By Karol Krok
This article was originally posted on The Assembly Cut blog:
Hollywood can be brutal at time. Many artist venturing into that corner of film business expect “fortune and glory” (to quote Indiana Jones). But what they always find is disappointment and artistic stagnation. Instead of creative pursuit, they find themselves acting as politicians dancing around dozens of parties involved and trying to please them all. And losing any focus as a result. Which is a terrible environment to work in film music where the singularity of voice and confidence are both highly desired.
But because scoring is one of the last stages in film productions, big studios and executives have a tendency to meddle in that stage a little too much. Sometimes, really creative things are being thrown out for being too “daring” (which probably usually means simply “striking”). That’s what happened on Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy from 2004. This director made an interesting decision to employ French composer Gabriel Yared to compose a score for this massive film inspired by Homer’s Iliad. He worked on this film for a long time but his work got rejected not long before the release after test screening suggested his music was “too old fashioned”. That led to his dismissal and the rushed attempts to rescore the film in just under two weeks. James Horner took over and finished a job in a truly record time (quite impressive).
Yared himself decided to act slightly unprofessionally and decided to speak out. He released a following statements about his rejection on his official website:
The Score of Troy — A Mystery Unveiled
by Gabriel Yared
For the many people who have contacted me through email and other means, I would like to summarise and present the facts which led up to the rejection of my score for the film Troy, after nearly a year of great and very fruitful collaboration with the director Wolfgang Petersen.
I first met Wolfgang Petersen in March 2003 when he presented to me the idea of working on the score for Troy. We got off to a great start and he explained that he’d come to me to bring a deeper level of emotion to his film, and that although he knew I wasn’t well known for writing big epic scores he told me he was confident from the things he had heard from my previous work that I would be more than capable of delivering a great score that would have a great original flavour.
In April 2003 I began work on the source music which needed to be pre-recorded as it was featured in the film. This was a great challenge as it required the creation of a convincing and effective ancient sound. The scenes included dances, funerals, mourning women, and even drinking songs. In order to recreate the wailing and crying of the mourning women I used a Bulgarian choir and some Eastern European soloists to make what turned out to be a great sound, very evocative of the setting. These mourning women pieces also gave me some great ideas that I would later incorporate into the underscore and soundtrack as a whole. It was also at these sessions that I met a young Macedonian singer, Tanja Tzarovska, who was to later go on to feature in the score and the song.
Later in this year I started to think of the score and I knew there would be a lot of music (in fact Wolfgang spotted just over two hours of music). I knew I had to have a good overall plan and structure in mind. After much research, writing, rejecting, and revising I finalised the thematic ideas for each of the important characters, groups, and locations, ensuring that these thematic cells could be related and readily combined, expanded, merged, or superposed.
My overall concept was to create a classic-yet-modern score, epic and yet subtle and emotional. Classic in its elaborated harmonies, architecture, and structure, harking back to classic forms (such as the fugue based on Priam’s Trojan theme). Modern in the way it was shaped and moulded to the action, and also in the sound of the score. I decided to supplement the large orchestra with a 25-piece brass section to provide a different colour, and a large choir which was sometimes triple-tracked to give support and drama in the large battle scenes, as well as to provide colour and give an overall feeling similar to that of an epic Cantata. The choir would say meaningless, invented-but-sonorous words written to enhance colour and emotion, as the choir of an ancient Greek tragedy. I also had a group of six percussionists who would overdub many interesting ethnic and conventional sounds and rhythms to work with other sampled percussion created by my sound designer Nathaniel Mechaly. The other significant colour would be based on the Bulgarian and ethnic vocals inspired by the source music. I would use a phrase of the Bulgarian choir to act as a distant siren (as in the very opening of the film and the ending), and then at certain important moments of the film I would use Tanja’s voice (sometimes accompanied only by percussion), like a “voice of destiny” (for instance in key moments such as the fight between Hector and Achilles). So this was the vision and plan of the score that came through after many approaches and much help and support from my team.
Having settled on the overall ideas and concepts I then set to work writing each cue in detail and providing demos so that Wolfgang could hear what I was doing and become familiar with the themes and concepts. In November 2003, working together with Kirsty Whalley, I provided a very detailed, orchestrated demo with full orchestra, choir, percussion, and even vocal samples for every single cue. Wolfgang was genuinely delighted with everything we sent to him, he loved the big epic sound, powerful and yet still moving and emotional. Of course he had some comments here and there which we always endeavoured to fix straight away. I also composed and demoed a beautiful song based on the love theme of Helen and Paris. Tanja Tzarovska, who was to sing the song, also wrote lyrics in Macedonian.
14th February and the next stage was to join my friend and engineer Peter Cobbin at Abbey Road Studios for the recording of the score. The next three weeks of recording were very tough and tiring with very long days of intense work, recording a 100-piece orchestra for two sessions a day followed by evenings of overdub sessions. It was a wonderful time, however, of creation and realisation and much enthusiasm from Wolfgang and the producers and production team. Wolfgang was over the moon and could be heard in the corridors of Abbey Road Studios singing the main themes, he was enchanted with the music and began to wonder about the temp music he’d been using thus far for the test screenings. So it came that Wolfgang used all his charm to persuade me to allow him to use some of our unfinished monitor mixes to replace the temp music. Despite my misgivings he seemed so keen and proud of the music that I agreed, providing he promised that it would be used just to help him for the previews and would not be judged at all since it was work in progress — completely unmixed and often without all of the final overdubs. So, it fell to Allan Jenkins (music editor) to work tirelessly to conform all of these monitor mixes to the appropriate cut at very short notice whilst we all continued with the work of finishing recording the score. The monitor mixes, however, were very well received by all the sound department working at Shepperton Studios, and Wolfgang was delighted with the way in which the music worked at the temp dub. Indeed, after the run-through in the theatre the evening before the preview Wolfgang called the team at Abbey Road from Sacramento to say how great the music sounded.
After the test screening on 10th March, though, everything had changed. The focus group at the preview decided my music was “overpowering and too big, old fashioned and dated the film.” Thus in this 24-hour period my score was completely rejected by director and studio, and a collaboration of one year came to an end, despite the fact that it was unfinished work and that the dub was temporary and, although good, not always perfect. What shocked me the most was that I wasn’t given the chance to fix or change my score or even to answer to any of the questions or accusations being leveled at my work, despite the fact that I had sessions booked to redo some cues to the new picture and new versions of other cues. Indeed, the decision to replace me had been taken and meetings with other composers had already taken place before I even spoke personally to Wolfgang. I was later informed that it was “…a problem with the writing” and that the score was beyond the hope of being fixed and they were happy to have a new composer write the whole score just a month-and-a-half before the worldwide release on the 14th May.
Throughout the whole project I had felt that my relationship with Wolfgang was very strong and I am convinced that he was more than happy with my score, he was very supportive and enthusiastic and attended nearly every recording session.
In the end I am proud to say that with the great help and support of all my team I succeeded in producing what I firmly believe to be my finest score. It is original, musical, and every single cue is crafted with a great deal of thought, heart, and inspiration in a way that I feel works fantastically with the picture. I feel that my score lifted the picture and gave some depth and emotion to many of the scenes which gave another element to the film as a whole in amongst the terrific and exciting action scenes. My music was fantastically recorded and mixed, and the detail of each overdub layer gave a great and characterising sound which was completely up-to-date, but with the scale and class of a great epic.
I apologise to those reading this who will never get to hear this score. Unfortunately it is not my property, so I will have to hope that one day it will get a commercial release, albeit in this unfinished form. As they will not be credited in any formal way I would like to thank my team for their fantastic skills, support, and indefatigable and enthusiastic hard work. I would also like to thank the wonderful musicians, not only for their fantastic performances, but for all of them who came to visit me (after they heard the bad news) to give their support, and for the respect and affection which they always show me. The messages of how they enjoyed performing the score and how much they enjoyed playing it to the picture on the big screen mean so much to me, this and the support of my team is the best award I could have.
The statement was subsequently removed (along with music clips) and Yared would never really work on a big studio project again. How surprising.
James Horner, known for his outspoken attitude, fired back in one lengthy interview with Daniel Schweiger for ‘On the Score’ programme in 2006 (in which he’s also discussing yet another controversial collaboration with Terrence Malick on The New World). Here is a transcript of that conversation:
DANIEL SCHWEIGER: Now, two films, two recent films that you’ve scored that I imagine were very challenging were Troy and The New World.
Now, on Troy, you were coming in as the replacement composer for Gabriel Yared and you had already done The Perfect Storm for the director, Wolfgang Petersen. In a way, was it as hard as it was easy? Because, I think you’ve got two to three weeks to do this score, but because there is like no time for you to do it, that there isn’t gonna be the kind of studio second guessing that may have, you know, messed up the first score that was done for it.
JAMES HORNER: Uhm, let me see where I start with Troy.
Wolfgang is very opinionated. And a very proud man. And he wants everything to be huge. The biggest ever, the most grand. “We’ve never had a shot of 5,000 people or 50,000 army before – look at the shot of the ocean and you see 5,000 ships – that’s the biggest shot in history!” I mean, he’s very much into this huge old-fashioned grandure, and I think that he was making what he felt was the best film of the decade. I think that was his mindset.
And I wasn’t asked to do the original, which was sort of – at the time – a bit of a twinge for me, because I did such a nice job, or he seemed so pleased on The Perfect Storm. Even though everybody, including myself, very very vocally begged him to take down the ocean water sound effects, which he wouldn’t do in The Perfect Storm. And I think ultimately it didn’t do as well, because people just got overwhelmed by the constant barrage of noise. So it didn’t do as well as it was supposed to or as it was promised and hyped to. And I think he felt that he probably could do better musically.
So he started Troy with Gabriel, and of course Gabriel is very well known in Europe. He was going to make this huge Movie of the Decade, the Trojan War, you know, very dramatic. And he worked with Gabriel and gave Gabriel free reign to do whatever Gabriel wanted, without thinking of how an audience might react, or whatever. And the two of them worked, and Gabriel dutifully did whatever was asked of him by Wolfgang, and Wolfgang’s musical tendencies are to overscore everything, like a Wagner opera. He’s not into subtlety. At all. Not in the slightest. And emotion to him is a 3,000-pieced orchestra playing a sappy violin theme.
I mean, I’m being nice, but not being nice. I’m being – this is what I mean by being direct.
He’s a lovely man. These are only issues that become issues when you’re in the trenches and you’re really working on a film and it has to be stunning and these are the issues you come up with another — with your employer, or your — somebody you’re working closely with.
So, Wolfgang gave a lot of instructions to Gabriel that were hugely wrong. And just so old-fashioned. And Gabriel dutifully did his job and Gabriel also brings to the project a certain quality that is not necessarily the most cinematic, but perhaps is a little more operatic, and didn’t have the experience of scoring a big action movie. His movies are a little bit more refined.
And, you know, his previous, The English Patient, was really very much based on Bach’s music. I mean, if you listen to Bach’s preludes and fugues and those things you’ll hear Gabriel’s score. And I suppose I could say you would have to be a trained musician or a musician with some sort of education to know that, but when you hear the two things you think: “That’s Bach.”
I don’t say that to denigrate Gabriel, I only say that to give you an example of how Gabriel was not familiar with this big action movie thing that Wolfgang wanted. And Gabriel and Wolfgang made the score together, fifty-fifty.
So what happens is, they have The Score from God in The Movie from God and they’re in London doing post-production. Gabriel has a huge choir, huge percussion, huge this, huge that. And, before they put the chorus on, they brought it to California to preview – the studio insisted on a preview. And Wolfgang was so sure of himself he thought, “Oh my God, you wait until you see the reaction to this movie.” And Gabriel hadn’t even put the choir on. The choir was doubling some of the string stuff, and it was going to make it more massive, okay?, and he had lots of sort of Middle-Eastern stuff and —
The audience — They played it for an audience in Sacramento and took the usual focus group and the cards, and there were lots of comments about flaws in the movie, but to a man, everybody said the music is the worst they had ever heard. To a man. I mean, 100 percent take out the score. I’d never heard of a preview where people are so in tune to the music that they even notice it, much less demand that it ruins the movie for them. And in the focus group, the same reaction, they all said, “it’s horrible music. Who did this music?” And, you know, I hadn’t seen the film. I didn’t — this is all sort of in hindsight, cause I hadn’t — I didn’t keep up with the movie.
They previewed it again with the same result, and Wolfgang was white. Completely shaken. Totally lost his confidence. Warner Brothers asked me, I guess because I had experimented with so much music of different cultures in various films, but somebody suggested me, and they approached me, and said, “would you look at the film and tell us what you think? And do you think you could do this if we took out the score?”
And I looked at the film, and it was — I don’t even know how to describe how atrocious the music was.
It was like a 1950’s Hercules movie.
And it wasn’t because Gabriel’s not a gifted writer, it’s because he just doesn’t have any knowledge of writing film scores. Real film scores like that. And it was like — It was so corny. It was unbelievable.
And apparently it made the audience laugh in places during serious scenes. And this combination of this “please do it bigger and bigger and bigger” and “more is better” from Wolfgang and Gabriel’s, you know, not knowing what cinematic, big cinematic action music should be, they both came up with this score that was absolutely dreadful. Absolutely dreadful.
And I looked at it and I said, “when do you need this score?” And they said, “well, they’re dubbing it now, they basically need it — you have to be finished nine or eleven days at the very most.” So I didn’t even have the two or three weeks that you alluded to before. I had nine or ten days to do it.
And I met with Wolfgang, and he of course, is completely cowed out, apologetic, emberrassed, everything. Gabriel, meanwhile, in Europe, is furious. Because — And he’s going on his website saying he was cheated and short-changed and they put his music in the film without the chorus and the chorus makes the differenc. And you know, you’re saying to yourself, “this guy just doesn’t get it.” The chorus would have made it worse. If the problem was it was like thick, thick, black loudness over everything. And corny at that. But they hadn’t completely — I hadn’t taken on the assignment yet. And I met with Wolfgang, and he was very emberrassed, and said I would be allowed to do whatever I wanted – would I please, please, please, do this, as a favor? And how grateful he would be at that trouble.
Well, that’s Hollywood talk. I don’t ever expect people to be grateful. If it happens, it happens. Usually it happens with the low-budget filmmakers, because they truly are grateful. But with the big guys, when they say how grateful they are, I, it’s not something I put on the bank and put in my pocket. And the example is that, of that is that he didn’t ask me to do the next movie he did. He, after all the work we went through, I would not have done – what was the movie he just finished? – the one with the wave that turns the boat over.
SCHWEIGER: Oh, Poseidon.
HORNER: I would not have done Poseidon Adventure if you’d paid me 10 million dollars. I would not have done that movie, honestly. But before I even knew what the movie was, he asked another composer to do it. So it shows you how, after all we went through on Troy, it shows you sort of how people’s minds work. They’re really not really grateful. They just want you to do it, help them out, and that’s where it ends.
So I took it on as a challenge, because I didn’t know if I could do it in nine days, I had never done — well, I’d worked on very short schedules on Paramount films and Disney films, which had very short post-production, Patriot Games and some of those films that, you know, Paramount. But I thought it would be a real challenge for me as a writer to see how much music I could write in nine days.
And I promised that I could do, you know, 75 minutes. I didn’t know if I’d be able to do 95 or 100 minutes. I would do my best effort. But I was contractually bound to do 75 minutes. The film needed, when we went through it and spotted it for where the music went, it needed actually close to 118 minutes.
However, almost a decade later both composer would contribute their thoughts for the one episode of BBC radio series Sound of Cinema, in which the talk about their experience almost a decade after it happened (2013). While Yared’s statements resembled a lot of what can be found in his open letter, James Horner mellowed slightly in his attitude and spoke about the project from a different perspective. Here is a transcription of that clip:
“I sort of took it on as a challenge. So in 9 days I cranked out a different score. And the end result was somewhat the same, in terms of success of the movie.”
“But, again, that is a style of Hollywood filmmaking where every body is trying to cover their rear ends. The focus group thing is this great homogenisation process where they sort of assure themselves they’re on the right track. And, just like using temporary music, it’s this great sort of dumbing down of process.”
But enough words. Let us compare the approach two composers too for the same film. While both studio and focus groups accused Yared of composing a massive score (100 players), James Horner had an even bigger one (125 players), according to his scoring engineer and mixer Simon Rhodes. What’s even funnier the same female vocalist was used in both works (Tanja Tzarovska) as well as the Bulgarian choir ensemble. The bold heroic (and classically-inspired) Achilles theme was replaced by… another heroic (classical-inspired) Achiller themes. It seems that the two composers went for a similar effect while trying to enrich a film that perhaps wasn’t worth the effort in the first place.
It would be interesting to compare two works against picture and see where this would take us. Let us have a look at three different sequences and how both Yared and Horner chose to underscore those.
The introduction of Achilles happens very early on in the film. It involves him facing the warrior Boagrius. Gabriel Yared decides to punctuate the moment with his noble brassy theme for our main character (starting at around 2:22):
Horner opted slightly more restrained percussive approach:
The big battle of arrows offered Gabriel Yared a chance score to use some really operatic gestures (with full choir):
And here is Horner’s version, that seems to be adhering to more standard, less-celebratory action film approach:
The duel between and Achilles is approached similarly by both gentlemen: the percussion is the main feature. Yared’s version is more elaborate (at starts at about 1:07 into the clip). When Hector is wounded, Tanja Tzarovska’s vocals kick in:
Music as composed by Horner is more stripped down but also employs same vocalist to punctuate the exactly same moment. The musical cue starts at 1:07:
Curiously enough, the Director’s Cut of Troy (released three years later) featured some music from… Danny Elfman’s Planet of the Apes (2001). It was a remainder of temp track used for this film before scoring process even began:
In an interview with DVDTalk, Petersen himself addresses this choice:
“We didn’t like what we had before. That was a piece I never liked. I wanted to use what I had in the temp score. What we used there was so good, and it worked much better. And we bought that piece and we put it in. That is a piece, believe it or not, from Danny Elfman. And it’s from the film Planet of the Apes. And it’s so funny, no one will ever know,” a comment which prompted much laughter. “Of course, now everyone will know!” Wolfgang exclaimed.”
So there you have it. The scoring process can be a really interesting thing to study. One can certainly see how it was affected by studio decisions to make it more marketable and accessible to modern audiences, for better or worse. The original score was never released (and it’s doubtful it ever will be) but there are bootlegged versions available. Which is said. Its appropriateness within the film can be debated, of course, but its sad it cannot live on its own.
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