Brian Tyler has spent the last few years bursting onto the scene. He has quickly become known for some of the biggest projects out there. He has scored films that have gained a combined twelve billion dollars worldwide. That is something to stand up and recognise. So it was a thrill to sit down with him at The Krakow Film Music Festival to discuss such a varying array of subjects, and to really gain an in-depth look into his music.
As myself and Bernhard Heidkamp, headed into the giant Tauron Arena in Krakow, where Tyler’s music would later be played, we found ourselves humming several of his themes and catchy rhythms as we met the man himself. And after little thought, we thankfully all decided that outside in the gorgeous sunshine was a more lovely place to sit and chat.
The Krakow Film Music Festival: A Sold-Out Showcase
Naturally, the first thing we wanted to know was why he was in Krakow, and he immediately showed his relaxed attitude and friendly demeanor.
I wasn’t invited, I just showed up.
He laughed and then joked about just coming to the festival to play drums, but maybe he should conduct his film music instead. He has a great ability to put people at ease and to treat any interview like a casual talk between friends, which complemented my interview style, as I prefer the questions to flow in the moment and to feel organic, as opposed to having a very formal and stunted conversation that can provide rather uninteresting answers.
Yeah they invited me quite a while ago and I really wanted to do the concert. I remember thinking that it would fall perfectly after I finish the Mummy. So the timings great, as is Krakow with this massive arena. 15,000 person capacity and it’s sold-out! It’s going to be big and fun and it’s going to feel cinematic and epic. So of course I said “absolutely I’m going to come out here to conduct a bunch of my music.”
He was visibly excited to personally unveil new music and previous works to a new audience. He’s a very physical talker and he gestures his points with a youthful enthusiasm. Music clearly means a lot to him and getting to conduct his own music in such a beautiful city and to such a large crowd was undoubtedly exhilarating.
With such a wide variety of music being performed at the festival’s Gala concert; ranging from Howard Shore to John Williams, I wanted to know how exactly he chose the pieces he was going to be conducting in his section of the concert.
We talked about it and it ended up that we were able to do quite a bit. I’m doing music from all sorts of things, like Thor: The Dark World, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, Assassins Creed, and we’re also premiering the Mummy theme and a piece from the new Fate of the Furious. So we’re able to do a lot. There’s some things that I’ve never done live before.
As The Mummy was his most recent project, and no one had heard it up to that point, as the film hadn’t been released anywhere yet, I was curious what it was like to literally peel the brand new packaging off this score and to present it to the world in such a grand way in the Tauron Arena.
We’re all excited. Everyone that made the film is thrilled. In fact, the director wanted to be here. He would be if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s doing promotion for the film right now. But I’m going to meet up with him in London after Krakow to tell him all about it, and we’re going to do the Film premiere out there with Tom Cruise and everybody.
Watch Brian Tyler conduct The Mummy suite live at the Krakow Film Music Festival:
Concerts – “Let’s Do More Live Shows”
Before I continue, I think it’s prudent to say that I am a fan of Brian Tyler. So much so that I went to the first ever major concert of his career so far, that took place at the Royal Festival Hall in London, last year. I was lucky enough to be very close to the conductor’s podium to see him at work as he led the orchestra. It was a lovely evening, with his parents in attendance, whom he gestured to mid-way through the concert to thank them for their encouragement of his musical creativity. It was a heart-warming moment during a night of great music and fun anecdotes.
I wanted to show my appreciation for that evening, so I told him of my experience.
Oh, you were there? That’s great. That concert was so much fun. And in fact, that gave us the idea to say ‘let’s do more live shows.’ So that was really the start of it.
I was then keen to know if there were any future concerts of that sort that were planned, or indeed if any Live-to-Film Concerts were in the works.
Yeah for sure. I think the reason why it’s always been difficult for film composers to do live shows or tours, is that you have to block out your time. You don’t know what a film schedule is going to be. For instance, I did Power Rangers at a completely different time than I thought I would. I was signed two years ago to do it, and we thought it would be in 2015. But of course they rewrite scripts and they do things with the film and all of a sudden you’re scoring the film ten months later than you thought you would. This happens all the time. So if you’ve scheduled ahead and you think you have your film schedule all locked in, and then you schedule a tour during your down time, that could be right when you’re actually scoring something. That’s why it’s difficult. But I’m happy that I managed to block out this time for Krakow.
So did this mean that he was too busy, and that for many years at least, he wouldn’t be able to do any major concerts of his music?
There’s a chance that things can change. I was just at Coachella and saw Hans Zimmer. And I was just talking to Justin Hurwitz the other night in L.A. about the La La Land concerts. It’s all very exciting. I always find that it’s best to just go with your gut. And my gut says that I want to do concerts.
One of the other difficult aspects of Live-to-Film Concerts, is that it isn’t as simple as just getting the sheet music out and giving it to the orchestra. When a composer writes a score, they change so much between the initial writing phase, all the way up to the recording sessions. I was curious to know more about this process, and to find out just how troublesome it can be to translate a score to a concert setting.
The way that it ends up being heard in the concert, is done through working backwards. For example, there’s a whole section in the middle of The Mummy piece that we’re premiering tonight, that I wrote at a later date. I was thinking that this piece needed a bridge, and of course it didn’t exist, so I had to go back.
With Live-to-Film Concerts, the original sheet music is mostly wrong. When I’m conducting, I’m constantly making changes from the podium, and those things are told to the musicians as I scribble them out on my conductor score. But if you go back to the original files, they don’t match at all. So you need to re-orchestrate it for concerts, to make sure it sounds like what you hear in the recording. It’s almost impossible.
Not every concert of a composer’s work is attended by them personally, so how exactly does one monitor the pieces that are played elsewhere? As we were on the subject, I found it interesting to know how he reacted to his music being performed in environments that he is not in control of.
I have seen other concerts where they’ve played an Aliens vs Predator: Requiem piece or something from Iron Man 3, and I notice that they’re doing the original versions of things instead of those that I had changed from the podium. There’s always this F-sharp or there’s a D-flat in the trumpets, where I think ‘I changed that.’ Also there are things that were basically clerical errors on the day of recording, that then make it to the stands, of which I have to correct from the podium. So you can hear some really weird notes in concerts, that shouldn’t be there.
Watch Brian Tyler conduct the Thor: The Dark World suite live at the Krakow Film Music Festival
From the Fast and the Furious to Now You See Me: Shaping Beats and Rhythms
A surprising fact for people who know me, is that I prefer his non-traditional scores over his traditionally orchestral ones. The reason why that is surprising is because I am a devout orchestral fan. I do not listen to many electronic scores. Basically anything without an orchestra tends to not be as interesting to me. But with Brian Tyler, his use of rock and dance beats and rhythms are just addictive. In my opinion, he shines when he chooses to combine those elements with orchestra. But where does he start from when writing a score that is comprised of both? Does he begin with melody or with beats and rhythms?
Typically I write melody first and orchestrate it. It depends if it’s a straight up contemporary piece or a rock, electronic or pop piece, then maybe the beats and rhythms first, but if it combines with orchestra, then typically I write the orchestral portion first.
Now You See Me was definitely rhythmically composed, as was Fast and Furious. That’s a straight-up tango. It’s that cut-time thing which makes it sound like that. Themes are always a combination of rhythm, melody and harmonic components. So the accents and rhythms are just as important in remembering a piece.
Great pieces can be remembered in both directions. If you sang for instance, the Raiders of the Lost Ark melody and take out the rhythms, you can actually recognise it. Also if you don’t even sing it, but you just tap the rhythm out, you can still recognise it. So when you combine those factors, it becomes a very powerful thing that can emblazon in someone’s mind.
As I said previously, he is a very tactile and visual conversationalist, so we spent moments of the interview humming his and others’ music. He would hum Williams’ Indiana Jones theme, and play air drums and scat sing the catchy ostinato from Now You See Me, as well as tapping his leg to the rhythm of his main theme for the Fast and the Furious franchise. It felt like an improvised jam-session.
We spoke more about his main theme for the Fast and the Furious films, as it is a personal favourite of mine from his work. It appears on the surface to be very simple, but it’s all about rhythm and getting the big musical pay off. He cited his latest score in the series; The Fate of the Furious, which is the eighth installment, and the fifth that he has composed for.
You wait until towards the end, to really have it play for one of these hero moments when the team comes together. As opposed to a preparation theme, which it works that way too in previous films in the series, like they’re going to go and do something. But with Fast 8, something’s already happened. The thing that was really fun about it, is that you go through the movie thinking we’re not going to play that theme. It’s almost like you’re watching a band playing and they’re singing all their new stuff and you’re thinking; ‘cool, but I want to hear my favourite song from the other album,’ and then they finally play it.
It was all a moment for the fans, because I remember we did a screening in front of a bunch of big, hardcore Fast and Furious fans, and when that theme came on, people cheered. It was so cool that they recognised that.
A theme and its memorability and fun is important, but so too is its placing within the film. Directors and composers meet for spotting sessions, where the director essentially tells the composer where they want the key areas of music to be, and how they want the music to feel within certain scenes. This was marvelously important for The Fate of the Furious because of the circumstances of the films plot, where the main character (played by Vin Diesel) seemingly betrays the group, to ultimately come to their rescue in the finale.
We really talked about the spotting on that scene. That was something the director had mentioned; that he wanted to put the theme there. I actually had it in another spot when the submarine is coming up and Michelle Rodriguez’s character Letty is flying her car off the ice, and the whole crew all get in formation in their cars, and shield Vin Diesel’s character, Dom. We managed to put the theme in both scenes. It’s actually in the same piece on the score. It almost sounds like a recapitulation, which it is, but it’s just an accidental recapitulation.
Composing for Sequels – Waiting for that Key Moment
Today’s films have more music than ever before. Some are presented like wallpaper, always in every scene in the background, and as a result of that, it has less impact on important scenes. Because Brian loves teasing the audience with his themes, I wondered how he approaches sequels of his own music, and just how satisfying it is to bring a much-loved theme back.
Yeah it’s really satisfying. For instance, The Expendables and Now You See Me. You find yourself saying ‘when are we going to do the theme.’ You want to wait for that key moment. In Now You See Me 2, the director, Jon Chu and I talked a lot about where we were going to put the main theme, and were very careful with it. As a result, there are these special moments where you know it immediately when it starts playing. You have to pick those spots wisely.
Finally, I wanted to know, keeping firmly on the subject of sequels, just how he writes a sequel score to a film he didn’t compose. What exactly happens when you have to follow another composer’s work? Which he has done many times. Does he push to write all new music, or does he welcome the use of the previous composer’s material?
It depends. Sometimes the studio wants you to reset and do a brand new theme, and that’s up to the studio. I’ve encountered that many times, but I usually always want to make a nod to the previous work. I’m a big film score fan so I always try to do that, especially on things like Rambo. I’ve referenced Jerry Goldsmith more times than I can tell you.
And with The Mummy, I love Alan Silvestri and Jerry Goldsmith. Alan is someone I’ve also referenced when working on Aliens vs Predator: Requiem, because of his Predator material. He’s a good friend as well, but I grew up listening to that guy’s music. He’s amazing, so I always want to make a nod to what came before me, no matter what.
The words of a true film score fan, and of a respectful composer that acknowledges the greatness that he is following. He has a real sense of what film music is all about; that it should entertain and thrill an audience, but most of all it should support and enhance the film it accompanies. And Brian Tyler is successfully keeping up his end of the responsibility.
Thank you to the Krakow Film Music Festival for the opportunity to interview Brian Tyler, and of course to the man himself for his time and insights.