Hans Zimmer reflects on scoring 'The Bible'

Thursday, April 4, 2013 - 2:00am

Composer Hans Zimmer comes from a long line of atheists.

So he wasn't looking to beat anyone over the head with "The Bible" -- his latest score, for the breakaway hit on the History Channel.

Zimmer is known for, among other things, his signature "BRAAAM" -- an ominous bass drone cue associated with the "Inception" trailer -- well known in the movie business for punctuating almost every major action movie in the last few years.

"It's over every trailer!" Zimmer laughed when talking to CNN. "It's funny how that sort of thing becomes part of the zeitgeist. But I suppose that's exactly what trailers are looking for: something iconic, lasts less than a second, and shakes the seats in the theater. We've seemed to unleash some sort of genie."

On this new project however, Zimmer said he wanted to stay away from anything so obvious.

Zimmer and his composing partner Lorne Balfe also wanted to stay away from anything that might feel rooted in a specific time period, eschewing the classical music references that had informed many of his previous scores.

"If you listen to Verdi, if you listen to Berlioz, if you listen to Mozart, if you listen to anybody else -- Bach for that matter -- who has dealt with religious music, there's always a reflection of the style of their time," Zimmer said. "And in a funny way, 'The Bible' is supposed to be a reflection of how we in our time relate to this material. We felt like if we could figure out a sound that was sort of timeless, and sort of absent of whatever is fashionable at the moment, that would be a good start."

Because the scope of the "The Bible" was so huge, with stories that span thousands of years, "10 hours is not that long to tell a monumental story like this." So while it wasn't long enough on the one hand to tell the stories (which, despite not being religious himself, he deemed "powerful" with a "great meaning of morality"), it was still longer than most of his projects. To get a handle on it, he decided thinking smaller was the way to go.

"Rather than look at the daunting enormity of it, you find some inspiration in some little corner of the movie, just so you get a foothold," he said.

For additional inspiration, Zimmer turned once again to Dead Can Dance's Lisa Gerrard, who added her haunting vocals to the Golden Globe-winning "Gladiator" score.

Zimmer mentioned Gerrard to producers Mark Burnett and Roman Downey who were very supportive of the idea. At first, Zimmer said, Gerrard said she was really busy, "but as soon as I said, 'Would you like to work on 'The Bible' with Mark and Roma?' it was as if none of the other stuff mattered. She was instantly on board. This was something she's always wanted to do."

With the shoot taking place in Morocco, and production offices based in Los Angeles, the in-between point for the group became London. "Lorne, Lisa, Mark, Roma, and myself, whenever anyone found a moment, we could meet up in London and throw out ideas," Zimmer said. "It was like a band."

The process was loose and unstructured -- "very different from how I work on a movie normally," Zimmer said. A lot of improvisation was involved, as the composers moved through different textures to find "some sort of specificity."

"What the music is trying to do is maintain the idea that throughout these 10 hours, you get to feel something," he said. "We're not telling you what to feel. We're just inviting you in. The music is trying to open doors."

And open doors, it did.

"To Mark and Roma's credit, they didn't care if this was going to be a success or not," Zimmer said. "When we started, there was no money and no belief in the project, other than our own. Their enthusiasm carried the day. They just wanted to do this, and they were just going to do it, which is the right reason to do a project."

"The ones where you say, 'I need to do this. I can't sleep if I don't do this. I can't do anything else,' those are the ones with the most chance of being successful. I love working with people who don't care about the money, who don't care about the danger of failing, who just go for it. That's what made me do it. Fearless people are the best to hang around with." 

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