Interview with Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders

By • November 15, 2019

When there are so many composers in heated rhythmic competition with funk, jazz and rock that speeds listeners back to the 1960’s glory days of anti-establishment heroes, leave it to the enduring team of Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders to jockey their retro vehicle into pole position with “Ford v Ferrari.” As an exceptionally well-oiled musical team that’s been running for decades since their scoring career inceptions (during which they’ve received a co-Oscar nomination for 2008’s “Hurt Locker”),” this tale of a seemingly mis-matched collaboration between two high-octane individualists revs up a whole new, vibrantly old school song sound for the duo – not to mention their director James Mangold.

Given their previous, Oriental-styled super heroics for the director’s “Wolverine,” a fateful Spaghetti western return to the character in “Logan,” and a full-on period shoot ‘em up with the Oscar-nominated soundtrack for “3:10 to Yuma” “Ferrari” is a wonderfully unexpected flashback – a 60’s style mix of spot-on funk, hep jazz, surf rock and brass wrecking crew attitude that exceptionally delineates the period in which American race car specialist Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and English hotshot rider Ken Miles (Christian Bale) team together. Their seemingly impossible mission is to pull off the impossible at France’s Le Mans racetrack by taking a seemingly bland, if nonetheless iconic Detroit brand and creating a super speed metal monster that will take on the far snootier, and better made Italian carmaker with no end of medals under his checkered flag. It’s a race against time with no end of macho swagger that Beltrami and Sanders can truly swing with, while also getting in a western-style sense of sports mythmaking.

With race car-embodying music that crashes through roaring engines with a bigger than life sense of acceleratingly thematic fun, Beltrami and Sanders are once again in perfect synch to pull off the unexpected, as “Ford v Ferrari” continues to show a partnership in synch like few others in Hollywood’s racetrack.

Buck, how did you become aware of Marco?

Sanders: I became aware of Marco through a Fred Dryer TV show he scored called “Lands End” around 1996 or so. The show was a lot of fun and seemed to be trying to do something different with every episode. Marco’s score reflected that same sense of exploration within the shows.

What are your respective strengths that complement your work together?

Beltrami: I come from a much more traditional pencil and paper background. Technology is not my forte, whereas Buck is much more comfortable with the technology side of the business. So, we sort of work hand in hand, because at this point there’s no way to separate. You can’t do a strictly pencil on paper scoring anymore. And just being caught up in the technology can somewhat limit the scope of what you do as well. I try to think in terms of the big picture and unlocking the key to the film and to me that has nothing to do with technology. It’s all just part of the creative process.

Sanders: In general, my main contribution over the years has been creating electro-acoustic manipulations and designing the sound pallet for the scores. My goal from early on has been to make a new pallet for each film to help give each film an identity. That naturally progressed into composing as well as becoming very involved with the recording and mixing process. Each part of those processes is equally important for producing a score for most of the films we do. Marco’s strength lies with orchestral writing and over the years he’s moved from larger, more gestural orchestral writing that focused on strongly accenting picture edits (such as the “Scream” movies or “Blade 2”) to being particularly interested in thematic development over a scene. That said, even though he doesn’t have a personal interest in computers or electronics he does enjoy discussing the early concepts and obviously has a knack for using the sounds that are made for the scores. Often times what one of us is doing really inspires the other. Marco’s thematic ideas, harmonic movement etc can inspire the sounds I make and vice versa.

Buck, many co-composers can spend their careers laboring in anonymity. In that respect, how important was it for you to begin getting front-end co-scoring credits?

Sanders: When we’re working on a film I’m pretty much as happy as can be creatively and Marco has always encouraged whatever ideas I may come up with to help develop a score’s palette or if I’m inspired to write cues. Marco was the one who very generously instigated sharing credit initially. Since then occasionally a film comes up that Marco and I both have strong ideas for and generally it develops into a co-score credit. I’m not much of a limelight seeker and really enjoy the work if it’s a co-score or if I’m helping our team of composers help us finish a massive project or a time crunched gig. I started out musically playing in bands and have always enjoyed collaborative relationships.

What did getting an Oscar nomination for “Hurt Locker” tell you about your partnership?

Buck and Marco back in The Hurt Locker

Sanders: It was one of the first co-scoring credits we had together and I really appreciated Marco requesting that with the filmmakers. I’m also very appreciative to those directors who recognized the collaboration between Marco and myself.

Were either of your attracted to cars, or racing, before taking this film on?

Sanders: Marco is into racing. I’m into using a car to pick up cool gear for the studio. His racecar is so loud that I can’t hear the Goldsmith CD playing in my car!

Beltrami: I dabble in amateur motorcycle racing and I’ve been to the track with the car as well numerous times and follow moto GP and Formula One racing when I can. Also, I train at Willow Springs Raceway with my son Coleman, where part of the film was shot.

How would you say your relationship has evolved with James Mangold to the point of “Ford v Ferrari?” And how would you say his skill as a director has developed to take on such a hugely ambitious project like this?

James Mangold directs Ford v Ferrari

Beltrami: This is the fourth movie that we’ve done together and over the course of our relationship. For a director working with a composer, it’s almost like you have to develop a language, because the language of music is abstract and that takes time. And I find that each time I work with Jim it gets easier and easier. I understand more instinctively what he’s talking about and vice versa. I feel like he understands our ideas as well. I think he is one of the most talented directors I’ve ever worked for. And this movie I think is a masterpiece. I think it’s the best movie I’ve ever worked on. And I feel that what Jim does so well, is that he takes a big story, but makes it very personal at the same time and focuses on the relationships. So, even though it’s about a simple concept of Ford beating Ferrari at Le Mans, it really functions on a relationship level, which makes you really care about it, even if you’re not a race fan.

Sanders: One of my favorite things about Jim is that he is a real fan of vintage film scores. He’s consistently referencing composers like Jerry Fielding, David Shire and Lalo Schifrin and the sound and energy of those scores. I remember the day before we were recording “The Wolverine” score he had us come by his office so he could play us some music to inspire the sessions and it was Elmer Bernstein’s “The Sweet Smell of Success.” That was not what I was expecting to hear. He didn’t want that style of music obviously but loves the sound of the band and how raw and energetic it is. I think we got closer to some of that unbridled energy from classic scores with “Logan,” and with “Ford v Ferrari,” I think we have gotten even closer. We purposely decided to produce the sound of this score with the band in the room at Capitol instead of having heaps of production done beforehand which can end up dictating the energy and dynamics of a band’s performance. All the production we added to the ending Le Mans race cues was all edited to the band to keep their energy as the main focus throughout the whole score.

Why choose this particular style of music? And would you say it made your collaboration with James differ here? Or is there now shorthand in the process after so many years together?

Beltrami: Jim and the music editor Ted Caplan turned us on to the sound of the film early on by playing us records that he liked. Jim didn’t want a smooth Hollywood score. He wanted to embrace this idea of when they used to make records and you have a band play in the room and not be so constrained by strict meters and everything being perfect, smooth. He wanted us to embrace the rough edges of it. And in this score, I feel like we were able to do that in a way we haven’t previously been able to. We didn’t use traditional orchestra and we really cared about the performance, not so much technique in the studio, but the actual performance on the scoring stage.

Sanders: We all wanted to reference music from the times of the films settings and use instrumentation and production techniques to help sit with the source music that’s also in the film. It was important that the band members be able to comfortably shift between the jazz and rock inspired cues and the more modern sounding stuff we did for the Le Mans race. We were really responding to Jim’s tastes in music from that time. There is certainly developing shorthand with Jim but more importantly we are developing good communication with his whole team that he has been working with for years now. We have full trust in the music editing/supervision by Ted Caplan and dub mixer Paul Massey who handles the music mix on the final dub stage. They can usually easily handle most of any changes Jim may want during the final mix.

“Ford v Ferrari” is certainly your funkiest score together. What kind of albums or songs from the era did you dig into for research?

Sanders: We got to pay some homages to stuff that I’ve always enjoyed like Lalo Schifrin and Henry Mancini and I did a lot of research on guitar fuzz pedals from the 60s. I’ve been collecting fuzz pedals for years to be able to one day do a fuzz guitar and brass score and this film was the perfect film to explore that idea. We worked closely with the Mark Graham, the score’s orchestrator and conductor, regarding the brass mutes and which ones may be good combinations with the different fuzz pedals.

Tell us about the ensemble you used?

Beltrami: We had a unique ensemble of 15 instruments, sort of like a big band. We had three guitars that would play everything from acoustic guitar to electric to pedal steel. And we had a piano that also played B3 Organ. And we had a drum kit and percussion that played also a vibraphone. And we had an electric bass player that also played jazz, upright bass, and we had two trumpets and three trombones and a saxophone that doubled on flute. And we did the entire score with this ensemble. There are no strings, no synthesizers, there’s no electronic outside electronics coming from the studio. Everything we wanted this score to be so that you could basically play it as if you were just going into the studio and playing it. And that’s the score. That was the concept. And the thing that was great about it was that we didn’t have all the sessions at the end.

Marco

We started scoring, I think it was in January, and we had, over the course of five months, five sessions and we kept coming back to the same band. So, we got to know the players. We knew whom we were writing for, we knew what their strengths were. We knew what Jim liked because we played cues for him and then he would listen and he would give us notes on what he liked, and sometimes we would come back and revisit those cues. Sometimes we would take ideas from one cue and adapt it to something else. It was a real collaborative process, something that we don’t often get to do on a film score, but we had the luxury of multiple sessions with the same band and having Jim attend all the sessions and try stuff in the picture. So, I feel like we were really able to connect and collaborate as director and composers and really develop our relationship.

In a way, was scoring “Ford v Ferrari” like being in a garage together working on a car?

Beltrami: Buck and I really worked on everything together. I would come up with perhaps a melodic idea for something and Buck would have a way of translating that to how we were going to achieve that with guitar, fuzz and muted brass, things like that. And he’s had this concept for a long time. And we finally got to use it. Or there’s a rhythmical idea that starts at the beginning of the race, I think Buck came up with that on his guitar and then I ran with that and developed it into a cue that we would sit down and work on together. Like we’d be in the same room together, he’d be playing some things on the guitar. I’d be recording him while he did that. I would be playing some things on the piano or the organ and he’d be recording me doing that. We actually write these cues together.

How does the final album differentiate in some parts as to what’s heard in the film?

Buck

Sanders: The soundtrack’s first track (“Le Mans 66”) is an edited suite of the Daytona cue, the “7000RPM/Perfect Lap” cue and the cue where Miles starts to catch up with the Ferrari driver Bandini and then back to the Daytona finale. There are also a couple of alternate versions of cues that are slightly more developed thematically (“Ferrari Factory” and “Crescent Wrench”).

How did you want to musically differentiate the personalities of Ken and Carroll?

Beltrami: I had something thematic for their relationship and I had something thematic for Miles’s headspace, when he had his 7,000 RPM idea, and then when he reaches the perfect lap. We had thematic ideas that were solidly based for the race as well that were more mechanical of nature.

Sanders: I don’t think we saw them so much as individuals to focus on. The film is really about the friendship between them and Miles relationship with his family.


Given that retro rock-pop scores are now the rage, did you want to bring in the “western” sound to make yours different?

Sanders: I wasn’t aware that they are so popular right now. It just felt right for the film, especially considering the period of it. We’re always throwing in Morricone inspired “western” sounds. It’s hard for us not to do that, especially on a Mangold film. I think you could easily transcribe a lot of his films into westerns.

Would you say there are elements of “3:10 to Yuma” and “Logan” in this score?

Beltrami: I’ll say that there’s also a cue that’s used a few times. It’s used in the very opening of the movie when Shelby’s on fire, it’s used when Shelby is giving a speech for the unveiling of the Mustang and it’s used when Miles has to slow down. There’s this cue that goes by, it’s fairly ambient, but there is a piano line, right? Very sparse, simple, right-hand piano line that I realized after we did is similar to a piano thing that I did in “Logan.” So I guess, unconsciously, there was a connection.

Sanders: From “Yuma,” certainly with the gritty acoustic guitars and the trumpet/fuzz guitar theme that movie had as well like. I didn’t really think of “Logan” in conjunction with “Ford,” but perhaps some of the darker racing moments in Le Mans have some similar vibes. The dark piano clusters and the drum kit could have worked in “Logan.”

How difficult is it to musically capture the sensation of speed?

Sanders: The fast tempo of the cues certainly helps. Letting the players play beyond their parts and improvise parts helps create urgency as well. Mangold seemed particularly interested in wanting the feeling of precision for the GTs once they show up which is why we had the extra percussive guitars and tight percussion that were edited to follow the band’s performance for the GT racing scenes.

Was it also important to get across a mythic quality in the score as to the sense of racing, and automotive history being made?

Beltrami: This idea of the nature of your relationship to the car changes at 7,000 RPMs where at a certain point when you’re driving has almost a mythical feel to it. And that I felt needed musical support. And Jim shot it in a way that he needed score at that point. There’s a moment at the end when right before he, Miles, slows down. And then also in the very beginning, when Shelby leaves the doctor’s office and he’s driving down Mulholland Drive in his car, we wanted to connect this feeling from the beginning of the movie and right up to the end when actually even when Ken Miles loses his brakes at the very end and crashes.

Sanders: I think Marco did a great job of capturing a mythical quality with his 7000RPM cue (during “Miles’ Perfect Lap in Le Mans”). It’s a very ethereal combination of sustained fuzz guitars, brass, B3 organ and electric bass. It reminds me of a very organic version of a Vangelis type piece. When I was originally thinking about fuzz guitars and muted brass I was always thinking about energetic, dissonant sounds but Marco had this great idea for an ethereal piece. It’s a very unique and rich sound.

How did you want to get across this playful, Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid-like relationship between Ken and Carroll? In that way, would you describe this as your most “fun” score together?

Sanders: We did have lots of fun on this one, particularly at the sessions with the players. Since the sessions were spread out every few weeks we tried to maintain the same players. We were always very excited to see the band and hear them play. I think while we were writing, particularly for the scenes with Shelby and Miles, we were easily caught up in the great dynamic that was already present on screen before we wrote anything. The film looks great and you can’t beat that cast so it makes the job pretty easy inspiration-wise.

How important was it for the music to reflect both characters’ sense of individuality, while also showing the importance of teamwork, let alone cooperating with Ford?

Sanders: The film does that so well on its own. I’d say the sense of energy and motivation from the Shelby team as a whole inspired the music mainly.

You’ve probably never had to deal with sound effects on the level of this movie before. How did you want to choose instruments that could punch through the car roars? And did you work closely with the sound mixers to ensure the score could be heard?

Beltrami: Well, first of all, I don’t think we’ve ever had a better mix on a movie. This is absolutely brilliant how the car engine sounds, which are like music in and of themselves, and the way they’re used, especially in the race sequences are vitally important to this movie and the music is a lot of that. I think the way that it comes, so you can hear it, a lot of how it comes through was a choice by Jim to have certain elements of the score. I think because of the way we recorded it and the way we had the time to think about it collectively over five months, we found how it could best serve the picture. And so by having certain elements be heard and picking moments that you would hear the cars more prominently or you hear the score more prominently were all choices that he made with the mixers on the dub stage. And when I first heard it, I was blown away by how clear everything was.

Sanders: There was certainly thought put into sounds and instruments that might be able to cut through but it was really the magic of Paul Massey’s music mix in the film that made any of it audible. He and effects mixer David Giammarco have a great working relationship and know how to weave around each other, much like the driving in the races. Paul’s mix in the film was so impressive to us that we included his treatment of the tracks back into our mixes for the final stereos. The soundtrack release is a co-mix with our usual mixer Tyson Lozensky and Paul Massey.

How did you want to spot where the music came in and out of the races?

Sanders: Jim has great instincts about music spotting and I think in general he had a lot of that figured out with Ted Caplan before we got to scoring those sections. Spotting was continually being fined tuned even well into the dub, but again, with Jim and his dub stage crew we had full trust that they’d make great choices with editing and mixing decisions for what’s best for the film.

You’ll be back in monster mode next year with “Underwater.” What can you tell us about the score? And on that note, have you started talking about your approach for the “Quiet Place” sequel?

Sanders: Marco and Brandon Roberts have already finished “Underwater”. I had a lot of fun working on it helping to create the pallet of sounds and helping produce the score. We should be mastering the soundtrack soon. “A Quiet Place 2” should start up soon. We don’t know any details about the film or the musical approach John Krasinski has in mind but hopefully we get to explore ideas from the first film. I hope we can get deeper into the microtonal piano stuff we did previously.

Would you want your music for “Ford v Ferrari” to make people drive faster?

Sanders: Ha! When Mangold was reviewing the soundtrack mixes with us he made a joke about old men getting the score album and playing it in their cars and flying off the road from the score’s racing tension.

“Ford v Ferrari” is now doing laps in theaters, with Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders’ score album available digitally and on retro vinyl.

Listen to Marco and Buck’s digital (and vinyl soon) score soundtrack on Hollywood Records HERE

Listen to Marco and Buck’s score soundtracks HERE

Watch “Ford v Ferrari” scoring sessions at Marco Beltrami’s website HERE

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