Despite being a very busy composer the passed few months and currently, Mr. Shire took time out to answer some questions.  I reduced the number of questions down to keep it short; sadly this meant not using any fan questions as I might normally do.

According to, your first scoring project was a TV movie in 1966 called "Evening Primrose". Was this your first film/TV project, and how did you get into scoring?

     It was called Evening Primrose, a musical for television written by Stephen Sondheim. I was mainly the rehearsal pianist, but did some really miniscule additional underscoring. Not really my first scoring job, as such. Those were three or four scores for CBS Playhouse, live tv dramas back in the sixties or so.

I'd be remiss not to ask: how did you get into scoring the popular, long-running TV series "The Virginian"?  For which I have found you scored at least five episodes (season 8 & 9).

     Those were the first assignments they gave me when I started working at Universal, around the late sixties and early seventies. I'm sure I did more than five. I wanted to do cop shows, but The Virginian turned out to be very good training, in composing and orchestrating under deadline pressure.

Can you tell us anything about your rejected score to "Apocolypse Now"?  While researching it, a description of "electronic" was given.

     Francis Coppola was my brother-in-law, and though I did "The Conversation" successfully for him, he wanted me to work on AN with his father and my father-in-law Carmine Coppola as a partner on the score. This created some difficulties right from the start as Carmine was not into the electronic imitative synthesis we had decided to use. Work on the score went on simultaneously with FCC still shooting and going through hell in the Phillipines, so working closely with him was impossible. And then my wife, his sister, and I separated, and that created another adverse situation. When I was offered and took "Norma Rae" which I couldn't afford to turn down while working endlessly on Apoc., Francis got furious and fired me. Several editors on the picture told me that the new score was not any improvement on what I had done, and that they rather liked mine.

I was told you had a scire replaced an an episode of a short-lived TV series called "Sarge", which I understand you also did the theme music for. Do you recall what happened here?

     I don't. Don't even remember that I had one replaced.

"Kramer vs. Kramer" is a rare instance where a film end up having no original score in the final film, but what's makes this even rarer is that aside from yourself, the film also had another score rejected.  When did you come in, and what happened?

     When I was first shown the picture, I told the producers that it was terrific and didn't need much music, which could push it over the top. They didn't agree, and we spotted a full score, which I wrote and recorded. And then, after each preview, a few more cues were removed, precisely because they were not only unnecessary, but -- as I had suspected -- pushed the emotions too hard. Finally there was virtually nothing left, and they went back to the few source cues, Bach, I believe, that were in the picture when I first saw it.

Is it true you did score for "March or Die!" (otherwise scored by Maurice Jarre) that was not used?

     Yes. I just got stuck and bowed out, regretfully so.

When "The White Buffalo" came to CD, aside from John Barry's score, there was also some "source music" composed by yourself.  Other sources say you did a score that was replaced. What happened, and was the original intent to have your score on the CD (before the replacement)?

     I did a full score and recorded it, but the powers that were didn't like it, threw it out and hired John Barry. I couldn't tell you what the deal was with the CD.

"Steel Magnolias" is a mystery; before the director passed away, in a DVD commentary he said he replaced the score of a "Well known composer"; the only composer I have been able to come up with being attached to the film before Delerue is yourself.  What did do or not do for this film?

     I had worked very closely and successfully with Herb Ross on Max Dugan Returns, so he hired me for this, and then -- while I was starting work -- he went off on his honeymoon, and I had no contact with him, only with the editor. The latter didn't like what I was coming up with, but couldn't really direct me into something he'd like. It was very frustrating not being able to talk directly to Herb, especially since the editor was reporting to him that I was not cracking it. Eventually Herb came back, listened to what I had demo-ed so far, and fired me. Very traumatic. I pleaded with him to let me try something else, but the boat had sailed.
This is one I really regret not doing.

"Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey" seemd like the kind of film that would have benefitted from your scoring. Can you tell us anything about your score?

     I liked it. We recorded part of it in Germany, but the orchestra was inferior, so we came back and recorded all of it in Los Angeles. It was mixed into the picture, which was screened for Katzenberg, after which he complimented us all, and then a few hours later fired me, then dubbed animal voices, and brought in another director to oversee redoing everything. I had worked for several months very closely with the original director, and he approved and was very happy with everything I had done. Go figure. Another tough one to lose.

As a score fan myself, I find myself drawn to older film scores and composers as a lot of the new generation just isn't cutting it personally for me, so when I learned of what the director of "Crossfire Trail" had to say about your score, I became very interested. Please tell us more about this.

     From my point of view, my score's "outdated approach" was calculated to synch stylistically with his somewhat retro-ish picture. As for "dramatically over the top", I wrote, as always, what I thought would service the picture best.

Are there any composers, living or deceased, you admire the work of?

     Many. Most of the old masters, John Williams, Thomas Newman, etc. etc. Probably most of the same ones you admire.

How do you feel composing has changed from when you started, to now?

     There's a much greater variety of scoring approaches than in does of old, but that's because there's a much greater variety of filmmaking styles; and many more possibilities, both stylistically and toolwise, at a composer's disposal. The name of the game, though, remains the same -- help make the picture your working on work better, whatever the aesthetic involved.

Rather recently your score for the cult film "Short Circuit" was released on CD by Varese Sarabande CD Club. Were you glad to see it come to CD, and do you have any thoughts about the score?

     I loved that score, and was delighted that it was finally made available. I'm happy when any of my old stuff finally makes it on to CD.
(Norma Rae is at the factory right now -- Varese Sarabande -- including all the underscoring that was cut, which was most of what I recorded)

[EDITOR's NOTE: released June 29th, 2009]

Are there any scores you've done that you wish had been released commercially on CD, but have yet to be so?

     I'm sure there are a number. In fact, I'm going to look through the archives this summer and make up a wish list for Varese.

While reading up, I found you compose in different aspects of the arts: musicals, arranging for songs, broadway, and concert work.  How do you feel about your music for these projects, and in comparrison to scoring, what makes it different?

     Film scoring is background music; for my musicals I write foreground music. For films I'm helping a director fulfill his vision, just like a set designer or costume designer; for the musical stage the projects I do are ones that I and my collaborators have picked, so I'm fulfilling my vision. Both kinds of work are fulfilling to me. Both involve writing music to facilitate drama; but film scoring has gotten me composing in styles that I never would have gotten to myself, so it's really stretched my musical muscles, and that's been very useful for my theatre writing as well. I'm currently working on three different musicals, one of which, Take Flight, is scheduled for domestic pre-Broadway production next spring at Princeton's McCarter Theatre, after productions in London and Japan summer before last.

Can you tell us anything about your score to "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt", opening here in the U.S.A. on September 11th?

     A good bread and butter score psychological suspense score for old friend Peter Hyams, with whom I worked on 2010. Fun and easy to work with him again. I hope it does well.

And finally, are there any more new scoring projects in the pipeline, or are you planning on retiring frm film scoring at some point?

     Unfortunately no film work on the worktable at present, but I'm super busy and happily so with my theatre projects. I'd love to do some more films, my agent keeps submitting me, and we'll see. I can't imagine ever voluntarily retiring. I enjoy it too much.

Published: July 3, 2009