The moment has inevitably come to pass; “The Twilight Saga” film franchise has drawn to a close. But it has made such an impact on popular culture that it will influence Hollywood for years to come. And a large part of the viability of these films stems from the musical backdrop. Through the five films, three composers have made their mark with brilliant atmosphere, poignant characterization, and palpable romantic energy.
And arguably, none were more effective than Carter Burwell, who laid the foundation of this sonic landscape for the first “Twilight” film. And through a pleasant turn of circumstance, he was able to return and complete the cycle with “Breaking Dawn – Part 1” and “Breaking Dawn – Part 2.” Read on, as we spend time with the man who made the music of these films so memorable.
Did you know where you would be taking “Breaking Dawn – Part 2” before you actually jumped into it?
I knew a fair amount about it. I read the scripts for Part 1 and Part 2 before they shot them, so I knew the general idea of where we were going. And one of the most important musical elements, which was the theme for Renesmee, I had to write before they even shot Part 1 and Part 2.
They shot both films together, and there was a scene where Rob Pattinson plays that piece of music on the piano for Renesmee, and then she plays it with him, and finally, she plays it by herself. So that had to be written before they even shot the scene. So yeah, we had a pretty good map of where we were going.
As the film series progressed, the musical base has gotten broader and more expansive. Is that simply because of the progression of the story, or was there a part of you reacting to the works of Alexandre Desplat on “New Moon” and Howard Shore on “Eclipse”?
I wasn’t really taking the scores for “New Moon” or “Eclipse” into account, because I wasn’t really that familiar with them. But one thing that changes throughout the series is that the characters mature in their lives and their predicaments, like marriage and parenting, as well as these larger-scale issues like the vampire community they belong to and how it fits in with the entire vampire world. Things just get bigger and bigger.
The premise of the original “Twilight” was that you were following this normal teenager who goes to a normal high school. And by the time you get to these last two episodes, there is almost nothing normal left. There are also almost no humans left in the story, so the entire milieu of the story has changed from the beginning.
Has it been difficult for you to retain a level of grounded-ness, to where the audience can still connect with the characters, even though you are dealing with a lot of supernatural creatures and increasingly bizarre story situations?
It can be challenging, especially when less and less screen time is spent doing things that seem human, and that is especially true with “Breaking Dawn – Part 2,” because Bella isn’t human anymore – the only human you really see is her father, who only shows up occasionally. And a lot of what goes on in this film is not, strictly speaking, ‘human’ anymore.
So whenever there is a moment when people are together experiencing intimacy or doubt, I try to take as much advantage of that as possible to keep it grounded. I think most of the supernatural activity in the books is largely metaphorical, meant to reflect actual human experiences. But yeah, like you said, when more and more screen time is devoted to people flying through the air and doing extraordinary things, it is a little harder to keep it grounded.
Has the idea that you are writing to a predominantly female audience affected any of your compositional choices in this series?
I try not to think of it that way. I am aware of what you are talking about, because I do get emails from the fan community, and I know that the fan base is predominantly female. But I don’t really think about that when I’m writing. The main thing I try to do, as your previous question suggested, is to keep the music in some way honest and true to the characters and try to find that human element and emphasize that. That way, it should appeal to whoever the viewers are.
One of the things I have appreciated about your work over the years, even going back to “Blood Simple” and “Psycho III,” is this thread of relate-ability. Even though some of these characters are real monsters and abominations, the way you construct the music, the viewer/listener can still find a way to rationalize being in their shoes.
[Laughs] That’s great. I hope that what I try to do with film is add depth and keep the world from becoming overly-simplified. By writing, my musical poetry is very simple, and I really try not to over-simplify the worlds in which these films take place, so it doesn’t divide cleanly into good people and bad people – somehow show the dark side of the hero or the warm side of the bad guy. And sometimes it can provide a challenge.
Like with this one, the Volturi (the bad guys) really live in such a different world, even to the point where Michael Sheen [Aro] comes from a completely different style of acting as everybody else. And it is challenging to find the warm, vulnerable parts, but they are there! But yeah, whenever possible, I really try to bring both sides of the character through.
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