“The future, always so clear to me, had become like a black highway at night. We were in uncharted territory now, making up history as we went along.”
Sarah Connor may as well have been describing the filming of ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’. The production schedule was insane, the effects had never been done before and took months to render, people were working 20 hour days for weeks on end and Arnie had to cancel Christmas. Chaos.
The situation was no different in the music department. Brad Fiedel, the composer behind the now iconic Terminator soundtrack reflects on the challenge he faced.
“…I was the last on the train you know. Basically everything that caused the film to run late, the brand new ideas about all the visuals – I need to get those visuals at the correct timings before I could create the score.
I mean, I knew kind of what the themes were and what the sounds were, but the actual final execution got very very late because they never knew exactly how long the visual effects would last on screen – at that point in history the rendering took a long time on all those incredible CGI effects, so I was just waiting and then I would get something – I was working, I would say 20 hours a day, seven days a week for the last two or three weeks.
…there was a guy sitting outside my studio, a courier, and when we would mix a cue – we would create a cue when we got the visual – he would run to Burbank Airport and fly it up to Skywalker”
The film was being mixed at Skywalker Sound by James Cameron and Brad’s music editor Allan K. Rosen. With the footage coming through as and when, did Fiedel get much cross over with sound design?
“We really didn’t have time. We had some discussions in some of the early screenings but everybody was just in survival mode. So the good news is we all created stuff and they were able to sort it out at the mix as to what would represent a given moment or somethings blended together very well and some things they had to make decisions about, ‘let’s feature sound effects here, lets feature music here…’
I didn’t even get to be at that process, at the mix, because I was still in my studio creating the cues, so it was really just Jim and my music editor Alan Rosen up at Skywalker sorting things out – They had to do some edits of music because of everything coming together at the last minute and trying to figure out what worked best at a given scene.”
I wondered if this distance from the final mix frustrated him.
“Yeah I’m kind of a control freak in my department and I mean of course Jim is in every element of the film, but I really enjoyed it more on ‘Terminator’ and ‘True Lies’ with him, where I could be with him at that final stage that determined how the music worked and exactly what amount of volume or sound level would work the best – I had to really go on trust and didn’t really get to hear the finished thing until the screening.”
Everyone knows the score and Terminator 2 stands the test of time. 26 years later it’s as fresh and exciting as it ever was. The film’s enduring impact has been put down to it’s groundbreaking special effects and its engaging and compassionate universal family message. Fiedel adds that the continuing development of AI might have something to do with it.
“… I mean ironically, now all the concerns about AI – maybe that what’s so resonant, even though we didn’t really know and we weren’t that far along in the development of AI at that time, certainly when the first one came out, I mean the internet wasn’t really happening you know?
ARPANET started to build what would essentially become the modern Internet in 1983. ‘The Terminator‘ is released in 1984. In a further poetic coincidence, ‘Terminator 2‘ is released in 1991, a year after Tim Berners-Lee invents the World Wide Web.
“I think that sometimes when something is prescient of what is happening in society people kind of get that vibe and it means a lot. That’s just an intellectual thought, I think really what was happening is Jim is very talented at creating this incredible world and visceral impactful energy in his films and I think that really grabs people.”
Fiedel has always been attracted to the process, taking each project as an opportunity to develop and get better. This creative approach to his work has led to a varied career scoring for TV as well as movies. In preparing for the interview I had come across an article suggesting that in the years that proceeded Terminator 2, Fiedel had ‘fled the move house for the more domestic confines of TV’ . Was ‘flee’ the correct way to put it?
“You know that’s just total bullshit. Basically what I did in career is I worked where I was offered the kinds of projects that made sense to me, that I wanted to work with. I wanted to keep on working and developing my craft – There are some film composers that were very, you know, put a box around the industry thing, ‘I’m for film, I’m not for TV!’, but I was lucky to work with some television people ahead of their time in terms of creating some quality projects. Now of course everybody’s working in television – back then TV had a certain… like it was a lower class medium than film, but I just always saw everything as films and stories.”
In that same review from the BBC in 2010, the writer concludes that “It’s not an easy listen, by any means, but its sheer conviction and willingness to pursue so intense a musical idea – one that vehemently refuses to be diluted by harmonic warmth – makes the soundtrack to T2 all the more compelling.” This refusal to be diluted could speak to Fiedel’s approach to the work in general.
“… in the last few years it started to get to a point where I wasn’t feeling as excited. I always brought a lot of energy and excitement to whatever project I did and I felt that was decreasing and I was getting a little cynical and I noticed that. I said it was time to stop because I’m not able to bring the same enthusiasm for some of the mediocrity I was seeing and there were wonderful projects being done I didn’t happen get connected to [that] went on for a while and it affected my mood and my energy I decided it was time to do something else.”
Fiedel didn’t start out wanting to be a composer. He was and is a songwriter. Recently he collected a lifetime of songs into a one man show called ‘Borrowed Time’ as a way to satisfy his interest in new creative processes.
“Theatre was a whole new area for me and I had friends in theatre, composers, whose work was getting kind of morphed and taken out of their control – I decided if I was going to put my toe in the water of theatre I needed to do something I could myself and didn’t require a lot of money, so I constructed this Borrowed Time show because I realised I grew up in the 60’s and 70s it’s an interesting time and then got involved in Hollywood at an interesting time and meanwhile I was writing personal songs throughout that whole period.
I just thought it would be interesting and I did a limited amount of performing of it. It was interesting for me to construct it and to keep changing it which in film I never got to do. I always had to deliver and it was written in stone and boom!, there it is, what I did in that rush of ‘T2’ at the end is there forever. But theatre you can change it every night and that was an interesting process for me and I’m now moved forward into another project where I’m taking what I learned from the one man show and applying it to a larger format… I’m actually in the midst of writing this much larger musical right now which I started before ‘Borrowed Time’…”
Could he say anything about that?
“Not really at this point in any way that would helpful in a minute, but yeah, I’m excited about it. It’s still a relatively small ensemble piece and I hope to start getting it on it’s feet in the next year.”
Terminator 2 Judgment Day is released on 4k UHD, 3D BLU-RAY, BLU-RAY, DVD & DIGITAL DOWNLOAD on December 4th.