For the second year running some of the most renowned names in Film Music have descended on the classical music capital of the world to share their experiences and provide insights into their industry. And let those who would have thought that last year’s line-up of star guests (John Barry and Bruce Broughton no less) would be hard to top, fear not for the “FIMU” team have managed to attract even bigger stars this time round. Three Academy Awards, three Golden Globes as well as four Grammys are things most mortals couldn’t imagine in their wildest dreams. Not so for Howard Shore whose scores to “The Lord of the Rings” epic fantasy trilogy stand at the heart of the Symposium’s attraction. In addition German composer Klaus Badelt, LotR producer Rick Porras and journalist Doug Adams will contribute to the celebrations for an increasingly popular slice of the film and music business.
My decision to register for and attend the Symposium was spontaneous at the very least. As it turned out, it became a post-exam pat on the back. So I took the train from Zurich to Vienna in the hope of seeing some the people who write such wonderful music and maybe grabbing a few autographs as well. Being prepared, I brought along some CDs by those artists, just waiting to be signed.
8:05 am. After a short train and foot journey and firmly clutching my bag containing those all important CDs I stand at Anton-Webern Platz 1, home of the Arts University. Registration is quick and simple: My name is ticked off and I am presented with my copy of the Symposium programme. The hall is quite empty but over the next hour it is filled with a very healthy number of students, composers and enthusiasts like me.
9:00 am. The excitement in the room is audible. Klaus Badelt has just poked his nose around the door and after a quick introduction by organisers Claudia Walkensteiner-Preschl, Dr. Gerold Gruber and Dr. Sandra Tomek he takes to the stage to rapturous applause. Despite having composed through the night and having a piano nearby to deal with any musical inklings that might pop up throughout the day he is animated and in good spirits. After some initial mic problems he begins to explain what exactly makes his composing process as well as composer/director relationships tick. Jokes and anecdotes abound about “Pirates of the Caribbean” but more importantly about Vietnam film “Rescue Dawn” and director Werner Herzog. He plays its opening scene and main titles, once without any musical soundtrack, once with. What a difference! The pictures may tell us a thousand words but without music a whole other level of emotional connection is lost on the audience. “The opening sequence,” he says “I always write towards the end of the process because only then do I know what I really want to say about the project.” In this case the title music foreshadows the main character. Very interestingly he shows a similar example where music was written and then removed by the composer, greatly adding to the scene’s power. Finally, just to please us fans, he plays the closing moments from “Pirates”, Johnny Depp showing once again why he was perfect for Jack Sparrow! It’s an hour that goes by way too quickly and to more applause Klaus makes way for Rick Porras who is already waiting in the wings.
10:00 am. For the rest of you, Rick Porras was a long-time associate of Bob Zemeckis before spending seven years of his life in New Zealand as Co-producer on “Lord of the Rings” – in fact he and his family liked it so much they decided to relocate permanently. Once the applause dies down Rick apologises for his Californian accent before illustrating several aspects of a film’s musical identity from a production point of view. Like Badelt he relies on audio-visual examples. He talks about Alan Silvestri’s brilliant integration of score with Zemeckis’ choice of source cues to give older audience members feelings of nostalgia for a particular time of their lives. A similar theme is the focus of the opening moments of “Contact”, Zemeckis taking the idea of radio waves in space as a platform to launch a medley of classic songs as we track out through the solar system. Moving on, he turns to LotR. Thus we are allowed to see part of the Moria and Khazad-Dum sequence from “Fellowship of the Ring” in story-board and pre-viz form next to the finished product. The application of this ‘animatic’ allowed for incredible savings in both time and money for a production that was, let’s face it, bigger than anything that had ever been undertaken. It’s so incredibly fascinating that this hour too passes without anyone noticing.
11:00 am. For the duration of a 15 minute break, some of us take advantage of Rick Porras being around for an early, private autographing session. Rick is very open and friendly, kindly answering all our requests and questions. He even asks a girl to send him a copy of the thesis she wrote on the music of LotR. Only on the reasons for Howard Shore’s score for “King Kong” being rejected he won’t elaborate. He did mention “Troy” before in relation to rejected scores but he is well aware of how touchy a subject it is for the studios. Still, one autograph down, three to go and I’m certainly not complaining!
11:10 am. The time has finally come to welcome Howard Shore and Doug Adams. Their time on the stage is conducted in an interview-style dialogue. Howard looks tired (jet-lagged more precisely) but he answers every question with great depth in his usual comfortably slow manner. It’s an atmosphere similar to a John Willams interview – one really gets the feel not only that one is in the presence of a true maestro but that here is one of that rare breed of traditional composers who need no fancy computers but only pencil and paper to write truly awesome music. Doug Adams goes along well with this, his questions are thought through and allow Shore to develop an answer and really say something worth while. A hiccup on the technological side of things means we can’t sample the Shire theme so an audience member whistles it instead. I also notice that Klaus Badelt has popped back in to listen. After some well-phrased and some not-so-well-phrased audience questions for Howard, it is up to Doug Adams to present us with the book he has spent several years working on. Unfortunately we won’t be able to buy it just yet but to compensate they give us order slips. It’s an expensive treat but a treat it will be: Beautifully bound and illustrated it looks fantastic and if Adams’ linear notes on the “Complete Recordings” soundtracks are anything to go by, the writing and thematic analysis will be of the highest order.
12:00 pm. The first part of the symposium is already over except for the autograph session. We all wait patiently in line with our CD inserts at the ready and hoping for a quick browse of the sample books available. It’s a long wait until I get to the front of the queue but am at least able to begin a lively discussion with a fellow fan on, well, film music. Someone (not me) who forgot to bring something signable decides to get his MacBook Pro signed instead. Its value probably trebled. Finally it’s my turn: Doug Adams, Howard Shore, avoid Rick Porras, Klaus Badelt. In that order. Badelt and Porras are both very chatty, Klaus is glad I liked his newest score “The Extra Man”. Howard Shore on the other hand is polite if a little distant. One gets the feeling he doesn’t particularly like PR exercises like this. Not that it matters, that signature (with golden marker and all…) looks fantastic. He must have practised that S. The last people in line are rushed through as the celebrities must rush away to a press conference for the gala concert on the 16th.
12:45 pm. At this point I leave the Symposium. Several workshops take place in the afternoon as well as a presentation of Austrian Film Music. Unfortunately I only have two days in Vienna and I want to see the city as well but I am really very glad I came.
In summation I can only say I hope a tradition has been started here and that the Symposium will become an annual event for many years to come. It’s a really great way to learn about film music and the processes involved. But it’s also great fun to meet with some of the people who write the great music I listen to. So, perhaps most importantly, it’s an event which takes place this side of the Atlantic, creating an industry event, something for European fans to enjoy, something that has really been lacking up to now. I wish could come back next year.