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11/18/2014 05:56 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Legendary Film Composer Hans Zimmer Talks Interstellar , Working With Christopher Nolan, and the Future of Music Making

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Answers by Hans Zimmer, Composer, Interstellar, 12 Years a Slave, Inception

How did [you] get involved in Interstellar?

Interstellar is an epic journey. You're looking outward at the stars and at the same time, looking at the most intimate relationships that we can have, between a parent and a child. So on one hand, you have a vast canvas in front of you and at the same time, you have profound intimacy.

When I first got involved with the movie, Chris said to me, "I have this idea. I'm not going to tell you what the movie is, but I've written this one page description, and if I give you that one page, can you spend one day with it and write whatever comes to you?" That already sounded like a good start and an adventure. On that page was this tiny, intimate little fable, between a father and his child. And so I wrote what became a musical love letter to my son.

Afterward, I phoned Chris and said, "I've written it. I've spent the day writing the music. Do you want me to send it over?" Chris said, "No I'm going to come down and hear it." So he came down to my studio and after listening to it, I asked him what he thought. He replied, "Well, I'd better make the movie now." So, not having given me any context before I wrote the song, he started telling me about this epic canvas that he was proposing. This celebration of science, humanity, space, and all these other things. At one point, I stopped him and said, "But Chris, All I've given you is this humble little sprint. It's so intimate." And he said, "But I now know what the heart of the movie is going to be." So that's how we started and we went on this rather large journey that you will see come to life in theaters.

What is it like working with Christopher Nolan?

I think one of the things that is really great about working with Chris is that he doesn't, in any way, get in the way of my imagination. In fact, he works very hard at not having me confined by the mechanics of filmmaking. So, our process is usually starting long conversations just riffing on ideas. Then slowly I start writing and experimenting, coming up with sounds, etc., all the while keeping in constant conversation with Chris.

In Interstellar, for instance, there're so many themes, so many pieces, which always got to a certain point during the writing process but never had an ending, because Chris and I would get to a certain point with an idea and then abandon it because we got excited about the next idea. You have to think of how Chris and I work as a sort of breathless, constant sprint because we are just trying to keep up with our own ideas. The ideas are so plentiful when Chris and I get together, but the execution always takes more time and it can be so frustrating. It's sometimes very frustrating for him as well because he's trying to make a movie and he's waiting on the music.

When it comes to the music for Interstellar, I can honestly say that in one way or another, the music is our music, not just my music. It's entirely our music, and that's a testament to how much I let Chris into my world. The great thing is that as a composer, you can only write from the heart and from your innermost place. So, you have to trust your director. And that's the thing - there's a great sense of trust and a great sense of balance that Chris brings to the composing process. Because Chris cuts his movies in his garage, (giving his films a sort of a homemade quality), he never makes me feel that I have the enormous weight of the canvas on my shoulders. His editing process is really helpful for my composing process. The work and the story is always brought back to the personal and the intimate, and that's perfect for how I work.

Why has the soundtrack for Interstellar not been released yet?

At the beginning of our Interstellar journey, we decided that we were going to question everything; that we were going to go out and break whatever rules we could. One of the things that occurred to me throughout the filmmaking process was that even though very few people actually saw the movie as we were making it, none of them expected the music they heard accompanying the images they saw. So, I thought there was something really great about having moviegoers experience the music for the first time with the images on big speakers in a big theatre, as opposed to on your cell phone or small speakers in your car.

At the end of the day, the biggest compliment I can get is somebody going to the theatre and having an experience. And the way I wanted people to experience the music in Interstellar was with big, massive speakers. This is not a small movie, so why would I take away some of that experience? The movie theater seemed like the right forum to hear the music for the first time. So I thought, if you hold it back until enough people have heard and experienced it for the first time in the theatre, it would be even better. Our ambition was to go for the best, to set our sights high, and this decision does that.

What is some good, practical advice for a beginner in music composition?

There are many composers that are brilliant but have utterly no picture sense. You have to have both and you have to be able to tell a story. There are many ways of telling a story and there are many ways of telling the subtext of the story. That's really what we do in music. You just have to learn that. The first few hundred scores I wrote were terrible, but know that you get better at it and you learn from your mistakes.

Also, don't be a slave to the cut. Figure out how music can have it's own parallel shape to the picture. I remember my mentor one day saying, very gently, "You know, the reactions to the cut are quite nice too." I was enamored with being able to be so precise that I spent more time paying attention to the physical cut than to how people felt about it. Don't do that.

What does the future of music-making look like?

The future of music making looks like it always has. Somebody, somewhere around the corner is in a garage or a basement writing something that's going to blow our socks off. We just haven't been able to imagine it yet. That's the great thing about music making. Even though we have a finite, limited set of notes, we have an infinite number of possibilities with these notes.

Also, music has always been driven by technology, so there's no difference between the technology of building a violin and the technology of building a computer and using that as a musical instrument. Music is shifting, changing, going through evolution, and every once in a while someone comes up with something revolutionary. We don't know what that is yet, but it's great and we'll certainly know it when we experience it or when it moves us.

Hans Zimmer is one of the film industry's most influential composers, whose career spans three decades and encompasses over 150 films. Zimmer's most recent film is Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, which is will be released in November of 2014. He has been honored with an Academy Award®, two Golden Globes®, three Grammys®, an American Music Award, and a Tony® Award. Some of his most recent works include Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave, Ron Howard's Rush, Zack Snyder's Man of Steel, History Channel's miniseries The Bible; the Christopher Nolan-directed films Inception, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises; and Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

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