A Score to Settle: Brian Tyler

GIM: Were you using that time to develop a demo reel?
BT: At the same time, I was doing sessions in town to get some extra cash. But also, I had my little rig in my room, and I would multi-track myself and record what were basically score pieces. I also worked on some rock stuff; I was working with a band at the time. But at the same time, I would watch movies and turn the sound off and re-score them myself.

GIM: When you’re layering yourself like that, are you using a specific program?
BT: If I were in college now, I would have either GarageBand or Logic Studio—probably Logic, if I could get my hands on it. It’s a great program to layer yourself and it has great plug-in synths and samplers where you can sound like every instrument there is. But at the time that didn’t exist yet. Before that, I would multi-track myself with tape. That’s how I really learned how to score films, in a way. That’s what you do as a film composer, because you have to make these mock-ups for the directors and producers to hear. They want to hear what the score is going to sound like before you go and score with the orchestra, if you’re lucky enough to have a budget to do that. So I would fire up the sampler and the synths and just layer myself. I’m not sure what got into me, what told me to rewrite the music for these movies, but it’s something I naturally wanted to do.

GIM: How does that lead to your first gig?
BT: I was lucky. In my teens, I had written a concerto that got some traction worldwide and I went to Russia and played it there and did a little bit of a tour for that. But those days were gone, and I’d gone to college and I was in isolation writing stuff. Now, I was also working with a band that got signed. We had a bit of heat, and I was the lead songwriter for the band. I’d written a song called “The Sun Will Fall.” The demo got out while I was at Harvard, and the CD got to this director, Gabe Torres, who heard this song that he loved. He got hold of me and said, “I really want to use this song for my end titles [for the unreleased Bartender]. The lyrics fit the movie perfectly.” I said, “That’s cool. Did you know I also write movie music?” Of course, I’d never done it professionally, and he was very skeptical. He basically thought I was nuts. But because he loved the song so much, he was kind of forced to have me around a bit. So I went to his apartment one day when I knew he was watching dailies and I brought the DAT player with my music on it, and all that music I had been writing for other movies and some random concertos and a requiem I’d written were on this thing. So he let me in and didn’t call the cops or anything. He was watching this dream sequence in the movie and I hit “play” while the scene was rolling. It fit perfectly. You would not believe how perfectly it fit.

GIM: So many college kids or struggling artists forget it takes balls to make it in the industry. You basically forced your way in.
BT: Oh, I knocked on his door uninvited. It was a calculated risk. I had no idea how to get into that world. That score was eventually heard by John Sacret Young, who loved it and used it in a film that he directed [Sirens]. That was heard by Robert Kraft at 20th Century Fox and then on to John Williams, who helped out with being able to have me meet with his agent. You could draw a pretty direct line between me unwantedly knocking on that guy’s door to what I’m doing today.

“I never phone it in. If I get hired to do the film, I treat it like the greatest film
of all time while I’m scoring it.”

GIM: Pretty much every up-and-comer in Hollywood works on as many shitty, no-budget films as they can, hoping one of them might get sold at Sundance and become a cult hit. You hit that jackpot with Six-String Samurai. What was that like?
BT: There’s one that when I saw the film I thought it was awesome, but I thought I’d be the only person who liked the film. We seriously thought, “Is anybody gonna get this thing?” It’s so weird. So when Sundance came calling and it was this hit, we were shocked. The connections I made on that thing immediately led to other things. Michael Burns produced that film. He worked at Prudential at the time—and now he’s the [vice] chairman at Lionsgate, which just released The Expendables. Or when I worked with William Sherak and Jonathan Liebesman directing and Jamie Vanderbilt writing Darkness Falls just a couple years later, we had this graduating-class-of-Darkness Falls thing: Jonathan went on to be a great director; he’s directing [next year’s] Battle: Los Angeles; William Sherak’s become a great producer, and Jamie Vanderbilt’s writing the next Spider-Man. It’s just funny, where we were all just struggling and trying to do something and we were all able to go from there with it.

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