Pat Metheny on Film Scoring, Hollywood, and PASSAGE TO PARADISE

by Holly Madden
imagine 2000 © Number Thirty-Two Volume Three November 2000

Over the course of his 25-year music career, Pet Metheny has always believed in one thing: Always trust your first instincts. It's a philosophy he has stuck by not only in making his 23 albums, but also in his approach to film scoring, particularly on his recent work for PASSAGE TO PARADISE.

A multiple Grammy winner, Metheny has been weaving film scoring in between touring with his band and making jazz albums ever since the mid '80s. The most recognizable film he worked on was THE FALCON AND THE SNOWMAN, starring Sean Penn. He also wrote the score for A MAP OF THE WORLD starring Sigourney Weaver, TWICE IN A LIFETIME with Gene Hackman and Anne Margaret, and LEMON SKY with Kevin Bacon, to name a few.

I spoke with Metheny after he attended the screening of PASSAGE TO PARADISE at this summer's Woods Hole Film Festival.

Holly Madden: When did you first get involved in film composing?

Pat Metheny: In the late '70s. I did a series for high school kids called SEARCH FOR SOLUTIONS. I thought no one would see it, but surprisingly it attracted a huge following. A lot of people came to hear my music because of my work on that series. I started to get more involved in film composing in the '80s, because by then I had established myself as a recording artist and I could finally take the time to work on films.

Holly Madden: How did you get involved in PASSAGE TO PARADISE?

Pat Metheny: I hadn't worked on a film score in quite some time and then the producer for PASSAGE contacted me. He was adamant that I work on the film, and was totally convinced that I was the only composer who should do it. I was right in the middle of a tour, but the producer was so empassioned I decided to take a look at the rough cut.

Holly Madden: What were your first impressions?

Pat Metheny: I've been a fan of Julie Harris ever since her role in EAST OF EDEN, and was really taken by her performance in PASSAGE. As I was watched the film, I could hear the exact kind of music I would write. I realized that I had about a one-week window and that if I jumped on the project that day, I could pull it off. Right after watching the film, I went to my keyboard and wrote what ended up being the film's three main themes.

Holly Madden: What are the themes based on?

Pat Metheny: One is a travel theme – the theme that goes with Julie Harris's character. There's also a theme that surrounds her moment of redemption. I basically went with my first instincts, which is what I always do in my music. After that, it all came together very quickly. I put together a cassette, sent it off to the producer and he called me the very next day. He said it was exactly what he wanted.



The sneak preview at Wood's Hole Film Festival generated a great word of mouth buzz for PASSAGE TO PARADISE (see related story in September's IMAGINE). National Amusements gave the film a terrific premiere in Revere on September 14th to benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. PASSAGE formally opened to the public in Revere and Woburn Showcase Cinemas. Brighton Avenue Productions then booked the film into Dedham Community Theater, Lexington Flick, West Newton and Somerville. The Coolidge Corner Theater played it in mid-October. Because the film's reviews were so strong, the unexpected occurred: Distributors called and we set up special screenings in New York and Los Angeles. At press time, the jury is still out as to where Brighton Avenue goes from here. But it is good to know that the distribution executives are reading Laura Bernieri's faxes!

Laura Bernieri is partner and president for Brighton Avenue in Boston.

Holly Madden: How would you describe the style or tone of your score?

Pat Metheny: Many styles came to mind when I was watching the film. The film is set in Marche, one of my favorite places in Italy. My band and I frequently tour in Italy and the people there really seem to Œget' my style of music. Marche is also very similar to where I grew up in the U.S. – lots of farmland, built around fields, lots of sky. That was the point of entry for me. It wasn't like I had to create the vibe of Italy here. I wanted to create the impression of a place versus a description. With this film, it's more about expressing the larger philosophical issues. It's a very personal kind of music; very characteristic of my sound. In fact, doubly so, because I play all of the instruments in the score.

Holly Madden: Once you had established the themes, how long did it take you to put it altogether?

Pat Metheny: I've never written a film score in such a short amount of time. I buried myself in it, worked without sleep and wrote the whole score in five days. Normally, it takes a six week minimum to do a feature-length score. When I attended the Woods Hole festival, I thought to myself, "How did I ever write that music in such a short time period?" But the truth is, with my schedule it was the only way I could do it. And because it's a low budget film, I not only had to write all of the music, I had to play all of the instruments – the orchestral parts, keyboard, synth and guitar.

Holly Madden: Are you attracted to a particular film genre?

Pat Metheny: Pretty much everything I've done has been a drama. I like to work on films that have some substance. When a project comes my way, I always ask myself: Will I be able to do a good job? And, do I feel some connection that will compel and inspire me to come up with something on a musical level that is beyond what I normally do in my music career? In general, I'm attracted to film composing because it lets me to enter a zone that is beyond what I do in on a daily basis.

Holly Madden: How is writing for film different than writing songs for an album?

Pat Metheny: In film, my obligations change from pleasing myself to meeting the needs of a whole group of people – the director, the producer, actors. Film is all about collaboration.

Holly Madden: Do you have any role models?

Pat Metheny: There are so many. Gerry Goldsmith. Sonny Rollins. John Coltrane – his level of personal skill and his voice is so highly evolved. There are also classic guys like Alex North, even popular composers like (Henry) Mancini.

Holly Madden: Are there any recent film scores that have impressed you?

Pat Metheny: Whenever James Newton writes a score, I'm huge fan of it. His work on GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS was excellent. Also, Thoman Newman's work on AMERICAN BEAUTY was very memorable. His score did things that good scores do – remind you of things, bring you along in the story. It's the perfect example of a film that could have used only pop songs but didn't. As of late, however, I actually have more examples of bad films scores than good ones.

Holly Madden: Why do you think that is?

Pat Metheny: Often times, the composer has written something way cooler than what the audience hears. And no one is more in shock than the composer by the way the final music comes out. It's a big reason why I don't work on films that often. I personally don't interface with Hollywood that well, because I don't like to make compromises. When you finish writing the score, you turn it over to the studio and it's out of your hands. You can beg and plead with the director and producers, but there's this committee that has millions of dollars at stake. Music is an area where everyone has an opinion – it could be the girlfriend of a director, or an actor who thinks the music is stepping on his lines.

Holly Madden: Can you offer any advice to people just breaking into the industry?

Pat Metheny: For people just getting into it, it's especially hard, because you don't get to write a lot of original material. There's been a real erosion of the function of music in film over the past 15 years. So many scores now aren't scores anymore – they're mostly wallpaper with songs, often the same songs. I can't count how many times "Born To Be Wild" or "Harvest Moon" has been used in movies. I know where it comes from – there's been a move for directors to market their films by using pre-existing music. That combined with the undeniable commercial appeal of putting out soundtrack albums. It all adds up to the erosion of the process.

For me, putting pop songs against the it comes from – there's been a move for directors to market their films by using pre-existing music. That combined with the undeniable commercial appeal of putting out soundtrack albums. It all adds up to the erosion of the process.

For me, putting pop songs against the picture is so hopelessly cliché. The moment I hear it I think, "This is a bunch of really lazy people." I say, let's move on. I really feel like there will be a move back to films with original scores.

Holly Madden: With PASSAGE TO PARADISE under your belt, what's next?

Pat Metheny: I'm working on records and back with my band after a one-and-a-half year hiatus. We're gearing up for the next couple of years of touring, which we've been doing for over 25 years. As for PASSAGE TO PARADISE, I hope to release a soundtrack album here in the states. I released one in Japan and Italy and it's been hugely successful in both countries.


maintained by Thomas Hönisch TOP last update: October 7, 2001