Fans of director Guy Ritchie movies know that music plays a huge part in the experience of the story. In the 2015 summer blockbuster The Man from UNCLE, theatergoers will hear one of the best scores and a slick and sexy soundtrack to help move the spy thriller along. Daniel Pemberton is the man responsible for the soundscape to capture the action, humor and story of the film, and we were lucky enough to speak with the talented composer in a brand new, exclusive interview! Keep reading to learn about Pemberton’s score, his work on the upcoming Steve Jobs project and more!
How did you get involved in The Man from UNCLE?
I had some meetings in L.A., and I had a meeting at Warner Brothers, and they mentioned the film. I was like, “That sounds great!” They asked me to put a show reel together. So I did this show reel of some of my music, but it was one of those show reels where you go, “[sigh] it’s not that good … I can send you a better one…I can do better music than this.” It was a lot of weird music I’d done for TV rather than film stuff. Basically, Guy listened to it and liked it, and he said it was the only show reel he liked because everything else sounded exactly the same. He said he’d heard every Hollywood composer’s show reel and he couldn’t tell them apart. So I had a meeting with him and they offered me the film like, “do you want to do it?” and I was like” Yep! [laughs]” and it just went from there. That was the beginning of the crazy journey of doing The Man from UNCLE.
How involved was Guy Ritchie with the music?
If you do a Guy Ritchie film…every Guy Ritchie film, the music is such an important part of how he makes movies. He really knows the importance of music and how much power it can bring to a film. For composers, it’s very exciting and very daunting as well because you have nowhere to hide with what you write. Everything you do is going to be up front. It’s got to be rally bold, it’s got to be really strong and it’s got to kind of feel unique, otherwise Guy won’t like it.
You work with the editor, an amazing editor called James Herbert who is brilliant and also very good with music as well – so I’ll work with him and he’ll come up ideas, I’ll come up with ideas , we’ll throw them around and try and make something happen. Then Guy will see it and tell you whether he likes it or not, and you work like that. You kind of work alongside him, keep coming up with new ideas and try and get Guy excited! Eventually he gets excited and it goes in the movie, then you have another one to do, and so on. Eventually, after a lot of work, you get somewhere where you have this really cool movie that just has all these awesome music scenes.
Guy doesn’t like anything that’s like a kind of “filler” piece of music. Every single piece has got to be like a standout track and he wants you to “reinvent the wheel” every time, so it’s hard work but the end result I think is really good.
Your score is full of wild percussion and other elements. What were your influences for this score?
The influence for that [percussion] is the phrase “put some mad bongos on it,” which was used every time we got stuck with a scene. We were like “Oh, just put some mad bongos on it.” It became this like joke, catchphrase in the edit.
Percussion is a big part of the score and that was like the logical conclusion. That big scene at the end, we just got hold of every piece of percussion we could in London. That piece is crazy. It goes in and out of time, a kind of decent into chaos, and then comes back together. We’ve even got a Hungarian milk churn on it. Everything from like huge bongos, little bongos-tiny bongos make an awesome noise that’s what I learned. The smaller the bongo, the cooler the noise. Guy, a big guy, was playing these tiny joke bongos, for kids, and they sound amazing.
With that, basically, Guy is always trying to surprise the viewers, keep them excited and that’s what we tried to do with that queue. We tried to score that scene very differently a number of different ways, but they all felt quite conventional. When you watch a film, you want to be surprised, like “what the hell is this?” because it makes you pay attention. IF you’re watching something and you’re like “oh, I know what’s happening here, it’s a chase…here’s some chase music,” it’s like well why go and see a movie? Because if you know what you’re going to get, it’s not very exciting. If you go to a film and it’s a surprise, then it’s always going to be exciting.
What was the process like, working with and/or around the songs in the film from the 1960s?
It was great! There’s really great tracks in this film. I love it when you have great tracks to sit alongside and sort of compliment what you’re doing and you try to compliment what they’re doing. We even worked with some of them. There’s a scene where Napoleon Solo drives a truck off of [a dock]… so for that instance, that was a great track by an old Italian guy called [Peppino Gagliardi], a brilliant track (“Che Vuole Questa Musica Stasera”), but it wasn’t doing enough for the scene. They wanted it to kind of have this climax, which the song didn’t have, halfway through it. So I ended up writing a whole string part for the song that we recorded and put on top of the song to give that scene a bit more of a push. So, you would get involved in the score like that, which no one would know. You watch the film, you’ll never notice this string part, but if you see it again you’ll spot it.
Like I said, music is such a big part of Guy’s films, so you get involved in every aspect.
How did get involved in the Steve Jobs movie?[Director] Danny Boyle really liked my score for The Counselor, which is a film I did with Ridley Scott. He really liked it and was familiar with quite a lot of my work on British television. I had a meeting with him and pretty much at the end they were like, “okay, we want you to do it!” and I was like “oh, oaky, cool! Really? Great! [laughs].”
It’s so weird, because I’ve ended up working with these huge directors, Ridley Scott, Guy Ritchie and Danny Boyle, all of whom, music plays a really big part in their films. It’s quite weird-it’s great! It’s very exciting but it’s also very scary because each of those directors have such good musical legacies and you’ve got to really step up when you do one of their movies. You can’t just phone it in, you’ve got to do the best score you can.
Considering the project lost two stars and even a director before moving into production, was there any hesitation on your end before signing on?
Oh, no. When you read the script you were like “this is going to be brilliant.” The script is phenomenal. No. No hesitation for one second. Danny Boyle is one of the greatest directors, not only in Britain but in the world and the script is from one of the greatest script writers in the world [Aaron Sorkin]. I think all the other stuff is all based around- I mean, it depends how far into the hacked emails you’ve read – I think everyone involved in this project wanted to do this project.
The thing about this film is that it’s not a mainstream film in a number of ways. It’s more like a piece of theater. The concept behind how the story’s told is very original, very different and it’s going to be challenging in that aspect for mainstream audiences. That was the problem, I think, studios had and I think what Danny’s doing to it is incredibly novel and incredibly exciting and I look forward to you seeing it.
Are there any other projects you’re working on in the future?
No, not at the moment – everything else I’ll keep secret [laughs].
When I work on a film, I get really, really involved in it. It takes over my life so I can’t do that many at the same time. Man from UNCLE was about a year. Steve Jobs I’ve been on since January, probably working on it every day. I get really involved with the edit and work very closely alongside filmmakers. So it’s very tiring but I hope it means you get a more unique score.