The Aisle Seat "Lost Interviews": Bruce Broughton

In addition to my work at Film Score Monthly and England's sadly-defunct Movie Collector, throughout much of the '90s I wrote for a Canadian magazine called Home Movies.

Editor Mike Ryan was a great guy who produced the laserdisc-intensive publication purely as a labor of love, and for many years I was happy to review not just laserdiscs but also soundtrack albums for him. Along the way I also conducted several interviews that ran exclusively in Home Movies, and to this day have never been reprinted or available outside Canada.

Today I'm happy to have converted (from an ages-old floppy Mac disk) my 1995 Home Movies interview with Bruce Broughton. I was thrilled to be able to speak with Mr. Broughton about his work on Intrada's then-new re-recording of IVANHOE, and managed to ask a few questions about his other scores ("Miracle On 34th Street" in particular since it was a recent release at the time).

Obviously, a lot has changed since this interview ran, including the release of Broughton classics like "Young Sherlock Holmes" (albeit only in a limited edition), but I still thought film score fans would find this piece of interest. Many thanks go out to Mike Ryan for the opportunities I had at Home Movies, and to good friend Paul MacLean for helping to convert these ancient files and bring them back to life.


Bruce Broughton is one of the top film composers working today. His diverse credits include the scores for Lawrence Kasdan's "Silverado," the Steven Spielberg productions "Young Sherlock Holmes" and "Harry and the Hendersons," the Disney films "The Rescuers Down Under" and "Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey," the pulse-pounding thrillers "The Presidio" and "Narrow Margin," and the recent box-office blockbuster "Tombstone."

The composer recently re-recorded Miklos Rozsa's classic, Oscar-nominated score from the MGM blockbuster IVANHOE (1952) in London for Intrada Records. I recently talked with Broughton about the project, currently scheduled for a February/March release, in addition to the disappointing recent commercial failure of "Miracle on 34th Street," John Hughes' remake for which Broughton composed the original score. I would like to thank the composer for his time, and Roger Feigelson at Intrada Records for setting up this interview.

AD: First off, how did the IVANHOE project come about?

BB: Doug Fake [Intrada Records' president] called me and asked me if I wanted to do the sessions. He wanted to find someone who could be fairly faithful to the score in terms of its energy and who could conduct the orchestra, all of that stuff, and he thought of me. He particularly liked the score to TOMBSTONE, and he liked that recording and the energy in it, and thought I bring the same qualities to IVANHOE.

AD: What were your prior thoughts about IVANHOE, the film, and Miklos Rozsa's score for it.

BB: You know, to tell you the truth, I may have seen IVANHOE a long time ago, but I am not very knowledgeable about old movies, and am even less knowledgeable about older movie scores, with a couple of exceptions. The exceptions would only be certain music recorded over the years, material you would be able to hear the main theme from to such-and-such a film.

Rozsa's music I did not know very well at all. When I was a kid, I remember seeing BEN-HUR and EL-CID and things like that, but, outside of having a big epic sweep, I couldn't really tell you too much about Rozsa's music. The music to IVANHOE was entirely unknown to me, and I figured it was probably just as well, because when you're doing a re-recording, the question of faithfulness comes up. Doug and I talked about this. We discussed how faithful do you want to be to the way it was recorded in the film, in terms of tempo and performance. My preference would be that if there's any music in it, to try to play towards the music, rather than playing towards the timings [of the film].

I think in this recording we did a little bit of both. It's actually pretty faithful in terms of tempo and spirit to what the original recordings were, because I had heard the original recordings before we went to do ours. At the same time, if there's any musical feeling or gesture in it, we always allowed that to happen at the same time, too. So I don't think it was particularly a downside to be ignorant of the film. I think it's ridiculous to adhere simply to the film when we're working hard to showcase the music, and I think in the latter respect we did really well. I don't think being overly familiar with the score beforehand was essential in this case.

AD: Did you gain any particular insights into Rozsa's music as you were recording the score?

BB: Yes. Actually, it was really interesting, because I had read some comment by Rozsa in a very old interview several months ago, where he said that he had tried to retain some element of Hungary, of his homeland, in his music. I thought it was a cute comment, and I couldn't say anything about it one way or the other then because I didn't really know.

In this particular score, I realized it was actually true, because the music is very Hungarian-like and I mean that in the best of terms. A lot of the interval relationships, structures and harmonies, also in the way he deals with melodies, are very much like something you would see in Kodai,  Bartok or some of the better known Hungarian composers. And I was charmed by this score; it's very dramatic, very well-written. Sitting there with the score as it was reconstructed, I could see how much composition went into it, and how much craft there was.

At times, he was going for a really big dramatic gesture, which is not real popular these days, but in those days was very effective. So the music, in being very dramatic, sometimes is very quickly to the point -- it's not overly ornate, because he knows it's serving a dramatic purpose, and thus it's very functional, in some of the same ways that you would see Copland's ballets being very functional compared to his symphonies, which are very complex. But in that function, he really worked as a composer, and he wouldn't ever give up his musical ideas. So I have a lot of respect for that. It's a really great score. To hear it come alive again, with a contemporary orchestra under modern recording conditions, gives the music a chance to be heard the way it should be heard, since the original recordings really are pretty old.

AD: In conducting the score, did any glaring differences jump out at you in terms of comparing IVANHOE to a contemporary score that you would write, stylistically or otherwise?

BB: I would say that you could stick Rozsa's score and place it into a movie like ROBIN HOOD, the Kevin Costner epic, or some big, overripe dramatic production like THE THREE MUSKETEERS, and it would fit just fine. I would say that this score would have an awful lot  to say for itself if it had been written last week. When you hear it with the new recording, it sounds like a substantial motion picture score. I think that the greatest difference you would find between this score and perhaps another score written at his time is that it's musically cohesive. It's well-structured and its themes are very clear, and it has a definite point of view. It's not just everybody playing the same note, like you so often see.

I like it personally because the way that I like to do a film dramatically is to really go for it. I think it's a movie, and since they're a little bit bigger than life, or an awful lot bigger than life, I don't mind playing the music bigger than life. You really have to reach out and grab the audience and make them feel something, and this music very much is like that. I think, for its time, it probably did all it could do, given the recording conditions, and the filmmaking conditions of the era. Actually, to take this recording we did and put it in the old film, it would almost overwhelm the film. But if the film  were updated itself, and had the advantage of being redone with the same actors and director if it were possible, I think that it really would be a substantial piece.

AD: Was extensive re-orchestration needed for this new project?

BB: No, the score was pretty faithfully reconstructed from sketches. The only differences that I heard was, when I would listen to the original recordings, I would occasionally hear some additions or deletions which were probably made at the time of the recordings. I assume that's just very typical of  the movie-making process; you write the phrase and the director takes out three feet of the picture, so you either repeat the phrase, take it out, or fill it with something else.

The thing about motion picture music, unlike symphonic music, is that it's meant to be performed once. During that one performance, you make a lot of changes in order to make it exactly  the way that it's supposed to be, either for yourself or for the person you're working for. If the music isn't getting the response that you intended it get, then you make the changes at the recording sessions, and I think there were a lot of those things that I could hear in the [original] recording.

If you compared our recording to the old recording, it would probably sound a lot more massive, and it would sound as if the orchestration was very often different when in fact it is not. It's very similar, it's just that we had 85 pieces in our orchestra, and I think the MGM orchestra was 45 or 50 pieces at the most. Of course, we were recording at Abbey Road Studios in London, which is this huge room, and it would have sounded quite different had we recorded it in a much smaller room.

AD: I was about to ask you about the recording conditions. Are you satisfied with how the music came out with the entire recording process you went through over in England?

BB: Abbey Road, to me, can be like a barn. It's really a huge place, but our engineer Mike Ross knows the room well, has great ears, good taste and is very reliable. I know when I've worked with him past, sometimes I'd say to him "OK Mike, that's fine,"  but he'd say "No, let's do that over." I'd always ask "what for," and he'd say "the bass was such-and-such" or the horns were off, so he's always listening and paying attention to balance the performance, and I never found it to be a problem. If he thought it was worth doing again, then it was worth doing again. If he was satisfied with it, then you know it was fine.

For the orchestra, it was a tremendous blow, because on that first day we did a lot of the battle music, and I can't imagine how the trumpets were even standing at the end of the day. There's a lot of bleeding, hard blowing going on there, and that's accentuated by the fact that we did it a lot faster than Rozsa would have done it originally. We did it in three days, and we played an enormous amount of music. So the orchestra then is basically like a good studio orchestra, and I've found that their level of performance is awfully good. I'd say that we really couldn't have asked for better recording conditions, between the orchestra, the room, the engineer, and the enthusiastic producers. [laughs]

AD: You mentioned that you've never been a huge fan of "Golden Age" film scores in general. Are there any scores from that era that you have an affection for?

BB: You know, I really am so truly unknowledgeable about it that I cannot pick out a select few. I do know that there are certain composers whose music I know a little bit better than others. I've always liked the music of Korngold and Steiner -- those guys really are good composers. I've read compositions by Steiner that are awfully well-written and, although they look like they work hand-in-glove with the pictures they were composed for, I'm not sure how they have sustained on their own. Korngold's scores are always well-written, and certainly well-orchestrated. I've also heard others things by Waxman that are really interesting, and it's not Korngold or Steiner, it's in a completely different style. I'd like to hear more of Rozsa's music, as well.

Although I hate to seem completely naive and uninformed, I really don't know the material of that time, outside of having watched those films long ago. In terms of simply watching a movie, I remember when Jerry Fielding would see a movie, he would walk in with a tape cassette that he would place in his lap, and tape the movie as he would see it. When he'd see a movie, he would want to see the movie and listen to it later at home. I'm the same way. Occasionally, I'm aware of a score when I'm watching the film and hearing it in the background, but for the most part, I'll wait, pick up the music and listen to it later.

AD: Your most recent project was providing the score to John Hughes' remake of MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET. I really enjoyed the film, as many audiences and critics did, yet the picture never caught on commercially. Do you have any possible explanations for the film's financial failure?

BB: It's real disappointing. Everybody I talked to who watched the movie said the same thing that you did, that they really enjoyed it, and were surprised at how good it was.  I know that the film previewed better than any film that Fox ever had, and their excitement was extraordinary...but the film just didn't do it.

I've worked on a number of films that didn't do well initially, but over the years, because of their popularity on television and video, have become somewhat classic movies. "Silverado" was like that. Right now it's considered to be quite famous, but at the time, it wasn't at all.  I think that "Miracle" will probably be around for years and years and years, but right now, it's just unfortunate that not enough people are going to see it.

I think there's been a stupid thing of comparing it to the other version, which I had sort of expected and was disappointed to see in so many of the reviews. I mean, of course it's not the old movie. But on its own terms, I think this is quite a nice movie. I saw a preview audience that watched it before the score was in it, and they loved it. And I was at the premiere, which must have been a paying audience, and they went crazy for it, with applause, and laughter, and all kinds of that stuff. I know that the film works well, but I was disappointed [by the box-office response].

AD: What has your relationship been working with John Hughes, having scored MIRACLE and, earlier in the year, BABY'S DAY OUT, which I thought was great fun but  also didn't perform up to commercial expectations.

BB: I loved BABY'S DAY OUT. I thought it was hysterical, and we expected to be a huge [success]. But anyway, my association with John is fine. I really enjoy him. He's a terrifically bright guy, he's very interesting, and I like the films he makes. I guess that's the bottom line--I like his movies. And I like our association; he's very articulate. If he were nothing else, he would be very articulate. He knows exactly what he's talking about, and he's open to explore things. He's very funny, and he gets these ideas for humor that are terrific, in addition to some associative ideas that are real interesting. I just find him really enjoyable to be with.

AD: Having seen many John Hughes films, he seems to do a good job generally choosing pop songs to work within the framework of his movies, and alternating them with the original music scores. What was the song selection and placement process like on MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET? Does John Hughes have some extensive knowledge of selecting the music used in his films?

BB: I don't think that the songs in MIRACLE were John's idea, but rather Fox's idea. The way it was explained to me was that Fox wanted to make a perennial Christmas motion picture, and thought it would be a good idea to have a perennial Christmas album to go with it.

I'm not happy with the way the songs worked. I don't have a huge problem with using songs in film, but in this case, with one exception, every  song in MIRACLE replaced an [orchestral] cue that was written for it. It was a marketing decision, and I don't think that the songs were well-served by the film. The film certainly isn't well-served by the songs, and I think they just ended up getting any other Christmas album. It's just full of standards, and who cares? In the movie, they last for 45 or 60 seconds, then they go away. They don't advance the story, they don't do anything at all for the story.

In getting to the second part of the question, and I have to do this shooting from the hip, I think that John would be happy to explore anything that would work in his film. I think that, working with him, you have to be prepared to try almost anything. If we were to get into a situation where he would say "what if we were to use this song here," it might at the time sound like a cockeyed eye, but there would be a certain amount of interest in it so that you would want to pursue it. So you have to be open, because he's a very creative guy. You have to be able to at least talk about the ideas and explore them with him. He'll won't say "do that and shut up." He'll say "what if we did this, that might be kind of funny" and if you start to explore that, you get somewhere. You have the option to try it, and if it doesn't work, then it doesn't work, and you try something else. He has a wide range of interest in music, he likes a lot of different kinds of music, and I think he's always looking for the best thing for his films.

AD: I was certainly disappointed by the fact that more of your score was not on the MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET soundtrack [Intrada only recently produced a score-only, limited edition CD of Broughton's music –AD].

BB: Oh, so was I! [laughs]. That's another goofy thing. I really don't understand this, even though I've had it happen before, and I've seen it happen to a number of other guys before -- like Jerry Goldsmith on GREMLINS -- where half of the album is songs, and the other half is score. Well, who's going to buy it? There's not enough score or songs to satisfy anybody. On an album such as MIRACLE, the people who want to hear Christmas standards won't want to hear movie cues, and the people who want to hear movie cues won't want to hear Christmas standards! As it turned out, I think I actually got more cuts on it than they were intending, because they didn't have enough material from the songs.

AD: I was thinking that Fox may have released an all-score album had the film been a huge hit...

BB: They might have. I know Epic did that with Alan Silvestri on FOREST GUMP, but that doesn't happen a lot. The film would have to have been a huge  success, because the music was very expensive. We had a large orchestra of almost a hundred people, a huge choir, and that gets to be really expensive for a record like that, particularly in appealing to a fairly limited audience.

AD: I would have thought that the powers-at-be would have at least given you an  opportunity at composing music for the End Credits of MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, giving the film a uniqueness that it doesn't receive through the use of the songs...

BB: The fact that there was any music of mine in the end credits was entirely an afterthought, because I was told from the beginning that there were going to be songs. I asked them over and over and over again if they were sure that they didn't need any score for the end credits, and so I didn't prepare any piece for the final part. The way that the music ends now, my music editor Patty Karlin had to really struggle to find that final chord. She had to do a lot of clever mixing in order for the music to end there. But it still ends very abruptly because it's not a true ending. Had I thought that there was going to be any score there, I would have made a proper ending, at least a "ta-dah" and now you can go home. But there isn't anything like that, and next time I guess I should just do it, because they'll use it eventually.

We're all workers in the trenches, so you just have to do as well as you possibly can with the music, since it doesn't belong to you and the placement isn't up to you. It depends on project-to-project whether you're consulted [on the music] or not. I can't say that this was a horrible experience here, but it wasn't my favorite way of ending the movie. There were so many people involved in the production of the score, in terms of where the songs and score were going to go, how many songs were going to be used, all of that stuff, that you can't really say "this person is responsible for that." It's just sort of the way that it ended up.

The truth is -- if the movie had a zillion bucks box-office, nobody would care. It doesn't really matter. If the film had done ten times the business it did, all of us would be happy with the songs. If the album had been very successful, we wouldn't even be having this conversation. I really have no feelings of sour grapes, because if I had dubbed every picture I've done, every  picture I've done would be different. But it's not my choice, and we work together and do the best we can, thinking it's the best thing for the picture at the time, given whatever the circumstances.

AD: I know you've been asked this a number of times before, but are there any chances of seeing some of your earlier works get released on CD in the near future?

BB: We're trying to get YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES out. I've never been entirely clear as to what the problem is with that. It took a long time to get SILVERADO out on CD. Once in a while I'll try to push to get YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES out, and I know Doug would really like it to release that on Intrada. There are other scores, like THE NARROW MARGIN and THE BLUE AND THE GREY, but it's just a matter of expense. It's a matter of expense to do these things, and then it's a matter of who's going to buy them. Will anybody remember THE NARROW MARGIN and THE BLUE AND THE GREY? Will people buy them just on the strength of my name? Who knows? So we talk about releasing my scores all the time, but whether it will ever get done or not is a question.

AD: I recall your score from the 1984 mini-series THE FIRST OLYMPICS mini-series as being particularly excellent....

BB: Oh yeah. That really is a good score. I would love to have that out on CD, but people would be say "what is that?" It isn't like people would flock to the stores and say, "they finally have THE FIRST OLYMPICS on CD. That's great!" These things just don't  sell huge copies, and for that reason, a lot companies opt to put out synth scores or home-studio scores because they're just not expensive. When I did the Mike Myers film SO I MARRIED AN AXE MURDERER, that album was entirely songs. There was never any intention of putting an [orchestral] cue on it. I asked Doug Fake at Intrada about if there was any chance of doing [an orchestral album], and he said that "I'm always interested in doing this, but the reality is that there's a song score out. That's where all the sales and attention is going to go, and nobody will pay any attention to the score." So he basically passed on it, and I don't blame him for doing that. But there's a lot of scores that don't get heard because the marketing is more important.

Even on the MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET album, there's one cut on the album by Kenny  G. Now, Kenny G [had] the big Christmas album, and one of those cuts is on our  album, but our album is not  the big album. So you can see that a lot of this stuff isn't music-driven, but artist-driven, or name-driven. It's not always the music.

AD: Is there any one score you've done in the past that you have a particular fondness for, that you would especially like to see get a CD release?

BB: I'd like to see THE PRESIDIO get released. That one would be real hard to re-record because of all the synth stuff, but if we could just buy the tracks from that, that'll do just as well. THE NARROW MARGIN certainly had its moments.  But I really like THE PRESIDIO, and I think there's a lot of stuff in it that people wouldn't necessarily associate as being mine. There are others, like the score to SQUARE DANCE [a 1987 drama with Winona Ryder and Jason Robards], that had some really pretty music and a nice little song in it as well. It's a small score, with only seven or eight musicians involved. So, yeah, there are a few scores, but I don't expect to see them out. I guess THE PRESIDIO would be the one that I'd really like to see released.

NEXT WEEK: The first reviews of 2005! Until then, Happy New Year everyone!