Interview with Hans Zimmer

“You know, I keep coming back to the same filmmakers who tell very different stories.”

When speaking with Hans Zimmer, arguably the most prolific and respected composer working in Hollywood, what is immediately apparent is his complete lack of arrogance. He is an open book for whomever is interested enough to inquire and his outlook on his successes are more akin to a mid-level insurance broker than an Academy Award-winning composer. “Look, at its most basic level, I’m a guy who was born in Frankfurt [Germany] who had dreams, you know, about becoming a musician. Everybody was telling me, ‘No way’ and here I am in Hollywood doing all these big movies. And I’m here basically trying to say, it’s possible.”

Though he tries to downplay his multitudinous talents, Zimmer has been as integral to filmmaking in the latter part of the 20th Century and the first part of the 21st Century as steadicams and viral marketing. His music can be heard in films as diverse as Nine Months, Gladiator, and The Lion King, winning an Oscar for the latter film. His work has been nominated six other times, most recently for the 2009 Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey, Jr. collaboration Sherlock Holmes.

Zimmer’s work is practically ubiquitous in Hollywood because of the wide variety of films he chooses to score. “It’s working with the filmmaker,” says Zimmer when asked what aspect is most important when deciding which project he will do next. “You know, I keep coming back to the same filmmakers who tell very different stories.” This couldn’t be a more accurate description of his career. Inception marks Zimmer’s third collaboration with director Christopher Nolan after having scored Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. However, Zimmer is also close friends with director James L. Brooks and has written the music for his seriocomic films As Good As It Gets and Spanglish, both of which have a much lighter and less dramatic sound than Nolan’s films.

So why work with Nolan again? What has drawn Zimmer back for Round Three, the first of which is not based on the Batman mythology? “I was very passionate about Inception. [Working with Christopher Nolan] is like working in the old days, like a family business. Chris knocks these movies out in his garage.” This sounds like a bit of a stretch. “I’m not exaggerating,” Zimmer continues, “The cutting room is in the garage, the music editor is in the pool house.” Though Zimmer is speaking via phone from his studio in L.A. which is, in his words, “Okay, a bit over-the-top,” the equipment he uses to record and arrange his music is not some personal gift from Steve Jobs. “These are computers you can buy down the road at any computer shop,” he says, again reinforcing the feeling that he views himself less as a guy with the best toys and more of a musician lucky enough to have any toys at all.

Another benefit of working with Nolan is the good relationship the two have developed. “I love working with writer-directors. You get their script and you get their vision. That’s really important.” Nolan is known for having clear and distinct style in his work but doesn’t require others working on the film to bend to his every whim. “He gives me complete carte blanche. He gives me complete freedom to do whatever I want to do. So much so that on this film…I had to write the score independently on a parallel track so that [his vision] wouldn’t curtail my imagination or put any borders around it.”

Listening to the score of Inception, it’s clear that Nolan made the right choice. Zimmer’s music doesn’t just accompany the action of the film, it defines it with a score that is uniquely beautiful and moving. The music is a character unto itself which helps create the world of Nolan’s mind-bending and brilliant foray into people’s dreams and subconscious.

Zimmer is the first to admit that Inception has gotten its fair share of hype from the notion that the film is perhaps too intelligent for mass audiences. “People keep bantering around that word that it’s an intelligent movie. Yes, it’s an intelligent movie. And wouldn’t it be nice if it could open doors to make movies in the way we’ve been making this movie which is in complete privacy.” Inception, along with Zimmer’s magnificent score, is sure to please audiences, so if seclusion is what filmmakers need to create such outstanding work they are more than welcome to all the privacy they need. | Matthew F. Newlin

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