Composer Henry Jackman On The Music For Captain America Civil WarPosted by Wilson Morales
May 19, 2016
Currently in theaters and atop the box office is Marvel’s latest, Captain America: Civil War, which brings directors Anthony and Joe Russo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), and a bevy of characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They are play by some well-known names (Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, Daniel Brühl, Frank Grillo, William Hurt, Martin Freeman, Marisa Tomei, and John Slattery)
Captain America: Civil War finds Steve Rogers leading the newly formed team of Avengers in their continued efforts to safeguard humanity. But after another incident involving the Avengers results in collateral damage, political pressure mounts to install a system of accountability, headed by a governing body to oversee and direct the team. The new status quo fractures the Avengers, resulting in two camps—one led by Steve Rogers and his desire for the Avengers to remain free to defend humanity without government interference, and the other following Tony Stark’s surprising decision to support government oversight and accountability.
Composing the score for Marvel’s third film in the franchise is Henry Jackman. This is his second collaboration with the Russo brothers following Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Jackman’s epic score not only captures this new phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but thematically focuses on the depth and complexity of the characters as the Avengers fracture and fight among themselves.
Jackman has also scored a bevy of action packed film such as X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass, G.I. Joe Retaliation, Captain Phillips and Kingsman: The Secret Service to name a few. He recently produce the music for George Clooney’s latest film, Money Monster, which is in theaters and also scored Fox Searchlight and Nate Parker’s Sundance Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award Winner Birth of a Nation, releasing 10/7 worldwide.
How was working for the Russo’s again?
Henry Jackman: Fantastic. I got lucky with the Russo’s at the point where I was asked by Marvel to enter their Marvel universe musically. You don’t choose your directors, and there was that particular movie, Captain America 2, and there were these new directors, new to Marvel, new to me, and I just got really lucky. They’ve got this very difficult task to achieve a combination of dramatic integrity and making things entertaining and understanding how to fit things into a Marvel universe whilst also offering a bit of their own identity and getting some substance into the approach of the movie. It’s kind of like gold dust, managing to square that circle and get everything to work is an incredibly difficult directorial task and I just hit the jackpot with those guys.
I can’t imagine them, I’m sure they’ve got a long career ahead of them and I can’t imagine them doing anything other than making really, really well made films. I got really lucky, and so it’s the second time, I got to do Captain America: Civil War. The great thing about that is it’s a team you’ve already worked with, obviously the two Russo’s, and the producers. Even though the project is completely different, I actually took a very much more symphonic approach on this film. The creative power, it’s a completely different one, but there’s something great about picking up the same creative team you’ve already worked with.
How challenging is it putting a score that’s different from Winter Soldier?
Henry Jackman: Well, the movie is so different that I always feel that people often ask, “Why did you do this? Or why did you do that? What it’s for?” The movie is your master. It asks for an approach someone’s already done, before you as a composer gets to the process there is an established, there’s no musical tone yet, but there’s an established narrative tone. There’s an established style. Part of it is listening to the movie and listening out for what it wants and what it needs. Captain America: Civil War is a very different film to The Winter Soldier.
There’s something about a giant superhero battle, such as there is in the airport scene in Captain America: Civil War, that just somehow asks for a more symphonic approach, as opposed, I mean if you listen to the Winter Soldier track on the second CD, way more electronic, way more industrial, sort of barbaric almost. Whereas now the Winter Solider is a different score, it occupies a different space in this film. Also there’s loads of characters, it’s just a completely different kind of film, and you end up not being that self-conscious about it; you just sort of watch the movie, read the script, talk to the directors and just instinctively start working on it musically. You end up being guided really by the content of the film until you find something that matches it.
How do you mostly work? During or post-production?
Henry Jackman: Mostly post. I’ll read the script a long time before I see any footage, because I think that’s useful. I always used to enjoy my literary criticism classes at school, and it’s something that obviously you’re a long way from knowing exactly what’s happening, and what it’s going to look like. If you read a script a few times, you begin to get the architecture of the story and what characters are important and what their arcs are and everything. Even if you don’t even know what notes you’re going to use yet or what colors or what orchestration or what sort of textures, you begin to understand the central themes, a bit like a literary criticism class. Although that sounds a bit counter intuitive because we’re talking music not literature.
You’ve got to know why you’re writing music, so if you’ve got a good understanding of the dramatic content then you begin to understand why it is you’re, and what it’s for, what the music, what the purpose of the music is. Then the first version I saw of Captain America: Civil War, which is about six months before it got released, or possibly a bit more, I wrote for about five months. It’s actually pretty close to the final version, the only thing that’s missing is the special effects and whatnot, but the early cut that I got working to really is not a long way from the, not that different to the finished version.
Henry Jackman: Well, I put a lot of effort into all of them to be honest, especially in a movie like this. Having said that I’m very fond of the first track, Siberian Overture, mostly because I was quite happy with the way it’s different from the second film. The Winter Soldier track on the second CD is so harsh and full of production that it has very little the Winter Soldier melodic, the harmonic elements don’t really come to the fore at all, in the foreground. If you listen carefully to the very end of the Winter Soldier track on the second CD, there’s just this rising string rhyme, but it’s very much buried in the chaos and the industrial stuff. I was very happy on Siberian Overture that I was able to take that and then really work on that make it a much more symphonic piece, but that it’s related to the germ of an idea that wasn’t supposed to develop in the second movie because he’s just a crazy machine at that point. I was quite happy with that.
Hans Zimmer recently retired from doing the music for superhero movies, having done three of them. Does it ever get tired for you?
Henry Jackman: No, I think he probably has just done more than me. It depends, if you start repeating yourself I think I’ve got lucky because X-Men: First Class, which was directed by Matthew Vaughn, is very much a strong themed ensemble and the dynamic of that felt young and naïve and energetic. It was a group of kids basically discovering themselves, and Matthew likes really big tunes, and it’s the sort of movie where you could play tunes down because it wasn’t really a confusing movie like Civil War where the story is deliberately fractured and it’s complicated and nuanced. Whereas Matthew’s film was very overt so you could have more of the X-Men theme all the way through. Then The Winter Soldier was a completely different kind of film, it was much darker, and then Civil War was actually very different, much more symphonic than the second one.
I guess if I found myself writing something in a really similar style over and over, I think I probably would get bored. I think it’s just the luck of the draw because I might work on some other superhero movie, which again needs a completely different approach. I have every sympathy with Hans, I mean he’s done so many movies, he’s perfectly entitled to make a decision like that, because, and he’s probably thinking there’s not much for him to accomplish. When he did Batman Begins, which of course led to the same tone in The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, he really did something different compared to what had been done musically and historically in superhero films thus far. If you think back to the Danny Elfman fantastic score for Batman, you know, so Hans is probably thinking, “Well, you know, I’m not going to do that. That’s not what I do. That’s Danny Elfman, that’s already an iconic score.”
Hans went ahead and created a completely new minimalist, ostinato based, very different thing for Batman Begins that caught on like wildfire, now everyone’s like copying it and it was so iconic. You know, he probably feels like he’s done his work. He’s already reinvented the superhero movie, what do you want him to do? Get him to reinvent it like three times in a row? He probably likes a fresh challenge, and he’s probably just thinking about other types of music.
How did you come up being the music producer for Money Monster but not the composer?
Henry Jackman: Oh, that was great. I really enjoyed that. Yeah, Dom Lewis, he’s a fantastically talented composer. It’s funny because before I got involved in film music I actually spent about ten years making records. It’s also something that Hans is good at actually, as well being, Hans has a very good producer mentality as well as a composer. That was really enjoyable to be involved in all the meetings and discuss the tone and figure out what the picture needs and discuss the shape and cues and fiddle around on the piano and hang out with Dom. Without being the person who sits there till three in the morning writing every single cue but still being this part of the process is actually really nice, really nice experience.
Down the road you’ve got Birth of a Nation coming out, how was working with Nate on that music?
Henry Jackman: That was an amazing experience. I can’t say enough things about Nate Parker who wrote, starred and directed the film. It’s funny, normally when you see a film that was written, starred and directed by someone, you probably think, “Oh, God,” you know, some awful vanity project. He’s made an incredibly challenging film about the subject matter is something of way more, I don’t know what you call it, social and political relevance to the contemporary USA, than a fantasy movie, even though I love them. It’s a completely different category of film. It was just an astonishing experience, I mean apart from anything else when we set out to do the music, there was just no big budget, I didn’t want to get paid because there was no money for me and that’s fine. We didn’t have anything, we didn’t have any money, there was no budget to do anything. I remember saying at the beginning that, “Nate, look, we have to think about this,” because when I joined the project, it was such a controversial film, he had no distribution deal, he had nothing except his faith in the process.
I remember thinking well maybe we should be slower, and do a score for say solo piano, solo cello, and then we don’t have the impossibility of trying to get this thing done because we haven’t got any money for it. He just said, “No. You do whatever you want, I will just make it happen, and if you think this movie needs gospel choir, children’s choir, solo singer, Nigerian singer, symphony orchestra, just do whatever you like.” Okay. We ended up doing exactly that, the score has west African instruments, it has a symphony orchestra, it has a gospel choir, it has a children’s choir, it has two solo singers, it has a solo cellist, and he just somehow made single-handedly. Because he had no backing from the studio or anything, he just somehow put everything together and we got to have this, one of the scores I’m most proud of with some of the most beautiful and amazing musicians. It was the least likely on paper to be able to happen, and he just somehow made it all happen.