16/04/08Score Notes Interviews Geoff Zanelli


SN: As far as unique projects go, where would you rank "Outlander" on your list of scoring assignments?

Geoff: It's got to be right near the top. That's what hooked me in, actually, the unique story. A man from space brings an alien monster to earth, but it's set more than 1,000 years ago in Viking territory! I wondered, "how is this going to work?" You've got to see it yourself, but it holds together very well because it's rooted in a very classic story, Beowulf.

SN: At what point did you get involved in the project and what was your initial reaction to the material?

Geoff: It was after they shot the film and had their edit in progress. So I went over to director Howard McCain's edit room and met with him, the editor David Dodson and producers John Shimmel and Chris Roberts. I remember them showing me an early version of the trap sequence with the alien on fire, wreaking havoc on this Viking village, taking heads off of people and just generally messing things up. I'd been looking for a fantasy film, something imaginative since I enjoyed working on the Pirates films so much and this was a perfect match. And once you sit down with Howard, his enthusiasm is contagious.

SN: Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the key themes that you developed for the score?

Geoff: Sure. I started with the Viking music. That's the most "classic" of the themes. It had to be earthly, something to root the score in to counterbalance the story against so it's the most orchestral music in the film. People picked up on the fact that I didn't just go and write a big major-key heroic theme for this, and that was deliberate too. It still plays heroism but it's "serious" music, it plays the story about the succession of kings in a reverent way.

There was a theme for our aliens, the Moorwen too. There's actually two in a way, one for the monstrous aspects which plays during the action, and another theme which is the emotional side of the story. That was for a flashback sequence where we see the Moorwen genocide that Kainan, the spaceman who brings the Moorwen to earth on accident, has been involved with as a soldier.

And Kainan himself gets other-wordly music. It's more synthetic for him, and maybe a little military too. The idea is that it's very different from the Viking music for the contrast, different instruments, different approach altogether but then over time, as Kainan assimilates into Viking culture, bits of the Viking them start to transfer onto him. He earns it, really, he earns his Vikinghood and so the music transfers over to him.

SN: How important was it to have a strong main theme as the foundation of the soundtrack?

Geoff: Crucial, I think. There had to be this thematic music that roots the score in something believable and familiar so you can buy into the story. I didn't want the audience to feel alienated from the world, I'd rather draw them in to the film, make them take the journey with us rather than just sit back and watch a bunch of people go through it on screen.

SN: Can you describe some of the unique instruments that you employed for this film?

Geoff: We had a wide palette for this. I wanted to have no limits with what I could use and Howard was on board with that approach, it's one of the things we talked about early on. So there's the orchestra, but also a ton of synthesizers, some woodwind instruments from different cultures around the world, a middle eastern fiddle, there's a female vocal solo in a few places, an early form of harp called a lyre, and hand drums which are something we know the Vikings actually played. There's even some electric guitars in there, a few anyway, and some parts where the drums are more like rock drums as opposed to the tribal drums that happen in other parts of the score.

SN: Looking forward, do you think that "Outlander" will catch on as a cult classic among sci-fi and action fans?

Geoff: There are a ton of people, myself included, who are interested in these types of imaginative stories so yes, I have a hunch it'll catch on. The response for the limited theatrical release has been very, very positive already. People sought this film out once they heard about it so that's a good sign.

SN: As we wrap up this brief discussion, can you tell us about some of the projects you are currently working on?

Geoff: Right now I'm co-scoring a miniseries called The Pacific, which is a World War Two story by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks who also made Band Of Brothers. It's a magnificent show! It'll play on HBO, not sure the exact release date for it though. I'm sharing writing duties with Hans Zimmerr and Blake Neely on it.

Also, a few months ago I co-scored a movie called Game which comes out in September. That one was with Robb Williamson, and we got to be pretty crazy, unconventional and experimental. Definitely not the kind of thing people have heard me do before, which made it fun! That film has an interesting premise too, it's about mind control in the future where criminals are used as characters in these live battles which are then televised around the world, sort of like playing a video game only you're controlling actual humans. And one of those humans is Gerard Butler. We've got a huge body count in that one. It's directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the same guys who directed Crank so that should give you some idea of how crazy we got to be...

That's what's keeping me busy nowadays. Thanks for your interest in my score, by the way. I'm glad to see Outlander finding its audience.