Bruce Broughton is best known for his many motion picture scores, including Silverado, Tombstone, The Rescuers Down Under, The Presidio, Miracle on 34th Street, the Homeward Bound adventures and Harry and the Hendersons. His television themes include The Orville, JAG, Steven Spielberg’s Tiny Toon Adventures and Dinosaurs. His scores for television range from mini-series like Texas Rising and The Blue and Gray to TV movies (Warm Springs, O Pioneers!) and countless episodes of television series such as Dallas, Quincy, Hawaii Five-O and How the West Was Won. http://www.brucebroughton.com/biography/
Bruce Broughton is in my opinion one of the great film music composers, his scores have delighted and excited audiences both when heard underlining and supporting the movie or TV series and also away from any images it was written to enhance. His scores are varied and vibrant and are always filled with themes that are memorable and entertaining, in short he is a talented and extremely innovative composer, who is at home scoring any genre. My thanks to the composer for agreeing to answer my questions and for being so courteous and obliging, taking time out from his busy schedule to bring this interview to fruition.
Can I begin by going back to RESCUERS DOWN UNDER, how did you become involved on the movie, and what was it like working for Disney?
I simply received a call from Disney about the movie. I interviewed with the producer, Tom Schumacher, who told me what the film was and what it was about and asked if I’d be interested in doing it. What Tom didn’t know was that as a kid I wanted to be an animator and Walt Disney was my childhood hero, so it was really easy for me to answer positively and quickly. I think he was surprised, because a lot of composers really don’t like to do animation. Once I got started on the project, it went smoothly. The people I worked with were wonderful. Aside from Tom, I had two tremendous and very talented directors, Mike Gabriel and Hendel Butoy. From start to finish, it was a great job. I had to turn down “Home Alone” to do it, but I never regretted it.
One of my own personal favourites from yourself is YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES, what size orchestra did you have for the movie and how much time did you have to write and record the score?
The orchestra by today’s standards was not all that large. I think it was probably around 65, give or take a few musicians. I wrote the score in 4 weeks, immediately after “Silverado,” and took a week to record it at Abbey Road. The producers were happy with the result and gave me an extra week in London to enjoy on my own afterwards. The sessions were memorably fun.
SILVERADO is a great score, did Lawrence Kasdan, have any specific ideas and requests as to what style or sound that he wanted or indeed where the music should be placed?
Yes, he was very specific about what he was doing and what he wanted from the score. He was trying to make a western for people who had never seen a western before, which essentially were kids who were all a lot younger than we were. Although “Pale Rider” came out the same time as “Silverado,” westerns were no longer being made, The last successful western had been “Blazing Saddles,” which was a parody, a signal that the genre was through. For a score, he wanted a “big, traditional Hollywood score.” That made me think immediately of Jerome Moross (“The Big Country”) and Elmer Bernstein (“Magnificent Seven”). I wasn’t interested in copying the music, but I did take on the big, rambunctiously energetic style of those earlier iconic scores. It seemed to work well. As far as the placement of the score, the music was spotted with the two of us. There wasn’t anything in this movie that wasn’t intentional.
You have worked on so many genres and also scored shorts, television series as well as feature films, do you approach a short in a different way that you would a feature film, and what would you say were the main differences between working on a movie and scoring a series for TV?
The whole point of music in a film is to help tell a story. When the story is very short, the need for music will certainly be different than if the same story was lengthened to the size of a feature film. For one thing, there won’t be as much as it and for another whatever the music does likely has to be specific and get to the point quickly. One difference, however, between a feature film and a TV show, aside from the general formatting issues that series have (like commercial breaks, for example) is that TV tends to be watched on smaller screens. You can be a lot subtler with a 35’ image or sequence than with the same image at 2 feet. But in general, what works in one visual medium should work in another.
I think your first scoring experience came in 1974 on a TV series called, DIRTY SALLY how did you become involved on this?
Actually, I don’t remember writing any music for “Dirty Sally,” although I may have. My very first scoring experience was earlier on a show called “Men at Law.” My first composer credit was on “Gunsmoke” in 1975 and my first complete episode that was entirely original was on “Hawaii Five-0” and I got my first Emmy nomination for it.
What were your earliest memories of music or a musical instrument?
I grew up in a musical household. A grandfather was a composer; an uncle was a songwriter; an aunt was a professional pianist; all of my grandparents could play musical instruments or had musical training; my parents each were very good amateur musicians, played two instruments each and could sight-read and sing; my brother was a trombonist, arranger and composer and worked in the studios doing each of those jobs for several years. It was hard to avoid music, so my earliest memories are about the same as those for preschool and whatever. The first instrument I learned was piano, which was my primary instrument, but I also learned to play brass instruments, as well. I was a mediocre French horn player, but it got me into the Army band and out of harm’s way when I got drafted during the Vietnam war.
What is your preferred method of composing, piano, keyboard or more contemporary methods?
In general, I prefer beginning at the piano and moving directly to the computer for notational software. I rarely compose on sequencers, although I have. I’ve done a couple of movie scores that way and a few TV jobs. Sometimes, if I don’t have access to an instrument, I’ll simply write without a sonic reference. I don’t think it matters how you compose music as long as you get it out.
Do you think it is important for a score to have themes as in pieces of music that the cinema goers can remember? I ask this because of the current trend of a handful of composers utilising a drone like soundscape as opposed to composing thematic material, and do you think this fashion of scoring is a trend that will pass?
Themes are hard to write, but easy to disparage. It’s not a time for melodies at the moment, not in the movies, not in pop songs, not even in Broadway theater. However, in a movie a theme or a melodic fragment, i.e., a motif, can definitely attach itself to a dramatic idea or character. One of the best examples is in “Jaws.” It only took two notes to announce the possible presence of the shark, and was used even when the shark wasn’t there to keep the tension high. I think the use of drones, pads or repeated figures in the same key is the musical moron’s way of composing. They’re very easy. It’s not to say that at times they aren’t valuable techniques to include in writing a dramatic score, but if it’s the only arrow in your quiver, you’re inadequately prepared.
Having said that, I think that some sound design scores are wonderfully creative when used by a good musician. There are, however, many more musical amateurs in the score-writing business than ever before, a result of the techno explosion and digital music production. Apple’s Garage Band, as an example, has spawned a lot of bedroom songwriters. But even simple devices like banging on tom-toms can be used to good and creative effect with some musical work.
I was lucky enough to be invited to the recording sessions for TOMBSTONE. at Whitfield studios in London many years ago now. You did not conduct the orchestra on that occasion, can I ask do you conduct your scores, or do you prefer to use a conductor so that you are free to supervise the recording?
“Tombstone” was the only score I didn’t conduct. In general, I always prefer to conduct my own work because I’m in direct contact with the people who are performing It. I can also get away from using clicks on everything, so that I can make the music more expressive. Some composers who could conduct choose not to because their priorities are somewhere else: In the recording booth with the director, for example, or with the recording mixer or with the studio execs. There’s a lot of conversation that takes place during any recording that the composer won’t hear unless he/she Is there In the middle of It.
Is orchestration an important part of the composing process?
Absolutely. Whether the orchestration Is with acoustic Instruments or with digital Instruments, It’s the sound of the note or the phrase that makes the essential connection between the score and the llstener. Music Is very associative, meaning that we associate certain feellngs with certain musical or aural combinations and every composer who works In film, even the amateurs, know this. The one composer who understood this first was Bernard Herrmann.
Your score for MONSTER SQUAD was initially not released on CD, but was issued later, do you have any influence or input into what scores of yours will be issued, or is this down to the film company?
This has been a decision that has been primarily out of my hands. It has had to do either with the production company or with the record company. I’ve been fortunate, however, in having essentially one record company, Intrada, as a loyal fan for many years. We’ve done over 50 albums together, and they still have more planned. It is Intrada that can be thanked for the reissue of both ‘Silverado” and “Young Sherlock Holmes” on to CDs.
Did you always want music to be your career or was this something that just happened?
It just happened. Probably due to entropy. My family was very musical and I learned to play a couple of instruments as a kid. I was always connected to the piano, but, as I mentioned above, what I wanted to do was to be an animator. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t carry through with that. Life turned out okay with the composing, and I’m happy with it.
How many times do you like to see a movie before you begin to put together ideas about the music?
I generally will not start working on a movie or a TV show until we’ve spotted the film. If I don’t know where the music is actually going to be placed or what the purpose of it will be in the film, I won’t start thinking about it. Once I know what the role of music is, I’ll start thinking about the theme and how I want to write the score.
You write for the concert hall, is this something that is more difficult do you think because with film and TV music at least you have images?
The images and emotions involved in a movie go a long way in helping the success of any score. With a concert piece, you only have the music. You can write some mediocre music in a good film and the film will carry it along. In fact, there are a lot of famous films with a lot of mediocre music attached, but you’ll generally only hear a mediocre concert piece once. It just won’t get played again. With a mediocre concert piece, it wiil be mediocre from start to finish. In general, I think the bar is a lot higher in concert music than in film music to write well and involve an audience.
Temp tracks I have found are treated with mixed feelings some composers do not like them, others think they are a useful tool, what is your opinion of the temp track?
I live with them. I don’t mind hearing them. If nothing else, it’s a starting point for some interesting conversation. The worst thing about them, of course, is whether they’re good or bad, whether the director likes them or not, everyone’s used to hearing them where they’ve been placed and it’s difficult to compete with the familiarity.
During the 1970’s and 1980’s you worked on a number of popular TV series such as LOGANS RUN, DALLAS and QUINCY I think, how does working in TV then compare to working in TV now, and when you worked on a series did you ever recycle any music that had been used in a previous episode?
I’ve never intentionally recycled music. When I was doing Dallas and Quincy, because I knew I’d be doing a lot of the episodes, I made a conscious decision to always change the orchestra. That way I couldn’t write the same thing twice. New orchestration brings along fresh composition. Along the way, as a result, I became a good orchestrator, so I benefited. The producers always enjoyed knowing that something new would be coming up on the next show.
The biggest difference, I think, between then and now is that we didn’t do mockups back then. Everyone heard the music for the first time when it was recorded and there was often a lot of excitement, if not gratitude. I wrote every score once. Now with mockups and producer’s “notes,” composers sometimes have to write cues two or three times. It’s dumb.
You have also taught film music, but what musical training did you have?
Academically, I have a BMus in composition from USC. In terms of training, I have over 50 years’ experience in television, motion pictures, games, theme parks, concert music and concert performance. I think I’m qualified to teach.
What composers or artists would you say have influenced you or what composers do you think are particularly interesting?
If you’re thinking of movie composers, there’s a long list: Jerry Goldsmith, Alex North, Miklos Rozsa, Carl Stalling, Jerry Fielding, Mort Stevens and many of my co-composer friends like Al Silvestri, Tom Newman, Randy Newman, John Powell and Ben Wallfisch. Having just written these names, I’ve left a lot of people – a LOT of people – off the list, because life is short and the truth is I’m influenced by just about everyone. But there are some specific scores and techniques that come to mind with the above list of names. I wouldn’t take my list too seriously, however.
You worked on THE ORVILLE how much music did you contribute to that project and did Seth Macfarlane have any specific requests about the score?
The music for ‘The Orville” begins and ends with Seth. He called me about working on the pilot and contributing the main title. We had lots of conversations about the series, what it was, what he wanted it to be, as well as how he saw the music. He works with good people: Walter Murphy, Ron Jones, Joel McNeeley, John Debney, Andrew Cottee are the guys I know and they’re all very, very good – as good as anyone I know writing for film. Add them all to my list above. Seth makes sure the music budget is big enough to do what he wants done with it. I wish there were more people like him, because he understands what music does and what it is. I couldn’t say enough good things about either him or his contributions to the music on his show.
Out of all of film scores is there any that you have particularly fond memories of?
A few, but for different reasons. By passing some memorable TV episodes and events, I have warm fuzzies for when we recorded “Silverado.” There was an enormous amount of energy surrounding that movie and the people were wonderful to work with. I have a special fondness for “Young Sherlock Holmes,” because it was a great film and a great opportunity; again, I worked with wonderful people; I had a sensational week recording it and it was the first time I laid eyes on Belinda, my wife-to-be, playing in the violin section, although that part-to-come took several years to happen.
I liked “Baby’s Day Out” because I thought it was funny and the people were terrific on it. I liked “Tombstone’ because it was a lot of fun and a really entertaining movie. I liked “Miracle on 34th Street” because it was a really great film. And I really enjoyed working with John Hughes. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven with “Rescuers Down Under.” Again, the movie was terrific and the people were tremendously special. Like my composers’ list above, I’m leaving a lot of stuff out. But I have no regrets over the movies or for the years of television. I learned a lot, and I continue to hear from people all over the world about how much this or that score means to them. For being an unintentional composer, I think I did pretty well for myself.