Clint Mansell talks to Harry Guerin about his soundtrack for Darren Aronofsky's drug tragedy 'Requiem For A Dream'.
Harry Guerin: You've worked with Darren Aronofsky now on two films: his debut 'Pi', and 'Requiem For A Dream'.
Clint Mansell: My relationship with Darren and Eric, his producer, transcends a working relationship. I met them when I moved to New York and they just had a script and the idea for 'Pi' at the time and they were trying to get the money together to make it. I did a piece of music for the film - just from the script - and they loved it. What they were looking for was just the opening theme and they were going to try and get electronic music for the rest of the film. But they had no money to make the film so that became problematic and every time they lost a piece of music I had to write a piece to replace it. I ended up doing the whole film. When the soundtrack came up for 'Requiem...' Darren just said that he wanted me to do it and I was thrilled.
So did you have as long to familiarize yourself with 'Requiem...'
I read the script a year before they started shooting. Because we're friends I have a lot of time to immerse myself in the ideas of what's going on, that's why 'Requiem...' works so well and 'Pi' worked so well because we spent a lot of time on them. You get the chance to go through ideas and find out what works and what the film needs. Sometimes you might think 'ok, I'm going to do it like this', but when you start seeing the film and you put music to it, things change rapidly and the film starts dictating what it needs. What you originally thought might not be the case.
So how long did it take to write the score for 'Requiem...'?
From the moment I started actually working on it after I first saw an edit of the film, it was probably four months by the time we had it all together and we were happy with. I'm working on other films now and the industry doesn't generally work like that: you come in at the end and you've got six weeks to do a varying amount of music.
Did Darren have clearly defined ideas for the soundtrack of 'Requiem...' or did he leave it up to you?
When we did 'Pi' it was a very contemporary kind of score. The difference with 'Requiem...' was that Darren wanted it to be timeless. I know that's a vague word but he knew he didn't want it to be pigeonholed like 'this is the year 2000'. That was a difficult prospect. When we first started the idea was to use hip-hop and try and get classic hip-hop tracks like KRS-One and Public Enemy. The idea was that were going to try and get those tracks and see if I could remix them into the score. There were many problems involved with that but the biggest was that when we tried it just didn't give the feeling he was after.
Can you give me an example?
There's a scene where Ellen Burstyn is cleaning the apartment and it's all in fast time and then it slows down. We originally had 'She Watches Channel Zero' by Public Enemy there. It was really cool but it didn't really say anything whereas in the movie now that's the point where the main theme shoots from a major key to a minor key and slows down and you can feel that the tablets are kicking in for her and then you feel them wear off. We wanted that experience to come across. The idea with Public Enemy was a good one to start with but like I said, once you start seeing these things, it becomes a different animal and you realize that it's not what the film needs and you have to think again.
You worked with the Kronos Quartet on the film. As someone who admits they have no classical training did you find that in any way intimidating?
I had written the string parts on a keyboard with a string sound. Some string stuff from synths works pretty well but these parts, we knew that someone should really pull more out of them than a syntheiser could. Darren had gone to see the Kronos Quartet play a couple of times and went to see them play when he was editing the film. He pitched them on the idea of playing my music in the film. And they were interested in the concept of it and when they saw the film they were blown away they loved it. They were great - really easy to work with and just fantastic musicians. I'm from a rock 'n' roll background where you just try to do your best really but these guys could not only really play but weren't caught up in the fact that they could really play. They wanted to make the music breathe and live.
Scoring a film seems like a very mysterious art. How do you work on a score?
You've got to get to know the film for a start and that's the important thing about having time. From my point of view, in films there are connections in places where you don't see connections a lot of the time. If you can make connections like that it helps people make connections within the film as well. The story telling comes across better, I know that sounds conceited on my part. But I think if you can do that and do it well, it helps people get the story.
I don't think that sounds conceited.
Darren wants to hit you on every level – you've got the music, the sound design, the visual aspect, the story and the characters. But to get that you've got to really get to know the film. I start by reading the film and I'll talk to the director. I'll try to find out if they wrote the script, what they were thinking of, what started the story what research they did to get the story. Then you've just got to watch the film and hopefully you'll understand it on some other level: what this character is, what that characters does and try an have some sort of empathy with them so that you can come up with the feeling that represents them through music.
You've had a solo album in the pipeline for quite some time, how's that going?
The film stuff has completely taken over at the moment - people really got excited about 'Requiem...'. Now I'm doing this film 'The Hole' right now which is a British thriller starring Thora Birch from 'American Beauty'. As soon as I finished that I'm going to do a film called 'Rain' and another film I worked on, 'Knockaround Guys', comes out in the US in April. I have a lot of tracks but it's just getting the time to finish them.