On the Beach

Seven Weekly Interviews with CG by Karen Cambrell
February – March 2000

WEEK FOUR. Friday 10th March 2000
Composing Begins.

CG: Well, it's Friday the 10th, my ninth day of composing. I've written about 22 minutes of music, which is about a quarter of the score, but I'm two and a half days behind so I'm in a minor panic. I'm a bit concerned as to how I'm going to catch up, but I'll have to!

Round about three days ago it all started to gel for me. I've had these themes since before I started writing and they seemed to be right for what I'd written them for but you never really know until you start matching it cue by cue to the picture and I guess by about Tuesday I'd written about ten minutes of music or thereabouts, perhaps a bit more and it really just started to gel and I found that every theme that I've written is working for the picture. So there's a real sense of elation when that happens. It's like a whole weight is lifted from your shoulders and you actually start enjoying the process of writing the music. Yesterday, Russell Mulcahy, the director came round and listened to what I'd done to date, I played him everything that I'd done on the piano and he's very happy, which is terrific. Particularly the Love Theme, which is working really well. So that was a very successful meeting. It's always a worry that, even though I like what I've written, that he may not like it.

The Great Ocean Road (Love Theme)
Composed 10-11 March 2000

There's only half of one cue that he's asked me to re-write. That's because I'd gone a little bit melancholy when he wanted it to be a bit stronger. Thankfully that was a very simple cue to write in the first place so it shouldn't be too big a deal to re-write it. It's a case of where, perhaps, I was going for what was already there in the picture. It's a point where the American submarine is being decommissioned or passed over to the Australian Navy. It's a parade and I had a trumpet doing a Last Post type of thing…

Decommission (trumpets)
Composed 5 March 2000

…rather mournful I guess, and Russell actually wanted it to be much more, not aggressive, but strong, you know, a sense of drums going rrrum, rrum and so on, so it's actually quite a different take on what I had done.

Decommission (drums)
Composed 9 or 10 March 2000

It’s a case of where the music is actually bringing something to the picture that isn't there. Something that I'd missed.

KC: So that was a case where the director actually wanted you to do that. Do you want to talk about times when you want to bring something that's not there and they haven't necessarily asked you to do that? Or did you do that anywhere and how did he react? Anything on the submarine?

CG: Not really, I mean it's very, you know, macho go, go, go sort of stuff, but that's what you'd expect to do anyway. It's not particularly bringing anything new, it's just doing the job that you'd expect to do. The director has left a space for the music to do something and I do it, which is not what we were talking about. It was more where the scene is lacking a particular emotion and so the music has to try and bring it in.

The World At War (Submarine)
Composed 4 March 2000

KC: Are you finished working with Leah now?

CG: No, she's got quite a few days to go yet. We only just received the finished Reel Two a couple of days ago, so she's working on that now. Actually I've brought someone else on as well so they can both get ahead of me. Just for a couple of days.…except that there's so much to do each day that I find I'm fractionally getting behind each day. Not quite making the quota. I start at 9am and I finish at midnight every day.

KC: Is that how long you'd planned to work to do your quota or is it even more than what you planned?

CG: It's probably what I planned. I knew it was tight in the beginning, as you know. If I had six weeks to compose this score it would be heavy going and I've got less than four weeks now…it should be eight weeks. If On the Beach was a concert composition, you'd be spending over a year doing it, for sure, 86 minutes of music.

KC: How do you not let that affect you day to day?

CG: Deadlines are a part of the job so you don't let it affect your day. You know, when I talk to you I mention a lot of the quota and the amount of time and being behind, but when I'm actually writing I'm not thinking of that. It's only when I stop writing and I look at where I should be up to that I realise - but when I'm actually writing I'm totally focussed on the music. There's just a sense of haste all day long. I liken it to running a marathon, but sprinting the whole way.

KC: So you had the meeting with the director yesterday, have you had any interaction with anyone else?

CG: No, completely on my own. They've managed to get some more money for the music budget…things are still fairly tight but it’s helping a lot. That's meant a little bit of re-jigging the number of musicians on sessions and getting a choir instead of just a few singers. So there's been a bit of organisational work as well. I've had to be in contact with the orchestra contractor and we have to reassess which sessions to put on when.

KC: We could perhaps talk about the composing process.

CG: My process with each cue is I take the sheets of all the timings that Leah has done for me and mark out a template on manuscript paper and then I tend to do a one or perhaps two line sketch of melody and basic harmony just to make sure it's syncing up to the picture and, well today I've done a two and a half minute piece and a one and a half minute piece where I've got to that stage. So that's taken me perhaps five hours. [These two cues combined make up The Great Ocean Road on the soundtrack album.] I then get out brand new paper, full orchestral paper and start orchestrating it. I compose directly into the full score which I'll finish sometime this evening on both of those two. And then when I've signed that off I pull out my scanner and I scan in my handwritten full score into my computer and then email the files to my copyist. My copyist is an Australian who happens to live in Italy at the moment and he works on it overnight because of the time difference and I get it back the next day in beautiful, printed computer notation. I then check it, let him know it's fine and he then is able to extract each individual instrument's part and make up the parts still on the computer. He then emails all those parts for each cue for every instrument to his assistant who lives in Sydney and she prints them out. There's a great sort of circle of emails going around. So, on a daily basis, Peter is always waiting for me everyday. He can do what he does faster than what I can do. I think they have already completed a few of the parts but basically they'll wait another week or so just in case there are any changes. It really comes to a head a couple of days before the first recording session, because obviously it all has to be finished on the morning of the first recording session, it all has to be sitting there on the stands.

It's actually quite strange, I've never met Peter. We've only spoken once very, very briefly on the phone on a previous job and yet he's probably the person I have most dialogue with through email and, in some ways, the person I'm closest to through this process. I look forward to his e-mails; he's quite witty and it's quite bizarre that it's someone I've never met.

There's one piece I keep putting it off each day, each morning I wake up and think “I'm meant to do the yacht race” and I just can't and the reason I can't is I need to feel quite exuberant and it's the last thing I'm feeling each morning! So instead I move on and go and write another dying cue or a searching cue or something like that. Or even the love theme, which of course is quite tragic. But a happy yacht race, it just feels a bit beyond me, so I'm getting well past it. I'll have to go back and do it in the next few days.

Another cue that I had quite strongly disagreed with Russell about was where Moira and Towers first meet - they meet on a train and there's a short train journey from Melbourne down to Queenscliff on a steam train - and Russell felt that this should have big romantic, almost David Lean sort of score, you know but I actually felt that it shouldn't have any score at all. In the end Russell rang me back and said “I really do want it, I really do”. I understood what he was after, so I wrote a piece using the Love Theme and I really love it now. It was quite fun, just for strings, and it's very much a romantic train journey.

Moira and Towers Meet (Train)
Composed 7 March 2000

It's also shaping up that there's quite a lot of solo cello in a lot of the cues. Not particularly related to any one theme or to any one character or anything, it's just a pervading sound throughout the film.

On the Jetty
Composed 8 March 2000

I've got a feeling, near the end of the second half where one of the characters dies earlier than everyone else that instead of cello I'll use a solo viola because the cello has a richness of tone and somehow I need to move into an even more melancholy area just at that point, I think. [See audio example Hirsch below.] But it's great fun writing solo cello music at the moment.

KC: Is that something that will make this score quite unique?

CG: I think that's something that'll give it it's particular sound. I think with any film you want to create a world where certain sounds, ideas, feelings are appropriate to the film and other things are not appropriate to the film. So I guess that's one of my tasks is to find what musical language to use that's appropriate to this particular world of On the Beach and certainly a solo cello very much fits that world. As does lots of low brass, lots of low strings for the darker things and some very bright, not too loud violins as well. Bright as in high. There's very little woodwind, hardly ever, just a couple of spots carefully chosen where a solo woodwind instrument will come out. Mostly the entire score is strings, percussion, brass, harp and piano. That was intentional.

Getting Set Up.

Preparation and Themes.

Waiting for the Pictures and More Themes

Composing Begins.

Yachts and Choirs.

Nearing the End and Orchestration.

The End and Preparing for the Sessions.

POSTSCRIPT. August 2008