Daniel Pemberton: U.N.C.L.E. score avoids 007 sound

Daniel Pemberton's Twitter icon

Daniel Pemberton’s Twitter icon

Composer Daniel Pemberton said that director Guy Ritchie wanted The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie score to avoid the James Bond film sound.

Also, in an interview with The Spy Command, Pemberton said Jerry Goldsmith’s theme to the original 1964-68 television series is present in the film, but only makes a cameo appearance.

Pemberton joins a long list of U.N.C.L.E. composers, including Goldsmith and Lalo Schifrin, who scored two episodes and did the second-season arrangement of Goldsmith’s theme.

Pemberton’s U.N.C.L.E. score received a rave review July 29 on the Films on Wax website, which said the score included “wonderful music that is a hell of a lot of fun.”

Here’s the text of the interview.

SPY COMMANDER: How did you become involved in scoring The Man From U.N.C.L.E.?

PEMBERTON: I’d just finished the Ridley Scott film The Counselor and as a result there was a bit more interest in me as a composer suddenly. I had a meeting at Warner Bros. in the US and they mentioned that Guy (Ritchie) was doing U.N.C.L.E. I was a big fan of the idea so they asked me to get a showreel together.

So I did that but I didn’t think my reel was actually that good. It certainly wasn’t ‘Hollywood slick’ — it had a load of crazy stuff I’d done for TV and video games more than my movie scores. This, however, turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Basically, Guy had heard pretty much every showreel in Hollywood and he was fed up because he said they all sounded the same. Mine was the only one that sounded different apparently. So we had a meeting, I hung out on set and was offered the job. Wowzers.

QUESTION: You’re on record as being a fan of Lalo Schifin. How would you describe the influence Schifrin had on your work?

PEMBERTON: I really love Lalo’s stuff. I actually met him when I was 21 and interviewed him for a magazine called The Wire. He was such a charming guy. Kinda weird when I think about it now — I am a fellow U.N.C.L.E. composer! I would have never have guessed at the time.

I think it was the mix of great grooves and musicality mixed with all that exotic instrumentation of those scores of his that really connected with me. One of my fav cues was always ‘Jim On The Move’ from the M:I TV series. It had such a cool piano solo. I made sure we got one track on the U.N.C.L.E. album (Escape From East Berlin) that had a crazy keyboard solo on it — you can’t beat ’em!

QUESTION: The original U.N.C.L.E. series included scores by a number of talented composers. Did you research the series any before doing your score for the U.N.C.L.E. movie?

Not that much. I saw a few and was familiar with some of the music already. There’s that slightly ouch one (Spy Commander note: The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. TV movie in 1983) where George Lazenby turns up but they obviously can’t call him James Bond so they come up with all these slightly amusing ways to insinuate that yes, it’s James Bond and not basically George Lazenby in a tuxedo. But Guy wanted a fresh take on it so it wasn’t a vital part of the process. I wanted to respect what I thought were the cool aspects of the series musically but give them a new twist rather than slavishly replicate them, as I think any composer of the time would have done as well.

QUESTION:  The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie is a period piece, set in the 1960s. Did you do any research concerning the ’60s before scoring the movie?

PEMBERTON: Oh yeah. Well I had been a massive fan of all the ’60s spy scores anyway growing up so there wasn’t a lot of research to do on that front. I’d already done it. But in terms of getting a really great authentic ’60s sound, yes I did tons.

I hooked up with a great engineer and mixer at Abbey Road called Sam Okell. Sam is basically a complete gear nerd and is really into 1960s recording processes. So we did tons of research on those. What would be cool? Which ones are worth spending the time on and which ones could we do better now?

We used so much great gear — old REDD mixing desks (look it up!) which are these insane mixers that look like they are from a Soviet nuclear facility. You’d record stuff through them and it would sound fantastic. We did stuff down to tape, even used the echo chamber room in Abbey Road to get reverb on a few tracks.

I also did lots of research into getting the sounds right. I remember really loving the bass sound on Serge Gainsbourg’s Melody Nelson album and by a really weird coincidence a friend of mine is married to Jane Birkin’s brother. He’s this hive of info on everything and he had a load of stuff about the recording process on that album in his giant shed. So I said, ‘Thank you very much,’ and sat down with that for quite a while!

Also the musicians would bring their own spin on things. The flute we used was actually the one from The Jungle Book. Dave the flautist had bought it off the guy years ago. We also hired in a great 1960s Harpsichord. I would totally buy one for myself if it wasn’t for the fact that within about three hours it was out of tune. The tuner had gone home and we were running out of time on a cue and I was like, ‘Shit!! We have to get this done before the tuning just totally goes!!’

QUESTION: How is The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie different than James Bond films?

PEMBERTON: I’d say U.N.C.L.E. has a bit more of a heart to it in a way. I love Bond so much but it’s very aggressive in some respects. With U.N.C.L.E. I think there’s a bit more warmth and also a bit more lightness. With this film we definitely played against the action in a number of places whereas with Bond it would be played very straight.

Guy was very insistent it DIDN’T sound like Bond which I think is the template for any sort of spy cliche these days. So that was good. It meant we probably didn’t use as much brass as I originally thought we would but I think it gives our film a very different sonic palette. There’s one cue ‘Into The Lair’ which Guy was like, ‘It’s a bit Bondy – but I’ll let you have it,’ as it was all the big tremolo strings John Barry was so great at.

I think with Bond one of its greatest strengths and also weaknesses is the template for the sound is so mapped out. You know what you’re going to get pretty much before you even see the film. Whereas with U.N.C.L.E. I think you have no idea. Which is fun because it means you can always pull the odd surprise — like the screaming buggy chase cue — out of the bag! For me, I love it when a film score surprises you..

QUESTION: Were there any surprises once you started work on the U.N.C.L.E. movie?

I think originally I imagined it to be more thematic and traditional score based. But it soon became apparent Guy wanted to do it differently and make the cues more like stand alone tracks. Which, once I’d worked that out, was great!

It was a very very long process. I worked alongside the edit right from the beginning which is fantastic in that you can really help influence the movie and write original music rather than copy temp, but also very, very intense. I would actually write multiple ideas for every scene. Every scene I probably scored in about three, four or five different ways.

Guy wanted to try everything out he could. He has an amazing editor called James Herbert who is also brilliant at coming up with ideas and they would just be thrown at me all the time. So I had to work really really fast and make things appear out of nowhere, sometimes in an evening. But the end result is so good it’s a process I would definitely go through again. I am up for U.N.C.L.E. 2, 3 and so on if they do them!

QUESTION: Besides Lalo Schifrin, are there any other composers you’d consider an influence?

Oh so many. OK here we go with just some random names: John Barry, Edwin Astley, Ennio Morriconne, Serge Gainsbourg, Nina Rota, Francis Lai, Quincy Jones, Jerry Goldsmith, The Beatles, erm this could go on for ages…

QUESTION: Were you able to incorporate Jerry Goldsmith’s U.N.C.L.E. theme into your score?

Ah! The million dollar question! I was keen to get it in somewhere and for a while it was at the end of the film. But a lot of people — and I think these were people and an audience who were not familiar with its history — felt it didn’t feel right for the tone of the rest of the film. They didn’t know the track or recognize it.

Guy was very keen for this to be a fresh new take on U.N.C.L.E. and you have to respect his vision as a director on that. But I was still keen we got it in there somewhere as Jerry is one of the greats and I know the fans would want it.

At one stage, we had a couple of the bad guys whistling it — I’d recorded it in a session and everything. But that got ditched. It was last minutes before we hit the sound stage and I was bemoaning the fact it wasn’t in there at all to James the editor and he came up with a genius idea — the radio!

There’s a scene where Solo switches stations on a radio. So we got one of the stations playing the Hugo Montenegro version. He hears it but decides, this time, it’s not for him and changes the station. So I like that because this is a new Solo, a new U.N.C.L.E., but there’s a homage in there to the past — it’s really like a musical cameo rather than a starring role.

And put it this way — you can go rewatch The Avengers or The Saint which both really got the theme in there but were, for me, somewhat suspect films. Or you can just absorb the fun of this film because I think everyone has done a great job. SO yeah do the last one..!

Note from the Spy Commander: Daniel Pemberton’s current project is scoring the film Steve Jobs.

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Some U.N.C.L.E. soundtrack titles of note

Daniel Pemberton's Twitter icon

Daniel Pemberton’s Twitter icon

Film Score Reporter published details about The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie’s soundtrack IN A JULY 14 POST. Included was a list of tracks that caught our eye.

The soundtrack, which is due out Aug. 7, a week before the movie, contains both Daniel Pemberton’s score and some vintage 1960s songs. The Spy Commander’s attention was drawn to some of the track titles from the composer’s work. What follows are those tracks, including where they appear on the album.

3. His Name Is Napoleon Solo: When Pemberton was recording the score last year, he tweeted a picture of the sheet music, including this title.

4. Escape From East Berlin: The guess here is part of this track appears on the five-minute trailer for the movie shown at the San Diego Comic Con.

6. Mission: Rome: Pemberton is a fan of Lalo Schifrin. This title suggests an homage to Schifrin’s best-known television theme, Mission: Impossible.

Schifrin also composed the scores for two episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. series as well as doing the second-season arrangement for Jerry Goldsmith’s U.N.C.L.E. theme.

7. The Vinciguerra Affair: This refers to the lead villain (Elizabeth Debicki). But it also appears to be an homage to the original 1964-68 series, where each episode’s title had “Affair” as part of the title.

13. Breaking Out (The Cowboy Escapes): It’s known from the trailers that Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) calls Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) “cowboy.” Presumably, this track title is referring to Solo.

The television series didn’t have a true soundtrack album while it was in production. Instead, Hugo Montenegro did new arrangements of music from the series in two albums. A true U.N.C.L.E. soundtrack didn’t occur until music journalist Jon Burlingame produced special edition soundtracks in the 2000s.

Now, if someone, ANYONE, can tell us if the Jerry Goldsmith U.N.C.L.E. theme appears in the movie (even if it’s just int he end titles), the Spy Commander would appreciate it.

No April Dancer in the U.N.C.L.E. movie

U.N.C.L.E. insignia from a second-season episode

U.N.C.L.E. insignia from a second-season episode

(Shoutout to @laneyboggs2001, Henry Cavill News and HenryCavill.org, who Tweeted and blogged all day on Oct. 10.)

Well, you can’t win them all.

On OCTOBER 3 this blog posed the question whether Alicia Vikander was playing April Dancer in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie that has wrapped filming in Rome and is headed back to the U.K.

April was the lead character in the spinoff series The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. and was a name devised by Ian Fleming (originally as a Miss Moneypenny type character for The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) The answer looks to be no. During filming in Italy, the actors had chairs with the names of their characters on it.

For the finale of Rome shooting, a picture showed up in a picture on the Henry Cavill News fan Web site. If you CLICK HERE and scroll down, you’ll see a photo of some of the chairs.

One of the chairs appears to be for Vikander. The character name on the chair isn’t April Dancer. Vikander plays a character who is an MI6 agent who gets involved in the story. Unless the production is being exceptionally sneaky, the April Dancer theory now bites the dust.

Next week, the movie is scheduled to be in the U.K. to film a scene involving GRAND PRIX RACING. The production has solicited owners of 1960s vintage cars to participate.

Finally, here’s a video of the last night of filming in Rome. You can see Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer and Vikander as well as director Guy Ritchie. Amusingly, Cavill, who plays Napoleon Solo, is wearing a 1960s-style suit but takes out a 21st century digital camera or smartphone to take some pictures while waiting to film a scene.

The music on the video is Hugo Montenegro’s version of Jerry Goldsmith’s Man From U.N.C.L.E. theme that first appeared on a 1965 album.

HMSS nominations for top composers for 1960s spy entertainment

In a previous post, we touched upon this subject. The more we thought about it, the more we thought we had an excuse to make another post. So, without further ado:

1) John Barry: arranger, The James Bond Theme, in Dr. No; composer, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Ipcress File, The Quller Memorandum.

Born in 1933, Barry (birth name John Barry Prendergast) helped shape the James Bond Theme and composed the score for five of the first six 007 movies. On top of that, he did the scores for two more serious 1960s spy movies. That’s an enormous legacy, no matter how you view it.

2) tie, Jerry Goldsmith and Lalo Schifrin. For Goldsmith: composer The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Theme, three episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (with those scores repeated in numerous first- and fourth-season episodes); composer, Our Man Flint, In Like Flint, Our Man Flint, The Chairman.

For Schifrin: arranger of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Theme (second season), composer, Murderers Row, composer theme, Mission: Impossible plus several episodes of that series, composer, The President’s Analyst, The Liquidator.

To be honest, you could make the case for either composer. Goldsmith is no longer with us, but Schifrin (b. 1932) is still around. So we’ll make it a tie.

3. Gerald Fried: composer for numerous episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Mission: Impossible. A sometimes overlooked artist, he also composed music for several episodes of the original Star Trek series including an episode when Kirk fought Spock, which Jim Carrey used in The Cable Guy.

4. Richard Markowitz: Who, you ask. Well he composed the theme for The Wild, Wild West and quite a few episodes during that series first two seasons.

5. Robert Drasnin: composed scores for episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E, The Wild, Wild West, (including the “Dr. Loveless Theme”) and Mission: Impossible, he is perhaps the least know of the composers on this list. But he is far from the least talented.

6. Hugo Montenegro: arranger, two albums of music from The Man From U.N.C.L.E.; composer, The Ambushers, The Wrecking Crew. Montenegro’s two U.N.C.L.E. albums have fans to this day. He also composed scores for two of the four Matt Helm movies starring Dean Martin.

A final look at Matt Helm titles: The Wrecking Crew

We wrap up our look at the titles of Matt Helm movies with a brief discussion of the series finale, The Wrecking Crew.

To be honest, it’s a mixed bag. The visuals are much stronger than the series previous entry, The Ambushers. They’re at least based on something in the movie, a bank of monitors used by the villain to watch his plans unfold. Wayne Fitzgerald designed the titles and used a combination of animation and clips from the movie. There’s a few subtle touches. Actor Nigel Green’s monitor is colored, well, green.

Accompanying the visuals is a weird song, The House of Seven Joys, which is also referenced in the movie. Producer Irving Allen, Cubby Broccoli’s ex-partner, hired Mack David to do the lyrics, a task David also did for the first Helm movie, The Silencers. Composer Frank DeVol does the music, but only for the song. Hugo Montenegro, returned as the film’s composer but got frozen out of the title song. In any event, The House of Seven Joys is far from politically correct (“Ah so, very, very nice!”).

We can only wonder what Helm creator Donald Hamilton thought (besides making sure all the checks cleared). You can take a look by clicking RIGHT HERE. Embedding was disabled.

EXTRA BONUS: A few years later, Hamilton got some more checks when a short-lived Matt Helm TV series aired on ABC. Instead of Dean Martin, we got Tony Franciosa. Instead of a spy, Helm was a private detective. This was 1975 and in the post-Watergate world, spies seemed unseemingly. Here’s the titles to one episode, The music is by Morton Stevens, who also composed the theme to Hawaii Five-O.

1967: The cheesy titles of The Ambushers

We’ve taken a look at the titles of the first two Matt Helm movies starring Dean Martin. So when you’re on a roll, you might as keep going.

The third Helm movie, The Ambushers, is often cited as the worst in the four-film series (a shame because it’s based on a very good serious Helm novel by Donald Hamilton published in 1963). The main title sequence is certainly the weakest of the bunch.

The titles feature the, eh, “talents” of “The Slaygirls” who also appear throughout the film. Producer Irving Allen, Albert R. Broccoli’s former partner, apparently decided to reward song writers Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart the chance to record the title song. Boyce and Hart and written a Dino, Desi and Billy song used in the previous Helm effort, Murderers’ Row and the pair had also written the title song for The Monkees television series.

Two problems: 1) Boyce and Hart didn’t have the vocal range of the acts they wrote for; they actually recorded The Monkees title song for the pilot, but it’s vastly inferior to the version recorded by Micky, Davy, Mike and Peter. 2) Boyce and Hart wouldn’t get to write the title song for The Ambushers. That task would fall to Hugo Montenegro (the third different composer in as many Helm films) with the movie’s screenwriter, Herbert Baker, also penning the lyrics.

Take a look for yourself by clicking RIGHT HERE. (Embedding was disabled for the video.)

Warning: The film makers did not use a reader-friendly typeface for the credits and they insisted on coloring the titles red, further making them hard to read. The video below has the first 10:55 of the 1967 flick.