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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More questions about the U.N.C.L.E. movie

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer (Art by Paul Baack)

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer
(Art by Paul Baack)

Gradually, details are emerging about the movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. that’s scheduled to start filming next month. But there are still plenty of unanswered questions about director Guy Ritchie’s project. Here are a few.

Who will be playing some key roles? The leads have been cast, with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer playing Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, the U.N.C.L.E. operatives played by Robert Vaughn and David McCallum in the 1964-68 television series. Three other actors, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki and Hugh Grant, are slated for other roles.

There’s still no word on who will play Alexander Waverly, the U.N.C.L.E. leader played by Leo G. Carroll in the series. If a primary villain has been cast, it hasn’t been announced. Perhaps there will be some answers as filming begins.

Who will be the composer? Key crew members have emerged, according to the movie’s IMDB.COM ENTRY. John Mathieson, who has photographed films such as Gladiator, The Phantom of the Opera and X-Men: First Class, is listed as director of photography. James Herbert, who edited both of Ritchie’s two Sherlock Holmes movies, will perform the same task here.

Still no word on a composer. Hans Zimmer worked on Ritchie’s Holmes films and has composed music for various action movies. Thus, Zimmer would seem to be a candidates. But he’s already scheduled to do other 2014 films, according to his IMDB.com entry. Michael Giacchino and David Arnold, the five-time 007 composer, would seem to be among suitable choices. Giacchino also has a busy plate with films scheduled to be released next year.

The U.N.C.L.E. Special

The U.N.C.L.E. Special

Will there be new versions of key U.N.C.L.E. props? The U.N.C.L.E. Special, a handgun with attachments, was one of the distinctive props on the original show. The Special is even the subject of a Web site, THEUNCLEGUN.COM. Also, the U.N.C.L.E. agents used communicators initially disguised as a pack of cigarettes, later as a pen.

Presumably, Ritchie & Co. will want their own versions of such key props. The movie is to be a period piece so it’ll be interesting to see if revamped U.N.C.L.E. Specials and communicators will be based on what was available in the 1960s.

Will there be a new U.N.C.L.E. logo? Again, assuming Ritchie & Co. want their own look, a revised U.N.C.L.E. insignia would be a possibility. The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. had its own insignia when it came out in 1983.

Is it going to be any good? That’s the biggest question of all.