I agree entirely, it’s an iconic franchise and it’s great that you’ve had the opportunity to contribute to it, both as a fan and member of the crew. But how much freedom were you given with regards to Fallout’s OST? I mean, obviously you have to reuse Lalo Schifrin’s main theme from the show, but outside of that how much wiggle room did you have with regards to what Christopher McQuarrie wanted?
As much freedom as the film allowed. There were no rules, and I think what makes a great filmmaking process is not to have rules. Because if you do, then it can stop experimentation, which can then hinder you. So there was only encouragement to keep experimenting, and I think that, looking at that film’s theme, there are so many elements to it that you can dissect and present in a new manner. The goal is not to try to do something that’s modern, it’s to take that theme and run it through from ‘68 when it was written originally. That was my objective really: to try and give it a different approach, but be loyal to it, and loyal to that feeling when you actually hear that theme.
No absolutely, and as you said it more than holds up and is still as amazing as it was 20 years ago. But I have to ask, Christopher McQuarrie is interesting in that he started off his career as a screenwriter before slowly making his way up as a director. Fallout will mark his fourth feature film. I’m curious, you’ve worked with a lot of veteran filmmakers: was there any difference with regards to working with Mr. McQuarrie over other directors?
No, numbers never mean anything. It’s an interesting one because it’s not about…when you talk to somebody, you don’t think about their past. You focus on the time at hand, and he is, personally, one of my favorites. He wrote The Usual Suspects, which is one of my favorite movies of all time. So he’s a true auteur and a craftsman. It’s very rare to find a director who is also the writer, so that’s a very interesting thing as well.
I agree entirely. He’s more than proven to be an intelligent filmmaker. The Mission: Impossible franchise has gotten famous for Tom Cruise’s pioneering stunts, and you’re provided footage of them during the production process for scoring purposes. When it comes to writing the music for those scenes, do you feel an obligation to make it more background-like, so that the sheer spectacle of the set pieces take center stage? Or is it better, in your opinion, to write more brawny thriller scores to amplify the tension and suspense of them?
I don’t think there’s a rule. You judge every scene as its own individual point-of-view, so I don’t approach every action scene the same. There are certain times in my score, for example, where you realize what you’re listening to shouldn’t be music as it’s not enhancing the experience. There shouldn’t be any rules to the whole process of it, so I don’t ever intentionally decide that it should be more underscore. There’s no formula.
That’s true, you don’t want to restrict yourself by forcing yourself to take a singular approach- you want to adapt accordingly.
Right, you want to try different things because I think the joy of the whole process is that you don’t fully know until you’ve tried it. If you faced every scene with the same skill-set and same plan, then it becomes repetitive and it makes your writing and the storytelling just monotonous really.
That’s right. You mentioned how you saw the first Mission: Impossible in college and have been the fan ever since. I also know that you are a student of Hans Zimmer’s and you’ve done a lot of work together. One thing I found interesting was that he was the composer for the second Mission: Impossible. Prior to beginning work on Fallout, did you talk to him about the series? Or did you want to be completely free of that external influences?
I did talk to him, but what we talked about will remain between him and I [laughs].
No, the main thing that he said was to have fun with it, and I think that’s what you have to do. You get warped into this amazing franchise, but it is a family and you get welcomed into it and obviously you’re always intimidated, but for the kid that’s inside you, you have to have fun with it and go for it. And I think that was great advice.
I agree entirely. And I feel like you apply that advice to all your projects as the diversity in your discography is just outstanding. You’ve of course done video games and movies, but also animation and television and multiple genres within film. I’m curious, what is your thought process when choosing what project you want to do next? What project you want to invest weeks to months of your life doing?
I love change. If I wrote for horror films and all I did was continuously work in that genre, I don’t think that I would be able to give much to the film: it would become a job, and I don’t regard it as a job; I regard it as a very privileged situation to be in. And it’s not a 9-5 experience, but you live and breathe it, and I love what I learn, even if it’s a romantic comedy. What I learn from that storytelling-wise helps me in a genre like action movies that’s got nothing to do with it. It doesn’t really matter, it’s a different action to what you’re seeing on screen.
So I like to try different things, and it’s been amazing to try different styles. So constantly changing project styles just makes you more alert and I enjoy the experience.
It’s wonderful to hear your approach to it, and I’m glad that you’ve not only managed to keep yourself refreshed with each project, but managed to create all these unique OSTs for what you do. Now, I just have two quick questions to wrap things up. The first is, going back to video games, I know you’re frequently brought back for the Skylanders franchise every year, but outside of that you haven’t done a major video game score since Beyond: Two Souls in 2013. Is there any chance we could ever see you make a comeback to the genre?
Yes, you will, this summer.
Oh okay [laughs]. That’s great to hear.
It’s difficult, because at that time I was very fortunate because there were great games coming out, and Beyond: Two Souls had a fantastic story and it was well-made. And that period of time with Assassin’s Creed was great and exciting. And it’s just been unfortunate that for the last couple of years I haven’t been asked to work on projects which I’ve found interesting or thought that I can give something to, so that’s why I’ve been kind of out of the loop.
But I’m very excited with this game. I can’t quite tell you yet, but I think it’ll come out in three or four months time and I’ve been working on it, so it’s great to be back in that genre.
I can’t wait. As I said Modern Warfare 2 and Assassin’s Creed III are two of my favorite video games scores of all time, so to hear that you’re coming back is absolutely great to know. And my last question is something I love to ask every composer I speak with, and that is what are some pieces of music that have had the greatest impact on you as a composer? It can be a video game OST or a band album or a movie score.
It would definitely have to be Peter Gabriel’s Us, the album, which I loved, and then, this might be potentially cliche, but Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys.
[Laughs] No, I grew up with Beach Boys too from my father’s side. But thank you Mr. Balfe for taking the time out of your day to speak with me. I used to play your scores on repeat while studying, so this truly has been an honor. Thank you so much for speaking with me.
Absolute pleasure, it was lovely talking to you. Lovely talking to people who love music, so thank you for the support!
Flickering Myth would like to thank Mr. Balfe for sitting down with us. Mission: Impossible – Fallout is out in theaters now!
Special thanks to Kurt Nishimura of EarthLink.net for connecting us!