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