Academy Award-winning composer Hans Zimmer, the maestro behind the music for over 150 projects across all media, delivered yesterday’s keynote presentation at VIEW Conference 2018, entitled Welcome to my Music. Zimmer’s address was followed by a tribute to his music, performed by an ensemble of 10 year-old Italian students. Addressing a packed house of visual effects, animation, game, VR and film devotees, the composer shared wit and wisdom on the subjects of life, artistry, and the job of making the world a noisier and more colorful place.
Hans Zimmer has a muse. Her name is Doris. She’s a single mother who lives in the poor part of the post-industrial town of Bradford, UK, and ever since her husband left her she’s struggled to raise her two kids and make ends meet. Every weekend, Doris faces a choice. She can either go to the pub, or take in a movie. If she chooses the cinema, what she wants more than anything is a film that will transport her out of her humdrum life and into a world of wonder.
Doris is fictitious. To Zimmer however, what she represents is utterly real. Even more than that, she is the reason he does what he does, the person he has in mind whenever he sits down to write a score. “If Doris is going to see a film,” he said during his keynote presentation at VIEW Conference 2018, “we’d better make it worth it. That’s the job – to make her life better.”
Zimmer also asserted his belief that music expresses what cannot be expressed through mere words or pictures. That’s why it’s such a vital piece of the filmmaking puzzle, and why Zimmer always starts composing before the film is made – sometimes before he’s even read the script.
To illustrate this, he related the story of how he came to work on Christopher Nolan’s space epic Interstellar. Out of the blue, Nolan called Zimmer to say he was going to send write a letter, and invited the composer to put down whatever came into his head when he read it. When the letter arrived, Zimmer did just that, and played the result to the director later that same day. “The first time I play a piece of music, it’s very personal,” Zimmer revealed. “So I couldn’t even look him in the eye.”
The brand new composition – which Zimmer described as a “fragile fragment of music” – expressed the composer’s feelings about his relationship with his son. Having played it to Nolan, Zimmer asked the director what he thought. Nodding his approval, Nolan said, “I guess I’ll have to make the movie now.”
Delving deeper into his process, Zimmer confessed that, while he always aims to begin work early on a project, he is also a terrible procrastinator, and tends to leave the final scoring until very late in the game. For the animated feature Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, he even wrote one of the cues on the stage during the recording session. “Composing is like cooking,” he commented. “You need fresh ingredients, and lots of preparation, but it all comes down to that crazy final ten minutes!”
Closing his address, Zimmer invited budding creators in all fields to challenge themselves constantly. “Ask yourself how can you be cantankerous, creative and revolutionary,” he said. “Be reckless. Be inventive. Make a big noise!”
I don’t know about you, but I reckon those words would be music to Doris’ ears.
VIEW Conference 2018 takes place at the Officine Grandi Riparazioni (OGR) in Torino, Italy, October 22 to 26, 2018. Check out the full program and register for talks, workshops, panels, and masterclasses at the VIEW Conference website.