John Debney (Composer - 'Swing Vote')
'Swingin' Into Action, Once More!'
One of the most sought after composers in Hollywood, Academy Award-nominated John Debney has scored both the 20th Century Fox film “Meet Dave” and the recently-released "Swing Vote."
Starring Eddie Murphy, "Meet Dave" is a sci-fi comedy that follows a crew of miniature aliens as they operate a spaceship in human form (Murphy) and attempt to save their home planet. In "Swing Vote" Kevin Costner stars as Bud Johnson, an apathetic, beer slinging, lovable loser, who is coasting through a life that has passed him by, except for the one bright spot in his mundane existence, his precocious, over achieving twelve-year old daughter, Molly. She takes care of them both, until one mischievous moment on Election Day, when she accidentally sets off a chain of events which culminates in the presidential election coming down to one vote, her dads.
Debney’s ability to create memorable work across a variety of genres has led him to score such films as comedies “Elf,” “Liar Liar,” and “Bruce Almighty,” to action adventures “The Scorpion King” and “Spy Kids (1 & 2)” as well as the landmark score for “The Passion of the Christ” and the epic score for the Playstation 3 video game “Lair.”
Taking it from the top and what were your musical influences growing up and how many still factor into your compositions today? John Debney] "When growing up, I was mainly influenced by popular music at the time. The Beatles, Buffalo Springfiled, Crosby Stills and Nash were some of my favorites. As far as film composer tow stand out as most influential to me: John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith. They are the pinnacle of the art and they both are still huge influences on me."
For the Average Joe who may not have heard of you and was thinking of buying some of your previous soundtrack works, which one would you yourself advise them to listen to? "Well, my most popular by far has been "The Passion of the Christ." I'd also suggest "Sin City” and maybe something fun like "Liar, Liar" and "Elf"."
For your work on 'Meet Dave' you had to create a score that went with a storyline of a crew of miniature aliens who operate a spaceship in the form of a human! Er, just where does one even begin to put those musical pieces together?! "LOL, that was a fun one.... Working with a great director (Brian Robbins) helps the process in that communication is key. Brian wanted a classic, tuneful score... Which is what we ended up with. It was a fun experience."
And then for 'Swing Vote' a more patriotic, upbeat score was called for. But to cap it all off you also contributed 30 minutes of vibrant work to the score for 'The Mummy: The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor'!!! Do you ever sleep? And if so, do you go to bed knowing what work you have to accomplish in the upcoming weeks and melodies and such come to you during the night? "Well for those two months, I really didn't get much sleep!! Again though, it was a pleasure working with these very talented and appreciative film-makers! “Swing Vote” is a film that all Americans should see. Very topical and superbly acted. This is a treasure of a movie!"
And with that in mind, I know that a score is specifically written to accompany a film, but have there been times recently when you've been doing all these projects that you may have compiled from a previously written musical composition of yours, perhaps? One thus far unreleased, sitting in your personal library, but perfect for one of the new projects? "This never seems to work. I always end up writing new material because in truth, every film has a different perspective. I just let the film speak to me in a way. Like the film I just finished: "The Stoning of Soraya M." A powerful true story about a woman's life and tragic early death in 80's Iran."
It's been noted - many times - that you are one of the most sought after composers in Hollywood. After all these years, do you credit being the son of Disney Studios producer Louis Debney as the real platform to your love for soundtrack compositions or did it come later in life? "LOL, although my dad was a Hollywood stalwart, this gave me very little advantage when trying to build my career. In truth, it may have hindered me for a time, in that certain folks wouldn't necessarily take me all that seriously. I guess I'd say whatever success I've enjoyed was due to good old hard work, a collaborative nature and some great luck."
Indeed, how easy (or hard) is it to constantly create a new, vibrant, wanted-by-the-public sound that both builds on and surpasses the musical wonderment's/accomplishments/arrangements that preceded it within the industry? "Well, geez good question... It's not really hard to create new music, but yes, there is a lot of second guessing that I do to myself as I write new melodies. Some are better than others for sure. I just keep trying to create the very best music I can."
What's your thoughts on the difference between film scoring for an independent film over a big-named Hollywood one? For, if the indie producers cannot afford to pay you the figures that the big boys do does that affect the musical depth, the creativity, the final product re: shall we politely say, quality? "These days, budgets are in great flux. Even "big budget" films allocate way too little for the music score. Most of the money seems to be given to Special Effects and the like. It is simply amazing but unfortunately true, that major blockbuster films are completely under-funded when it comes to music."
"I guess I'd say that music has lost some of its value and importance in this day of bigger and bigger CGI budgets. Weirdly, the studios sometimes expect to hire a 100 piece orchestra with a budget for 10 guys and a kazoo. In all seriousness, proper budgeting of film scores must be re-instated as it's one of the hard costs of movie-making that is still so worth it in terms of adding value to the film experience."
Is it rare that a composer gets asked to contribute more work to a movie that already has a score in place ie: 'The Mummy: The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor' ... and just how long does it take (from scratch) to create said 30 minutes of extra score? "Well this was an extraordinary case where a film was re-cut at the last minute. Due to this, additional music was needed. I had 5 days to write 35 minutes of pretty aggressive action music. It was brutal, yet wonderful working with the very talented director Rob Cohen."
With your latest work on 'My Best Friend's Girl' up next in theatres (followed by 'Hotel For Dogs'), does there ever come a time when burn out strikes you and for a period of time composing is the last thing you can concentrate on? "I get burned out all the time! That's when I take a little time to unwind and re-charge. I don't need a lot of time to do so, so I'm back at work in a short period of time. I love writing music and working with the musicians. This is really what makes all the hard work worthwhile."
What classic film score would you love to rearrange today in your own style if you were given the chance? "WOW. So Many.... Maybe "Laura" or "DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL". These would be incredible fun!"
Lastly, and throwing you a journalistic curve ball, Exclusive Magazine love Penguins ... do you?! "Yes, I love Penguins and almost did a Penguin movie!!"
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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