Composer Cody Westheimer tells how he made 70 minutes of music in 14 days
Last April I was fortunate enough to work on «The Seeds of Creation: The Making of Hellboy.» It’s a marathon 180-minute documentary that will be released with the DVD, coming to stores July 27. Being attached to a blockbuster movie of this magnitude, it was difficult not to think about the scope of my project. Since I was left with little or no breathing room, there was little opportunity to second guess myself — this turned out to save me a lot of frustration. This project become one of my more enjoyable gigs in recent memory. The people involved were fun to work with and, more importantly, had a great respect for music and the collaborative process.
I landed this gig through a series of flukes. I met a writer at a party. A director friend of mine needed a writer. On my recommendation, my friend hired my new friend — the writer. My new friend reciprocated by pitching me to the DVD director, Javier Soto, who became my newest friend. Marco Beltrami wrote an amazing score for the film, but at 180 minutes, the documentary needed a lot of additional music. After hearing samples on my website, I met with Javier and hit it off. The rest is history.
I’ve never once been faced with the challenge of writing five minutes of music each day for two weeks straight. Thinking about it now, it didn’t even seem so bad. But 70 minutes of music in 14 days? Fortunately, I didn’t know the minute count while I was working — I just knew I needed to finish each segment as quickly as possible without any compromising!
|Preproduction shot from Hellboy DVD|
At the start of the process, Javier and I agreed that my score should mostly echo Marco’s, but have its own voice on occasion. In a few instances, my score evolved into Marco’s and vice versa. I started with a palette of mostly orchestral sounds and slowly added more electronic, rhythm-based elements. From there, I created my own Hellboy theme. It’s not too far from Marco’s theme. We didn’t want to simply adapt his theme, for a few reasons. One, we weren’t sure about the legal end; and two, we wanted new material to make the 180 minutes seem shorter! In addition to my main theme, I developed a few secondary themes that recur, and then a few more that only come up once or twice.
Due to time and budgetary constraints we were limited to operation in my studio. A guitarist (my friend Jason Gambill) was brought in for a few sessions for the more rock-oriented cues, but for the most part the rest of the score was performed by my two GigaStudios and rack of synths!
The process of writing cues was an interesting one. Since the 180 minutes was divided into about 30 chapters, the production office would spit out data-DVDs to me with three- to seven-minute segments as they locked picture on each one. I would do my best to keep up with this stream. Since they were across town, my FTP site became my new best friend. I’d MP3 my score, receive notes, and then revise. Every few days I would drive into Hollywood to help drop in the full-res cues and pick up the new video.
At times scoring the doc was a lot like scoring a film. I’d catch certain moments musically, etc. But because of the dialog-driven nature of a «making-of doc,» for the most part, I used broader strokes than I normally would — letting phrases and textures evolve more slowly than I’m accustomed to doing. I didn’t use a lot of copy-paste until the tail end of the process. However, I did have to control my ADD habit of changing the feel every 30-40 seconds. My instincts are to push things along musically and dramatically but subtly or dramatically change the feel of the music. This usually worked, but there were instances where I needed to alter how I’d usually write. For example, if the makeup guy was talking about putting Abe Sapien’s mask on for three minutes, I didn’t want to accentuate his dialog by changing course midway. At the same time, if the special effects guy was talking about the Nazi dissolve, I’d absolutely want to accentuate the B-roll of the temp CGI.
Although it was a stressful few weeks, this project was a joy to work on. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer team to be a part of. However, nothing beats the day spa I went to after delivering my final mixes!