Before working together on "The Hateful Eight," Quentin Tarantino and the venerable composer Ennio Morricone, renowned for working with Sergio Leone on such spaghetti westerns as "Once Upon a Time in the West" and "A Fistful of Dollars," had circled each other respectfully for years. After all, Tarantino had been using parts of Morricone’s scores since "Kill Bill" and approached him to no effect on "Inglourious Basterds" and "Django Unchained." But instead of finding existing Morricone pieces he liked and fitting them into "The Hateful Eight," this time Tarantino flew to Italy to meet the maestro to see if he would be willing to write the director’s first original score — and the Italian composer’s first western score for 40 years, since the release of "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly."
Usually Morricone likes to supply music before the film is shot, but Tarantino approached him after principal photography with a narrow window to deliver. Finally, they accommodated each other, and music editors blended pieces of Morricone’s score together for the road show overture, and wove in unused bits from John Carpenter’s "The Thing" into the score as well. Nominated five times ("Bugsy," "Days of Heaven," "The Mission," "The Untouchables," and "Malena"), BAFTA-, Golden Globe-, and Critics Choice-winner Morricone added a second statuette to his 2007 honorary Oscar on Sunday night, beating out an even older lauded maestro: John Williams, returning with "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."
I sat down with Tarantino at the restaurant at L.A.’s Four Seasons Hotel, where he recreated the dialogue between him and Morricone at their first meeting in Rome. (Watch Morricone’s live recording session for "The Hateful Eight," in which he conducts the Czech National Symphony Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios, in the video above.)
The final upshot: they enjoyed their collaboration so much that Tarantino has already asked Morricone to work on his next—whatever that turns out to be. This time, though, they’ll do it Morricone’s way, and get started a lot earlier.
Anne Thompson: When did your relationship to Morricone’s music begin?
Quentin Tarantino: It started with "Kill Bill" and from that point on there was no looking back. We had both made overtures toward each other on "Inglourious Basterds" and "Django" and things weren’t able to be worked out. It seemed like on this one there might be an opening. He wasn’t quite sure and I wasn’t quite sure, but it seemed we would be remiss if we didn’t investigate the idea, to at least get together and talk about it.
So you visited him at his home in Rome?
I was going to Italy anyway. I’ll happily go there to meet with the great man and the great man’s wife. The first hurdle to make it serious was to get the script translated into Italian, where it all starts with him. I sent it to him, he read it and I heard he liked it and his wife loved it, and so I went down and I got together with him. I’d always thought, "if I work with Morricone, I want him to do the Leone situation and write the score before the film was done and work with it in mind." But I had already shot the movie. We were editing. I didn’t have the biggest window for it to be delivered.
So I show up at his beautiful apartment/house in Italy with his wife and translator. We’re all ready to talk. The first question he asked me: "First things first. I’m curious, because using original scores is not what you do, you take scores so the movies work, however appropriate for the given film. You do a good job with that and people seem to like it. So why do it differently?"
"Well yeah, I agree with you, and frankly I don’t really know 100% that I want to do it differently. The only reason I’d consider working with you — and if this doesn’t work out that is how I would do this one — is that I do feel other than just working with you, there was something about this movie, and I don’t really know why, that just suggested that I should explore the idea of it having an original soundtrack. I never referred to my other films as having second-hand scores, I feel whoever uses it best gets it — all right — but this one maybe deserves an original score never heard before. The material has a personality that maybe deserves that."
That was a good answer as far as he’s concerned. "When do you start shooting?"
"I’m in editing, I’d need it in four weeks."
"Well, that’s not going to work. I’m starting to work, I was given the wrong circumstances of how it was going to work."
So well, that’s that apparently. We’re here having lovely time. "Let’s continue talking."
"Well, I remember reading the script. A theme did present itself."
We had already moved off the idea of him doing it. "Let’s go back to the idea of that theme running in your head, I’m intrigued. Tell me more."
"Well I couldn’t hum it in way that makes sense, I can tell you its qualities." (The opening credits have these qualities.) "It would suggest the forward momentum of the stage coach and the impending violence that will eventually fall."
That sounded pretty fucking good! We talked more and more. I asked him about the John Carpenter "The Thing" score he did, how he worked with him.
"You know, let me tell you something. The truth of the matter is, Giuseppe [Tornatore] just finished two days ago. I probably need two weeks to get his assembly together before he shows me the film. In that period of time I could write the theme, and I could record it, and then give you the theme, the theme brass version, string version and then with that you could put together the soundtrack, and then you could use whatever you want to use. If you like ‘The Thing’ score, I wrote a bunch of synth stuff and symphony music only for John Carpenter, who only used the synthesizer version of the main theme. All the other music on ‘The Thing’ soundtrack has never been in any score. There’s your never before heard music."
We end up being at the Donatello Awards ceremony the next night. He’s sitting next to me. The first thing he sees me: "I’m going to give you more music than I said." He got inspired all of a sudden and the 7 minutes became 15, 20, 30 minutes. He got inspired, and he took longer to write it. He used the Czech National Symphony Orchestra; he went to Prague and recorded it. That’s how it worked, it wasn’t a problem. He’s cool in one regard in particular: he’s an artist and he wants to do things his way, but he actually wants a director to be comfortable. And he knows since I’m used to taking music and fitting it in, he recorded music that’s not about this scene in particular or this piece that happens here. No, it was about music he thought could fit the mood of the given movie.
So he gave you music to play with? The overture?
He didn’t write the overture score. That was my music editor taking different tracks and creating it. I didn’t realize that happened in music. I’ve used a music editor to get rid of things and condense things. But I didn’t know they took pieces of score and combined them into something new. All of a sudden Morricone’s five tracks became 12 tracks of original music!