Jim Dooley : member of the M-V family.
Hello, Mr. Dooley. You’re currently working at Media-Ventures, the studio founded by Hans Zimmer and Jay Rifkin in 1989, as a composer, arranger and chief theatrical engineer. Could you tell us about your musical studies and how you did started to work for Hans Zimmer at Media-Ventures?
I received a call shortly after my studies at USC in their graduate program in film composition. The engineer that I worked with on all of my student films recommended me for the newly open position as chief technical for Hans Zimmer. I also had a friend that worked there that gave me a recommendation. I was interviewed right away and I must have said something right because I was hired on a trial basis. The rest is history.
You’ve began working on short movies like ‘Bit Players’ (2000) or ‘Agua Dulce’ (2001), and the small sci-fi movie, ‘Area 52’. All these soundtracks have in common the same use of the well-known sound samples used at Media-Ventures by the composers. How were you introduced to this modern musical technology?
Actually, the score to Bit Players was recorded with a live jazz band. There are some small cues in it with samples. I had the privilege of watching Hans Zimmer write music for Gladiator. I was amazed at the level of complexity and finesse involved in the composition process at the studio. This technology is being used to give the directors and producers of film the most realistic view of what their score will sound like and has an inherent advantage in the film industry.
In 2001, you signed your first additional music for the ‘Black Hawk Down’ soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, working with other composers of Media-Ventures like Jeff Rona, Mel Wesson and Heitor Pereira. Can you tell us about this work on this soundtrack please? Is this collaboration difficult for a composer and how do you proceed to write your music together, with your colleagues?
BHD was an amazing experience for me. I was primarily orchestrating and 'fleshing out' ideas given to me by Hans, and working with all the talented people on that score was a great lesson on how to work efficiently and creatively. The process is difficult based mostly on the time constraints involved. Everyone on the project had something unique to bring to the table so we were always throwing material around to have people put their spin on it and I think you can hear that in the score.
In addition to this question, how are your relationship with Hans Zimmer? How it is to be a member of this great team?
Working at the studio is the greatest thing that's ever happened to me. It's like any relationship in that sometimes we work together and sometimes by ourselves. Going down musical roads together and apart is a very enriching experience creatively. It's the quickest and most intense way to learn about music and scoring for film.
You continued to write additional music for a Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack, ‘Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron’. Why did you were uncredited? How many minutes of music did you composed for this animation film?
I was credited I believe as part of the 'Zimmer Band' or something like that. This was an important film for me in that I started in a technical capacity and finished it as a freelance writer. I don't know exactly how much music I wrote for that film but I did play keyboards for the live production of the score at the Cannes Film Festival with Hans, and Bryan Adams. I wrote an overture for that concert and I guess the only people that have heard that were there.
In 2002, you signed another additional music for ‘The Ring’, with Hans Zimmer, Henning Lohner and Martin Tillman, soundtrack recently published by Decca Records with parts of The Ring 2 score. When you work on a Hans Zimmer soundtrack, what are his directives? Do you emulate his musical style or is he offer you small musical freedom?
Most of the job of an 'additional composer' is to extend the vision of the lead composer. This is needed to create a consistent score for the film. There are always opportunities to put a bit of yourself in the score in the process. For example, the horse scenes on the ferry were written from no material existing in the score at that time. We needed the cues done so I just came up with something and it went. Obviously the feel needed to be consistent with the rest of the score, but it definitely has a bit of me in it.
Between these big projects, you signed music for short movies and documentaries, like ‘Life After War’ (Brian Knappenberger – 2003) or the short action/comedy ‘Smooth’ (Matt Antell – 2003). Is there something particular that attracts you on this type of film? What are the differences in the way of working between these movies and those of Media-Ventures?
As a result of attending NYU and USC, I have a lot of filmmaker friends. I love working on their films and it gives us a chance to continue working together as we all work our way up. These projects are always interesting and usually extremely challenging. This is similar to how I work on all of my solo projects in addition to working on additional music during my year.
In 2003, you wrote the additional music for ‘Tears of the Sun’, a new score by Hans Zimmer with Steve Jablonsky, Lisa Gerrard, Martin Tillman and Michael A. Levine. Jablonsky is credited on the Varèse Sarabande album with the ‘The Jablonsky Variations’. Is there one of your musics for this film that we can hear on the album? What moments of the film did you scored?
There is a piece on the album called Cry In Silence that I worked on with Martin Tillmann. It has been some time and I would have to see it again to remember what I did work on. At that point, that was the most music I had collaborated on with Hans Zimmer.
You wrote the additional music for ‘Pirates of the Carribean’, a superproduction soundtrack written by some of the busiest composers of Media-Ventures, Klaus Badelt, Ramin Djawadi, Craig Eastman, Nick Glennie-Smith, Steve Jablonsky, Blake Neely, etc. Many critics reproached this type of working with such large team (9 composers on a film music!) and say that with ‘Pirates of the Carribean’, it erased all inventivity, originality and musical personnality. What is your opinion on this subject?
Those are easy comments to make from an armchair. The score in question had a very tight schedule due to the previous composer being removed from the production. So, how does one person write a Jerry Bruckheimer action score that would be a challenge for the finest composers around, in less than half the time of an already abbreviated schedule. The only way for the score to get the attention that it required, and have the movie release on time was to enlist 9 composers. I know lots of people that are fans of that score, as I am. We have to remember that this is a business and the movie has to release as scheduled or everyone loses. The other options are moot.
Do you know why there wasn’t any official score release for the ‘Something’s Gotta Give’ music by Hans Zimmer, on you wrote additional music?
I believe that the idea was that there wasn't enough varied thematic material to release a full length CD, being that there was only one central theme. If there was a CD release, I bet there would be some upset consumers saying that it wasn't a great album. How do you win that one?
I suppose that working on a romantic comedy like the Nancy Meyer’s movie is different from composing for big action music like ‘Pirates of the Carribean’?
It is very different. The slightest miscalculation can ruin a scene in something as delicate as 'SGG' I think romantic comedies are the most difficult scores to do well. Comedy in general is a real challenge because funny music doesn't make unfunny scenes funnier.
In 2005, you wrote another additional music for ‘The Amityville Horror’ score by Steve Jablonsky, produced by Michael Bay. It’s your first collaboration with Steve Jablonsky as the lead composer on a film music. How did you collaborate with Jablonsky on this movie?
I had a few days in between writing on Madagascar and the Sony Playstaion 2 game, Socom 3: US NAVY SEALs. Steve had a tight schedule and I did what I could in two or three days. He's an incredibly talented composer. The scenes that I worked on didn't necessarily uses material from the rest of the score...they needed to be mean and nasty and I think I did that.
With ‘Madagascar’ and ‘Wallace and Gromit: the Curse of the Were-Rabbit’, you successively wrote additional music for two animations movies. It’s a new kind of musical project for you. What is different in working on animation movie music?
Animations are very difficult. They usually go on for a long time because they are story-boarded years before we start scoring. We try to participate as early on as possible to prevent any problems at the end. This is agreed on both sides of the production I'm sure you'll find. Things can happen much quicker in animation than real life so finding the beats in a characters actions can be a challenge. You don't have to write down for kids movies. The Carl Stalling scores for the Warner Bros. cartoons are the best evidence of this.
You recently wrote the music for ‘Madagascar’ spin-off short ‘A Christmas Caper’. Could you tell us about this project?
Dreamworks had an idea to add a short movie with the Madagascar Penguins to the DVD release of MAD. Everyone agreed that the film was so good, it would be great to get it on the big screen. I wrote it on both sides of the Wallace and Grommit schedule and recorded the score with a live big band. I had a lot of fun paying an homage to the styles of Elmer Bernstein and Lalo Schifrin.
Amongst your new projects, you composed the soundtrack for the PSP video game ‘Socom 3: US Neavy Seals’ with a 70 piece orchestra. The video games soundtracks seem to be particulary popular today among film music composers. Howard Shore, Graeme Revell, Danny Elfman, Harry Gregson-Williams, all these composers recently worked on video games scores. It seems that film music and video game music have much things in common today. What is different on working for a video game score? Is there something particulary attractive on working for video game soundtrack?
A video game score, particularly Socom 3, is night and day different from scoring a film. Most games do not follow this type of scoring as used in SC3 so please do not feel I am talking about all games. Socom 3 had so many different pieces in, over 300 if I'm not mistaken. This is to give the player a feel that the score is adapting to the players game-play. Specific cues play under specific conditions that the player creates as they traverse through the game. This was especially challenging and required a lot of time to write. I quite enjoyed my time writing the score and I feel there is very good music in there. Right now we are assembling the soundtrack and we are going through both the PS2 score and the PSP score amounting to over 400 pieces of music.
You recently scored the documentary ‘The Mars Underground’ by Scott J. Gill, one of your most ambitious and powerful work for a documentary. The soundtrack was released and you partnered with CDBABY.com to donate the proceed from sales of ‘The Mars Underground’ soundtrack to the Red Cross as part of the national disaster relief effort (and particulary for the recent New-Orleans disaster). Could you tell us about this musical project and humanitarian collaboration?
I was asked to work on 'Mars' as a result of a friend of mine from USC working on the production. It was a low music budget but I decided to take it as a challenge. I wrote it as if I was going to orchestra and I did not compromise on any part of it. I am planning to arrange a performable suite from the score in the near future. When Derek Silvers of CDBABY.com asked if I would donate the proceeds of the score, I did without hesitation. It spreads good will and good music at the same time. What is better than that?
You are announced on the drama/thriller ‘Bone Dry’ by Brett A. Hart. Did you already have signed for this project? It’ll be your first ‘solo’ effort on a ‘big’ feature-length movie. Is it the ‘end’ of your additional music for Media-Ventures projects?
I wouldn't say that it is my first solo effort, but I understand what you are asking. I am currently writing a score before Bone Dry that will score before the new year. I have already agreed with Hans to participate in the score to Pirates of the Caribbean 2. It will not be the end of me helping out my friends and collaborating on scores by any means.
Last question, who are your favorite composers (in film music and all musical styles in general)?
These days I am in love with Prokofiev and Vaughn-Williams. My favorite bands are The Beatles, and RadioHead. I do revere the works of Elmer Bernstein, Christopher Young, Danny Elfman, and John Williams very much as well
Thank you Mr. Dooley to give me some of your time. Hoping to hear some of your new works soon!
Interview by Quentin Billard
Thanks to Tom Kidd from Ray Costa Communications.