Composer Howard Shore on his Crimes of the Future score, and a lifetime working with David Cronenberg

viggo-mortensen-in-crimes-of-the-futureVertigo Films

Howard Shore – the legendary composer who won three Academy Awards for his work on Lord of the Rings – speaks to Dexerto about his collaborations with David Cronenberg, as well as their new film, Crimes of the Future.

Howard Shore has written scores for more than 80 movies, collaborating with the likes of Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme, Tim Burton, and David Fincher.

But Lord of the Rings aside, he’s probably best known for his work with David Cronenberg, which dates all the way back to 1978. Their new film – Crimes of the Future – hits UK screens this Friday (September 9) with the official synopsis as follows…

As the human species adapts to a synthetic environment, the body undergoes new transformations and mutations. With his partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux), Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen), celebrity performance artist, publicly  showcases the metamorphosis of his organs in avant-garde performances. Timlin (Kristen Stewart), an investigator from the National Organ Registry, obsessively tracks their movements, which is when a mysterious group is revealed… Their mission – to use Saul’s notoriety to shed light on the next phase of human evolution.

Dexerto recently spoke to Shore to discuss Crimes of the Future, as well as the composer’s own future.

Collaborating with David Cronenberg

Dexerto: How did your working relationship with David Cronenberg begin?

Howard Shore: I knew David’s films when I was quite young. I used to go to film festivals and see his films in the late ‘60s, and it wasn’t until, I believe, I approached him in the late ‘70s to score one of his films. I was interested in film and in the way that music was being used in film. I was a young composer and I thought film was an exciting way to express different ideas and be in the recording studio with great musicians. I was interested in the technology at that time. I still am. I approached David to do one of his films called The Brood, I think in 1978 or ’79. I’d only done one film before that, but he took me on, and we started a collaboration. Now we’ve done 16 films since that period and we kind-of grew up together, making different films, and trying different ways of using music in film, which has made the collaboration so interesting.

Dexerto: What’s it like collaborating with him?

Howard Shore: He’s very open. He’s very creative. He’s generous. He’s well read. His original screenplays are wonderful to work with because they invite so many ideas musically. He’s really open to a lot of ideas that I come up with. He’s very good to work with.

howard-shore-crimes-of-the-futureBenjamin Ealovega/New Line Cinema
Howard Shore, photographed during The Hobbit scoring session.

Working on Crimes of the Future

Dexerto: How early in the process does he get you involved, because the script for Crimes of the Future was originally written in the late 1990s.

Howard Shore: I’d read it back then. He always sends me his scripts when he’s finished them and we talk about the story, we talk about casting, and things like that. So he involves me really early on.

Dexerto: Where do you go from there?

Howard Shore: I like to write to the ideas and the words. I like to read, so if the film is based on a novel or a play, I always go back to the original source. In the case of David Cronenberg, we’ve done quite a few literary adaptions, so J.G. Ballard’s Crash, William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, Dangerous Method was also an adaption. Even a film like The Fly was an adaption. So I always go back to the original source to get inspiration. So if it’s Naked Lunch, I’ll dive into Burroughs – the whole era of William Burroughs – which is interesting and wonderful.

Dexerto: What were you trying to achieve with this score?

Howard Shore: I’m trying to create a world in music that David’s created in film. Because culturally, you’re starting from scratch. You can create the world of Crimes of the Future through the use of composition, orchestration, and that’s what I was after. Something unique.

Dexerto: Cronenberg says the film is an evolution of things he has done before, with references to scenes and moments in other movies – was that something you were trying to do with the music?

Howard Shore: I don’t know if I was referencing different films. I’m not really sure that I was. But once I opened out the floodgates of Cronenberg, certain ideas come through, they start to percolate, and you’re not really sure where it takes you. The thing to do is to be open to it, and go down different paths knowing that there could be something great developing from the collaboration.

Dexerto: What did you think when you first saw the finished film?

Howard Shore: I was particularly moved by the actors, frankly, the first time that I saw footage. Viggo and Léa and Kristen, bringing this script to life through those wonderful performances. This is a screenplay that was shot in Athens – we’ve never shot there before, and David doesn’t do a lot of films on location, so the world of Athens brought in certain colors, and the cinematography was really beautifully done, and it brought in different textures that got into the film due to the Athens location. So I thought that was really startling to me – I saw all of these exteriors from Greece, which I wasn’t really prepared for until I saw it.

Looking to Howard Shore’s past, and future

Dexerto: Do you have a favorite of your Cronenberg scores?

Howard Shore: I think this is the 16 or 17 film that we’ve done together. They’re all like children that we’ve nurtured and brought to life. I guess Dead Ringers and The Fly. The Naked Lunch certainly with Ornette Coleman is a favorite. Dangerous Method is a favorite too, and being able to work with Wagner’s Siegfried. We’ve done so many different types of use of music in film, and that’s what’s kept it interesting all these years.

Dexerto: Is there anything that you haven’t done yet that you would like to?

Howard Shore: I don’t know. I’ve covered a lot of ground. Musically I’ve done a lot of things that I was interested in. My interest was always in music when I went into scoring films, and I’ve done over 100 films, and in those scores I’ve tried many different things. Things that I was interested in, things I was interested in developing, the use of electronics in film, the use of the recording studio, working with great musicians. I did a lot of scores with the London Philharmonic which are wonderful, that led up to Fellowship of the Ring and all the Rings scores. So I’ve done a lot of the things I was interested in musically. Now when I work on new projects I try to find ways to develop my ideas even further.

Dexerto: You’ve obviously learned a lot along the way – is there any advice you’d have for up-and-coming composers?

Howard Shore: I work in a pretty unique way because I work with pencil and paper. I write all my composition in counter-point, harmony, four-to-six line sketches. And I orchestrate the scores in ink. I don’t know what advice I could give to young composers in terms of composition and orchestration other than learn the basics of music. Learn how to orchestrate. Learn how to conduct. But I would say the principal advice I would give is to learn good collaboration. Because you can’t be successful without having great collaboration with the director, the editor, the cinematographer. You have to be synchronous to create really good films, like Dead Ringers, or Silence of the Lambs, or Fellowship of the Ring.

Crimes of the Future hits UK screens on Friday (September 9).