Hans Zimmer

January 14, 2014

I am Hans Zimmer, back on reddit once more. Ask me anything!

Hello reddit! Thank you again for the wonderful experience on my previous AMA last year. I'm back once again to take your questions. Since we last spoke, I have been working on the scores for RUSH, The Lone Ranger, 12 Years A Slave, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. It's been busy!

I have also been supporting Not On Our Watch, an incredible organization that's dedicated to putting an end to mass atrocities around the world, and generates lifesaving humanitarian assistance and protection. I am doing a campaign with them where I am offering anyone who donates the chance to fly to LA with a friend and be my guest at an exclusive scoring session of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, where you will get to hear the score and see clips from the film before anyone else, and you'll also get a tour of my studio. Here is the link!

Ask me anything!

Proof: https://twitter.com/RealHansZimmer/status/423228471104372736

UPDATE: Thanks for the questions everyone - I've got to get back to a scoring session. I really enjoyed it and I look forward to the next one.

What score do you consider your best?

Haven't written it yet. They all could do with a little improvement. That's why I don't sleep at night.

What's your favourite piece of music and why?

Beethoven's 5th, because any kid could have come up with the first 3 notes, but it takes genius and inventiveness to do what he did with them. I'm always astonished by how brilliant something can become from something so simple.

Are any of your scores consciously influenced by Beethoven's 5th? If so, which ones?

None of them are influenced by the music itself, but I had an amazing day a few years back, where I went to Beethoven's house in Bonn, and we were looking at his work, and it was such a good reminder about work ethic and inventiveness. I'm more interested in developing my own style, but I take the work very seriously, as he did. But I'll never be as good as that.

Of all the films you've worked on, which was the most challenging?

They're are equally challenging because the blank page is the blank page, and it just seems to get harder, not easier.

What would you say is the most inspiring thing someone has ever told you?

Oh god good question. "Don't ever take no for an answer." Nic Roeg told me that at the beginning of my career.

Hans, you've worked on so many things, but I'm wondering: is it "easier" to score completely new things (like Inception) or for established franchises/characters like Spidey, Batman, Superman and, dare I say it, perhaps the Justice League one day?

For me it's much harder to follow in the footsteps of preexisting great composers like John Williams and Danny Elfman. It's much nicer to start with a clean slate.

What was the hardest movie to write a score for?

Writing scores is a bit like surgery, you never remember the pain. I keep talking about how much fun I had on inception, and the rest of my team reminds me that I nearly killed myself. They seem to get harder and harder.

Who's your favourite character from DC universe?

It is, actually, Batman. Because he's the darkest.

And who is your favorite villain?

Hannibal Lector because he's an excellent chef and knows his Dante.

Bach, Mozart, Brahms, or Beethoven?

Any composer other than Bruckner will do. As Stravinsky said, "you can either like music of Bruckner."

Hi Hans! What is your favorite snack to eat while watching movies?

Hazelnut gelato. I can be very specific about this!

What music do you listen to the most in your free time? Are you a fan of metal at all?

I don't have any free time, but I used to know all of the guys in Motorhead and would go and get my ears ripped off going to rehearsals and leave with bleeding eyeballs and no enamel left on my teeth. I loved it.

How would you say your approach to the new Spiderman will differ from the previous James Horner's installment?

Completely and utterly different. I have a wonderful band including Johnny Marr, Pharrell Williams, Mike Einziger, Ann Marie Calhoun, Arturo Sandoval, it goes on.

Are there any movies that you wanted to work on the Scores for but never got the chance to? If so, which ones?

No. If I was excited about them, I was just as excited to see them when they are finished. One of the problems about working on a movie is, is that you never get to experience it the way the audience experience it. And I'm a fan of movies!

What experience with drugs do you have?

Good experiences! My brain is still functioning.

What's the most embarrassing album in your personal collection?

All the Abba albums that I have, and I have them all.

What are your 5 favourite movie soundtracks of all time?

Once Upon a Time in America, Avalon, Midnight Express, Close Encounters, and Hannah.

What film score in the past decade has stood out to you the most and why?

There Will Be Blood, cause it's recklessly, crazily beautiful.

What is the best possible advice you can give to an aspiring film composer like myself?

I go back to "Don't take no for an answer." And write every day. Really learn about storytelling. This isn't concert music, this is storytelling.

Justin Bieber or One Direction?

Never heard of them.

What is the most unconventional noise you've utilized in one of your scores?

Destroying a piano in an underground car park for Sherlock Holmes with a big sledgehammer.

Do you ever look at a scene in a film and tell the director that "I think this scene works better without music"

All the time. Music is as much about silence as it is about notes, and storytelling is as much about letting a scene breathe as it is about cluttering it up with notes.

How is it working with Lisa Gerrard and the process of brainstorming when a singer is involved in a soundtrack?

Lisa and I just sit down and jam. We don't really talk. We don't have to talk. It just works by telepathy with her. One leads the other follows, you know its the magic of music. It's a world less conversation. You just have to be in the same room and it happens.

Hi there Hans, big fan of your music! Could you please explain how the 12 Years a Slave music came to you? It's very beautiful. Just wondering about your frame of mind at the time when you were inspired to make the music.

Sean Bobbit and Steve McQueen saying things like "It was like dancing with ghosts being on the plantations in Louisiana." Ultimately he wanted me to write a score about love, because for him the whole movie was about love and loving one another.

What's your favourite beverage and why?

Terrible confession...sometimes I think the greatest American invention is Coca-Cola. But just so you know, it's better everywhere else in the world than it is in the US. "Mexican Coke" is way better. It's got real sugar in it.

Is there a certain Director/Producer you have yet to work with but would love the chance to collaborate with?

There are always new directors coming up that are exciting. Working with Steve McQueen was exciting because, to me, seeing Hunger, I felt there was a new voice in the world of cinema, and you want to work with the ones that have a voice and a point of view.

Hello Mr. Zimmer, I am a huge fan of your work. What soundtrack are you most proud of?

I don't know, it's still to be written. There are a few that I nearly like: Inception, Hannibal (because Ridley let me write an absurdist comedy) Thin Red Line, and The Dark Knight (because I think we changed the way people perceive film music.)

What is your favorite solo instrument?

The cello. It's got the most soul for me. Plus I keep writing for it.

Hey there, Mr Zimmer! Welcome to Reddit! I was just wondering, what would you describe as your perfect Sunday?

My perfect Sunday includes sitting in the studio, no phones ringing, writing music.

I use Reason and Cubase to make music, what is a hint you can give me to make orchestral sounds, especially strings sound more life-like?

This is a subject you can go on for seven days. If I could sum up, I would say, the first thing is learn how to listen to real orchestras and try to translate that into your programming. I'll also say, I've been doing it 30 years and am still trying to get better at it.

What is your favourite thing about working on a new project?

The people: the musicians, the director... the adventure.

Hi Hans. Do you ever feel like you don't have enough motivation? If so, what do you do in times like that? I really appreciate that you take the time to do this. Thank you. - Zoe

Think of the deadline. As Ridley Scott once said to me, "Fear is a great motivator."

Re: Daft Punk's OST for Tron Legacy:

You were thanked in the record's liner notes. A lot of people have noted your influence on its sound, and if I'm not wrong it was partly recorded or mixed at your studio. Were you personally much involved in the creation of the record?

I tried to stay as far away from them as possible and give them as much room as I could. I think they just thanked me because I didn't interfere. In fact I didn't hear a note until the movie came out.

How did you get started with music? Did you play before you composed? Compose before you played!?

I started like most musicians, when I was 5-years-old, and it was just interesting making noises and torturing a piano and it just became a great refuge and a great distraction and a great source of entertainment to me.

Just seen all those skulls in your studio. Are they real? What do they mean for you?

Each one signifies a discarded score.

When releasing a soundtrack to the public, how do you feel about mixing the cues into suites versus releasing them as they were cut in the film?

Important question...I always try to have the music stand on its own two feet separate from the movie. So sometimes I try to change the order to create suites that flow. But my main dilemma with soundtracks is that they are in stereo while everything we do is composed in surround, so by doing stereo you take away half of my world. So we create an app called z+ that is free download so allows you to listen to music in surround. Here it is if you want to use: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/z+-music/id656392290?mt=8

Hi Mr. Zimmer! If you could pick one composer to do the soundtrack for your life, who would it be and why?

Bonus question: What is your single favorite piece (if possible) of cinematic music that you did not compose?

Pharrell Williams. He knows me so well. And whenever I'm being a dark German he says the word happy to me.

Mr. Zimmer, how did you go to the point where you are in your career today? I am really interested in your profession and I hope I could do what you do one day.

Luck and the support of all the musicians and directors I've ever worked with. But mainly luck.

What interests do you have outside of music?

Very little. Music isn't like work, it's my love. It's my life. It's my hobby. I read a lot, but really I wake up thinking about music and last thing at night before I go to sleep I think about music and when I have a really tough deadline I start dreaming about music.

What's your favorite cigarette brand? I like Marlboro.

Ahhh so do I. I'm smoking one right now. But you should quit while you can.

Hello Mr Zimmer. Thanks for doing this AMA! Do you feel that there's a distinct lack of female composers in film? If so, what do you think of this?

I think there is a disgustingly terrible lack of female composers in films. I don't know why it is, and I wish the balance was addressed. I used to work with Shirley Walker, and at one point I fired her from being my orchestrator so she would have to compose. I knew she wouldn't have the courage to go compose as long as she could make a living as my orchestrator.

What's the strangest place or moment that a great musical idea has come to you?

I dreamt what ended up being part of the Dark Knight Rises score. I very rarely dream music or remember it and it was very experimental so I went to Warner Brothers and asked them if I had earned the right yet to get a really really big orchestra to just try an experiment for two days, and if it all went horribly wrong, that they weren’t going to turn around and tell me I blew the whole budget on nonsense, but it actually turned out alright, and was a completely different way of working with the orchestra. It was a 25 minute piece called the Bane Suite.

I just want to say your studio is pretty awesome. Maybe I can visit there?

I’m offering you the chance to do just that. We are raising money for Not On Our Watch, which is a great charity that help victims of war crimes. And when you contribute to them, you earn the chance to fly out to LA and sit with me as I score Amazing Spider-man 2 and tour my studio. Here’s the link if you’re interested. http://www.omaze.com/experiences/amazingspider-man-2

Where was the weirdest place somebody recognized you

At LAX, sitting opposite, there was a guy I had gone to kindergarten with.

I would do ANYTHING if you were wish me luck on my date tonight!

Or any advice on how to impress the lady! I already told her all about you last weekend on our first date when we talked about music!

Well, good luck! I'd play her "You're So Cool" from True Romance. And if you can learn how to play an instrument that helps. As a teenager, while all the other kids at school we're trying to chat the girls, I just started playing the piano...

Did Vangelis influence Limbo in Inception's score? 5 note descent is poetry and Mal's world is hauntingly serene.

What is your favorite instrument besides the Piano?

Vangelis didn't influence anything in that score. I love his music but I don't think he was part of that. But we both love synthesizers. The computer is a great musical instrument.

Hi Hans! If you could be any instrument; what would you be? and why?

The kazoo of course! No, if there’s one instrument I suppose it would be the mock modular system. We are about the same age, we make weird noises, we’re cranky, we’re unpredictable, and if you turn the electricity off it’s all over.

Hello, sir!

On the upcoming Spider-Man score, how did you approach the music to differentiate it from what you´ve done for The Dark Knight-movies and Man of Steel? And will you reference James Horner´s theme from the first movie in any way?

Thanks a lot!

I try to approach it from the character's point of view. The character is a lot younger than any of those other superheroes and he's not as dark. I was thinking, how does a college graduate deal with their emotion? And I thought it wouldn't be Wagnarian Hans and slushy strings, but more of a post-rock approach.

hey hans! ich hoffe dir gehts gut :) bist du noch manchmal in deutschland? villeicht sogar in berlin?

I love going back to Germany and especially Berlin, but these days I never seem to get a chance to go.

How did you get your first commision for a soundtrack?

I was an assistant to another composer named Stanley Myers, who taught me everything I know about film. There was a movie he couldn't do, so I ended up doing it. My first big break I owe to Diana Levinson, Barry Levinson's wife who bought him the soundtrack to A World Apart which he listened to while directing Rain Man. So he had to hire an unknown to score a major Hollywood movie.

Hola, Hans! Mexican girl here. Someone told me that you were a tad disappointed that last time you visited people were too respectful and they didn't really ask ANYTHING. So here it goes: What was the single most embarrassing moment of your life? (PS, will donate more than the one dollar I contributed one time to your endeavors. Promise.).

The most embarrassing moment of my professional life was when I was in a script meeting and I hadn't read the script and I kept talking about how the two heroes are going to ride off into the sunset and describing the glorious music in great scene at the end and how beautiful it was going to be. Then the producer said "you haven't read the script have you?" I said "yes I have." He then said "One of the heroes dies."

Who's your archenemy in the business?

I can think of a couple of producers...

Did you like working on music for game Crisis? Was it much different than composing theme for a movie?

For me the difference in scoring a game is that in a movie I know who the main protagonist is. In a game, I don’t know who the protagonist is, because I don’t know you. I’m imagining who you are. Its very difficult to have a point of view if I don’t know your point of view.

How did you get involved with Not On Our Watch?

I got involved with John Prendergast, the founder of Not On Our Watch, with Bonnie Abauanza when she was at Amnesty International. I met John and we just instantly hit it off. I saw an extraordinary man who has just an incredible sense of adventure. Except the difference is that everything he does is for the good of man kind. The work he's doing for the people of South Sudan is incredible. I feel so small and insignificant that I just write music. I will do anything and everything to help John make this world a better place. He is the future.

Hans Zimmer, are you proud of the sacrifices you made in your lifetime? Also what movie soundtrack are you most proud of?

I don't think I've made any sacrifices. I'm a musician. It's an honor and a pleasure to be a musician. At the the end of my life I can say it has been a blast. My hero is the English comedian Tommy Cooper who dropped dead on stage. People thought it was part of the act, and I think that's a good way to go. You can find the clip it on youtube.

Hello Mr Zimmer !

Imagine if you were born 40 years before your real birth, what would have been the movie you would have love to create the soundtrack to ?

Wizard of Oz or Fritz Lang's Metropolis or Ninotchka.

Hello Mr Zimmer! What was the silliest thing that a Director\Producer said during a spotting session?

When I was still working in commercials, I was asked to make something sound more like an avocado. That was when I quit commercials.

What was it like on The Lion King taking the music of Elton John and making it into a more African piece?

At first terrifying because I changed all the chords in his songs, and then wonderful because he loved what I had done. He is an incredibly generous spirit, and man can he sing. But I refused to play the piano in front of him.

What was your inspiration behind the Inception soundtrack?

Chris. The work with Chris is absolutely collaborative. He is as much involved in the music as I am. So Chris is the inspiration.

I've always wondered what your very first step is when composing an original piece, before the first note is sketched. (I have to add that when Simba ascends the throne, the music still to this day gives me goose bumps, HOW did you do it?!)

I always find it’s like an ironic arrival when I even manage to get one note done.

Mr. Zimmer, what an honor to ask you a question.

As someone who studied film music in college your name was brought up quite often. Your scores are iconic.

In your opinion who is the next rising star in film scoring? What movie recently caught your ears? I've seen the image of your in-house studio, what do you feel is the future of analog mastering?

I think the great thing about where we are at this moment in time in film is that the doors are wide open for new inventive people to become film composers and one of the things I'm always excited about is to hear new voices and to hear new ideas and to hear new styles and I actively look for those new rising stars.

If you didn't score movies what do you think you'd be doing today?

Thinking about new technology for music. If I hadn’t become a musician, I would’ve become a scientist.

Dear Hans Zimmer, Short question: What in your opinion will be the future of music?

Thank you @delphinas

A lot of noise. No, I think the future of music is that we are figuring out how to be more immersive. How to have our audience be more immersed in what we do. And the future of music is that everybody is forever trying to get better at it.

What is your favorite chord? How about key signature/mode?

Have you never seen Spinal Tap? D minor, the saddest of all keys. Seriously though, I like D just because I can really get those low notes going.

As someone who is interested in making scores for films, I am curious to know, how did you get into the field? Also, Is it necessary to know how to read and write music or can one go along by ear as a scorer?

I'm the best example of this. I cannot read music. I had two weeks of piano lessons and I have really good ears. The most important part of being a musician is to learn how to listen. Most people forget it’s really about listening to each other. You have to listen into the music.

This interview was transcribed from an "ask me anything" question and answer session with Hans Zimmer conducted on Reddit on 2014-01-14. The Reddit AMA can be found here.