Hans Zimmer on Ghostwriters, Music Department Credits, and Studio Budgets

I like digging into the vi-control forums to study what people have to say about their experience in our industry. It's a place where people in the music community can ask and answer questions about the various ways our industry works (or doesn't work). Sometimes, there are heaps of gold to be found, like in this reply by Hans Zimmer.

Here's Zimmer sharing insights (in 2013) on how studio credits work:

Giving someone a credit on a big movie is always a huge negotiation with the studio. Basically, the studios are trying to keep the end crawl as short as possible, because it actually costs them money in film stock, prints, etc. There is a really awkward 3/4 bar in an endtitle piece in a Disney movie I did, because they had an absolute rule about length of end credits. That extra beat just had to go :) There was a mathematical formula about how much they where going to safe a year by keeping their end-crawl on all their movies a certain length. We managed to change that, but it took years...

I try, when ever possible, to give everyone a credit. I try to be fair, but sometimes it's just not possible. The "additional composer" credit inevitably means that someone in some other department needs to give up their credit.

The legal departments are very strict about the type of credit one can get. For example, "producer" means something quite different in the record business then in the film business. ...And yes, I was reminded by an executive once that it's called "show-business", not "show-friends". You are stuck with things like "Music Supervisor". John Williams once said to me that the words "music" and "supervision" should never be uttered in the same sentence. Of course he's right, but that doesn't mean that there aren't a whole bunch of very creative individuals contributing to the score as "music supervisors"...

I never hide my collaborators. But as the composer, I'm the main architect. That means being responsible for the intitial idea, the style, themes, orchestration and instrumentation. The Big Idea. But in a two hour-plus score, especially the way I work, you need a bit of help. Writing with pencil and paper is far more efficent and fast than programming every note and doing complete mock-ups. But a pencil and paper score means that you can never have a truly informed conversation with the director until you get to the orchestra session, and I don't like making changes with a whole orchestra sitting there, twiddling their thumbs. The orchestra sessions for me are about giving the score energy through performance, and you can't do that if the composer and director are arguing about the notes or orchestration. Plus, I like the hybrid sound. Call me crazy...

And the easiest - and fairest way in my oppinion - is to have everybody present at all the meetings with the director. No ghosts. Ghosts are devoid of souls, egos and oppinons. Ghosts have no emotional investments in their work. But at the end of the day, I have the final responsibility, I take the blame if the score doesn't work out. Financially and creatively. And with 200 mill budgets and impossible deadlines, that's quite a weight on anyone's shoulder, and it takes a while to learn how to think freely and creatively out of the box under that sort of pressure.

I've been a ghost myself (on really big movies). Sometimes, you just have to chip in for no credit, money or royalties. And it's actually quite liberating to not have the big credit and all the exposure to critisism that comes with it. (cue-sheet is far to big, complicated and fraught with pitfalls a subject for my little post right now, so I'm ignoring that part of the discussion on purpose..)

I think there is a certain amount of learning that has to happen before you can solve a big movie's problems - which is what writing a good score ultimately is all about. It's not writing a symphony or concert music. Apples and oranges. By having all the programmers, arrangers, assistants, additional composers - whatever you want to call the team - in the room with the director, the editor and the music editor, they get to be part of the process. They contribute, but - like everyone else there at that moment - they get to learn and explore. Ultimately, that time, that apprenticeship in filmmaking - that hanging out with some of the great directors without the distraction and pressure of carrying the can - is going to be as valuable to advance their craft and their career as a credit.

I could go on, but then i wouldn't get any music written :) But, yes, it's a big, complicated subject.

Oh, one more thought...My scores - for better or worse - always sound like "Zimmer" scores, no matter who else works with me. But I really try to be fair and give credit where credit is due...and, like everything to do with this subject, I've just scratched the surface.

...Lastly, to misquote the great Hunter S. Thompson:

"The movie business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."