Exclusive Interview (Part Two): Composer Steve Jablonsky talks Transformers 4, Lone Survivor, and Michael Bay
In Part One (READ IT here) of our interview with Steve Jablonsky, composer of films like TRANSFORMERS, THE ISLAND, PAIN AND GAIN, STEAMBOY, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and most recently, BATTLESHIP, ENDER'S GAME, and LONE SURVIVOR, we talked about how he got into composing and his earlier work. In Part Two we discuss TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION, his collaboration with Explosions in the Sky for LONE SURVIVOR, working with Michael Bay, future projects, and a certain superhero movie he had to turn down...
Then, there's TRANSFORMERS 4...
Yeah, it's definitely-I haven't quite met with Michael on Transformers 4 yet, but I have heard probably he wants to do something new which I am totally up for. I think it's a....I don't know if you call it a reboot, but it's all different actors and I haven't seen it yet. We will see if, if you even hear that theme in the new ones or not. I am not sure yet.
Are you doing the score regardless or this is still unknown?
Am I doing the score for TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION ?
Yes, I am.
Right. I should point out that I was at...the combination of me and a band called Explosions In The Sky. Originally it was going to be entirely them. And I thought great, that Peter Berg, he has known them for years from, I believe that he did some stuff on FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS.
He hired them on board to do the score and they're great. I got a call at some point saying would I look at some scenes. OK, that's fine, yes. I don't know exactly why, I think maybe they thought, the band's music...for most of the film is working great, and they wanted me to help. It was great. I didn't work directly with them because they're in Austin, Texas and I'm in L.A. I spoke to them on the phone and I think sixty, sixty‑five percent of the scores is them. We ended up doing our own things. We tried to not have two totally different sounding scores.
Hopefully we achieved that. I looked at a couple of big scenes. I did the whole final reel with the rescue. It was some of the bigger moments. Maybe Pete thought, "I'll get Steve in here to look". They're super talented obviously, but scoring to picture is something that takes practice.
So, you were brought in to punch it up, then?
Maybe that was part of why they brought me in, I'm not sure. I don't remember how many scenes, but I definitely did the whole end, which was a thrill because it's such a well done, emotional thing. I'd love to hear what you think. Pete Berg is a huge supporter, as am I, of military. I fed off of that when I was working with him. He's so respectful and he loves hanging out with these guys and Marcus, the guy who wrote the book, the lone survivor.
He came to the cutting room and you look at him and go, "Oh my God, this is the guy that went through this." He's an imposing guy, with such strength. It was a very inspiring thing to work on. I would love to do more stuff like this. When I heard originally that he was going to get "Explosions", I thought, "That's cool", but in the back of my mind, "Damn it, I would have done that movie."
I did get the call. I did get to work on it. It was very inspiring and I would love to do more things like that, that are based on true stories and you can sink your teeth into the drama. I love doing the other stuff too but I do a lot of fantasies, sci‑fi, that stuff.
The TRANSFORMERS stuff is all big fun. Some emotional stuff too but it's a big fun ride. This you take a bit more seriously. With something like LONE SURVIVOR, one of the things we were tard on, did not make light of anything that is going on in this movie. It's real. It's very heavy stuff that these guys went through. You have to respect that, for sure.
That opens a good segue for my next question. I know you touched on this earlier. Is there a property franchise or anything that you'd like to work on, be it TV or video games? Is there anything that, "Man, I'd love to score that".
That's a good question. There was actually...I don't know if I'm supposed to say this but whatever, nobody told me not to. I did get a call months and months ago about the next SPIDER-MAN and that Marc [Webb], the director, was interested. He liked my work and that was terrific. I was all excited. I've never done a superhero movie and I know there are a lot of them out there, but it would be a great one to do.
I literally woke up the next morning, sat up in bed and went, "Oh my God, I have Transformers 4 to do," right on top of each other. I called my agent and all I said was, "Transformers 4", and he said, "All right." We had to call Sony and said, "We're sorry." They were very respectful, "We don't want to interfere with your relationship with Michael".
I was sad, but I do have to stick with Michael. They were two huge projects and they would be the same exact schedule and it would be impossible to do both, to do a good job on both if I was trying to do them at the same time.
There are a lot of filmmakers that find a favorite composer; Stephen Spielberg, obviously, there's John Williams, M. Night Shyamalan always uses James Newton Howard. It seems Michael Bay has taken you under his wing. Are you his new go to guy? Has he ever said that to you?
He's never said that and I can't ever hear him saying that. [laughs] Only because, like I said on the first TRANSFORMERS, I didn't even know I was doing it. He's crazy busy with his stuff.I think he assumes things and he's never going to sit down and say, "Look Steve, you're my go to guy." If we're sitting down, it's going to be business. We're talking music, we're talking whatever.
Having said that, I've been asked this question a lot recently, I guess so. We've never talked about it, but before I started doing his films he wasn't known for using the same guy every time. He jumped around a little bit. I'm not sure how it happened but I remember before THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, when we finished it, he looked at me, his quote was, "Wow. You did a great job and we paid you nothing." [laughs] We were all laughing, I don't know if I was laughing. He was very appreciative of that, maybe he didn't expect me to do something that he thought was that good. I don't know.
When he offered me THE ISLAND, which was a big step for him, it was his first movie without Jerry Bruckheimer as producer. It was his own thing and I still think it's one of his best. It's unfortunate it didn't do very well. It's a very well made film and we had fun doing it.
Him allowing me to do that, was probably him saying, "I trust you. Try this out". The next level was TRANSFORMERS. Having said that, even with Part 4, I sit in my studio and 'm working on whatever, ENDER'S GAME, I think, "I wonder if I'm doing "Transformers"?" I don't really know. He's unpredictable as well. He's a madman, so I might hear he's got some band doing it or something. I don't know. It was a week or two ago, I got the call and the deal. That's cool. I can plan my next few months.
I'm never sure. He was very happy with PAIN AND GAIN so I figured I would be doing Part 4. If that answers your question, yes, I think I'm his guy. I never assume, I never take it for granted. Suddenly its like, "Now I've had enough of you. I'm going to get somebody else now."
You mentioned "The Island" score. You still hear the cues from that in movie trailers and stuff to this day. I spot it immediately, I'm like that's "The Island." There it is. It's all the time, it's a great score, I love it. Even if the movie didn't do so well the score has almost outlived the movie in that sense.
I hear it too. I was talking to somebody else about this, how excited I was when I heard opening the Winter Olympics a couple of years ago. The big on MBC. I thought, "Oh my God". I was sitting there watching it as a fan of sport. I'm like, "What the hell?" I was so excited that it hit a note with so many people that they decided to use it for that. The Superbowl I heard it.
Then again when I was writing it, a guy who mixes a lot of my music is named Allan Morrison. He's a super talented mix engineer. To give him credit, he did say to me when we were mixing that score, he said, "Get ready to hear this in every trailer for the next three years." I just laughed and I should call him out on it now and say, "Remember what you said, you were close to being right."
What's next for you?
There are a few things that are possible. I never like to say. There is one TV thing I'm going to work on with Michael called "The Last Ship". I'm going to write some themes for that. It's a cool show. It's a big...like a Michael Bay action movie but squeezed into an hour long TV show.
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