Brad Fiedel – In Conversation
There are a million reasons as to why I enjoy this work. There are a huge amount of talented musicians who take the time to chat and share their music, their opinions and their stories. There are also the fellow fans who are equally as enthused by the 80s music scene and the development of what has become known as synthwave and retro wave music. But there are few occasions where you get a chance to engage with someone who has been such an inspiration to thousands of those musicians, fans and movie-goers. So when the opportunity arose to talk with composer Brad Fiedel, there was only one thing to do.
So get comfortable and take some time with Fakeman whilst we explore the world of The Terminator and chat with the brain behind its unmistakeable score and his new project, Full Circle.
Ginger’s boyfriend Matt really was in the wrong place at the wrong time. What was supposed to be a chilled out night at his girlfriends place with some cold milk and doorstep sandwiches turned into his and her murder at the hands of a cyborg from the future. The smooth telephone voice, the man abs.. Matt was the 80s dream. He gave his best – ‘Don’t make me bust you up, man’ he proclaimed from his vertical stance on the mattress, lamp in hand. The dude was doomed and so was Ginger.
We see Matt crumbled in a heap and there he remains. I’ve often wondered what would have happened if he hadn’t died.. Would he have been brought back in one of the below par sequels as an ageing revenge merchant with tattered picture of Ginger in his wallet and a bag of her torn off blouse buttons on a chain around his neck? Kyle the protector, Matt the avenger. Yeah.. Maybe not.
It’s often the bit-part characters that make a movie.. Matt wasn’t alone in that sense when it came to Jim Cameron’s Neo-noir classic. The trashcan man and ’suumbitch just took my pants’ guy are up there with him as lone souls, impacted by the arrival of robots and battled hardened soldiers from the future. The one bit part that I want to focus on today, however, is the score.. But more about that in a while.
James Cameron’s The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement day are the first (and many feel, the best) movies of the Terminator Franchise. It’s been 36 years since the release of the first movie in 1984. A film many considered a b-movie given it’s budget and grungy presentation, it was released to almost universal acclaim. The Pittsburgh Press wrote a negative review, calling the film “just another of the films drenched in artsy ugliness like Streets of Fire and Blade Runner” so we get the validity of that article! It made a star of Arnie and projected both him and James Cameron to the top of Hollywood’s lists of influence and film making kudos. I’m not going to go into detail here but for me the first Terminator movie is a masterpiece in storytelling. The movie’s famous nightclub ’Tech Noir’ lends its name to the very genre of filmmaking that the 1984 classic has come to represent. That slow-burning, sci-fi detective story that requires you to suspend some belief, but ultimately is a story about people, places and relationships. And if you are going to make a comparison between The Terminator and Blade Runner, it should be in those terms!
Cameron’s first Terminator movie and its aesthetic has a strong presence in the 80s appreciation world that many readers of this article will inhabit. More so than it’s sequel due to the very aspects of its low budget relative to other big movies of the time, as well as the almost guerrilla filming that took place. There are explosions and there are stunts, however they come second to the more subtle visual elements of the movie.
Downtown LA was going though a transition in the early ‘80s. 1984 brought with it not only the release of The Terminator, but also the 1984 Olympic Games in LA. As is the case with many Olympic host cities, the powers that be were keen to develop areas of the city in line with the business and people they wanted to attract to the area post-games. Downtown LA was no different. Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley was keen for LA to be up there with New York as a city of business and pushed hard for skyscrapers and other large buildings to be developed in this part of his city. What The Terminator does is capture that pre-boom feel.. Cameron’s cinematic style brought those raw and ungentrified neighbourhoods and made them a character of their own.. South Lafayette and Huntington Park were presented in neon honesty…
But amongst the critical acclaim, the characterisation, the raw film-making and the genre-defining 107 minute running time was one particularly stand out element. The score. That iconic score that is as recognisable as Arnie. That pivotal part of not only the movie, but on the history of synth music, was designed and orchestrated by Mr Brad Fiedel.
Born in March of 1951, Brad was the keyboardist for a short time in the 70s with Hall and Oates before moving into composing for the movies. Picking up pace in the mid to late 70s, Brad scored a number of movies along with his work on The Terminator and it did the the same for him as it did for Cameron and Arnie. Post Terminator, Brad went on to work on Fright Night in 1985 and the excellent The Accused in 1988 before coming back to work with Cameron on T2 in 1991 and 1994’s True Lies. The collaborators have spoken often about how they worked together and much has been said about Brad’s contribution to the success and longevity of The Terminator, not only as a movie, but as a defining score of the era. Most recently, Brad has been working on a very different and personal project, Full Circle.
Full Circle is an original musical theatre project that has, until now, never been presented to the public. It is loosely based on events from Fiedel’s grandfather’s life. The story centers on Sarah, a teenager who is stuck in her New York City Apartment. She is so sensitive and empathetic that she is no longer able to tolerate going out in public. She absorbs the feelings and thoughts of others so deeply that she loses control of her body movements, causing intolerable pain and embarrassment. The appearance of her mysterious estranged grandfather creates a possibility for them to work together trying to solve a mystery that has haunted the family for years and is the cause of much suffering. Working alone in his home studio, Fiedel was able to assemble various recordings he had of the songs, scenes and narration to create a complete audio experience of the show. The two act musical was recently released on all digital platforms on June 24th 2020.
So it’s Fakeman’s huge pleasure to welcome Brad Fiedel to PFSynth.com where he took some time to chat with me about not only his work on The Terminator, but also his new project, Full Circle.
PF: Hi Brad, thank you for taking some time to chat. I had some tickets to come and see you at the Royal Albert Hall in London for Terminator Live. Naturally, the world has decided that won’t happen for now! For me, the score is perfect for that sort of event – Can you tell me a bit around your involvement in that project?
BF: I was originally contacted by Maggie O Herlihy at Avex. I was very surprised that anyone would want to take on the Terminator for a live show given how I created it, but she was very determined. We were immediately in sync and had similar ideas including using Taiko drummers for some of the percussion to add a dramatic visual element to the band. My involvement was mostly concerned with giving some feedback about my overall intent with the score and helping them tweak some of the signature sounds.
PF: So Full Circle. I’ve read that COVID has given you the time to finish this new project. Tell me a bit about how the project was conceived and has the pandemic impacted on your vision of the final product?
BF: As with some of my other “personal” projects, it can be hard to pin down how the the original kernel of the idea came about. Especially since some of my earliest files for the project date back to 2007. I will say that my original concept was for a large Broadway type production. It had a lot more political elements to it. I was really throwing in the kitchen sink…Over the years I made it much more intimate and focused it on Sarah and her grandfather. I was mostly interested in how trauma can be passed down through the generations of a family. And how these very different characters can help each other find their way in the crazy world.
PF: Full Circle seems like a labour of love and i’ve read that, given the circumstances in the world right now, you were the creative behind all aspects of the project. How did it feel to wear all those hats?
BF: In this instance I had a very particular vision about the story and the desire to play with the concept of one character who could only sing while others could talk. The fact that I wore all the hats was built in way before the pandemic. The part that the pandemic played was that the isolation gave me the time to focus on putting together this audio version and the inspiration to share the show with all these people who were also stuck at home.
PF: Scoring will always be a complex art and the stories I’ve read of how the Terminator scores were brought together (staff flying up and down the west coast from you house to Skywalker Ranch with recordings!) must add to the satisfaction of the final product. With the technical limitations of the era did completing a score on movies in those times make it feel more of an accomplishment in an ‘against all odds’ way?
BF: Getting a score done on time and within budget was always a part of the challenge. I think as the technology advanced some things got easier but some harder. When filmmakers were more able to use technology to make last minute changes in the film (and therefore require changes in the score) things got even more hectic. I think getting any project done with the highest quality possible always feels like you’ve accomplished something against all odds.
PF: Its well documented that you chose to distance from Hollywood after a number of years. Is there a director or producer that could tempt you back into the business?
BF: I think so. A great project and the opportunity to create something unique (as opposed to being asked to imitate a temp track) I would never say never, though its been so long and I am spoiled getting to follow my own imagination these days.
PF: You’ve spoken often about how a score can present and vary so much depending on how it is woven into a movie, the mise en scène, as it were. Do you have a preference as to how your work should be consumed? Would you prefer it to be seen in the context of the movie or are you keen for fans to throw on the vinyl record and let it ride?
BF: I was always so immersed in how I could best serve the scene in front of me and the picture as a whole, I was surprised when people said they enjoyed listening to the music away from the film. There are some scores and individual cues that can stand alone better than others. I have learned over the years that people enjoy listening to my music by itself and that’s great and very rewarding so whatever floats your boat…
PF: Your work on The Terminator has been considered by some to be the best sci-fi scoring in film. I would say particularly around keeping that ‘beating heart’ tone for the machine but also the softer and more open representations of Sarah and Kyle. How hard was it to bring that together for both yourself and to satisfy Jim Cameron’s brief?
BF: Most of the core sounds, concepts and themes for The Terminator score came very quickly after seeing the film. Mostly within the first 2 days. Jim was very happy with all of it the first time he heard it. Executing individual cues within the limited time frame is always somewhat of a mad dash but not very hard when the musical vocabulary you’ve established is clear.
PF: Finally, have you kept all your synths? What does your hardware colllection look like nowadays?
BF: No. I gave them away for the most part. People around the area are out there tinkering with them. I work on Digital Performer with a bunch of plugins and use a couple of Yamaha keyboards. I spent about thirty years very excited about each new development in the music tech world, but I eventually burnt out on learning all the various programming and the latest greatest technologies and focus now mostly on figuring out what story I want to tell and how to best tell it using songs and music without a lot of concern for the tech part.
A huge thank you to Brad for being part of the PF Synth Project and chatting with Fakeman. It’s been an honour to have such a cinematic legend be part of this work.
Check out Brad’s new 2 part Musical, Full Circle, recently released on all digital platforms on June 24th 2020. Check out the trailer below.
Now you’ll need to excuse me, I have to return some videotapes