(image via AllMusic)
Earlier in the week, we got the chance to talk to the legendary composer James Newton Howard about his work on The Hunger Games films, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them (which is out today), and more, ahead of his 3 Decades Of Music For Hollywood concert at London's Royal Albert Hall next November! If you haven't already, check out the first part of our interview here, and read on below for the second part...
N.B. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
QQ: Am I right in assuming that it was the same process [as with 'The Hanging Tree'] with ‘Deep In The Meadow’ for the end credits of Mockingjay Part 2 after that very final scene - you just took T-Bone Burnett’s melody and composed around it with Jennifer’s voice?
JNH: Yeah! That was easy, I just wrote some chords and it was so beautiful. Francis [Lawrence] set up the story so beautifully, when something is directed that well and it’s very clear about what you’re supposed to feel, what you’re supposed to be doing, it makes your job as composer quite easy, really. Jennifer sang this very gentle version of it and I found it very moving, so I just did what I felt was the bare minimum because I didn’t think it needed much. And so I just wrote kind of atmospheric chords just to segue into the end of the movie.
QQ: And right before ‘Deep In The Meadow’, [there’s] obviously the big theme - that a lot of fans almost think is the official theme - ‘Rue’s Farewell’, you mentioned it earlier. Did you always envision that theme closing the film, being the score to the epilogue?
JNH: No, I really had no clue, how it was gonna end. You have to remember, I have never read the books…because I’ve never heard of it before. And once the movie started being made, I think Francis liked that I haven’t read the books because I was very objective. I could say “well I don’t understand this”, as opposed to if I’d read the books, I would understand everything at edit time. So, you know, I think it was useful to him. I know for a fact the books were wonderful because everybody loved them so much. Suzanne [Collins] is an incredible writer, and I was just honoured to work on them, because they’re obviously such wonderful stories.
QQ: A couple more questions from fans on Twitter…an interesting one that I’ve got - the suites for the end credits, for Mockingjay 1 and Mockingjay 2…was there any thinking going into which of the themes, which of the cues, would go into that?
JNH: I pretty much came up with it myself, Francis gave me a great deal of latitude…and I always look at an end title as another opportunity to do something new, it’s the last chapter in the story, really. And I think you have an opportunity as composer to let [the audience’s] feeling kind of settle and let everybody recover from the very emotional experience they’ve just been through for two hours. The one thing I wanted to exploit a lot was that the piece where Katniss is working out, it’s in Catching Fire, which I always thought I would be using more as underscore in Mockingjay 1 and 2, but I didn’t really use it much. But I wanted to write a piece based on that for the end titles, so that’s what I did, each time it came out to be what it is. I don’t remember whether that was in Mockingjay 1 or 2, but it was in there somewhere!
QQ: And also what I find interesting is that for the first two films, [the end credits were] just the songs from the pop compilation soundtrack, but for Mockingjay 1 and 2 they actually had the score, so that was really nice!
JNH: I think Francis felt that…I think he was always open to a song, if he heard one that was gonna do something spectacular to the movie, I just don’t think he ever felt like he had something that would communicate the feeling at the end of the movie better than some of the score would.
(with Christopher Nolan and Hans Zimmer. Image via Getty)
QQ: Do you approach scoring the big films like Hunger Games, Dark Knight, differently from some of your, kind of, smaller-scale work - the prestige dramas or smaller films?
JNH: Well, I try write the movie, I try and write the appropriate score - it can be a small movie that has a big orchestral score, or it could be a big movie that has a small, little score. I think it really depends on what the movie needs, what it wants, and of course it depends on what the budget is. A lot of small movies wouldn’t have the kind of budget to go to, you know, six days at Abbey Road with a hundred musicians, so you have to perhaps be more inventive on these smaller movies. And that’s also wonderful, I do a lot of ‘small’ movies. And if it requires a different skill set - I always try and stay involved with things that challenge me and take me out of my comfort zone.
QQ: Another, likely tough, question - what was your favourite film, I mean you’ve done nearly a hundred different film [scores], what was your favourite film that you’ve worked on?
JNH: Well, it has to be Fantastic Beasts! [laughs]
QQ: Because it’s your most recent?
JNH: Ah, no - oftentimes it’s your most recent, but I would say… There’s too many wonderful special moments for me, I can’t pick one - I would say all of the Hunger Games [films] were really special for me. Because everybody was on such a high, and it was such a good musical opportunity, it was so fun. I really enjoyed Maleficent a great deal, even though that was all so complicated and kind of difficult - it went over a long period of time. I really liked King Kong, even though I had no time to write the score… There was a movie that Reese Witherspoon did, her first movie ever, called The Man In The Moon, that’s one of my favourite things I’ve ever worked on, I really liked that one. There’s a movie called Snow Falling on Cedars that I really enjoyed… But, you know, there are bits and pieces on just about every film I’ve done that are very special to me, maybe for personal reasons, or because something was happening in my life, or because I wrote an action cue that was better in one spot - things only I would notice and would feel good about.
QQ: A couple of last questions - the reason why this was all set up and why we’re even talking is because you’ve got the concert at the Royal Albert Hall here in London next November. And you’ve worked quite a bit in London - 3 of the 4 Hunger Games films were done here…what do you enjoy most about London and working in London on all these scores?
JNH: Well, first and foremost, I love London, I love everything about London, it’s one of my favourite cities. I’ve been spending lots of time here since the 70s when I was playing with Elton John and the band, so I feel very comfortable and at home here. The musical legacy in Europe, in London, is just so extraordinary. I feel that the orchestras are spectacular, the studios are wonderful, and a lot of times those choices [to score in London] are not made by me, but are made by the studios. There are just certain business reasons why they may choose to record a score in the UK as opposed to Los Angeles. But actually, all 4 [Hunger Games films] were done in London; I feel very close to the orchestra here, to a lot of musicians here. I’d just say that the work, the aesthetic here is just spectacular, it’s also wonderful in Los Angeles as well I might add, but it just so happens that…more of the big big movies lately have been recording in London. And that’s fine with me, I love it here.
QQ: Final question - if you can say anything, I can imagine you’ve got all sorts of NDAs - are there any future projects coming up that you’re excited for us to hear?
JNH: Yeah - I’m working with Lasse Hallström on a movie called The Nutcracker and the Four Realms which is gonna be a spectacular live-action CGI special effects retelling of The Nutcracker with Keira Knightley and Morgan Freeman. It’s gonna be wonderful, we’re gonna record that next March I think, and that’s a very exciting project. I’m also doing another movie with Dan Gilroy [director of Nightcrawler, which Newton Howard also scored], who’s really talented, he’s doing another movie with Denzel Washington apparently titled Inner City - it’s one of the best scripts I’ve ever read, so I’ll be doing that. And I’m during a remake of Jumanji with The Rock [Dwayne Johnson], who I love, he’s hilarious. With The Rock, Kevin Hart and Jack Black - I’ll be doing that as well. So it’s that, then it’s onto the next [Fantastic] Beasts, so it’s gonna be a crazy couple of years.
A massive thank you to James for taking the time to talk to us!
James Newton Howard: 3 Decades of Music for Hollywood takes place at the Royal Albert Hall in London on November 3, 2017, and tickets are available now from the RAH website. Following the London show, the concert will visit more European cities - for more information, check our our post from earlier this year. Big thank you to the team at the Royal Albert Hall for setting this up!