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Empire Meets John Powell
The Rio 2 composer talks us through his tunes for 'toons...

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John Powell’s introduction to Hollywood was assisting Hans Zimmer on an un-released drama documentary directed by one Terrence Malick. “He didn’t know who the hell I was but he treated me like an artist straight off,” remembers Powell. “He is profound. He will say something that you will have to go and think about for 48 hours.” Since his big feature break with Face/Off, the British-born Powell has risen to become one of most sought after composers, building relationships with directors like Paul Greengrass and Doug Liman and straddling the worlds of live action and animation — next up is How To Train Your Dragon 2. Here he talks through his key scores...

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John Powell

Face/Off soundtrack FACE/OFF (1997)

"I think John Woo had worked with Hans Zimmer and asked him to do Face/Off. He said, 'I can’t but I know this kid who can.' I wrote some demos and they liked the demos. To begin with they thought he’d written them. John Woo’s got a big heart. He loves very melodic and very emotional music. One of the few things he said all the time was 'More emotion! More emotion!'"

ANTZ (1998)


Antz soundtrack "Harry Gregson Williams and I worked with Hans on The Prince Of Egypt, the first DreamWorks animation movie. I did a lot of the song arranging and Harry did a lot of work on the score. So when it came to Antz, Jeffrey Katzenberg wanted Hans to do it but he was stuck on something else. So I think Jeffrey said, 'What about those two kids?' Harry is truly wonderful. We are very competitive against each other so I think that probably helped everything. I think Jeffrey knew that. I would go in and listen to one of Harry’s cues and think ‘Shit, that’s fucking good.’ I’ve got to push my game up."


Chicken Run

Chicken Run soundtrack "I would have never got to have worked on a Nick Park movie if I hadn’t had that luck with Harry and Antz. They used to say 'If it flies, get Ron Goodwin.' (Goodwin composed The Battle Of Britain, 633 Squadron and Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines). I am beginning to feel a bit like that myself now, now that I’ve done Dragon, Chicken Run and Rio. Everything is flying."

SHREK (2001)


Shrek soundtrack "Shrek was hard because it didn’t need much music. The score had to be very precise about its nature. Even though there were two of us, it took a long time to write 38 minutes of music, to find the tone of it. It was trying to find the postmodern angle to it. You mustn’t wink too much with the music but you mustn't be too serious either. Harry came up with that great theme for Shrek and I think the only useful thing I did was perhaps point it at the Princess. It fitted better. We had another tune that wasn’t as good but worked well for Shrek. We got lucky with that."

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1 RE: Now I Want the Old John Powell Back
L: TPM007 A nice reminder of why Powell was at one time one of my favourite composers, shame you missed his Italian Job score on this list. really needs to get out of scoring animation filmss action film soundtracks are consistently great from Face/Off to Bourne. 'm afraid he won't... I think animation movies give an enormous artistic freedom and he seems to enjoy that, far more than the temp-track and "required sound" of most live action movies... He basically said that in this interview: every epic movie has to sound like The Dark Knight, every thriller has to sound like Bourne. And I don't think he likes that. Btw, he dropped Greengrass on Captain Phillips, he dropped Doug Liman on Edge of Tomorrow... I'm note sure they even asked him, but the opposite would surprise me. More

Posted by dseys on Wednesday April 23, 2014, 19:11

2 Now I Want the Old John Powell Back
A nice reminder of why Powell was at one time one of my favourite composers, shame you missed his Italian Job score on this list. But he really needs to get out of scoring animation films, as his action film soundtracks are consistently great from Face/Off to Bourne. More

Posted by TPM007 on Wednesday April 23, 2014, 13:52

3 Good to hear from John Powell!
I want to thank you Empire for this very interesting read. John Powell has been quiet for a few years but it seems like he's finally back, and it's a great news. Thanks again! More

Posted by dseys on Tuesday April 22, 2014, 20:10

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