A Chat with Versatile Composer John Debney

By Kat Kramer

John Debney.

John Debney is one of the most talented, versatile and in-demand composers working in Hollywood today. Just this year alone, he has composed and scored for the poignant drama “The Stoning of Soraya M” and Disney’s mega-comedy hit “Old Dogs.” He’s currently composing the scores for Garry Marshall’s “Valentine’s Day” and “Iron Man 2,” both due in 2010, and “Sin City 2” and “Sin City 3.” His past film credits are widely diverse, showcasing his range. Some of these include “Aliens in the Attic,” “Hannah Montana: The Movie,” “Hotel for Dogs,” “Swing Vote,” “Evan Almighty,” “Georgia Rule,” “Raising Helen,” “The Passion of the Christ,” “Liar, Liar,” “The Princess Diaries” and “I’ll be Home for Christmas.”
John Debney received an Academy Award® nomination for Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ.” His score for “Cutthroat Island” has been celebrated by music critics as an example of great swashbuckling film music and as one of the best film scores in history.
Born and raised in Glendale, California, John is the son of Louis Debney, the producer for Disney Studios who made such films as “Zorro” and “The Mickey Mouse Club” television show. He gained his entry into the competitive world of film composing from the esteemed composer Mike Post. The rest, as they say, is history.
I recently had the pleasure of chatting with busy Mr. Debney at his Burbank office, near Toluca Lake, across the street from Warner Bros. Studios. Fun and energetic, I enjoyed hearing his stories.
Kat: You’ve worked with so many different directors and I’m sure they all work differently. Can you explain their styles? For instance, you’ve worked quite a bit with Garry Marshall.
JD: Well, interestingly enough, Garry as a director wants to hear dialogue and not a lot of music, and other directors are just the opposite and want you to cover everything with music. In the case of Mel Gibson, he’s somewhere in the middle. He was very conflicted during “Passion of the Christ,” so it was a trial and error. The smartest thing I did with him was to have him sit with me while I was composing the music. Walt Becker (“Old Dogs”) is very hands-on, likes lots of music and choices. They’re all different.
Kat: Who are some composers who you admire or have been influenced by through the years?
JD: So many… John Williams is one, certainly Jerry Goldsmith and Alfred Newman. Eric Wolfgang Korngold. Titans of film music. I also like Rachel Portman. I wish there were more women composers and more opportunities for them. Rachel Portman is great, busy and does films as well as plays and musicals.
Kat: Do you read the script before you begin scoring?
JD: I’ll tell you, it’s hard for me to write music from reading the script, although I’ve done it. But invariably what happens is, I’ll read the script then come up with some ideas. I’m a very visual person—so when I get some footage or a scene or two, that’s when I really start getting my own creative juices going.
Kat: Any directors you haven’t worked with yet on your wish list?
JD: Many. Steven Spielberg is one—though I worked with him when he did television. Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Chris Nolan. I think he is a stunning talent. It’s so important to meet new directors; I try to all the time.

And I’m sure all the new directors want to meet John Debney. Look for this dynamic composer to land a nomination for his score for “The Stoning of Soraya M” during awards season. He’s simply too unique to overlook. For more info on John Debney visit his Web site www.johndebney.com.

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