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Interview with Klaus Badelt

May 1, 2013

Once again international composers flocked to Gent in Belgium to attend the 30th International Film Festival and to attend the World Soundtrack Awards ceremony and concert. Last year Klaus Badelt won a World Soundtrack Award as  “Discovery Of The Year”. Unfortunately he didn’t have time to come over then. But this year, with Pirates of the Caribbean just finished. He finally had time to come to Gent . And he also had time for a little chat.
(From the Archives – by Peter Simons)

PS: You were supposed to be here last year, because you won the World Soundtrack Award for “discovery of the year”. So, what happened?

KB: I was recording a score [ The Recruit ] in London at the same day as the concert, which I think was on a saturday or sunday. I was in the studio mixing my score which they needed by monday! So I couldn’t go out for one day or even one night. It just wasn’t possible, not even for this award. I don’t want to look arrogant, I was just working. But now, I’m done with all my projects!

PS: You have had an incredibly busy year, haven’t you? How many movies did you do!

KB: Yeah, I’d say an incredibly busy two or three years actually. I don’t even know how many movies I did! Some are still to come out, like Ned Kelly . And Equilibrium just came out in the States, if at all, so I don’t know if it’s out in Europe yet. So, there are still a few movies coming out, but they don’t come out in the same order as I scored them, but yeah, it’s been too much! I’m taking some time off now, I promise!

PS: Well, you deserve it, I think. Man, you really shot to stardom in the last two, three years.

KB: Well, I wouldn’t call it stardom [chuckles], but yeah, I’ve been busy at least. It’s gone fast, with overlapping projects. It was fun, and I just couldn’t say no to anything, because it was all great.

PS: Now, it basically all started with The Time Machine, right? How did you get that score?

KB: The producer of The Time Machine was one of the producers on Gladiator for which I had done some music. I worked with Lisa Gerrard and co-wrote all these pieces for the movie. And I liked the guy and I guess he liked me too. He’s Walter Parkes, a partner of Steven Spielberg. And he’s a guitar player. Quite a good guitar player, actually. For a film producer he is definitely a good guitar player [laughs].

PS: So we might see him the performing credits some day, next to Heitor Pereira?

KB: [laughs] Yeah, who knows!

PS: Now you’ve just finished Pirates of the Caribbean . The movie is a huge success all over the world. Can you tell me something about the scoring of that movie?

KB: Well, basically I had no time to do it. Like, 30 days to write and finish the score. And there was about two hours of music. And it’s big music, you know, it’s not an intricate drama. There are a lot of musicians playing a lot of notes! As you know, the movie was produced by one of Hollywood ‘s most successful producers Jerry Bruckheimer. And at first I was confused that a guy like Bruckheimer was doing a pirates movie, because that’s not really his style. Until I saw the movie, then it actually made sense, because it’s not the traditional pirates movie. It’s not the Errol Flynn type of movie, or, it’s not the John Williams type of movie. It’s the rock and roll version of a pirates movie. So what we said, very early on, is that this is not a pirate score, because it’s not a pirate movie. No triplets, was the idea. Of course there are thousands of triplets in the score! But some of the themes are actually quite abstract when you think of it. Some music in the beginning and the whole ‘curse’ idea is more atmospheric and has short motifs. That was actually quite new for Jerry Bruckheimer and I was surprised I could actually do that stuff. Still, there is plenty of melodic stuff as well. But I really didn’t have much time to think about it. I just had to jump in and say “this is what we’re doing”.

PS: Like, “here’s a movie, you got thirty days. Go!”

KB: Exactly.

PS: What orchestra did you use on Pirates?

KB: We recorded it in Los Angeles with local musicians. We recorded it in four days. We had so little time that we had four sessions in three different studio’s! And some pieces are cut together from recordings made in different studio’s. And while we were recording the score, they were still editing the movie and adding special effects. It was an incredibly short post-production time. I think they started shooting the film in october 2002, so, relatively, the post-production time was incredibly short. There were a lot of people working very hard and closely together to get it all done in time. Three film editors for example. And I have to say I had a fantastic team on my side, because, honestly, you can not do this alone!

PS: Do you have orchestrators?

KB: I have tons of orchestrators! And tons of helpers. I was basically running through eight rooms in the studio. I would play a theme on the piano or straight into the computer, give instructions as to how the cue should sound, but then, don’t take me too seriously because… what do I know! And then run to the next room, next cue. And then off to the next room and see what was written in there. So I was like the manager on this score.

PS: Yes, I noticed all the additional credits in the booklet.

KB: Yeah, I want to make sure that everybody is taken care of. I mention everything, everyone, all the time. Even though you get feedback like “don’t you do it all by yourself?!” Well, that’s silly, nobody does all that by himself. Not even if you have two or three months. Composers always get help, because there is just so much music that has to be written. Hey, I compose the themes and I orchestrate them. But it’s not just about themes. I define the sound, or palette, for Pirates , which also relies heavily on synthesizers and percussion. We did specific sampling for percussion too. So, I define how the music sounds and thus how the movie sounds. And after that is done, then I run into all the different rooms.

PS: And of course Media Ventures is the perfect place to do that, because you got all those rooms, all those composers close to each other.

KB: Yeah, exactly. We got all these composers who are really talented. Most of the new young composers are ex-assistants of other composers, so they know the drill, they know how it’s done. You cannot start looking for new guys on day one for a project like this, because by the time they know how to do it, the movie is over! One of the great benefits of Media Ventures is that the infrastructure is pretty much in place. So when someone comes up to you with a movie to score in thirty days, you know, that’s pretty much impossible, but we say “yeah let’s do it”!

PS: Let’s talk a bit about your relationship with Media Ventures. So, one day you joined that club…

KB: Yeah, you’re one of the few people to actually look at it the right way. It’s a club, or as we call it: a fraternity. It’s like Picasso’s Blue Rider group. It’s an artist community. We inspire each other. We don’t necessarily work together, though, of course on Pirates it was great, because I needed all that help and everybody would jump in. But usually you work alone, knowing you can get inspiration from anyone. There’s always something happening. Media Ventures is now three buildings next to each other.

PS: Could one speak of a Media Ventures project?

KB: No, there is no such thing as a Media Ventures projects. No one would give a movie to an anonymous group of people. It’s a personal thing. Pirates was my project, but I hired all these people to get it done. We help each other. I used to help Hans a lot. And Harry Gregson-Williams. And Harry in turn would help me sometimes. You know, that’s one aspect of it. Just imagine it’s 2 a.m. and you’re stuck on a theme. Then you can just walk into Harry’s room and have a glass of wine together. And he may be working on a movie that is the complete opposite of what I’m doing. I think he was doing Chicken Run when I was doing Equilibrium . Musically there’s nothing in common, but you feel that someone else is suffering too. And after a little chat you’re inspired again. You know, Harry’s working on this comedy and he’ll look at my movie from a whole new perspective and bring me to new ideas. That’s pretty unique even for Los Angeles . It’s not about a bunch of ghostwriters, that’s not the point, and that’s why I mention everyone whenever I can. And also, we do it like this, because we nurture younger generations of composers. Hans Zimmer basically discovered me one day and through him I got all these projects. Directors trust you because Hans Zimmer trusts you. Besides, I learned a lot from him. Not how to write the music, because you already know that. It’s more about how to handle a project, how to talk to a director and producer, how to take a phone call or a meeting. And now that I established a certain position within Media Ventures I can pass on my knowledge to the next generation of composers. For example my ex-assistant Ramin Djawadi, who worked on Pirates as well. And now he’s good enough to do his own projects. Well, he’s always been good enough, but now he’s really good enough. So, I’m trying to get him movies. And I just gave him Saving Jessica Lynch , which is a big NBC movie. On his own he would never have gotten this project, because he’s basically a blank page. So I told NBC that I will guarantee for the quality. I’m actually producing this score, what ever that means! I’m sort of holding his hand, or rather the producer’s hand. [laughs] That’s how it works and it’s cool, because Ramin inspires me too.

PS: And it’s cool that Media Ventures is so open about this.

KB: Yes, nobody can say they do everything by themselves without lying. At least, not on a project like Pirates where you have to write so much music in so little time. Collaborations always happen. Some people call it their orchestrator. There’s always a bunch of people helping and that’s great.

PS: You’re from Germany so I assume that’s where you’re musical career began?

KB: Yeah, I’m afraid so [laughs]. Well, I started out working with a German producer called Ralf Zang. He gave me a chance at a time when I hadn’t done anything yet. He gave me a job as an engineer, so basically I produced records and artists. Chakka Kahn was one of his projects. We did tons of commercials. And then I went on to work for television and some movies. But the German movie landscape isn’t very good. The writing, the acting, the directing…they have problems there. There are some good movies, just not many. You do a lot of average stuff before you get to do a good one. But they’re also not sponsored very well, which is understandable, because no one would want to invest in a German movie.

PS: Recently Nowhere In Africa won the Oscar for best ‘foreign language movie’, so maybe that will help a little.

KB: I don’t think so. Germany won the Oscar for ‘best short animation movie’ quite a few times. But you never hear of these guys again. There are some exceptions of course.

PS: Earlier you said that Hans Zimmer discovered you. How did that happen?

KB: Yeah, that’s a story I shouldn’t tell! [laughs] Well, I was on vacation in Los Angeles and I had heard of Hans Zimmer. He is a synthesizer collector like I am. So, I thought I’d drop by and have a look. I didn’t know if I could leave a demo, but I did. Something must have gone wrong [chuckles] and Hans actually did listen to the demo. And the very next day I had an appointment with Hans or his assistant. And I basically stayed there. He offered me a job to help out on The Peacemaker . I helped out someone who didn’t know Cubase so well, which is software we use to compose music with. Since then, I was there. We liked each other very well on a personal level. He’s almost like a father to me. He’s the kind of guy who embraces mentorship. But don’t send your cd’s! Don’t send your cd’s, because we have to send them back, which is a shame really.

PS: How many demo’s do you get? Must be a lot!

KB: Oh, I don’t even know because they’re not addressed to me. But for legal reasons we have to send them back unopened. It’s unsolicited material. It has to be send in via an agent or some other official way. And it’s all because of some stupid, I have to say, aspiring composer who sent his demo to a professional composer and then sued him a year later, or so, when a movie came with a score that sounded similar to the demo. Now, the composer probably never even heard the demo, but lost the lawsuit anyway. And since then we can’t really accept any demo’s, which is a shame, because it goes against the Media Ventures spirit. We want to nurture new composers, because you can’t get a movie if you haven’t done one yet! To break through this circle you should either be lucky that maybe you can work with a student director who one day will have his big break. But then you’ve got to be lucky that he’ll stay with you! That’s one way. It takes a long time and you’ve got to be very lucky. But then, if you sent in a demo you’ve got to be very lucky too. Like me, I was very lucky to have Hans Zimmer discover me.

PS: Let’s take a quick look at future projects. What will you be doing next?

KB: I’ll tell you that after Pirates of the Caribbean I’m taking a few months off. I’ve been working non-stop for maybe four or five years. No days off. Projects overlapping. Pirates was the peak of my exhaustion. So, I’m now producing an album with songs from not-so-familiar artists for this movie Saving Jessica Lynch . The songs are all originals and I’m trying to get these artists more into the film world. And I love producing records anyways. Other than that I’m chilling out a bit, playing with my two-year old daughter. I’d like to get through the winter like this and then look for a new challenge.

PS: Pirates of the Caribbean 2 maybe?

KB: Oh no, I wouldn’t like that. They’re doing the movie definitely. But I don’t like franchises. It gets boring. It’s hard enough not to repeat yourself anyways. So what would I do on Pirates 2 ? Write the same music again? I don’t think so.

PS: Maybe it’ll be a good project for some of the other guys like Ramin Djawadi or Steve Jablonsky?

KB: Yeah that would be great. Steve is a fantastic composer.

PS: Indeed. From what I’ve heard on the Director’s Cuts CD
s he’s really promising. Speaking of [Extreme Music’s] Director’s Cuts…now there’s an interesting project. I know it’s a music library, but it also functions perfectly as a Media Ventures showcase!

KB: [chuckles] Yeah, you know, traditional music libraries are really boring, because it’s written by guys who write it specifically for the library. But in the case of Director’s Cuts it’s written by guys who wrote the music for real movies. These tracks are left-overs. Cues that were written for movies but didn’t make the final cut. It’s written for movies and it sounds like it.

PS: So you could actually play games with the Director’s Cuts cd’s and try to guess for what movie the cues were written?

KB: Yeah, you could guess! You know, it’s not about the quality of the music or the movie. It’s just that a movie may have taken another direction all of a sudden and you’re left with themes and ideas that may fit a movie, just not this one. And then they end up on the library. And Steve Jablonsky is doing well recently. He’s done the HBO movie Live From Baghdad and now The Texas Chainsaw Massacre . And there are a few more composers coming up. You know, Media Ventures is changing a bit. We want to even more make it a fraternity of free spirits. I will be teaming up with Hans even more now to create this really strong new place with new people and new styles. Songwriters for example and recording artists. It’s definitely changing. This year and the next will be very good I think.

PS: You have scored so many different movies  in recent years ranging from a swashbuckler like Pirates to intimate dramas like Ned Kelly. I am wondering what project you liked best or are most proud of?

KB: Certainly a movie I haven’t done yet! All these movies have been big adventures for me, because I never saw myself as the drama-guy or the action-guy. It all just happened like this. On the next movie I’d like to produce songs. You know I have a background in producing songs and I’d like to bring music that your hear on the radio, from alternative artists, closer to filmmusic. I want to do something more contemporary and work on projects where I could actually do that. It could be really cool and I think there’s still a lot to do about that in Hollywood . It doesn’t have to be Pirates all the time, right?

Many t hanks to Klaus Badelt and to the Filmfestival.

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