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PopWrapped | Movies

PW Covers San Diego Comic Con: The Musical Anatomy Of A Superhero

Roxanne Powell | PopWrapped Author

Roxanne Powell

Updated 07/14/2015 9:37am
PW Covers San Diego Comic Con: The Musical Anatomy Of A Superhero | superhero

Another great day at Con with amazing people! I got to sit down with composers from the superhero genre, both movies and television, and get to know a little bit more about what makes the music come alive. Some like to watch the episode and create based on what they see, while some prefer to create a score based on a character's persona.

Whatever the process, these guys are amazing at their jobs! Without them, we would not know how to process our feels during a specific scene. That sad music combined with that brutal breakup totally brought tears to my eyes.

You know the one I mean. All of them. Ever.

So without further ado, the composers!

brian Tyler Courtesy of filmmusicreporter.com

Brian Tyler - Avengers: Age of Ultron

Music is never a competition to see which composer can elicit the most tears, gasps, or angry harrumphs from the audience. They simply do their best to stay true to the story and to the characters.

So how exactly does Brian Tyler, the brilliant mind behind the Age of Ultron score, balance what's going on onscreen with how the audience will remember the music?

It's tricky. I've done a lot of movies that have a lot of sound--cars, jets, explosions, superheroes, gunfire, and whatever--so you have to learn to work with that. You really need to write around it. For instance, you might want to lay back on percussion on a scene that has a lot of gunfire. So it's anything where you can get as much music as you can across, sonically or emotionally, otherwise why have it there at all. Sometimes I say that, "There's no point, you're not gonna hear anything." But seriously, if a helicopter is close, I just go out, sting it. I'll lead up to it and go out. Make musical commentary. So yeah, it's always a bit of a dance. A bit of a tango.

And like a tango, it's best done as a pair. It's not unheard of for composers to work on the sequel of their previous film. But each character from the first film already has their own theme, their own melodic bit that sets them apart from the rest of the superhero ensemble.

Is it common for that theme, that bit, to translate into a sequel score, even a little? 

I always like to try and use whatever is before me, if I didn't write it, but then sometimes I find myself doing sequels of my own movies. I'm actually following up my movies with my own movies. So when you're doing that you want to use what's there and then expand it. If you happen to come into a series kind of mid-stream like I did Iron Man--I didn't know what to do--I had no idea what to do, but Marvel wanted a complete reset on Phase 2 of the MCU, so it was like "Okay, we need a theme that's kind of like a cross between Star Wars and James Bond. But Iron Man hadn't gotten there yet, and also Thor: Dark World - in the first movie he's like a fish out of water on Earth. But then in the second one, he's like a god, so we had to hit him with a new theme. So it depends on where the storyline is.

Tony Stark always has that one side to him, but he's also matured, and they [Marvel] wanted something that was very recognizable, thematically. And sometimes on purpose they don't do things like that... they want to set it up for later.

Tom Holkenborg Courtesy of zimbio.com

Tom Holkenborg - Mad Max: Fury Road

Speaking of sequels. Is Mad Max's Tom Holkenborg going to be back to score the sequel to the intense fan favorite?

Officially, it has never been said to me that there is going to be a sequel. But, I don't know, I'm sure George is cooking something up with Warner Brothers in the back rooms and we have no idea. I usually find out stuff last.

Huh... the actors say that, too. Which kind of begs the question: how does someone get chosen? Out of all of the composers, how did Holkenborg snag the chance to score such an amazing film?

Well, what always happens is when a director starts a movie like this, Warner Bros ask him who he wants to work with, and he says "Oh, I want to work with the last guy I worked with." But he said "No no no, I want to try something fresh, something new, do you have any suggestions?"  And I think they gave him only one CD, and it was stuff that I made, and he completely fell in love with it and I flew out and I met him and it was really funny. We met just after I had seen the movie and we started talking and I said I really liked Math. We started this conversation of an hour talking about Math.... So I went back to the hotel and thought about what I would do for this film. The next day, you need to come up with a complete plan.The next day I had a sure plan of what I wanted to do: let's do a rock opera, and he let me talk for two or three hours, and he shook my hand and said "I want you to be the composer on this film" and that was the end of it.

But any movie as visually striking as Mad Max, and even just rock operas in general, can be pretty overwhelming in their brilliance. There's a lot going on--they're a piece of art. What inspires Holkenborg to keep going, to keep creating, such amazing music to complement these works?

The reason why I like these movies is they give me the opportunity to celebrate aspects of my music making that I am really proud of. Also, I love to really work like that. That is where my music is a lot of different things: a lot of electronics and live vocals or whatever. So if you make a story like Mad Max or 300: Rise of an Empire, yes it's a story about being human and real persons--and that's why the live instruments are great--but look at the surroundings. It's like the closest thing to a comic book that comes alive. It's not static. So it gives you a lot of freedom to make it gnarly. So with 300, I wanted to make something that was so aggressive you couldn't listen to it with a headset; I wanted that with Mad Max, and it worked out, and I think that's why I really like working on these movies.

Blake Neely Courtesy of singers.com

Blake Neely - CW/DC

Blake Neely is the composer for DC Comics' amazing television shows that bring the Green Arrow, the Flash, and Supergirl to life. He is the reason we feel exhilaration when Barry figures out another step in his powers, and why we feel heartache when Oliver tells Felicity they can't be together.

Speaking of which, what is the title of the Olicity theme?

Oh geez. They've been asking me and I've been avoiding it, so now they've sent you, and I'm gonna answer it. You're going to be so disappointed. It's called 4m17. Because when we score, that's how we title things: it's the fourth act of the show, m for music, it's the 17th cue in the show. It's the most unromantic thing I've ever heard. I'm going to title it something different on the soundtrack.

Or, you know, you could title it right now and put us all out of our misery (which was created by the Olicity struggle, but never mind that).

At least it'll have Olicity Theme in parentheses to clarify.

Now, we all know Felicity Smoke gets around. There was that guy from her college days, there's Ray Palmer, there's Oliver, there's Barry Allen, and we all know there was something more going on between her and Diggle. Neely's convinced there was always something more going on in their secret lair under the disco, though it has never been scripted.

Felicity's travels between Starling City and Central City brought the crossover between Arrow and The Flash to the forefront. They are of the same DC universe, so it's natural the hero's paths will cross--and their scientific sidekicks will clash brains.

So we want to know, did Neely's previous work on Arrow influence his musical decisions for The Flash?

What was great us that we introduced Flash in an Arrow episode, so I got to know the character Barry in an Arrow episode. In doing so, it kind of had to work in the Arrow universe. So it's worked with the overall sound of the score. But I knew we would have crossover episodes, so I knew they had to sound different, but when they mixed, I could mix them. I would say if it had been Jazz and Heavy Metal it would have been hard, so I chose two different types of Jazz. Not that they;re Jazz. They're not the same music, but they're the same style. And Legends of Tomorrow will be the same way--it'll be the third style of Jazz. It will bring characters from both shows into the mix. That'll be fun.

Another superhero show? Sign me up! But being the grand master behind all of these different heroes has to be a little daunting, with so many people looking to you to tell them how to feel about a scene. How does it feel to be giving life to something like that?

It's a heavy responsibility. When you have this enormous company like DC Comics trusting you to come up with the sound of their shows, it's a lot of responsibility. I might joke about it sometimes and say I'm tired, but it's heavy to think about. Legends of Tomorrow is sort of the Justice League of television, and it's going to be nonstop action. I think it has to be more epic, it has to be different from the other shows, but it has to let other shows live in it and cross over. It's gonna become like this: any night you're watching, all the shows are connected.

Vampire Diaries on The Flash? Barry and Oliver versus Damon Salvatore?

I'm thinking maybe...no.

Being in charge of the music behind a big production is hard, whether it's on the big screen or just in the comfort of your own home. It's a lot to take on, but our composers and their teams do it with style and grace. They make us feel like we can relate to the situations on our screens, and for that we are forever grateful.

I mean, it's one step closer to becoming a superhero!

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