Jack Reacher Stratigraphy: Part II

Read Part I.

Part II: Eight-Minute Foundation

film.score.stratigraphyJoe Kraemer writes in his home studio which, at the time of Jack Reacher, was in his old Sherman Oaks home (where he lived since 1996 and wrote among other things The Way of the Gun). He uses two computers: an iMac reserved strictly for ProTools, a program for recording audio (“it’s basically a glorified VCR,” he jokes), but which he primarily uses for playback and syncing his music with picture; the other is a PC (“I’m the only composer I know who uses one,” he says) used for writing, which he does on a program called Sonar. The PC houses his library of virtual instruments and samples. He uses a keyboard to input music into Sonar, and a Yamaha electric digital piano to “noodle” and brainstorm ideas.

In his studio there is also a couch, where Chris McQuarrie would sit—and often sleep—while Kraemer was working. The couch is, in a way, a symbol of how Kraemer eventually got the job. McQuarrie likes to be in on the composition process in a way most directors don’t (or can’t) bother, and Kraemer—in a way most composers probably wouldn’t dare—has no problem inviting him in. McQuarrie would pop in while Kraemer worked on the score, usually at night because McQuarrie was editing during the day, which was fine by Kraemer (an admitted night owl). The composer would play an idea, run it against picture, and get immediate feedback from McQuarrie, at which point McQuarrie would slip back into a nap on the couch or take the dog out for a walk. Then he would return or reawaken to hear the newest evolution.

“In a lot of ways my schedule ended up being the reason I got the film,” Kraemer says, tongue partially in cheek. In truth it was that uniquely collaborative, transparent process the two friends rediscovered working on the eight-minute demo that left McQuarrie determined to get Kraemer on board for Reacher. “I’m not a pushover,” says Kraemer, “but I am collaborative, and I do welcome the director being part of the process.”

So Kraemer whittled and fiddled and finally got the eight-minute demo honed to a point where McQuarrie was ready to show it to Tom Cruise—and in the end he didn’t even need to, because Cruise was impressed by the mere fact of McQuarrie’s decisiveness about wanting Kraemer for the job. His strategy paid off, and Kraemer was on board.

Those first eight minutes continued to evolve after Kraemer’s hiring, and were to be the foundation of the whole score—with that simple two-note interval as its DNA. At one point Kraemer wrote a mini “theme” for intercut shots of Barr making bullets, a light, mysterious idea that juxtaposed with the rumbling music moving with the white van. It was eventually nixed.

(Hear it first at the :30 mark in this demo.)

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When McQuarrie first showed the opening sequence to producer Don Granger and editor Kevin Stitt, they were confused. They assumed the opening scenes would be scored with small, tight music. Kraemer explains his reasoning for doing otherwise: “I was like, ‘This is our opportunity to give the film a sense of adventure—where the audience has no idea what’s coming yet, so we can almost misdirect them. We can inflate the movie.” It was the bigness of it that McQuarrie loved, and it stayed.

Reacher brass.

Reacher brass.

Part of the opening did change tonally. Kraemer had scored the earliest demos coming in after the Paramount and Skydance logos, on the apt image of Barr pulling down the bullet press (“I thought it was a cool idea that he’s starting the movie,” the composer says). There was already music for both logos—a new piece by Michael Giacchino for the Paramount logo, and a jubilant, brassy fanfare for Skydance (“Yay, movies are saving the world!” is how Kraemer describes it). These pieces were eventually dropped in Reacher for setting the wrong mood, and in one version of Kraemer’s score he wrote a dissonant and foreboding passage under the logos—to establish for the audience that five people were about to be murdered. Cruise and Granger’s concern was that it felt too much like a horror movie, which they didn’t want.

Kraemer more or less stumbled onto the solution, with an opening that now sounds inevitable. He had scored a scene later in the film—where Reacher asks Helen to look out at the miserable people working late in their offices, and explains his guiding motivations to her—with Reacher’s nostalgic trumpet theme. One day McQuarrie took the dog out for a walk while Kraemer played around with possibilities for the opening. He had the idea of laying the same music from Reacher’s nighttime monologue under the logos, leading into his vigorous music for the opening titles. It fit like a glove. He showed it to McQuarrie when he came back from his walk, and the director began chuckling maniacally.

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The film now opens with that glorious statement of Reacher’s theme—as the Paramount stars arc the snowy peak, introducing us to the title character at the film’s outset (even though he won’t actually enter for another ten minutes), and setting the tone for the deeper subtext of the character and this deceptively “normal” thriller—just as it should. But it wasn’t always so obvious, and that’s one of the fascinating things about the process of scoring a film.

Thanks to Joe Kraemer for a great interview and a great score.

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