For those who came in late... in the early 2000's there was a little known film. This one I will say was one that got lost in the shuffle of big budget films such as Gladiator, X-Men, The Perfect Storm, Mission: Impossible 2 and The Patriot, this one written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who had won a well deserving Oscar for the surprise hit of 1995, The Usual Suspects and his follow up film, The Way of the Gun would find a major audience soon after getting lost in the summer shuffle of those films on Video and the newly minted DVD format. This film introduced Composer Joe Kraemer, who's fresh and distinctive voice for this score really cemented the film as cult classic in the actions circles soon after.
After strong word of mouth and of course, IMDB, I went ahead and bought the film and much to my surprise, not only the film was a great as it was, but the one thing that I've always remembered from it for the longest of times is Kraemer's score. From it's thunderous opening to it's finale musical note, the music was very memorable and still is as the soundtrack is one of the gems in my collection years and years later.
Now, flash forward to 2012 and now a decade later Joe Kraemer is still had at work writing the elegant noir music for the hit Cinemax series, Femme Fatales and again found himself working with Christopher McQuarrie on his adaptation of Lee Child's graphic novel, Jack Reacher starring Tom Cruise, which is due to be released on Blu-Ray and DVD this Spring. Joe was gracious enough to spend sometime talking to me about Jack Reacher and his past works which is quite fascinating and very engaging. So here is the fun interview that transpired several weeks ago with Joe and in PART ONE of it Joe is candid about his work on both films as well as Femme Fatales and I hope you enjoy!
Hello Joe, how are you and thank you very much for granting me the time to conduct this interview with you today. It really is an honor to do so.
JK: It’s my pleasure!
Please tell the readers about what made you become interested in music and composing.
JK: I first became interested in music for movies in the late 70’s, when I saw STAR WARS and SUPERMAN THE MOVIE and fell in love with John Williams’ scores for those films. Later, in 1986, I became friends with an older student in my high school named Scott Storm, who made feature-length films on Super 8. He cast me in a film and during the shoot, I told him about my interest in music (I had a four-track home studio). He was excited about the possibility of having original music for his film instead of tracking it with Tangerine Dream and Peter Gabriel records. I ended up writing my first film score at the age of 15 for his film “The Chiming Hour”.
Years later, I was studying music at Berklee in Boston and discovered their film music department. It was around this time that I decided to major in film music and devote myself to becoming a professional film composer.
Your most recent film was the film was the sleeper hit, Jack Reacher, based on the comic novels of Lee Child and starring Tom Cruise. What attracted you to this film?
JK: JACK REACHER was adapted and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, with whom I had worked on several other projects through my career, including THE WAY OF THE GUN, THE UNDERWORLD and BURN. That was my primary reason for wanting to work on the film - the chance to work with him again. Second, I was very excited to work on a Tom Cruise movie. Tom is a very dedicated actor, and also a fantastic film maker in his own right. He could easily direct a great movie if he ever wanted to. And of course, having toiled for the past decade in relative obscurity, I was certainly interested in working on something high-profile.
From a dramatic point of view, I felt this film would offer me great opportunities to write the kind of music I especially enjoy - tense, character-driven, thematic orchestral music.
Your score is a wonderful throw back action scores to the 1970’s, tell me about the approach you took in writing the score for the film?
JK: As I said, I prefer to write thematic, orchestral scores for character-driven films. I have done all types of scores throughout my career, from jazz (TEN ‘TIL NOON) to ambient (EMERALD COWBOY) to techno (certain episodes of FEMME FATALES), but my true love is the symphony orchestra.
Fortunately, Chris McQuarrie and I share very similiar tastes in music and film, and film scores in particular. This shared love extends to the 70’s scores of composers like David Shire, John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Jerry Fielding and Lalo Schifrin.
When I saw the first cut of JACK REACHER, I saw that Chris had really captured the look and feel of the 70’s. It felt like a lost Alan Pakula film, or Don Siegel. It seemed only natural to me to carry this feeling into the score.
As far as the actual process of composing goes, I followed my gut instinct through a preliminary sketch/demo process for the first eight minutes or so of the movie, which was told with no dialogue, only music and sound effects. Chris was heavily involved in the evolution of the score for this sequence, and the final result was a series of cues that laid out virtually all of the material needed to score the entire film.
My goal was to write distinctive memorable themes for the principal characters or dramatic concepts in the film. Therefore, there is a theme for Reacher, a motif for Helen (Rosamund Pike), a theme for Emerson (David Oyelowo) and the investigation, a theme for Cash (Robert Duvall) and an orchestral texture or sound for The Zec (Werner Herzog). In addition, there are a few musical set-pieces for certain sequences in the film, such as the montage of the lives of the victims of the shooting.
Did Director Christopher McQuarrie have a specific musical plan for you in mind in regards to the score?
JK: No. He just turned over a cut of the movie to me and told me to follow my own instincts. He took what I gave him and directed me towards what eventually became the final score. In general, his method was to react to what I showed him rather than to dictate what he was looking for ahead of time.
Did you feel comfortable using the sizeable orchestra that you did for this film?
JK: Absolutely. I’d written about 100 scores for projects of various sizes and budgets since THE WAY OF THE GUN in 2000, and I’ve been studying orchestration since college, so I was comfortable and very excited to work with a full orchestra. This was the first project I did where I was not forced to compromise in any way, either in the size of the orchestra or the quality of the players and technicians involved in the performance and recording. It was a dream come true!
All told, how much music did you record for the film?
JK: I believe the final tally was around 60 minutes of music, a little more.
Will there be an album released of this score?
JK: Indeed. LaLa Land Records released the score on CD and a digital download version is also available from iTunes and Amazon. The CD contains an exclusive bonus track of music for The Zec, and the digital download contains an exclusive bonus track of an edited suite from the score, put together much like the concert versions of themes John Williams makes for his soundtrack albums.
How did you put the album together? Please tell the readers about this specific process.
JK: The first step was to mix the individual cues for optimum listening quality from a musical perspective. The first mixes we did were for the film itself and certain changes were made to make allowances for dialogue and sound effects. This time, along with the great engineer Bruce Botnik and music editor John Finklea, I produced tracks that sounded exactly how I wanted away from the film.
The second step was to take these mixes and sequence them as an album. This was a process of editing, listening, editing, listening, until I was happy. Again, Bruce and John were invaluable in their feedback.
Specifically, I like soundtrack albums that follow the film score as linearly as possible, that mirror the movie’s presentation of the music. But this score had a bunch of cues that were very short and away from the film, such a strict adherence made the album somewhat episodic in nature. So I worked on presenting as much of the score as possible as linearly as possible, but some edits were made to make the album a fulfilling listening experience.
The Blu-ray and DVD are scheduled to have an isolated score track, and fans interested in the differences between the CD and the film presenations of the score will be able to compare and contrast.
You also worked with Christopher McQuarrie on one of my personal favorite and engaging action films, The Way Of The Gun starring Benicio Del Toro, Ryan Phillippe and James Caan over ten years ago. Tell me about how you got involved with that film and feel about it all these years later.
JK: Chris and I have known each other since 1987, when we met in upstate New York shooting a film for Scott Storm called “Whisper From the Mountain”, in which I starred with Bryan Singer, who wanted to act in a movie. I also scored that film.
When I moved to Los Angeles in 1994, Chris lived around the corner from me. I didn’t have a car yet and so I went everywhere with him. This was when we really discovered out shared tastes in music and movies and became great friends.
One of Chris’s first gigs after winning the Oscar for writing THE USUAL SUSPECTS was a pilot for NBC which he created called THE UNDERWORLD. He brought me on board to score it. The music for that pilot was one of his favorite things about it. When the time came for him to direct a feature film, he came back to me and asked me to join the team.
I am proud of the work we did on that film. It was a huge challenge every step of the way. The score itself went through a few false starts until Chris found the sound he was looking for. In addition, Chris doesn’t work with temp score, and the absence of such was very perplexing to the studio behind the film. Having never worked with Chris or me before, I think they thought maybe I was slacking off or something. The atmosphere got very tense for a while. Once they heard the final set of mockups, they were very happy with the score, but it was touch-and-go there for a while.
The recording of the score was frustrating for me - we did not have a big enough orchestra and we did not have a big enough room to record them. In the end, we used these obstacles to our advantage and embraced the fact that the score wound up sounding like a 70’s score in this way.
The final heartbreak was the poor performance of the film at the box office. Granted, this wasn’t an easy film to sell and it has a somewhat nihilistic point-of-view, which doesn’t lend itself to mass appeal, but it was still sad to work so hard on something just to see it dismissed so widely.
Was it hard for you to find a musical tone for this film unlike all your other films you’ve scored in the past? Because the film in essence was a masterful, modern day Western visually.
JK: It was a challenge finding the right tone for the film that satisfied Chris. My first sketches were more Thomas Newman-y than anyone was expecting (even myself!). But through revision and rewriting, we eventually found the sound Chris wanted. I think it took about 6 weeks to get something Chris was happy with. But keep in mind, this process was unlike most films made today - there was no temp score and Chris brought me on before he’d even finished his director’s cut. I was working on the score only weeks after shooting wrapped, and continued working on it for the next eleven months!
I don’t recall anyone really hitting on the idea of the modern-day Western as a conscious decision until the movie was almost done editing. Even though the characters were named after Butch and Sundance, I don’t think the Western-ness of it was really apparent at first.
I loved the use of the castanets and percussion throughout the score. Was that your idea or was it, Director Christopher McQuarrie’s?
JK:I must admit, the castanets first came from Chris and his love of a score by Maurice Jarre for “The Professionals”. I was hired to score a short teaser trailer for the film while they were still shooting, to be included on the VHS of “The Blair Witch Project”. I asked Chris if he had any advice and he pointed me toward that score.
You’ve been working on Cable as of late with the hit Cinemax noir series, Femme Fatales created by Mark Altman. Please tell me how you got involved with the series?
JK: I first met Mark Altman when I went to a book signing he was appearing in. By a total coincidence he had been listening to the soundtrack for GUN non-stop for the past month and when I introduced myself he couldn’t stop raving about the score. He vowed then and there that we would work together, and years later when he produced a film called ALL SOULS DAY, we did! Since then I’ve scored virtually every project he’s been involved with, including his TV series FEMME FATALES.
What was the approach that you took to score each episode and was there specific for you that the directors wanted for their episodes in particular?
JK: I looked at each episode as mini-film. The show was an anthology show, a new cast every week. There was a narrator who appeared in every episode and she had a theme that came back week after week. Other than that, I tried to make each score stand on its own.
Generally, Mark was in charge of the direction each episode took, but he gave me the latitude to try things and follow my gut. As a result, we ended up with some nice surprises in the show, including a delightful use of the tango from “Carmen” in one episode. We also paid tribute to many, many scores we loved, such as Mancini’s “Touch of Evil”, John Barry’s “Body Heat”, Goldsmith’s “Chinatown” and “LA Confidential” and such. Any musical similiarities you hear to other works is entirely on purpose and is intended as homage.
When I think of noir scores, you think jazz for the most part. Do you feel that approach has been worn out for series such as Femme Fatales for example?
JK: Worn-out? I hope not! Honestly, I think of noir not so much as jazz per se, although there is definitely a jazz influence. I think of it as elegant. There is an elegance to the best noir works, a slinkiness that doesn’t necessarily have to be jazz. “Basic Instinct” is an example of a fantastic noir score that I would not characterize as jazz, for example.
You’ve also worked in television scoring the Mystery Women series of films starring Kellie Martin for The Hallmark Channel. What attracted you to this series?
JK: Like a lot of work I’ve done, I am attracted to it because I am asked to score it, as simple as that. In the case of MYSTERY WOMAN, it began as a single TV movie for Hallmark. It was scored as a stand-alone piece.
When it aired, it was a pleasant surprise that it was the highest-rated show on the channel at the time, I believe. This motivated the producers to make more movies, and we ended up doing a total of 10 or 11, I think. I lobbied hard to score each one, as I welcomed the opportunity to create and expand on a thematic body of work across multiple films.
Is the music similar or different to that of your work on Femme Fatales?
JK: Interestingly, one of the recurring themes from the show does bear some resemblance to Lilith’s theme from FEMME FATALES, but I think FF was on the whole a much darker work than my scores for MW. Hallmark is a family channel, after all, and there was definitely an effort to keep things a little lighter there.
TO BE CONTINUED.....
(UPDATED) PART TWO OF JOE'S INTERVIEW WITH ME IS HERE:
A very special and heartfelt thanks to Joe Kraemer for being gracious and allowing me the opportunity to interview him. Thanks brother!
Jack Reacher soundtrack is availble from La-LaLand Records http://lalalandrecords.com/JackReacher.html
Joe's music from the Cinemax Series Femme Fatales is available from MovieScore Media through Screen Archives Entertainment http://www.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/19709/FEMME-FATALES/
The Way OF The Gun is available from Milan Records http://www.amazon.com/Way-Gun-2000-Film/dp/B00004WH73/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1361775038&sr=1-1&keywords=the+way+of+the+gun+soundtrack