Joe Kraemer: Mission Impossible Rogue Nation
Now this is something of a thrill for me to present to you. Last year I had the incredible opportunity and good fortune to interview the cast and crew of director Paul Osborne’s wonderful indie thriller FAVOR – which, if you haven’t seen yet then I suggest you rectify this immediately. You can find it right here! As a writer, especially a nobody independent writer such as me, it’s beyond a joy to be given access to artists that you don’t just admire, but hold in great esteem. This cast and crew was just that. Paul and his colleagues were so generous with their time to me that I had to pinch myself several times. And, even more amazingly, the relationships we forged whilst doing that article have remained to this day.
Which brings me to this piece. One of the many people I interviewed for FAVOR was the composer Joe Kraemer. His score for that film still haunts me. I knew his previous work from THE WAY OF THE GUN, and the Christopher McQuarrie directed Tom Cruise thriller JACK REACHER. I asked him, somewhat in jest, if he’d been approached to score the next MISSION IMPOSSIBLE film, as McQuarrie had just been hired to direct it. And… well, here we are. Joe’s soundtrack for MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION has just been released and you can get it here!
Having previously interviewed the incredibly charming, insightful and talented composer I chanced my luck by asking if he’d consider a quick follow-up chat to talk about the process of taking on such a huge franchise. Honestly, I never expected a reply. I mean, the man is on a whirlwind international tour for this huge box office machine. To my surprise he not only responded saying “Sounds great”, but sent me the answers to my questions in a DAY! This guy is truly a class act, and very much deserving of his, as Paul Osborne put it, “seat on the A-list”. So here’s the interview!
IAN: Last time we talked it was for Paul Osborne’s amazing indie thriller FAVOR. When I wrote the piece it had yet to come out, but you must have been really impressed with the response the film got. It was number one on the iTunes thriller chart for three weeks! You must be so proud of how well received it was, and deservedly so. I still can’t get your main theme for that film out of my head.
JOE KRAEMER: Well, thank you very much. I am very fond of the film and the score. I’m very glad it had such a successful run on the indie circuit. Paul is really tenacious and one would do well to study what he did if they want to find success making their own film.
IAN: In that interview I believe my final question was, after having worked with Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise on JACK REACHER, would your next project possibly be M:I-5. You were very cagey in your answer, and rightfully so, but I have to know; did you honestly not know at that point or was it already a done deal and you simply couldn’t say anything?
JOE KRAEMER: I honestly didn’t know whether I was doing M:I-5 until September 2014. So if we talked before then, I was not being cagey (Writer’s Note: It was before that date). And there was only a few weeks between being hired and announcing I had the job, so I suspect, since memory fails on the specific date, that I was not trying to deceive you.
IAN: Personally I think your score for M:I-5 is a triumph, not that I expected any less, but I have to ask the boring question that I’ve already seen you answer a million times on the Internet; Was there any pressure following the likes of Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer and Michael Giacchino going into this franchise?
JOE KRAEMER: No, not really. Having done three films with Christopher McQuarrie, plus 100 other films with other directors, I felt confident that I could deliver what this project needed. I didn’t really think much about the fact that Elfman, Zimmer and Giacchino preceded me. I feel like the music of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE is so iconic that it transcends any one composer’s legacy, with the exception of Lalo Schiffrin. And I felt like I was scoring Christopher’s film, not the films the other three composers tackled before me.
IAN: I really think you managed, and maybe this comes from your long relationship with Christopher, to achieve a classic yet fresh feel. It doesn’t sound like any of the other MISSION IMPOSSIBLE scores, but still sounds so original, maybe because of the international tones you injected into it?
JOE KRAEMER: Again, thank you for the compliment. I was encouraged to go back and watch the original television shows and listen to those scores, and that gave me the inspiration to create a score that could have been recorded in 1966 when the series started. I feel like that gave me the retro sound I was looking for, without sounding like I was spoofing the original. I allowed myself to write any music I liked, but it had to be able to be performed without any electronics. Therefore, the score ended up being entirely acoustic, performed on symphonic orchestral instruments.
IAN: I have to ask about the theme. I assume that, this far into the series, the pressure was off you when it comes to this iconic theme. It’s already been established, many times over, so the audience is already familiar and surely that gave you carte blanche to make the rest of the score your own? To put your own stamp on it?
JOE KRAEMER: I decided to embrace, rather than run away from, Lalo’s original theme. I spent a great deal of time playing around with it, and broke it down into three constituent parts. During the scoring of the film, I would use these three parts in various forms: upside down, backwards, faster, slower, etc. I wanted the whole film’s music to feel cohesive, which is why elements of Puccini’s “Turandot” also appear in the score. I didn’t want the opera sequence to feel like it was just plopped into the middle of the movie.
As far as putting my own stamp on it, I took the liberty of creating the music for the villain from whole cloth, and I gave Ethan Hunt a theme in this film, which works as a nice counterpoint to the original TV show theme. I also came up with many action treatments myself.
IAN: Just out of curiosity, and it’s a bit of an unfair question, but personally which of the previous MISSION IMPOSSIBLE scores did you like most, and what did you want to avoid?
JOE KRAEMER: I think they all reflect the times they were made in, and the intentions of the composers and directors who made them. I will say I was really delighted when M:I-3 (Giacchino’s first outing) returned to a more orchestral sound.
IAN: In stark contrast to FAVOR where, due to budget restraints, you had no orchestra to work with and yet still composed a memorable score electronically, how was it different this time? What size orchestra did you use?
JOE KRAEMER: I had about 86 players, but we recorded the score in an unconventional way to help the music cut through the action scenes. John Finklea, my music editor, devised this plan, which involved recording the score in small sections in a smaller room, more like a TV score, first, then recording it with a full orchestra at Abbey Road Studio 1. Then when we mixed the music into the film, we could favor the bigger or the smaller one depending on which cut through the mix better. Obviously it was much different to FAVOR, which was done entirely on synths.
IAN: I know you can’t answer this really, and truth be told after our FAVOR interview I’m not sure I’d believe you, but has there been any talk of you and Christopher returning for M:I-6?
JOE KRAEMER: Not yet. M:I-5 hasn’t even come out yet!!
IAN: Lastly, I want to ask you about the next film from Paul Osborne CRUEL HEARTS. You can’t dodge this one, as I’ve already spoken to Paul and he’s confirmed that you will be scoring it. I think you guys are an amazing team, so what can we expect?
JOE KRAEMER: I know nothing about the film CRUEL HEARTS yet, except that I am going to score it – I have not read the script or anything. So I can only tell you that I think Paul is a fantastic writer and director, and that my guess is whatever it ends up being will be very disturbing!
I genuinely cannot thank Joe enough for sparing me some of his valuable time out of what I can only assume is a mind-numblingly hectic schedule at the moment. As I said, the man is a class act. And his work on MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION is a truly brilliant piece of work. It’s totally original from any Mission score we’ve heard before, yet still intrinsically feels like a Mission Impossible score. As a matter of fact, it was my Pick Of The Week on the weekly news podcast I do for Sideshow Sound Radio which you can find here!
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION is in theatres now, and you can purchase Joe’s wonderful soundtrack here!