Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer has composed the music for over 70 feature films. He is probably best known for his scores for
Gladiator and The Lion King (for which he won an Oscar). In addition to his composing work, Zimmer heads DreamWorks' film music division. We caught up with him as The Ring was released to buy on DVD and video...

Nick Smithson: How did you get involved with writing the score for The Ring?

Hans Zimmer: I went to see director Gore Verbinski about something completely different, I was not going to do this movie, I was going to take a year off. And Gore started to show me some images and I started to get some ideas. I had just done a children's movie and I felt I needed to cross over to my darker side again because I was too cheerful [laughs]. Life must be too good. I go between these different styles a lot.

I'm German and collect German expressionism, and I thought the images Gore had shot were very much in a style of film making that doesn't exist anymore. The score was pretty much written in that meeting.

I wish I could tell you how difficult it was but it wasn't [laughs]. Plus there is something really attractive about working on a very small contained movie as opposed to "the Hollywood blockbuster". It felt very much like working on a European movie. There are a lot of silences in this movie, so we were talking about silences opposed to the next car chase. None of the fast action events have music. So it's very much back to where I come from.

NS: Is the horror genre more challenging than working on an children's animated movie like Spirit?

HZ: In Spirit I would have been happy if we had had a few more words of dialogue in it. But the pressure is enormous because I have children. If I disappoint my children I can't go home, that's real pressure! With this, I was nervous before the screening because I was sure I was going to get fired, thinking that the movie would be worse with my music in it.

The screening went well, and everybody wondered why was I behaving like that. It's because each one of them is an experiment. You try to reinvent it in a way. What I like about this genre, horror movies, sound-wise some of the best ones are The Exorcist, The Shining, and Psycho, so for composers, horror movies have always been an area where you can go and reinvent something. I don't think I reinvented a lot in this, I just had a game.

NS: Where you inspired much by the original Japanese version of The Ring?

HZ: Not on purpose. I felt that if we were to do a remake, we should forget that and try to create something new. This story is very much an urban myth-like story, so we just tried to embrace it as new, and not to try to be inspired or rip off the Japanese.

NS: What is the best instrument to suggest fear?

HZ: God, I don't know. This score's only dark instruments are cellos. I was trying to get them to play higher all of the time. So the fear came from the musicians being uncomfortable playing their instrument in a way they're not used to - where it becomes dangerous, they make mistakes easily up there. That was my way of putting fear into it, having the musicians be actors.

NS: Was the horror genre new to you?

HZ: Many years ago, just after World Apart I did my break through movie, a small movie called Paperhouse which was written by a child psychologist who had a little girl who had dreams. It happened in a very similar place to this. So I have been in this territory. But I always think that if someone gives me a chance to revisit a subject, I can perhaps do it a little bit better.

NS: When you look back at your old work have you been known to cringe?

HZ: Absolutely. Some things I find, surprisingly, stand the test of time. But a lot of it is dreadful. That's why you carry on working, because you try to get better. You're either born with good taste, or you're not, so you instantly feel as if your work is good or bad. It's not like somebody had to tell you that 'less is more'.

I know one musician who shall remain nameless, who was in a very successful band and he just doesn't do music anymore, because he was born with the curse of good taste; he edits everything and nothing gets finished because he knows it's no good or not good enough. But what I do is play music, and the emphasis is on the word 'play'. It's supposed to be fun. I'm not curing cancer here.

NS: Are you a perfectionist?

HZ: No, I'm an absolutist, which is one step worse than a perfectionist. That means 'it's never good enough' and it's only when Gore comes in my room and tells me that we are releasing this movie without music if I don't finish now, that I finish. That's why I need deadlines.

NS: Do you believe in any urban legends?

HZ: I'm very sceptical of most things I hear or read. But I think myths are very powerful, and it's more about if I believe in fairy tales, which this really is. They are wonderful things that are beyond explanation in this film. I don't even care if it's scary or not, I just think there is good imagination in this work here.

NS: Do you think that any of your children will follow in your footsteps?

HZ: I hope not. I hope they all get real jobs. They can all go and join a band once they've got their medical or law degrees!

This is a dicey job. I was very, very lucky. There were a few years when it was financially really crap, but I didn't get another job because if you are a musician, or if you are me, you need to play music, otherwise you will suffocate. So if you're that obsessive, you play it even when the guys are repossessing your furniture and your landlord is kicking you out. I don't wish that on my kids.

NS: What kind of mood were you in whilst working on The Ring?

HZ: Mysterious and moody, but I knew that I had to keep it in check because during Gladiator, which was a long process, the first time my wife saw it was around the premiere. She was sitting next to me, and she suddenly started to hit me really hard. I asked her, "What was that for?" She said, "Now I know why you have been such a bastard for the last few months!".

But I didn't know. We were all like badly behaved boys on that movie. We were all in our gladiator outfits, stomping around and being bad. I do method composing I suppose. So with this film I'd come from my studio, put on a smile and act myself at home. That Gladiator thing actually woke me up.

NS: What's your next project?

HZ: Ridley Scott's The Matchstick Men. I'm just starting that. It's a great movie. If we can pull it off, nobody will think that this is Ridley Scott or Hans Zimmer. I think they'll be surprised. It's more of a comedy than a drama. There's something wonderful that happens when Europeans come to America and look at America, because in a funny way we aren't cynical about it. We can see wonderful things in the valley. I think it's going to be a bit of a love story to Los Angeles.

NS: Thank you for your time.

With thanks to Jason Young at New Media Maze

The Ring is available to buy from DreamWorks Home Entertainment from 01 September 2003 RRP £19.99 (DVD) and RRP £14.99 (Video)

Buy the DVD for £13.99 by clicking here
Buy the Video for £11.99 by clicking here

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