BACKSTAGE - CHRISTOPHER DRAKE INTERVIEW
The World's Finest sat down with Christopher Drake to discuss his composing work on Batman: Year One. Batman: Year One takes
place during the early days of Batman's career, showing both the emergence of the legendary hero and his relationship with
policeman James Gordon. Drake discusses his influences for Batman: Year One, and how the movie itself dictated the accompanying
The World's Finest: To start things off, can you give us your general thoughts on scoring the Batman: Year One animated feature?
Christopher Drake: Well this is one of those "Holy Grail" moments... when I heard word on the street that WB was doing an adaptation of Batman: Year One,
I put in the word to Bruce Timm, that I had to do it, and that he could put me and any other composer in a cage match, and I would kill them with my bare hands to prove my worthiness.
When I saw the animatic with the actors performances I was blown away. Bryan Cranston's performance is amazing...the guy even looks like Jim Gordon in real life. Once Gary Oldman hangs up the glasses, Cranston's got my vote for the live action gig.
WF: Did you read the source material? How much did the original comic influence your scoring choices?
CD: Well I am a huge comic book nerd, and I remember reading the comic when I was in junior high, and thinking it was the greatest Batman story told. I think its definitive reading if your a Bat fan, or interested in comics in general. Batman: Year One, Batman: The Dark Knight, Batman: The Killing Joke
... its right up there with Watchmen as the greatest superhero stories ever.
The influence for the score didn't really come from my interpretation of the comic however, but from Bruce Timm's concept and direction of what he felt the style of music should be for the adaptation.
WF: You have scored some mighty big animated action movies for DC, such as Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. How does the tone of the movie dictate how you score?
CD: Well each movie has its own needs, and musical language. All-Star Superman for example was a more romantic, orchestral score to represent the heroic nobility and gentle qualities of Superman compared to say Batman: Under the Red Hood, which had to be bleak and evoke a lot of sadness, so alot of electronic sound design elements where used to represent the darkness of that story.
WF: You’ve previously scored Batman: Gotham Knights and Batman: Under the Red Hood. How would you compare your work on those Batman projects to Batman: Year One?
CD: Bruce's design concept for the music for Batman: Year One was to be an "anti-Batman" score in that, he didn't want any kind of orchestral leightmotif or melodic fanfare for Batman - ala Shirley Walker, or Danny Elfman - as Batman hasn't earned it yet, he's just getting started in his crime fighting career. Bruce didn't wan't it to sound like a "Batman" movie, and more like a crime procedural, with the exception of the bat crashing through glass origin scene and the warehouse escape. He felt those where the only two scenes in the movie that needed to play up the big "gothic" Batman sound.
Also, the film takes place in 1984, so we originally planned to do a very period 80's all synth score in the style of Tangerine Dream, or Giorgio Morodor, but Bruce thought that might be too distracting to a modern audience, so in the end the direction was to have the music be minimalistic, with some 80's synth elements mixed in. There's definitely some John Carpenter synth homage here and there, especially with the Flask character. There is a low synth pulse thing that symbolizes Flask and the police corruption. Bruce mentioned Michael Mann movies quite a bit, like Heat, so that was definitely an influence on the score.
WF: How would you describe Batman: Year One? It’s more of a drama focused on Gordon than a straight-forward Batman tale, so that must make you approach the material differently, correct?
CD: Yeah, totally. Batman: Year One is really a Jim Gordon story. Its a very small and personal drama, compared to the 'end-of-the-world!' stakes that most of the DC films i've scored. And this story is totally grounded in reality, so the idea was that the music didn't need to support or hype the drama, or any "fantastic" sci-fi story elements.
The actor's performances, and story material where strong enough with out me having to compensate and sell emotions with the music. The sound FX - fantastically done by Rob Hargreaves - really take the front seat for a lot of Batman: Year One, really enveloping you and grounding the "real world" setting of the story, Batman: Year One actually has probably the least amount of music of any DC film, and at times the music is almost subliminal.
WF: You’ve become a steady presence in the DC Universe DTV line. Do you find that scoring these pictures provides you with a bit of variety – given how different each feature is from the next?
CD: Yeah thats the fun part, like I said earlier each of these stories have different musical needs. For example Batman: Year One is all minimalism, with a touch of 80's synth, where as the Catwoman short that will be on the DVD is all 90's industrial music, with a touch of noir orchestra.
WF: You recently tweeted that you just finished scoring Justice League: Doom, saying you could use a recharge in the Lazarus Pit...is that a tease? Care to drop a hint (spoiler-free) as to what fans can expect from the next animated feature in the DC line?
CD: Huh?? What do you mean? I was just saying I was pretty wiped out from writing this giant, epic, 15 min fight scene... ya know?? Time to hit the jacuzzi...
(Or "maybe" that was a cruel bit of geek misdirection to see how many people where paying attention... "maybe"...)
WF: Wonder Woman is such an epic piece of work. Do you think you’ll be able to top it with Batman: Year One, or perhaps future projects you have lined up?
CD: Wonder Woman is my fave as well. Batman: Year One and Wonder Woman however are two completely different scores. They couldn't be more opposite of each other in terms of how the music is servicing the story. Wonder Woman was all about epic battles, and a story of gods and monsters, where as Batman: Year One is a much more realistic, grounded, personal crime thriller.
Of course I always have the work ethic to try to out-do, and evolve with each score, but at the end of the day my job is about executing the director's concept for what the music needs to be doing to support the story.
WF: As we wrap this up, care to tell us where we’ll be seeing you next...and why we should all pick up Batman: Year One on October 18th?
CD: As you mentioned Justice League: Doom is upcoming. I have a couple of cool video game projects lined up that I can't talk about just yet, but I'm very excited about. And, another epic DCU movie that is one of those "Holy Grail" titles. It's going to be pretty amazing, and unlike any DC score i've done in the past..its gonna be huge.
Hmm... why should you pick up Batman: Year One on October 18th? Because... its F'N Frank Miller's Batman: Year One! As an animated movie! What else do you need?
WF: Thanks for taking the time to do these - it's really appreciated!
My pleasure, thanks for listening!
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