A Moving Image of Elliot Goldenthal

Making All The Pieces Fit Together

FRANK J. OTERI: Certainly working with classical musicians who are used to playing standard repertoire and putting a score in front of them that has weird aleatory notations or quartertone or eighth-tone notations is an uphill battle sometimes. When you’re dealing with a session musician recording a film soundtrack who is really not used to that sort of thing at all, how do you bring in some of these elements?

ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: I usually record with orchestras like members of the New York Philharmonic or members of the London Symphony, for example. Many of the L.A. recording musicians came from that world. When you’re dealing with the London Symphony Orchestra or New York Philharmonic, they know. They know exactly what you mean. Sometimes you just go over to the concertmaster and very politely tell them what effect you want. It’s not just pick the stick up and go. Very often I’m going from section to section explaining what the technique is, what muting to use, what the aleatoric smudge on the page actually means. You know, things like that.

FRANK J. OTERI: So when you work through a film score and record a film score do feel you have more control of musicians than say an average concert hall composer would writing a piece and maybe getting three rehearsals if they’re lucky with say the Boston Symphony?

ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: Absolutely. Absolutely. When my oratorio was played by the Boston Symphony with Seiji, who is so great, conducting the orchestra, then he went to conduct the chorus and the children’s chorus. Things were going at such a fast speed. There wasn’t the luxury of taking the piece of paper, going down in the middle of the orchestra. Every second— it’s like a war. Every second you’re counting down to the solemn curfew, so to speak, of when there’s no more time left and you have to put that concert on. It’s really, really scary.

FRANK J. OTERI: The clock is also ticking in film production though.

ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: Yeah, but it’s different. It’s a little bit different. You have a little bit more… You want to get it right. The director is in there deliberating; thinking whether he likes the last cue or not. Listening back to it while you’re out there fixing. There’s a little bit more wiggle room usually in film production. Even though you have to accomplish a lot every day.

FRANK J. OTERI: It’s interesting. When people who come primarily from the concert world look at the film world, they look at it as this giant act of collaboration. There are so many cooks in the kitchen. There is the director, screenwriter, and producer, obviously the actors and the crew. It’s hard, maybe, to have an individual voice with all those other voices there. That’s a perception, it’s probably not an accurate perception because you’re saying that working with an orchestra seems even more that way, to a certain extent.

ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: I think that it is an inaccurate analogy. I think it’s more like the workings of a fine restaurant where everyone has their own role, completely. It’s not a lot of cooks and a lot of chefs in one kitchen. It’s a chef and everyone else doing their job. The executive producer would be the guy that pays the guy that buys the food. That person who buys the food is real, real important. The person that delivers the food is real important. The actual executive chef, of course, is important, but you have the whole line. You have all the sous-chefs. The guys who cut the potatoes are important. The one that reduces the stocks. The people who clean the dishes— I know I’m being simplistic, but the maitre’d, the laundry that all the tablecloths go out to, every single thing is extremely important in the running of a great restaurant. But no one is doing the work of anybody else’s twice. There are not a lot of cooks in the kitchen, so to speak. That’s the way it is in a film production. The editor is sitting there. The director is there. The producer is there and the orchestra. Everybody has a well-defined role. So it is collaborative in a sense that composer and director work together closely; everybody else’s role just follows after that.

FRANK J. OTERI: In this restaurant analogy, what is the role for the composer?

ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: Well, the role of the composer is yet another cog and piece of what has to be to make a successful establishment. I’d like to say it’s the actual ingredients. (laughs)

FRANK J. OTERI: (laughing) I was thinking maybe it’s the guy who makes the sauce!

ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: Possibly. The person who makes the sauces, okay. You know, the analogy is not airtight. However, in terms of collaboration, I thought I was a little closer.

FRANK J. OTERI: Now then, can people in the so-called classical music world— that term is so dead. Anyway, I’m thinking of the concert hall world; the symphony orchestras, the chamber groups, recitalists. Is there something that we can all learn from this wonderful restaurant that is a great motion picture that we’re just not getting?

ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: In the concert world?

FRANK J. OTERI: Yeah. Why should it have been a battle with the Boston Symphony? Even though you got a great performance and later on the piece got a great recording—it’s a piece that has gotten a lot of circulation—but you used the word battle. You have a luckier scenario than most composers with a work like that. It shouldn’t be a battle.

ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: Orchestras seem to put on two hats. When they’re working for a film production they seem to function business-wise, or personality-wise, less as an orchestra than as studio musicians. This is a delicate point. When an orchestra is performing as an orchestra, rehearsing as an orchestra, there’s a different mentality. Within the orchestra, any orchestra, there are many factions. People circulate their own newsletters within the orchestra that may oppose the conductor, or oppose the administration. There are people who don’t like to rehearse at eight, or nine. They like to rehearse at three. You know what I’m saying? It goes on and on and on and on—all the demands within the orchestra. There are orchestras that don’t want to play Wagner or Philip Glass because it hurts their arms. They don’t want to play this. They don’t want to play that. They get very finicky and they have their own personalities. The concertmaster might not like the work that they’re doing or might not like contemporary music. There’s a faction that hates contemporary music. There is not a unity in that setting for most orchestras. I have always found this. When they are working on a film it’s something different. They think differently. They toss all that aside and they’re just very helpful. Did you get what you wanted? Can we do any better? There is a great pride that takes over and fractionalization kind of disappears.

FRANK J. OTERI: That is fascinating. Maybe in the orchestra the “too many cooks in the kitchen” analogy does work.

ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: Well, musicians have a lot of pride and they work very hard. Each musician has a world and universe of their own. They have their own students. They come from their own styles and their own musical cliques. It’s very difficult. Imagine, a baseball manager has just eighteen guys or something. Imagine being a conductor of an orchestra. You have all those personalities.