Jan 17, 2023
Hans Zimmer: The 60 Minutes Interview Transcript
Hans Zimmer talks about scoring movies with a computer and piano keyboard. Read the transcript here.
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Lesley Stahl (00:04):
Music in the background of a movie is often crucial to how we experience the film. In some cases, it can become as memorable as the movie itself. Think of the screaming violins in Psycho, or the haunting tuba in Jaws. The latter written by John Williams, who for more than a generation was Hollywood’s leading composer. But over the years, as directors and studios began to look for edgier scores, they have increasingly turned to a German-born composer named Hans Zimmer. If you’ve been to the movies in the past 40 years, you’ve heard a Hans Zimmer score. Action, drama, comedy, romance, blockbusters, he’s done them all.
The story will continue in a moment.
Lesley Stahl (01:03):
Including the 1994 film, The Lion King, which he won an Oscar for with its opening Zulu chant, sung by Lebo M., a South African musician who was working at a car wash in Los Angeles when Hans enlisted him.
Hans Zimmer (01:30):
That’s how that opening turn came about, literally.
Lesley Stahl (01:33):
Just [inaudible 00:01:34].
Hans Zimmer (01:33):
Microphone in the room, not in a booth or anything like this.
Lesley Stahl (01:38):
Hans told the executives at Disney that he wanted to say, right off the bat, this is not a typical Disney movie. It’s a father-son story that takes place in Africa.
Hans Zimmer (01:53):
They said, “Exactly. That’s good. Do what you do.”
Lesley Stahl (01:55):
He showed us what he does at his studio in Los Angeles where he composes his scores on this keyboard and computer. For example, the music for the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie.
Hans Zimmer (02:09):
If you have Pirates, which is basically this sort of a thing. There’s a jauntiness, right?
Lesley Stahl (02:16):
Hans Zimmer (02:17):
Lesley Stahl (02:17):
Hans Zimmer (02:20):
The music is really big. He’s in a little rowboat with a little sail, and you hear this huge orchestra because that’s the music he hears in his head because he’s the greatest pirate that has ever lived, in his imagination. When you listen to the Joker, he’s quite the opposite. It’s like a bow on a bow and arrow, and you stretch it.
Lesley Stahl (02:53):
Ooh. Oh, my God.
Hans Zimmer (02:54):
It’s not pretty.
Heath Ledger (02:59):
Why so serious?
Lesley Stahl (03:04):
It’s very emotional inducing. I can’t even express why. I wouldn’t be able to put words to it.
Hans Zimmer (03:11):
That’s the idea. At my best, words will fail you because I’m using my own language.
Lesley Stahl (03:17):
Since the 1980s, Hans Zimmer’s language in his scores, like last year’s biggest hit, Top Gun: Maverick, has defined not just the characters, but has helped tell the stories of chest-thumping action films and sci-fi epics, like Dune, which he won an Oscar for in 2022, in which he used juddering drums and electronic synthesizers. You’ve been called a maverick. You’ve been called a visionary. How would you describe yourself?
Hans Zimmer (03:54):
I would describe myself as somebody who’s deeply in love with music and deeply in love with movies and playful. I love to play, like as any musician does, as in any language it says you play music.
Lesley Stahl (04:11):
His choices have been unpredictable. For every Man of Steel, there’s a Kung Fu Panda and a Sherlock Holmes, in which he used a broken piano and banjos for the 19th century detective turned quirky action hero.
How important is the instrument to getting what you want?
Hans Zimmer (04:36):
Vastly important. I mean, because instruments come with baggage. For instance, the definition of a gentleman is somebody who knows how to play the banjo, but refrains from doing so.
Lesley Stahl (04:48):
Hans Zimmer (04:50):
Why that banjo worked, right? Because it was funny.
Lesley Stahl (04:55):
He has used banjos, bagpipes, buzzing electronics, and this, a good old-fashioned orchestra. Think about the composer of The Dark Night writing something this delicate.
Hans Zimmer (05:15):
Really good. Can we just have one more, just to protect the innocent?
Lesley Stahl (05:20):
He invited us to watch him record the score of a new movie in a London studio last summer. It’s about a young girl coming of age based on a Judy Blume book, Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret, that will be released in theaters this spring.
Hans Zimmer (05:39):
Like the sound?
Jim Brooks (05:40):
Lesley Stahl (05:41):
Academy Award-winning director, Jim Brooks, is a producer of this movie. This is the eighth film they’ve worked on together.
Hans Zimmer (05:49):
Lesley Stahl (05:51):
What’s unique about Hans, says Brooks and other directors, is how deeply involved he gets in more than just writing the music. His process typically begins with a conversation with the director long before a single frame of the movie is shot.
Jim Brooks (06:10):
You talk about what the movie’s about, the story of it, what this scene’s about.
Lesley Stahl (06:14):
Jim Brooks (06:14):
You don’t turn to a composer for that.
Lesley Stahl (06:17):
He becomes almost a partner in the-
Jim Brooks (06:20):
Lesley Stahl (06:20):
… writing and the directing, every phase.
Jim Brooks (06:22):
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Lesley Stahl (06:23):
On Gladiator, he partnered with director Ridley Scott. He says he told him that he thought this movie should be about more than just a man in a skirt going into battle.
Hans Zimmer (06:35):
I felt right at the beginning we needed to set up the possibility that in this movie we could have poetry.
Lesley Stahl (06:42):
Can we listen just to a bit of the music that you wrote for the-
Hans Zimmer (06:47):
It starts off just with this note.
Lesley Stahl (06:48):
And you see the hand.
Hans Zimmer (06:56):
And you see the hand, and you are already in a different world.
Lesley Stahl (06:59):
No one’s talking.
Hans Zimmer (07:00):
You’ve left the 20th century. You don’t expect the tenderness.
Lesley Stahl (07:02):
I mean, you are setting a mood.
Hans Zimmer (07:06):
It’s a cry. It’s a cry.
Lesley Stahl (07:09):
His love of music, his obsession, grew out of his childhood in West Germany. While other kids liked to play games, he liked to play the piano. Did you take piano lessons?
Hans Zimmer (07:22):
Absolutely. It was two weeks of absolute torture.
Lesley Stahl (07:26):
Hans Zimmer (07:27):
Well, yeah, because he then went to my mother and said, “It’s either him or me,” and luckily my mother made the right choice. She kept me.
Lesley Stahl (07:35):
No. No, tell me about the piano lessons.
Hans Zimmer (07:36):
I drove him crazy. I’m six years old. My idea was a piano teacher is somebody who teaches you the stuff that’s going on in your head, how to get that into your fingers. That’s not what they do. They make you do scales. They make you play other people’s music. I didn’t want to do other people’s music.
Lesley Stahl (07:56):
Right from the beginning.
Hans Zimmer (07:57):
Right from the beginning. But I promise you, I know my Beethoven and my Brahms inside out.
Lesley Stahl (08:03):
He learned about them from his mother, a classically-trained pianist.
Hans Zimmer (08:08):
There is the other side, which was my dad, who was an extraordinarily appalling jazz clarinetist, but with great enthusiasm. In the middle of his work day, he’d get out the clarinet. I’d be banging around on, and we’d be jamming. That’s where I got the joy.
Lesley Stahl (08:29):
Instead of college, he became a rock and roller performing with The Buggles. He’s that young guy in the black jacket on the synthesizer. They made pop history in 1981 with the first music video to air on MTV. He began composing scores for low-budget films, one of which in 1988, caught the attention of the Hollywood director Barry Levinson … This is where it all began … who showed up one night, out of the blue, at what was then Hans’s London studio.
Hans Zimmer (09:10):
He said would I mind coming to Los Angeles and maybe doing his movie? Off I went to Los Angeles, and I got nominated for Oscar.
Lesley Stahl (09:19):
First movie, really?
Hans Zimmer (09:20):
First movie. I didn’t win, but it didn’t matter because everybody wanted to meet me.
Lesley Stahl (09:26):
That film was no less than Rain Man, which led to Driving Miss Daisy, Thelma & Louise, Black Rain, and more than 140 other films that began to push the sound of movie music into a new direction.
Hans Zimmer (09:45):
I love the idea that electronics let you shape sounds in a way that go beyond the way an orchestra can.
Lesley Stahl (09:54):
He became a pioneer, infusing electronics with orchestral music using his secret weapon, a digital library that he built himself with original computer code. He painstakingly recorded each instrument in a real orchestra note by note using world-class musicians and the finest instruments and loading it all into his computer.
Take a violin, and you have the violin play middle C. Then you have that instrument play middle C loud, soft, in all different-
Hans Zimmer (10:34):
Oh, yeah. Look. Look. It can play a pizzicato. It can play short.
Lesley Stahl (10:43):
You are not making it pizzicato. They played it that way.
Hans Zimmer (10:46):
They played it that way.
Lesley Stahl (10:47):
You’re bringing that up. Whoa, that must have taken months, years?
Hans Zimmer (10:53):
No, it’s actually taken years.
Lesley Stahl (10:54):
And millions of dollars. He doesn’t write out his compositions on paper. His computer does it for him, and it helps create the unconventional sound-
Hans Zimmer (11:06):
… which can go off.
Lesley Stahl (11:08):
… you find in his scores. Scraping metal and electronic thuds, music?
Hans Zimmer (11:18):
It can be. Everything can be made to be a musical instrument in one way or the other.
Lesley Stahl (11:24):
He often collaborates with Pedro Eustache, a world-class flutist, who has built contraptions that produce unusual sounds that Hans thinks up for his movies.
Pedro Eustache (11:36):
This is an ostrich egg. Okay?
Lesley Stahl (11:41):
That’s an ostrich egg. You put the holes in.
Pedro Eustache (11:46):
Yeah, and I put all that there and it’s a musical instrument.
Lesley Stahl (11:49):
You made an ocarina out of an ostrich egg.
Hans Zimmer (11:52):
Let me explain.
Lesley Stahl (11:53):
Hans Zimmer (11:54):
When he’s not stealing eggs at the zoo, he is a very good customer of Home Depot. So many of his instruments made out of PVC piping.
Lesley Stahl (12:06):
Pedro actually used PVC piping to come up with this 21-foot-long horn that Hans wanted for Dune. He’s currently working on Dune: Part 2.
Hans Zimmer (12:19):
[foreign language 00:12:19], Hamburg.
Lesley Stahl (12:22):
Now he goes on tour with a 38-piece orchestra and band to perform his movie scores. How have you changed? You’ve been working at this for 40 years.
Hans Zimmer (12:35):
I tell you what, when you start out, you have all that stuff that you’ve never done before. Every movie had every idea, every device, every chord change, every whatever in it. Now, I think it’s more figuring it out what to do new, but it becomes harder and harder because I’ve used up so much ammunition in the past.
Lesley Stahl (13:00):
He told us that after more than 150 films, he lives in constant fear of the day his phone will stop ringing, even after 150. Do you think you’re motivated by that fear?
Hans Zimmer (13:13):
But it’s only 150. Do you know what I mean? It’s like what if 151 is a complete disaster?
Lesley Stahl (13:22):
Hans Zimmer (13:22):
I’m still alive. I’m 65 years old now. People are going, “Are you going to retire? Are you’re going to go and put your feet up?” I’m going, “No, I’m full of ideas. I’m just getting started.”
Lesley Stahl (13:33):
Do you really that?
Hans Zimmer (13:34):
I really think that.