Page last updated at 07:41 GMT, Monday, 28 July 2008 08:41 UK

Talking Shop: Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer in his studio
Zimmer has composed more than 100 film scores

Hans Zimmer is one of the film industry's leading composers, having worked on everything from Gladiator to The Simpsons Movie.

The German-born musician got his big break playing keyboards on The Buggles' number one hit Video Killed the Radio Star, before making the leap into film under the tutelage of British musician Stanley Myers.

An Oscar-winner for The Lion King, he has recently finished work on Batman: The Dark Knight, which he co-wrote with his friend James Newton-Howard.

Zimmer discusses the challenges of writing for the Caped Crusader and the TV theme for which he will be most remembered.

Batman has a huge musical legacy - from the iconic na-na-na-na TV theme tune to Danny Elfman's music in the Tim Burton films. How do you approach writing the score with all that weight behind you?

Well, I think of the character differently. One of the things I wanted to do on the first film was to write about a man who saw his parents get shot in front of his eyes. What happens to him? What sort of strange psychology does that leave you with?

You know, I can write long, big heroic tunes. But I really felt that would be against the idea of what we wanted to do with this movie.

How much trial and error is there when you start writing?

I usually know what I want to say right away - I just don't know how to say it. And it takes me the longest time to condense it and reduce it and shape it into something that takes my point of view and actually communicates it.

Heath Ledger
This guy worked so hard and he's done such an incredible performance. Why would I go and wreck this performance now?
Hans Zimmer on the temptation to rewrite The Joker's theme after Heath Ledger died
Whose idea was it for you to co-write the music with James Newton Howard?

James and I are friends, so when Chris [Nolan, director] offered me Batman Begins, I asked him if we could write it together. And he was absolutely into this idea because there is a duality to the character and it seemed to make sense.

There wasn't a single piece in that score that wasn't written by both of us.

Is the same true for The Dark Knight?

Dark Knight was different. The Joker and Harvey Dent were so singular that I felt you had to have a very strict and precise voice for both of them. So James did Harvey Dent and I did The Joker.

Had you finished writing when Heath Ledger passed away?

Well, Chris and I started talking about the Joker in one way or the other before he had even finished the script. I think I wrote all the Joker material last July. So that's been quite a while.

When someone dies unexpectedly like that, it changes the way you look at their performance on the screen. Was there ever a temptation to go back and change the music too?

There was one moment right at the beginning after he died.

We had one of those days where we thought: "Oh my god, I can't do what I'm doing. I have to add some gravitas."

But I realised quite suddenly that that would be the worst thing to do, because this guy worked so hard and he's done such an incredible performance. Why would I go and wreck this performance now?

So that's obviously what we did. Because otherwise it would have been disingenuous and an insult to him.

You've written for a lot of different genres of film - comedy, action, romance, cartoons. Do you enjoy the variety?

That was the thing that bugged me so much about being in a rock band. Everyone expects you to do the same thing again and again. I was interested in other forms of music - in classical, in electronic music, in rock and roll. Film lets you do that because you write in the style that you think is appropriate for that film.

Hans Zimmer and James Newton-Howard
Zimmer and James Newton-Howard (right) collaborated on Batman
Is there one genre you're better at?

No, not really. They're all impossible when you start out on them.

What's your composing environment like?

Oh, I have the craziest studio. I have the Batcave! Loads of synths…

Part of what was fun for me on the Dark Knight was dragging out all the old modular analogue synthesizers and making sounds from scratch. I tortured people forever [by] making new drum sounds.

There's a note for The Joker that took me months to get. I needed something that was ugly but at the same time completely confident and completely blasé. So I had to completely wear out my cellist friend Martin Tillman.

You tortured him?

It wasn't so much torture. But there was certainly some subterfuge going on.

Despite all the awards and Hollywood kudos, your most lasting composition for people of a certain age in the UK is the theme tune to Going For Gold. Are you aware of its impact?

I knew that question was coming! Going For Gold was a lot of fun. It's the sort of stuff you do when you don't have a career yet. God, I just felt so lucky because this thing paid my rent for the longest time.

I remember running into Rod Temperton once, who wrote Thriller and all those Michael Jackson tracks, and he knew all the words!

Does that make it a good piece of music? I don't know. I think most people know the words for It's a Small World After All as well - and I'm not sure that's a good thing.

Hans Zimmer was speaking to BBC News entertainment reporter Mark Savage.

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