Best Original Score – Motion Picture
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE MOTION PICTURE
JUSTIN HURWITZ “FIRST MAN”
JUSTIN HURWITZ: Okay. All right. I have to thank Nick Baxter, who mixed the score, and John Taylor, who mixed this movie, because there min score could have ended up being very annoying, and they found the right place for everything to sit and showed that great mixtures can make a composer look good. So thank you. I want to thank Tom Cross, who cut the film and, the whole editorial department, Harry Hune, John To, Derick Drew, Jennifer Stellema, Jeff Harlacker, Jason Miller. I’m in awe of how you guys put together something so complex. Thank you, of course, to Damien, who’s brilliant and loyal and touches every detail of our work. Thank you HFPA. Thank you everybody at Universal and the Los Angeles musicians.
*All names phonetic.
Q. Where did you get your inspiration?
MR. HURWITZ: I think from the script and the story and learning about Neil and the Armstrong family. There was so much there and there was so much I just didn’t know. I knew the very end of the story, just the part that everybody knows, when he got to the moon, but I didn’t know about the losses and the heartbreaks that the family faced along the way.
And so I read the script, and I was very moved by it and then started talking to Damien about it, wanted to know what he wanted to feel from it. And that’s where it started, reading the script and them talking to Damien and hearing what he wants to feel from the music and what the movie needs and what motions need to, you know, come from the music and that’s where I start.
Q. Congratulations on the best story of the year. So did anybody tell you you were crazy to use the theremin for a romantic score and tell you, you know, you have to have a waltz, like, from 2001 or La La Land?
MR. HURWITZ: Oh, yes.
Q. Tell us about the pushback you got.
MR. HURWITZ: Well, it was a long process of refining and refining. And the first — it’s a very iterative process what we do, what Damien and I do and the whole post department with Tom Cross and cutting the movie. We do screenings every single week, at least one screen a week for months, and we invite friends and family. And the studio sess that we have the larger audiences. And every single time you learn something.
So the early versions of the theremin in this movie, the theremin was a lot more — it was a lot brighter and more — you know, it was a lot more harsher in a lot of places and we learned we have to mellow it out and give it these really almost voice-like qualities. So that took, you know, many screenings and trials to figure out how to sit down in a really good place and have a really sort of mellow and human sounding.
And then there were also just a lot of learning to keep the theremin kind of contained for most of the movie. Theremin is in almost every queue, but it’s very much buried in the orchestra until the Apollo 11 mission and it starts coming to the forefront. It starts really singing and becomes kind of the — almost Neil’s innermost pain and the emotions that he’s been very stoically bottling away this whole time. They way I saw it, he’s kind of splitting open and now his emotions are pouring out.
So the theremin could come to the front and be really lyrical and really sing. And we learned that it is best to actually keep the theremin really sort of hidden for most of the movie and wait for that moment that it really means something. And so it is throughout all these months of editorial process and my process with Damien where we learned these things.
But when we started, you know, the theremin was not being used the right way and then months later hopefully it was being used the right way.
Q. Hi, congratulations. You took on a lot of responsibility to portray not only his emotion and his building emotion, but suspense, even though we kind of know there’s a happy ending. Did the sound effects help you? Did the rocket sound effects, how much did that play into it?
MR. HURWITZ: I’d say the sound effects were — well, we do this thing, we’ve done this thing the last couple movies where we are kind of all together for post. So I had an office next to the editing room and Ai-ling Lee, the sound designer, had an office down the hall. So we could all see each other’s work and be aware of it.
So I saw some of the sound design getting done and she saw some of my music getting done and we were aware what spaces they were filling so that they wouldn’t be in conflict as much.
The Apollo 11 launch, that’s an example where music could be fighting sounds and they could be stepping on each other and then you’d have to sort of have those battles at the dub, at the mix, and you’re like, I want the music to be more, no, I wanted sound. But since we had been together so many months I knew what frequency she was using in a sound, and I tried to stay out of those. And I tried to just be aware of bass lines that cut through. So doing it all together and seeing each other’s work, that’s really helpful.
In terms of adding tension, yeah, that’s just — it was really fun reinventing the themes for the last act of the movie because the themes were conceived to be very — like, I’ve been talking about emotional themes but putting a spin on them where they could be really driving, like the landing queue where it has a relentlessness to it.
It was fun figuring out how do we take that melody because it means so much because it represented Karen, their daughter, and represented heartbreak and all this. It’s so loaded already. Okay, how do we add a drive to it, add a percussion and a sort of strings, you know, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, add a drive to it, but still have it be — have its emotional content in it as well.
It was fun figuring out how to put that together.
Q. Did the actors — at which point did the actors see the version with music in it? How did it inspire them, too?
MR. HURWITZ: I don’t know when they screened the movie. I know Damien had the music on set with him, at least the mock-ups that we had done, and he played some of it for Ryan at different points.
Damien references some of the — some of the set piece music, Damien references that from his own filmmaking and the cinematics to it, but in terms of what he played for Ryan, I know there were a couple points — I didn’t know he was going to do this. I was just making demos and figuring everything, the themes, figuring out the orchestration. So I was sending him demos.
He said, yeah, I put it in Ryan’s earpiece while he was doing a scene. Because I think there was a scene where Ryan had to look out a portal of the craft, and he wanted to be sort of — his mind’s somewhere else, at home probably, and Damien told me that he actually had played the theremin for Ryan in his ear or before the take to set a mood.
I didn’t know that was going to be part of what they were doing, but he ended up doing that on set.