“We always try to create this sonic world,” reveals Hans Zimmer as we chat via webcam (watch the exclusive video above). “Dunkirk” is the acclaimed composer’s sixth collaboration with director Christopher Nolan, who pushed Zimmer to new heights with his intricate score for the war drama. “We merged the images with the sound so completely that you are really listening to things with your eyes,” he explains. “We’ve managed to create a new experience, making it a whole experience, where the sound, the music and the visuals are of one storytelling experience.”
Zimmer is one of the most revered composers working today, having won an Oscar (for his iconic “The Lion King” score in 1995),and nine other Oscar nominations, including two for his work on Nolan’s films (“Inception” in 2011 and “Interstellar” in 2015). He has had another busy year in 2017, composing three uniquely distinctive scores, for “Dunkirk,” animated feature “The Boss Baby” and his collaboration with Benjamin Wallfisch on helmer Denis Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049.”
“’Dunkirk’ was the hardest thing we ever did,” Zimmer admits, noting that it was Nolan that pushed him to create something that he often thought would not be possible. “I demoed up a 100 minute piece that became a grid of tension,” he explains. “Sometimes I wanted to take the easy way out, after being on the same problem and not having gone to sleep for 24 hours and I’d go home, I would grab a bite to eat, go to sleep and dream all night about it, so it never left me. And Chris just wouldn’t let me take the easy way out, ever. He would say ‘you came up with this idea, let’s go and solve it, let’s go and see it all the way through,’ and it’s that rigorousness, that sticking to a specific idea. What great directors do is they cheer you on, even if you just want to give up. Because they know that if they cheer you on, they help you solve the problems and we are solving their problems as well. We are making a better film in that moment.”
“There were moments where we were fighting like cats and dogs, but underneath it all is something really simple. There is a friendship there. Part of what is really important is that I protect my friend Chris. So it doesn’t matter how hard it gets,” the composer says. “By protecting the film, or in this case, the job was let’s elevate this story, let’s elevate the film, and so I am protecting my friend, and it becomes really personal.”
For Zimmer, as challenging as this score was for him to get just right, he enthusiastically credits his friend for the contribution he made in bringing this dynamic and tense score to life. “This is Chris Nolan’s film, and when I was writing, it didn’t matter if he was sitting in the room with me or not sitting in the room with me, every note, every thing, every gesture, every sound I made, I felt like Chris’ hand was on top of mine,” he reveals. “And what I love about this score is that it is truly integrated into the movie. Chris wrote the screenplay like a piece of music, he didn’t use notes, he used words and images, and I used notes to paraphrase the structure that he had already established.”
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