Just for laughs
When I lived in Los Angeles, my agent set me up for a luncheon alongside film composer Thomas Newman. At one point, Thomas shared an advice with me: "NEVER say 'no' to an assignment, no matter how scary it looks at first." To this day, I'm not rather sure that such recommendation included playing a tiny little part in a movie I would be subsequently scoring (as you can discover in the photo above).
On tour with
The arrival at Sofia's airport for the Bird of Prey opening night with Jennifer Tilly, Richard Chamberlain, Lesley Ann Warren & Robert Carradine was a weird Fellini-like happening. Stepping out onto a tarmac full of flashing reporters and rushing off to some chique government building, pushed straight into a live radio interview. But why, why, why? Sofia as an ex-Eastern bloc city was freed and this was its first Hollywood movie participation. An old communist's party building seated 4000 people watching the premiere. Busses with my name on which I couldn't read. Weird, weird, weird.
to Brian Clifton
I wrote the score for Robbe De Hert's much anticipated feature film Trouble in Paradise but as a 'ghostwriter'. A bad experience mainly because I was too young to swallow that ego pill. My father (by adoption) and mentor Stan 'Clifton' Pilaet counseled me "why don't you simply shut up, do the job, and learn your trade." Even Robbe did not know this ghostwriting truth until about 3 years before his passing away during my Hollywood by the Schelde interview with him. With the discipline from my father in mind, I approached my first gig in Hollywood: The Crew.
The director inspired me into a main theme with the depth of Mahler's 5th symphony's Adagietto. He was very pleased and assured me I shouldn't worry about its heavyness because "it's a low budget art-house movie." So I kept my mouth shut and went along, and sure enough: the co-producers and distributors found it... too heavy.
Then, by coincidence, he saw Kubrick's Barry Lyndon on television and asked me if I could keep that melody, but transform it into the style of the famous Schubert piano trio. And thus I did. Viggo Mortensen's acting as a maffia's lawyer all of a sudden got something utterly real art-house fashion. The director was extremely delighted, but again my instinct turned out to be right. Once more, I kept my mouth shut.
Afterwards, his then girlfriend was crazy about Enigma's new and second album and the desire was: couldn't I rearrange that same melody into that Enigma manner? Anew, I did, and it sounded great. I was shown every corner of the room and had been 'a good boy', like 'daddy' told me.
But I had to depart to Belgium for a few days for my 'green card', and upon my return I was kicked off the film because the director was told: "Clearly your composer doesn't know what he's doing" and plainly he did not stand up for me and should have notified everyone that I had exactly done perfectly what he had asked me to do.
It was a great professional lesson. And on this wise I got my first Hollywood credit in the end titles under 'special thanks'.
Director Rudi Van Den Bossche:
"In Cruise Control I brought Brian in at an early stage. Hence, he was particularly aware about one of my goals with this film, namely to pay tribute to our movie culture - sometimes obvious for the connaisseur and sometimes delicately hidden, like in the soundtrack. With one of the scenes that we now call 'the Fellini jump-shots scene', I paid homage to Fellini's jump-shots effect which today is totally out of fashion, even 'not done'. On top of that, I wanted Brian to accentuate it in his music, which he did. Every cut was met with a musical accent. Our editor - with all his good intention - thought we had made a mistake and moved Brian's music around, which infuriated Brian for a second. And so he had to replace every note to the frame… exactly what I wanted for the emotional authenticity."
"I'll kick your ass
with a chess game"
I quickly understand in Hollywood amidst many of my heroes, that if you wanna learn something, never put yourself on a lower level by asking autographs or pictures. Bearing that in mind, I got quite some funny and interesting anecdotes. John Barry, Tom Cruise, Al Pacino, Hans Zimmer… and this fella, without whom I'd never have become a little film composer myself: Ennio Morricone. As an ASCAP composer I was pushed by the vp of ASCAP's tv & film dept., Nancy Knutsen, to go and have a photograph taken with the maestro. All of a sudden I had to say... something... to his translator. "Maestro, I've never succeeded in reaching your heights as a composer so I wanna challenge you to a chess game and (pardon my Italian) kick your ass." Seriously said that. He laughed, knew immediately what I was talking about, and replied "I would take you up on that offer but I have to leave for New York tomorrow morning" (ed. note: recording Wolf for Mike Nichols). Yeah yeah, chicken shit.
In my Los Angeles days, our infamous Belgian princess Marie-Christine and I had a wonderful friend in common. And one of the best Beverly Hills hairdressers. As a matter of fact, Franck introduced me to her while we were sitting next to each other in his salon. Unfortunately, I never have a seat next to another renowed client of his and mentor of mine, maestro Jerry Goldsmith. Came Marie-Christine's surprise birthday party at Le Dome in a separate dining room with a big round table seating about 14 guests. Now, 'they' were gonna play a little trick on me and installed me right next to another close friend of the princess and one of my heros, maestro Maurice Jarre. I could feel everyone's smiles and looks in my neck, so I played along by... doing exactly the opposite, like I hadn't got a clue who this guy next to me was. Now, it became fun for me because somebody at the table had 'to break', and after 20 minutes I heard from my left a voice "alors j'ai bien compris que tu compose de la musique de film aussi?" I presume that the fact that I did not behave like a rambling fan, which I'm perfectly capable of, gave our dinner next to each other a freedom for anecdotes which I will never forget.
"Give this guy a drink!"
On January 17, 1994 at 4:30 AM, I woke up and saw my wife standing naked wide spread in the framework of our bedroom door. The Northridge earthquake was hitting, quite a biggie.
That late afternoon I was invited by our Belgian Consul to a screening of an Oscar considerated Best Foreign Picture, Farinelli, on Doheney Drive in Beverly Hills. A splendid movie.
I expected some obstacles and left early but it was outright the opposite and I arrived way too early. So I entered the 'oak room' of the grand Beverly Wilshire hotel bar. It was packed with suitcases and passengers who clearly couldn't leave. I saw one bar stool empty at the bar, so I dashed for it. To my left sat a gray older man who'd visibly been there some time, bent over his glass.
- "I'm a mister Barry!"
- "I'm a John Barry!!"
"Thé John Barry... the film composer?!"
He finally looked up and yelled:
"Kevin, give this guy a drink!"
I never in my life asked for autographs or pictures, just to make sure I didn't dwell on the superstar-fan threshold. That attitude has led to many fine and insightful conversations, like this one.
Barry was in town for a screening of his next assignment, The Specialist with Stallone and Stone. He was very sad as he got the news on his way to JFK Airport about the passing of his friend, brother-in-law and keramic artist. I was just on a job to compose a theme that reflected Gustav Mahler's Adagietto from his 5th symphony, used by Visconti in his Death In Venice soundtrack, with Dirk Bogarde. As Barry accepted me immediately as a colleague and using that same reference for his wonderful score of Somewhere In Time, we hit it off right away.
Needless to say I missed the Farinelli screening, and I can remark proudly I even put maestro John Barry to bed, undoing his shoes and pants, and off I drove into the night, fortunately to a house still standing strong after the earthquake.
TRUE FRIENDSBrian Clifton
00:00 / 02:14
What are the odds of finding your first Hollywood movie this way?!
Lemme tell you 'bout a young Antwerp composer's first movie break in Hollywood anno early 90's. 14 million people. Most villa's possessed something called a guest house where you can cook, take a shower and sleep. Benedict Canyon had those villa's. Their gardens didn't have a fence, but went uphill like... a canyon hill side. A producer/director friend of mine lived there and had two outdoor loudspeakers planted for his garden movie parties. I'm still talking cassette days... no emails or Google or Youtube at all.
Let's go a few months back in time: I was invited by a supporter who helped me get my 'green card', Belgian Consul Guy Trouveroy, at his villa every 21st of July... and in walks our own Patrick Bauchau with Almodovar's splendid Assumpta Serna. We talked, and she walked away with my first soundtrack tape of Moins Morte Que Les Autres (Minder Dood Dan De Anderen).
Let's go forward in time again: I was in this director's Benedict Canyon villa to play him my strings recording from Belgium and he blasted it through his hill-side speakers. Out of this guest house came running a little man, ignoring me totally, and asked this director quite insistantly where he got this particular music because this is the music he got from an actress and was writing all these months his new screenplay to it. A screenplay for a movie to be called Bird of Prey with Jennifer Tilly, Richard Chamberlain and Lesley Ann Warren.
This Benedict Canyon director immediately had a squirky smile on his face when this little Venezuelan screenwriter/director explained how he could not find the composer of this music he'd been writing his recent script to... no internet ya'know.
"Why don’t you ask him yourself... this is he..." pointing at me.
And so out of 14 million people, I happened to be on the right place right time to meet the director of my very first Hollywood feature film, Bird Of Prey, produced by Steven J. Wolfe.
What had occured was this: Temi was the director of Chain Of Desire, his feature film with Bauchau and Serna, which is why we met at the consul's villa that Belgian 21st of July... and Assumpta passed on my cassette to Temi... go figure.
Bird Of Prey: SOFIA CHASEBrian Clifton
00:00 / 01:52
"You'll never work
in this town again"
When HBO/Columbia Television decided to replace the score for Back in Business, I was called by then VP of Music Bob Hunka with just one question: "We need it in 17 days, can you manage?" The night of the HBO premiere, my music blasted over the opening titles and when my credit came up, they had forgotten to substitute it with my name. My agent: "Brian, what are we gonna do: you're entitled to a serious compensation but... you'll never work in this town again." Nobody goes up against one of the Big Five in Hollywood! Hmmm, up to the present time, I don't know if my answer was the right one.
I made a lot of mistakes in the beginning but this one of too much music wasn't mine, funny enough. The late Marvin Hamlisch, multi-Oscar winning composer, was working in London in 1983. Behind my back, an agent in the same town who was considering representing me and had collaborated with maestro Hamlisch before, sent him the full two tapes, not me.
The Mission with
Robert De Niro
Around 1983, I assumpt that the confidence which I needed to have a go at a possible future in film music, started with these handwritten notes from Chariots Of Fire Oscar-winning producer David Puttnam. A very charming, intelligent man who certainly believed in me. He himself became CEO of Columbia Pictures. To this day, I felt he wanted to be a bit of a talent scout; he gambled on giving first breaks and check. When I got a telex message to meet him for a screening 'that Friday' at Soho Square's screening room, I was there. A documentary… full of jungle images until he came... Robert De Niro. "WTF was I there for?!" This thing went on for at least 3 hours. Then the lights came on and he approached me with some serious money and the request to compose him a main theme, with the words: "Brian, don't forget most people see a movie only once, I want a half a dozen notes in a nutshell theme!" When he and director Roland Joffé arrived at Antwerp airport, Puttnam immediately asked for my presence at the premiere. Up to that point, nobody believed my story, except tv and radio guy, journalist and soundtrack buff Michel Follet. At the press conference lunch for The Mission, David suggested to move to L.A., which I did, with under my belt my first feature film, De Kollega's Maken De Brug. That is how I landed in La La Land.
The Mission: GABRIEL & RODRIGO'S THEMEBrian Clifton
00:00 / 03:49
PS: This particular recording dates from 1983 and to my taste the best strings came from 'a machine' named Godwin String Concert. Oboe, Spanish guitar, violin and percussion were played live, but it keeps sounding a bit 'dated' because of the Godwin instead of real strings - obviously.
The Pink Panther called
In LA I became an ASCAP member. ASCAP has always been in fierce competition with e.g. BMI, a compettion our Sabam doesn't really know, thence ASCAP organises annual award ceremonies. During my first ceremonie in 1989 I met the great Henry 'Pink Panther' Mancini, and many more of even my mom's hero's like Gene Kelly and Burt Lancaster. At the reception I told Mancini that I had this wonderful 30' documentary on him made by a Belgian TV maker in Charleroi. He remembered that making and begged for a copy. I told him I had just arrived in Hollywood and wanted to know his professional opinion and if I could include a demo cassette.
Many weeks later I was composing and picked up the phone. "Hi Brian, it's Hank." I shouldn't have picked up the phone that confused 'cause I replied with "Hank who?" "Mancini!"
For about 10 minutes he kept asking me out about my recording techniques and I couldn't get one word in. Until I got it: for years 'Hank' had been experimenting with Mike's and Mouthpieces in the studio to find a more unique sound, and he thought I had hit the mother load. I had gotten pretty handy with the first samplers like the Akai S-900 but what I really wanted is what Mancini for all the obvious reasons had for years: a real orchestra. Funny huh. Then I asked him 'bout how I should go about making my first moves in Hollywood… within a minute the conversation was over. I was flabbergasted that this ol' geezer with all his Oscars, concertdates, fame, money, you name it, at that age still was this hungry.
Composers in Hollywood are about the last to form some kind of union and Silverado composer Bruce Broughton was one of the first CEO's of the Society of Composeres & Lyricists. On a visit to Broughton's home I told him my Mancini phone call and Bruce taught me a valuable cold shower lesson: "Brian, every composer in this town is after the job you're after even the ol' Mancini, for different reason than yours probably, like simply staying around, staying a part of it, getting invited to premieres, so don't ever make that mistake again." Told ya, cold shower.
Het Ultieme Kerstverhaal: Magical EncounterBrian Clifton
00:00 / 01:56
Michael Zilz, my Corona (yes, indeed) Del Mar neighbour, became one of my best friends and was a professional photographer. One day he came home from a shoot with a model. She liked my erotically driven music tracks - especially "being Belgian 'cause that's where all that hot stoff was coming from those days in the 90's" - and arranged for a meeting with her next director: Ron Harris for two upcoming Playboy specials she would star in. My assignment was to write 10 pieces, each 5 minutes, in 1 month's time. Now that was a tough restriction for me as I'm used to finish a piece when I'm really done with it.
After 2 weeks Ron called me to hear what I had gotten so far. Reluctantly, because of the time restraint I was under, I drove to his huge studio in Santa Monica. Top deck was all office filled with gorgeous women auditioning.
Ron took my DAT tape and said: "follow me." He politely asked 4 of the audition girls, resume in hand, to follow us downstairs where there was a gigantic studio with an amazing soundsystem and as a gimmick, a 15 diameter turntable, with a ton of little overhead cameras installed.
He played my tracks and asked those girls "to go to work and bring this music to life." And boy oh boy did they ever... a Monday morning at 11 am, and I'm sitting there thinking "and I am even getting paid for this?!"
Thank you sweethearts, you really made my music work, even I was humbled, astonished, and yes... a bit arroused.
Later on we drove up to Ron's house into the Beverly Hills and I asked him about the rumour I heard that casting was not going smoothly. "Oh we just signed Charlene... lemme introduce you to her."
Ron opened the door to his patio with swimming pool and there she was: Charlene, naked face down on a matras. "Charlene, come and meet our composer Brian." Charlene, without hesitation paddled to the side of the pool, stood up, came to me stark naked and said "hi I'm Charlene." I wanted to introduce myself in an equal fashion, but didn’t dare.
Anyway, it was a unique experience.
Now how am I gonna tell this at home where my in-laws were at that time.
After the job assignment of 10 tracks of 5 minutes, I 'personally' felt I 'got' Ron Harris' vision while he asked for 2 more compositions. Here's an audio fragment of one of those two, and guess what... I did not 'sell' it...
Catwalk EroticaBrian Clifton
00:00 / 03:56