Composing the New Reality
CC: I'd like to start and ask you about THE MATRIX. Have you been surprised with the popularity of the film and your score?
DON DAVIS: As far as the popularity of the film is concerned, no, I'm really not. when I first read the script, I new that there was something there. I was actually really excited at how the Wachowski brothers had managed to take an intelligent science fiction story and use it to their advantage to make it the origin story of an action adventure film. I could see then that it would have the kind of broad appeal that would make it a hit.
CC: This is your second film with the Wachowski brothers, right?
DON DAVIS: Yes, so I also knew what they were capable of as directors. So with the combination of those two things I said, "Goldmine!"
CC: How involved were the Wachowski brothers in the scoring of the film?
DON DAVIS: They were very involved. It was a workshop process. I would present some ideas for some cues and we'd talk about it, discuss some options. I'd then re-work some things and show it to them again. It is kind of a process of discovery.
CC: Is that the norm as far as the involvement with the directors and producers that you have worked with in the past?
DON DAVIS: Well, everyone is unique, but it seems that these days directors want to have an active involvement in the way that scores are presented and rightly so. They have their ideas about the way they want their film to be perceived and music has a lot to do with that. So it seems to me that any director would want to be involved with what exactly the music is communicating to the audience in their film.
CC: There is an interesting mix of music in THE MATRIX. Your score is set against some contemporary electronica used for some of the action sequences of the film. Did the Wachowski brothers know right from the start that they wanted to have this sort of a mixture?
DON DAVIS: Yeah. They did. They were interested in specific songs for specific action sequences. Before they had the actual song, they asked me to cover it. That was a very tricky sequence because of all of the sound effects. Actually, I was kind of glad when they did get a song, because it would have been pretty trick to mix that sequence. That freed me up to concentrate on the other parts of the score.
CC: Did you write for all of the action sequences first?
DON DAVIS: I demo-ed every cue for them. We had gotten started early enough in the process that I was able to mix those demos so they could mix the actual the score into the film for the preview screenings. All the sequences that had "songs" I had covered with scoring prior to that.
CC: What would you say is your favorite piece from that score?
DON DAVIS: That's a tough one. I have an number of favorites. The opening with the roof-top chase just pulls you into the picture so fast. That was really exhilarating! The film really took off when Neo takes the red-pill and the mirror starts coming up his arm - that was just a blast!
CC: Those two sequences were the two that stood out to me. The score didn't overshoot what was being done visually, but greatly enhanced it.
DON DAVIS: Of course what they shot was so spectacular, it would be hard to overshoot! (laughs)
CC: How long did you actually have to score the film?
DON DAVIS: I had kind of a long time, but when all is said and done it didn't seem like quite enough. We spotted it the first part of December (1998), but they wanted to have it demo-ed for the temp mix, which they started to mix around January 4, 1999. So I had about a month to scramble get everything down on the synths and from that point I could start orchestrating. That took me about another month.
CC: There has been some talk about one or two sequels to THE MATRIX. Have they talked to you about scoring either of these, if there is any truth to these rumors?
DON DAVIS: Well, I know that the sequels are on the table. I haven't heard that they have come to any agreement to "green light" them. I would imagine once they finish their negotiations and decide to do the sequel - and I'm pretty sure they will - then they'll start talking to me about what they want and what the schedule is going to be. At least, I hope they do! (laughs)
CC: You utilized the prepared piano in this score, which I found unique. Do you find this is done commonly?
DON DAVIS: I don't know if it's common, but it has been done before. This is something that John Cage came up with in the '50s. I was thinking of it as an adjunct to the real piano that was playing in unison with it. That kind of gave it the real piano this other worldly sound. That actually worked acoustically rather than electronically.
CC: Have you ever used that technique before?
DON DAVIS: No, I haven't done that before.
CC: With the popularity of THE MATRIX and your score, has your door been getting knocks on your door for future projects?
DON DAVIS: Well, I know I am being considered for some films that I certainly wouldn't have been considered for six months ago. So I think, then, absolutely, yes.
CC: You've done a great deal of scoring for television. What are some of the challenges you face or what are some of the differences in your approach to scoring a television show, series, episode, or television film?
DON DAVIS: The big problem with TV is that there are huge budget constraints and huge time constraints. Whenever you're working in television your are working against those two constraints. In most feature film situations, the question isn't "What can we do with what we have?" But the question is, "What do we need here?" Because there are resources to do what needs to be done. This is why feature films are so much more of a comfortable environment to work in.
CC: Are you still very active in scoring for television?
DON DAVIS: Let's see. The last TV thing I did was last August. I did a cable-film called, In the Company of Spies, that Tim Mattheson directed- very good director- Tim Mattheson the actor. I haven't done anything since then and I don't think I'm up for anything at the moment. I'm certainly not going to exclude the possibility of ever doing TV again, but the success of THE MATRIX may have afforded me the possibility that I can focus on feature films.
CC: Who are some of your favorite composers to work with or who are those that most inspire you?
DON DAVIS: Randy Newman is the most fun to work for. Besides being a brilliant composer, he is fun to be around. When I'm orchestrating for Randy I'm always working with great music. Every time I have worked with (James) Horner, I've learned a great deal about film scoring, because he is the consummate professional.
CC: Are you a film-score fan yourself?
DON DAVIS: Yes. Absolutely. But I think I am more of a fan of concert-music. But, you know, there is very little that Jerry Goldsmith or John Williams has written that is nothing less than awe inspiring. (I totally agree. - Ani)
CC: Do you collect film scores?
DON DAVIS: Yes, I do. I don't collect them with the same fervor that a collector would. I collect them in terms of, "Well, I think I need to hear that to know what that composer is about or as research for a film I may be doing of a similar nature." I don't go out thinking that I need to have every single score that James Horner has ever put out,...but it sort of ends up the same (laughs)!
CC: Do you ever find yourself when facing writers-block, wondering what might John Williams do here or Randy Newman or do you try to stick with something that is uniquely "you?"
DON DAVIS: I think that both of those things go through your mind. Whenever I trying to write something melodic, I think of what Randy Newman might do because I think he is the best melody writer in the business. Such beautiful melodies and such integrity just flow from him, so I do think, "Now, how would Randy approach something like this?" The reason that writers-block occurs is because you can't outputting all of the time. You need to regenerate the batteries by hearing music, so I try to hear as much music as possible. That seems to be less and less of late because I simply don't have the time. I do; however, still try to go to concerts and that sort of thing.
CC: As my last question, I'd like to ask you from a composer's point of view, what sort of trends do you see happening in film scoring?
DON DAVIS: Wow! That's a tough question. Well, with the advent of this new installment of Star Wars, I'd imagine it would reinvigorate the orchestral approach, like the first one did. This is such a difficult question to answer because of all the technological advancements going on.
CC: Do you think we will see more and more synthesizer oriented scores?
DON DAVIS: Well, you're not going to see less of it because it offers some pretty unique advantages. Directors are going to want to hear synthesizer mock-ups more and more which is good and bad really. Unfortunately, that can hinder some really intricate writing, because its when you have pencil to paper that you can work things out, but when you're knocking out something quick on the synth so the director can hear it, you're going to jump into some expedience. I don't think this adds to the quality of the music. On the other hand, there is this digital camera that is on the market now that costs about $4000 and the quality is suppose to be incredibly good. As a result there are people who are getting a hold of some of these cameras and going out and directing. These would never have had a chance to director otherwise. So, I think you are going to see an explosion of product and an explosion of directors who have this kind of ability. I'm sure this could open some doors for some composers who might have not had opportunities otherwise.
CC: Well, with that I'd like to express my appreciation for taking the time for this interview. I look forward to hearing some of your upcoming projects.
DON DAVIS: It was a pleasure speaking with you Chris. I look forward to seeing your website!