound guys to help make a single soundscape. The scene that was most fun to score was the ‘Meating of the Minds’ cue where the Thing melts its head onto another victim.
Q. Whose idea was it to use the 1982 Norwegian Eurovision Song Contest entry for the party sing-a-long?
A. Not sure.
Q. What happened to
the extended complete score at
http://marco-beltrami.com/cd_thing2cd.htm - Will
it ever be released?
A. Marco-Beltrami.com is a fan site that I don’t run. That must be a bootleg. Don’t know anything about it.
Q. Was your music used in the version that was screened for test audiences and if so, did you compose music for the Pilot scene, Colin's death and other deleted scenes?
A. They didn’t do any test screenings for The Thing. I don’t believe any scene that I scored was ever deleted.