Q&A October 2013, Part IV - JFK: The Final Hours
11/11/2013 (updated 11/12/2013)
Hear the title theme of the film "JFK: The Final Hours":
RT solo variation of the "Texas Fanfare"
Doug Feinstein: I just watched Kennedy The Final Hours on Nat Geo. Your score was exquisite - spare, haunting and lyrical. It was also highly varied as far as instrumentation, with lots of mandolin, keyboards, acoustic guitar, hurdy gurdy (?). How was the experience of scoring a two hour documentary about such historically weighty subject matter?
I'm embarrassed that the music should be noticed that much, but you probably were watching with the score in mind. Really the aim is to be supportive but fairly invisible - not a hard and fast rule, but a general ethic. I used as wide a palette of instruments as I had available at home. I did ask the producer if we could budget for more instruments - for instance, I felt the 'Texas Fanfare' cues would be more 'traditional' sounding on French horns, but at that point Erik was liking the slight counter-intuitiveness of a predominantly guitar-laden score. I watched most of the very moving original footage of Kennedy's last 24 hours, to get the feel of the piece.
I imagine that everyone who composes scores films - be it Bernard Hermann, Thomas Newman, Hans Zimmer and their ilk - has their own process as well as different working relationships with film directors (e.g., Werner Herzog on Grizzly Man). How did you score JFK? Did you work from a final cut of the film? Or did you get involved earlier in the process? Did you do much improvising? I assume you recorded the whole thing in your home studio.
For this project, and I wouldn't say this is normal practice, I wrote the music first, and then some cues were cut to music, and vice verse. I wrote themes for JFK, Jackie, and Texas, and also used 'The Parting Glass', an Irish traditional tune, almost as a funeral motif towards the end. I provided a library of cues, long, short, and very short (stings), scored for different instrumental combinations, to try to cover all possibilities. Mark Leggett also did versions of cues on keyboard, where my instrumentation didn't seem appropriate. It's improvised in the sense that everything is variations on themes, and I'm making it up as I go along! Yes, I did all my cues in my home studio.
How did this project come to you?
I've known Erik Nelson for 30 years, and he has my number!
On the subject of JFK, most Americans of a certain age remember where they were and what they were doing upon hearing that JFK had been shot. What was your reaction to this terrible news? What were your feelings about JFK back in '63... and now that you've scored this documentary? Thank you, Richard!
I was a 14-year-old, at school when I heard the news. I remember it stopped everybody in their tracks. Watching the film, I realize it was geographically and experientially a million miles removed from my life, but the Kennedys had the ability to charm at great distance, and perhaps because he was younger than most politicians, and seemed to hold promise for the future, that it seemed especially cruel to lose him.
I've read books about JFK, and formed opinions, positive and negative, about him as a human being. What I think this film does is to show the everyday JFK, who he was as a human being, how he related to others, and his and Jackie's amazing magnetism.