The Thin Red Line

That’s great. While talking about The Thin Red Line in your Master Class, you said how you find the question more interesting than the answers while you’re writing and playing.

Always.

Did you feel that way before working with Terrence Malick?

No, it was really Terry. Really, this is the link that I was going through on the MasterClass thing. I was always more interested in the question; I just didn’t know it. Just like in MasterClass, I had to go and articulate these things. Somebody like Terry, who is brilliant with words, will suddenly just quietly say, “Well, the question is always more interesting than the answer.” He’s right because as soon as you have the answer… I mean, science does this all the time. As soon as they have an answer, everybody jumps on this and makes it into a new question, and that drives things forward. Otherwise, it’s like those bands that are one hit wonders. All they could think about was the one song, and then they’re doomed to Groundhog Day, for the rest of their life, playing that damned thing.

I know you and Malick talked for a year about the film. Does that happen often?

It happens all the time. I mean that’s how I work. Ron Howard just wrote me on Sunday, and we had a long conversation about something that doesn’t exist yet. He just wanted to start the conversation. He was just exploring if, you know, “What’s a good idea?” Not even whether it’s a good idea to make it but, you know, he was just out mining for ideas I suppose. I do the same thing. I mean, I love my directors, but I use my directors. I talk to them to find answers to all those questions that I have. Then I just try to figure out how to translate those into notes or idio-soundscapes. Whatever is appropriate.

Is it ever a struggle finding the right questions to respond to?

No, because what happens the first time I read a script or the first time I talk to a director, he tells me the story. I have an annoying habit of going, “But what if?” And this is where the big difference between writer-director and just director comes in really handy. With a Chris Nolan, who is a writer, I’ll put him on the spot about it perhaps [Laughs]. “Let’s go.” “Well, hang on a second. So now-” He has to give me the logic. He has to give me a truthful answer. Even if he has to make it up, it’s okay. So yes, I mean, the directors I love working with are the ones you can bombard with questions, and you can have a real conversation with.

Is it still ever nerve-wracking to share your work with directors, even those you know well?

Writing music is just a weird thing where it just…because it has to come from the heart, so you’re presenting something that comes from the heart, which is indefensible and either people like it or they hate it. You can’t talk them into liking it, so it’s… We’re fragile when we write, and we’re super fragile when we play it to somebody the first time. It’s this constant thing. I know one composer, who shall remain completely nameless, but he’s very well known, who would pop into my room and go, “Hey, have you got a Valium by any chance?” I’m going, “Oh, your director is coming over.” I would always know when he had a meeting.

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