Transcript of the interview with composer
Lalo Schifrin
best know for writing the music to the original television series
The interview aired on Thursday, June 13, 1996 at 9:30pm eastern with Peter Anthony Holder
the evening open-line talk show host on
CJAD 800 AM, Montreal.

CJAD: Lalo, it's nice to talk to you sir.

LALO: It's very nice to talk to you and also your audience, the people of Canada and Montreal, a city that I love. I played there when I was with Dizzy Gillespie several times. I have great souvenirs and I also have many Canadian friends.

CJAD: It's nice to have the opportunity to talk to you. I've been a fan of your work for awhile. I remember a long time ago there was a comedy routine put out by Bill Cosby saying that kids growing up, at least little boys, they tend to have their own sort of theme song in their head. For a lot of kids growing up, it certainly was the MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE theme song. How did that come about?

LALO: Well for me it was very simple. I was working here in Hollywood doing movies and television and all of a sudden my agent called me and said there was a pilot being done called MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE, and the producer wanted me to write the music. And the producer was Bruce Geller. The late Bruce Geller, unfortunately. He liked to fly small airplanes and he had a fatal accident not far from Los Angeles in the Santa Barbara Mountains. I miss him as a person and as a friend, because we became friends afterwards and he was very stimulating to work with. He called my agent. It was a little bit of a panic in the production because they started late and they had to deliver it to the network by a certain date. So he didn't have time to have a meeting with me in his office. I think he was directing the pilot too, so he made me go to the set. So, I met Barbara Bain and Martin Landau and Greg Morris and Peter Lupus, all the member of the mission. All the actors. I had read the script and that gave me a little bit of the atmosphere. Usually composers, unless it's a musical movie, when it is a dramatic movie for television...episode or series...the composers, they come at the end of production, during the post production, so we are not there during the principle photography. It really helps....I wish producers would understand how much it helps to absorb the atmosphere and being sometimes on location. The best movies I've ever done including COOL HAND LUKE is because the director, Stuart Rosenberg, invited me to the location and I think that's when I give my best. For some reason some influence of the drama was going on in the set. It's almost like watching a play. It really helps a lot. There was another panic that developed after they finished. They finished shooting and they edited and I went to do what is called the "spotting" It's a term in Hollywood jargon that means the composer goes to decide with the director and producer the spots in the movie where music is going. Because the music is not wall to wall. It's very important to know where it starts in a scene, what we call a musical cue, and where it ends. You'll be amazed, and this is a little bit outside the scope of this interview...and maybe it's a little too technical, but the spotting is what decides the style of the music in that particualar scene. It decides also the style of the whole movie from a musical point of view. The panic they had, and when I say they, I mean the production, was the company that they hired to do the graphic designs and the animation for the main title.....

CJAD: And that would have been with the lit fuse, right?

LALO: Yes....not only that, but the whole main title....the company wasn't ready and he told me, even by the time you score the movie...because besides that theme, I had to write a whole background music....and I had only one week to do it. So he says, "by the time you score the movie, you'll have the visuals of all the movie, except the main title." It was in the main title that I used that famous theme that everybody knows, but during the movie I had another theme which was the suspense theme, which Danny Elfman has used with variations and he was gracious enough to give me credit for that which was.....(Lalo plays some of the theme on piano)...It has more mystery, more tension. It has a little bit of drama. It's almost like a paramilitary operation, because that's what the MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE force was doing. They were a paramilitary operation. If you pay attention in the movie, you're going to recognize echoes of that secondary theme, which actually was used through the body of the television show. The main theme, which is most known was too happy and the producers said to me, "you're not going to have anything on the screen. The only thing I know is that I would like to start with a fuse that is going to be maybe one second and a half," I think he told me. "Then after that, it should explode, the music to give me a very strong rhythm, and give me very dynamic music that promised adventure, action and a lot of danger. So I did it and it was very strange to record without anything on the screen. Maybe that's one of the reasons why because I didn't have the straightjacket of any visuals....maybe that would be an explanation why the music is so free and it works so well, not only for the movie but outside, in terms of popularity.

CJAD: After you recorded it, did you have any idea that the music you put down for a simple television show like MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE would probably become one of the most recognizable television theme songs ever?

LALO: No, how could I? I did my job. When you are working in Hollywood and you are doing movies and television, you do the best you can on each project. In this case I did the best I could, but I never could foresee this kind of reaction.

CJAD: Now years ago, I bought one of your albums entitled, TOWERING TOCCATA. One of the reasons I bought it is because it had a television theme song from a show that didn't last that long. That show was called MOST WANTED with Robert Stack.

LALO: Yes.

CJAD: I was just curious to know about when you're writing music. When you're doing a television show. A theme song. Shows come and go. You were lucky with the fact that MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE ran for seven years on CBS, but when you're writing a theme song and you're saying, "oh good, this is great work, I'm really happy with this," you really have no idea how successful it's going to be, because it's based on the fact that the show itself has be successful. Have there been pieces of music you've written over the years for the hundreds of television shows and movies you've done that you were really, really proud of but never saw the light of day because the show just died?

LALO: Yes, I am and unfortunately even if I would tell you the names of the shows it wouldn't mean anything to you because some of them weren't even bought by the networks. I have what I consider themes that are different, but are as strong as the MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE theme, but they've never seen the light of day at all, because the network didn't buy it. I don't know how it is now, but in those days either they had to buy it or....if they bought it, it was only for thirteen weeks, and they saw it was doing with the public. Because the public is the one who still has the last word. There is a marriage between the music...the music is not the most important element in a show of this kind. The show has to work. There has to be something that appeals to the audience. Not only the acting, but the concept of the show and the writing of the screenwriter. How good the lines are and how well they are delivered and how well it's edited. That doesn't mean the show is good or bad. I've been working always with professionals, but for some reason it doesn't click all of a sudden. The heads of the network think that nothing is going to happen with this so they say, "let's dump it" or sometimes they show it....instead of loosing completely...because when they invested money in a pilot, which was one hour. If they didn't but it, the money was lost. Later they decide to make the pilot two hours long and show it as a movie of the week.

CJAD: Now, with the current film out starring Tom Cruise in the theatres, they have obviously to a certain degree revamped the music that you originally wrote for the television series. What do you think of what they have done to the music as you wrote it?

LALO: Oh, I think it's okay. It's great! I like it. I like it a lot. I was coming back from a concert tour in Europe and I was invited to the preview. So when Tom Cruise saw me he hugged me. This was documented. You can imagine all of the television stations and all the newspapers were there and many of them documented this event. I would like to have this for my own memorabilia. My publicist is trying to locate who has it, because the rights of those pictures belong to the publications. But I would like to have them for my own, because he hugged me twice. There was a show called EXTRA in which you can see that hug. He said to me that he grew up with MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE and the music was one of the biggest elements that convinced him to get involved in the project, not only as an actor but as producer. So he made my day.

CJAD: Well, it certainly is a very memorable piece of music. As you eluded to earlier, you have been to Montreal playing with Dizzy Gillespie, playing some jazz. You've done some classical. For those who aren't familiar with your work, besides the television shows like MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE, like MANNIX, and movies like COOL HAND LUKE and DIRTY HARRY, what are you doing these days?

LALO: I just came from South America. You know the director Carlos Saura. He won the Oscar a few years ago for the Best Foreign Movie. He did CARMEN in Spain as a musical. The opera CARMEN. But instead of doing it as an opera he did it in a troupe of flamenco dancers. I don't know if you've seen that.

CJAD: Heard about it, did not see it personally, but I remember when it came out.

LALO: He wants to do now a movie about tango. He's one of the great film makers of Europe, especially now that Fellini is no longer among us and some of the greats directors of Europe are in their later years. He became one of the most respected ones. He has a vision that is totally different. I like him very much and he brought with him an Italian cameraman. His name is Vittorio Storaro who worked on APOCALYPSE NOW and DICK TRACY. He's very active in Hollywood. He's Italian, but he as a sort of double residency. He has a home in Rome and also he lives here, because he comes here for long periods of time to do movies. We are going to do that movie. Also I am involved in another one with Rob Lowe. It's a love story. I have been so much typecasted to be an action/adventure composer that I'm longing to do some more human interest stories. There is a movie called SOMETHING TO BELIEVE IN which is going to start shooting in Europe, I think this fall.

CJAD: You've had a varied and busy career. You've never stopped working but with the resurgence of MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE you're back in the public eye again. For those who may not follow what you do on a regular basis, between stints of MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE, how has the notoriety...the resurgence in the notoriety brought more attention to you. How does it make you feel?

LALO: Oh, I am the same. First of all, I never really ceased to be in the public eye because I created my own venues or avenues of expression. I have been conducting symphony orchestras. I have been playing. I have been involved in many, many projects that might be known in Canada. There has been a series I've been doing, of records called JAZZ MEETS THE SYMPHONY in which all my experiences of my life of being born and trained in classical music and also my love for the last one with the London Philharmonic and some of the great jazz musicians of today like Pacito de Riviera (sp?) and Ray Brown, I did a symphonic rendition of MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE by coincidence. When I did this record, which is more then one year ago, I didn't know that the movie was going to come out at this time. And this record is going to be released in United States and probably Canada in the middle of June a few days from now.

CJAD: And we should mention that it is on FOUR WINDS RECORDS, correct?

LALO: Yes, and there is a jazz version of that. I did it a little faster. It's different obviously from the version that the members of U2 had done. Or different from the one I had done originally. It has a lot of improvisation in it, but it has a lot of vigour and a lot of energy. I supposed the public would be interested to know how the composer treats his own music with a symphony orchestra.

CJAD: You are aware of the fact that the theme song to MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE is your little piece of immortality. We look back at some of the great composers of time from Beethoven and Tchaikovsky and we can hum a few bars of a song and everybody knows what it is. The same can probably be said about MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE and you.

LALO: Well, you are very generous. The difference is there is more then just a beginning. In my case I would have to develop or write a whole symphony, which I could if I wanted. If I so desire, I could, but I don't see the point of doing it. But they have also compared the music of MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE, especially the way it's used in the movie with THE RIDE OF THE VALKRYIES, the way it's used in APOCALYPSE NOW. It's very strong and it makes a contribution to the spots where it is used in the movie. It makes a strong contribution like during the chase. Like the helicopter against the train. And it's big. I was with the audience, and the audience started applauding and beating the rhythm with their hands and all that. It really is very satisfying, but I know the difference between the great masters and what I'm doing. I trying to do the best I can, that's all.

CJAD: Well in some cases the only difference between the great masters and what you're doing is time. I thank you for talking with us and continued success with all the work you do. Your latest album as you say is FIREBIRD: JAZZ MEETS THE SYMPHONY. It's released on FOUR WINDS RECORDS. I thank you for talking with us.

LALO: Thank you very much and good luck.

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