INTERVIEW: ‘Falcon & the Winter Soldier’ Composer Henry Jackman
Following on from the success of the Marvel Disney Plus show The Falcon And Winter Soldier, JumpCut are delighted to speak with composer Henry Jackman about his career to date and what it was like to revisit these characters and themes following his scores for Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War.
How did you feel to revisit these characters after a few years and moving from the big screen to the small screen?
I was delighted. Captain America: Winter Soldier and Civil War – both of which I did with the Russo brothers, I had to remind myself coming for the Disney + series Falcon and The Winter Soldier, I had to go back to the original scores for Winter Soldier and Civil War, because it was obvious that some of the thematic DNA for Bucky and Falcon who actually had a motif in the first film and characters like Zemo. There were a lot of themes and characters that can be pulled from the themes of the earlier scores. Because I’ve been working on so many other movies I spent a good week listening to the themes and motifs and of course there were new themes, characters the Flag Smashers had their own themes and musical DNA.
It actually didn’t feel like moving to the small screen, as the production value felt almost the same as a Marvel film, the structure was different, with 6 episodes and therefore more music but it didn’t feel like the small screen. People watching it’s not like the cinema, but the attitude I brought for writing the music for the Falcon and Winter Soldier TV show, it didn’t feel like a TV show, more like a long film split into 6 episodes. The production value was so high and the artistic seriousness was there.
Having worked in both live action and animation is there a particular style you prefer to score?
That’s a really great question. Not really, I think I’m just very lucky. If I spent all my time doing animated films I’d want to do live action and if I spent all my time doing live action I’d want to animation. The thing I’d say is the grass is always greener but there are some tendencies in the difference between the two, the most obvious one is the speed of action, dialogue and mood and plot changes is faster so therefore if you have a two minute piece of music for an animated film what happens in that two minutes is a lot more condensed, there’s more use of theme, more storytelling, it might have to be tense there’s a heroic moment. It’s a little more specific to picture and a little more speedy as regards how quickly music is required to shape the narrative .
Sometimes you could work on a live action film and there’s a three minute cue and its one mood for the whole three minutes. So there are some differences. I was going to say that often animation is a traditional orchestral score but even that’s not true – puss in boots or monsters vs aliens is big symphonic score. Wreck it ralph there’s a lot of production electronics – synths and plugins, textures that are not orchestral. A lot of traditional animated films like Paddington or Winnie The Pooh are much more likely to focus heavily on a western orchestral palette. I’ve done a lot of scores where I’ve had to create a new sonic palette that has included a lot more textures than orchestra. The biggest difference in animation is the speed with which the narrative takes place is more compressed. If you listen to an animation cue you can tell the story is happening more quickly.
Having composed video game scores for the Uncharted series would you score more games?
Yeah I probably would, I really enjoyed it. It’s a very different process that confused me at first. I like to spend three months from writing until beginning of recording, it’s like a sprint, you work to get everything ready and there’s a looming deadline. Video Games are different, they last a lot longer and its more modular. You give them some materials while their working on the game. Then you come back to it several months later and develop more materials. It takes place over a longer period and there are more restrictions, unlike music to picture. You do get cinematic sequences in video games which are just like movies with music cues to picture. With video games it’s not always clear what’s happening, it depends what the players are doing. If you have a piece of music at a certain BPM, it can’t suddenly change key or tempo, you have to write in a different style. Clever video games can phase the music in and out a bit like a jigsaw. You don’t have the same freedom where you can do exactly what you want. Often when you have certain restrictions, it doesn’t mean it’s less creative you just have to operate in a different way.
Were there particular composers who inspired you when you were younger?
The thing with that question when people ask is that they assume I’m referring to film composers. Because I had a really strict classical education, the composers who inspired me where more serious composers. I went to a choir school so my first experience was a lot of English cathedral music like Palestrina, Thomas Tallis then later Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart and Hayden. Then later 20th century music Benjamin Britton and Vaughan Williams.
Then I studied classical music so my favourite composers were Marler, Richard Strauss, Debusi, Benjamin Britton, Gibbons. – When I got older and could understand more complex harmony I loved Bartoc and Stravinsky. I got into film music much later. As a child we had the BBC on at Christmas with ET, Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Every child in the world must know what John Williams sounds like so he was a huge influence. I was going to say Hans Zimmer, but of course that was later.
So when I was younger, it was more classical composers and then when I was 16 I got into a lot of electronic and underground music and English rave and house music which is a hell of a long way from Strauss and Marler. I was into a particular strain of drum and bass in the mid 90s.
What was it like working with pop musicians like Elton John and Mike Oldfield in the earlier part of your career?
It was amazing. In a way the biggest influence more than those two names was Trevor Horn who was a legendary record producer and funnily enough is a good friend of Hans Zimmer. I was lucky enough to work on pop production at Sarm studios in London and some of that was spent with Trevor Horn who produced Art Of Noise, Seal, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, it’s a list of classic records and he had a very unique and progressive style he pushed technology much further in very new and interesting ways. So I learnt a hell of a lot from Trevor Horn and I would later learn a lot from Hans Zimmer. You couldn’t get more lucky because Trevor Horn was this legend of British record producing and then Hans Zimmer was this European legend breaking into film music. Those early days working on club and pop records definitely informed me, especially when I’m doing a non-symphonic score.
Are there any projects you’re working on that you are particularly excited about?
It’s a tough one, yes I am but I’m not supposed to talk about it. I will shortly be reengaging my fruitful relationship with the Russo brothers a few months from now and I’m excited about that.
Having a family background in music, is that what introduced you to the idea of a career in the industry?
That’s a very good question. I had a very strong musical education, some people have to be very brave if you have a musical talent and your parents fight against it or don’t approve of it. In my case my entire family was in music and it was seen as the natural thing and I had a natural affinity for it, it didn’t seem dangerous or odd. To be honest I wouldn’t be particularly good at anything else. I’m sure I could make myself useful in some capacity but I don’t have any obvious skills, so I’m grateful I’m able to bring my eclectic influences, classical, club based into writing film scores.
It certainly helps when the atmosphere of your family is encouraging with music. Even if the musical background wasn’t in music, just the fact music was encouraged and a viable way to make your way in the world rather than trying to fight against it.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
I perhaps didn’t say quite enough about revisiting themes from Falcon and Winter Soldier. There’s a piece called Louisiana Hero which appears in the end credits and appears on the soundtrack. For people with a good musical ear, in the Winter Soldier, Falcon never had enough real estate to warrant a full theme. I gave him a single motif and when I was doing Winter Soldier I thought that’s the beginning of a full theme. So when it came to revisiting the characters many years later, that piece Louisiana Hero I was able to use that motif. You can hear it at about a minute in, you hear it come in on the horns. Then I got to carry on the theme. I was happy to take this original idea for Falcon and turn it into a full superhero theme that represents Sam Wilson, who was the wingman and in this six-part series, he goes on this long and sometimes painful journey learning what it takes to bear the shield and become Captain America.