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A Fireside Chat with Terence Blanchard

AAJ Staff By

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...I generally draw a lot of motivation from the performances of the actors... I (also) lived in New York for fifteen years and the whole idea of trying to create a score that would represent post-9-11 New York was very intriguing to me too.
The biggest faux pas of this year's Golden Globes and their governing body, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (of which I am not a member, yet oddly foreign), was giving that hump Richard Gere an award for anything, much less prancing around in a Miramax hyped Chicago. A close second was not giving the "Best Original Score - Motion Picture" award to Terence Blanchard for his haunting 25th Hour score. Elliot Goldenthal won the award for Frida, yet another Miramax film (coincidence). Blanchard is no wet behind the ears film composer. His resume includes Malcolm X, Gia, Love and Basketball, Next Friday, Glitter (a film we are all sorry for), Original Sin, and Barbershop. (In my best Stuart Scott impression) That's money kid. Oh, and did I fail to mention that Blanchard has a day gig as well. He is one of the wickedest trumpeters in jazz, with a group that is too much live. Academy voters pay attention to my conversation with composer Terence Blanchard, unedited and in his own words.

FRED JUNG: Having already established yourself as a jazz composer, what prompted you to venture into scoring films?

TERENCE BLANCHARD: It was by accident. Spike (Lee) heard me playing something on the piano when we were doing a session for Mo' Better Blues and he asked if he could use that. I said, "Sure." Then he asked me to write an orchestral arrangement for him. That is how it basically started. That is how the whole thing started. After that, he heard the arrangement and he said that I had a future in this and I said, "Thank you," and thought that was it, but then he called me to do Jungle Fever.

FJ: What are the nuances that are involved in composing music for film?

TB: The thing about writing music for film is that basically, you have to put your ego aside and really do what is best to help the director tell a story. You have to realize that sometimes dialogue is important because it carries a lot of information that is crucial to the story. You are basically helping somebody else tell their story, not your own. When you are writing music for your own situation, it is basically about your life experiences, your own personal growth. The basic difference is in the intent of the music.

FJ: You compose music based upon what essentially is a rough draft of the film. What challenges, if any, does that present?

TB: Most of the movies that I have been doing so far, it doesn't present that much of a challenge. It only becomes a problem, not even a problem, I think sometimes when you are working on action films, you may get a film that may have a lot of action, but you don't know exactly what is going to take place. For example, you don't know if that exploding car is going to be more important right there or whether the music needs to help that. Sometimes that is interesting, but other than that, most of the films that I work on do not present a big problem. Even in action films, you get used to it.

FJ: How many films have you scored?

TB: A total of thirty by now.

FJ: How many of them were Spike Lee Joints?

TB: Boy, I think it is about twelve.

FJ: 25th Hour is a story about redemption and regret, stories not easily told. How did you approach composing the music for the film?

TB: The first thing, I generally draw a lot of motivation from the performances of the actors. I think everybody did a great job in the film and the look of the film is amazing and I think Spike did a great job putting it together as well. So that is where the motivation comes from. You just have to realize that there has been a lot of work, a lot of good work put into it and you are the last link in it. You don't want to be the weakest link. The other thing too is that I lived in New York for fifteen years and the whole idea of trying to create a score that would represent post-9-11 New York was very intriguing to me too. So I tried to make sure that there were elements in the score that New Yorkers could definitely realize and who weren't familiar with New York, could come to kind of get a sense of. For example, the bagpipes and Irish whistles were things that I generally relate to a policeman's funeral, which is a sad occasion, but what I thought could be used to great effect in the film. And then I thought it would be very appropriate to represent Al-Qaeda because their story is very relevant to our story now and so I thought of bringing in the Arabic vocalist and Arabic percussion.

FJ: Did you catch the Super Bowl?

TB: Yeah.

FJ: Did you notice they used your 25th Hour theme in the pre-game show?

TB: I heard. I was on my way from the airport, so Spike (Lee) called and said they were using it, but I didn't hear it. I got back just in time to catch the kickoff.

FJ: You were robbed at the Golden Globes.

TB: I was nominated, but I didn't win.

FJ: The Academy ballots have been mailed and nominations are pending. Do you get a vote?

TB: No, I am not a part of the Academy yet.

FJ: Do I need to make a phone call? I bet that twit Stifler from American Pie is a member (5,607 members).


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