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My Sit-Down With Bond/Independence Day/Sherlock Composer David Arnold

Photo of Jim Amos By Jim Amos | Box Office Insider June 4, 2014 at 11:35AM

Grammy winning composer David Arnold's journey from record store employee to scoring many of the most successful films of the last twenty years has been a fascinating one. During that time he has worked with the likes of Roland Emmmerich, John Barry and the James Bond crew at EON, Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, and John Singleton to name but a few.
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David Arnold

In case you missed it last week, here's my interview with Grammy winning composer David Arnold, whose journey from record store employee to scoring many of the most successful films of the last twenty years has been a fascinating one.  During that time he has worked with the likes of Roland Emmmerich, John Barry and the James Bond crew at EON, Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, John Singleton and Ben Stiller and the BBC series "Sherlock", to name but a few.  His vast array of contributions include major feature films, British TV series, video documentary shorts and even a GoldenEye video game. The Luton, England born composer also worked extensively on the 2012 London Olympics with director Danny Boyle, where he wrote the score and assembled the Symphony of British Music, which included such legendary British musical acts as The Who, Queen, Spice Girls, Pet Shop Boys, and Ray Davies. 

In this interview we discuss how he got his first big break, meeting the great George Martin, being bothered while on vacation and how one of his fellow composers was left on his doorstep as a baby.

JIM AMOS BOI:  
SO TELL ME, HOW DO YOU GO FROM WORKING IN A RECORD STORE TO WORKING WITH DEAN DEVLIN AND ROLAND EMMERICH ON "STARGATE"?

DAVID ARNOLD:  
I had scored a low budget British feature called "The Young Americans" with my friend Danny Cannon as the director.  One of the producers of the film was working for Canal+ and was involved with partnering with Carolco to form a Hollywood production arm.  He passed the film on to Mario Kassar who watched it with an eye to offering Danny a show, he also liked the music and with a bit of budging from Danny, he and I said yes, and that was the beginning of everything else.

BOI
HOW DID YOU HOOK UP WITH JAMES BOND COMPOSER JOHN BARRY AND WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE COMPOSING FOR EON ON THOSE FIVE BOND FILMS ("QUANTUM OF SOLACE", "CASINO ROYALE", "DIE ANOTHER DAY", "THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH" AND "TOMORROW NEVER DIES")?

"Whilst recording one of those songs at Studio 1 at Air Studios in London, George Martin...told me John Barry was in the building and would I like to meet him. I jumped at the chance."

DA
I always loved the Bond films and the music, especially.  After "Stargate" came out and was a huge success, somewhat unexpectedly I think, I thought I'd like to make a record of my favourite Bond themes, for fun,  I financed it myself in the early stages, recording three or four songs and then taking them to record companies to see if they'd be interested in taking it on.  Whilst recording one of those songs at Studio 1 at Air Studios in London, George Martin, who I'd got to know well at the studio, told me John Barry was in the building and would I like to meet him.  I jumped at the chance and played John a few of the songs I'd recorded.  They were all his and luckily he liked them.  I stayed friends with John from that moment.  Lucky me

BOI
YOUR RESUME IS SUCH A SMORGASBORD OF GENRES.  YOU GO FROM BIG BUDGET DEVLIN/EMMERICH FILMS TO BRITISH TV, BACK TO FILM-THIS TIME WITH EDGAR WRIGHT, THEN TO "SHAFT" AND "ZOOLANDER".  ANY PARTICULAR GENRE YOU FIND MORE INTRIGUING OR DO YOU JUST LIKE TO DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT EACH TIME OUT?

DA
I like doing something different subject wise, if possible, otherwise it feels like sometimes you're scoring the same film over and over.  It's a bit like going to the gym and only working on one area of your body...everything else gets unexplored and undeveloped. 

BOI
WHAT'S YOUR ACTUAL PROCESS OF SCORING?  HOW MANY MUSICIANS DO YOU GENERALLY WORK WITH?

DA
The process is largely an isolating one.  After meeting with directors and producers to discuss what sort of music it might be, what it might need and where it might go, I essentially lock myself away for a week or two and let the ideas gestate.  I sketch things, throw things out, then I explore, and hopefully at the end of the process I have an idea of the musical solution that the film needs.  From that point, with everyone's approval, I send sketches to my orchestrator, Nicholas Dodd, and work on programming material with one or two other people, principally Rob Playford and Toby Pitman.  From there it's orchestral, we'll end up in a room with anything up to 85 players to get it right, get it on time and on budget.

BOI
ONE OF THE COMPOSERS YOU HAVE DONE SEVERAL PROJECTS WITH IS ONE OF MY GOOD FRIENDS, STEPHEN HILTON.  HOW DID YOU TWO GET TOGETHER?

"He was left on my doorstep as a baby, a bit like Penguin in the second Tim Burton "Batman" film"

DA
He was left on my doorstep as a baby, a bit like Penguin in the second Tim Burton "Batman" film.

BOI
HOW IS "SHERLOCK" TO SCORE AND DO YOU THINK IT'S AS INCREDIBLE A SHOW AS I DO?  AS READERS HAVE COME TO FIND OUT, BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH IS BOX OFFICE INSIDER'S FAVORITE ACTOR.

DA
I've known Benedict since we did a film together called "Amazing Grace", quite a long time ago.  He's also my favourite actor and I've been vocal about that for a fair while now too. "Sherlock" was, for me, the best piece of British TV I'd seen in quite a long time and the fact that I knew Benedict and Martin (Freeman) helped.  They're lovely people and quite brilliant.  (Creator) Mark Gatiss initially showed me the pilot and asked me to do it some time later but I was tied up on "Narnia" at the time and was desperate to do it but I knew I couldn't do it all due to the pressures of that film, so I asked my friend and composer Michael Price if he'd come on board.  Luckily he was free and we co-wrote the music together.

BOI
I'VE BEEN TOLD THAT SOMETIMES YOU NEED TO COME UP WITH PIECES OF MUSIC FOR "SHERLOCK" EVEN WHILE YOU'RE ON VACATION.  WHAT'S THAT PROCESS LIKE AND IS THERE PRESSURE TO CREATE MUSIC QUICKLY SINCE TV IS FASTER MOVING THROUGH PRODUCTION THAN FILM?

DA
In some instances there can be a piece needed for an in-camera shot, i.e. someone was seen playing or singing a piece on screen and that music has to exist in order for them to hear it, play it or sing it.  Usually the music is written after everything is shot, so sometimes you get a call asking for something for the next day!  Luckily on that occasion there was a piano around, but I've done stuff on an iPad before, using a piano app.

BOI
Thanks so much for your time and we look forward to many more scores.

David will next lend his talents to Roland Emmerich's "ID Forever: Part 1"

This article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit, In the Spotlight, David Arnold, John Barry, Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin, Interviews, Interview, Interviews


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