ALAN SILVESTRI has laid down the scores to some of the biggest action and comedy films ever produced, and has firmly established himself as one of the foremost film composers in Hollywood today. Viewing composing from the perspective of a member of a sports team, and after composing over 40 soundtracks for major motion pictures, Silvestri still creates with the same zeal he had when he started. "There's no doubt that the better the film, the more you are challenged to rise to the occasion," says Silvestri. "You don't get to work on a Forrest Gump everyday. The more that your collaborators bring to the table creatively, the easier it is to bring forth that emotion in the score."
Having started to play music at a very young age in Teaneck, New Jersey, Alan Silvestri began to consider a career in music, over major league baseball, at the age of 15. He attended Boston's Berklee College of Music, but had been there only two years when he moved to Las Vegas and began touring with R&B legend Wayne Cochran and the C.C. Riders band. After a brief trip back to Boston, Silvestri returned to Las Vegas to try and secure work as an arranger, never once considering going to Los Angeles. Naturally, having no desire to go to Los Angeles, Alan ended up there, enticed by an offer to do the arrangements on his girlfriend's album. Silvestri and his companion arrived in Los Angeles to find that no actual recording contract had been issued, and they were stranded.
While staying at the Travel Lodge motel on Sunset Boulevard waiting for a break, Alan met Bradford Craig. As a lyricist for some projects with Quincy Jones, Craig had been nominated for an AcademyŽ Award and a Golden GlobeŽ Award;. He gave Silvestri some arranging assignments, which turned into the break Silvestri had been waiting for. "Bradford received a call from a small production company that had misread his film credit and assumed that he had scored a movie that he had worked on with Quincy Jones," Silvestri recalls. "They asked him if he could put together a score to this little film that they had." As a lyricist who knew nothing about writing music, Craig placed the caller on hold and called Alan. "`There's a movie here, do you want to do it?' I said yes, and just like that, I had my first film. I was about 20."
Having never scored a film and knowing nothing about the process, Silvestri picked up a copy of Earl Hagan's book "How To Score A Film" and read it cover to cover the night before his meeting with the film's producers. "I literally tried everything in the book on this film. I had cues on top of cues, all kinds of things. I thought 'Oh gee, this is what you do,'" said Silvestri. "I mean, I wasn't short of opinion, which was helpful. I had immediate responses and input into the whole film making process."
The film was called The Doberman Gang, and it triggered a succession of low-budget film assignments for Alan until he landed a job with the hit TV series CHiPs. Silvestri scored approximately 120 hours of this popular show, and "had just started to make a living as a composer" when it canceled. "All of a sudden, I couldn't get one episode of anything," he recalls.
After a work drought of some 18 months, Silvestri's phone rang again. This time it was one of the music editors that Silvestri had worked with on CHiPs. "I got this call at about 8:00 at night, and he said 'I'm working on this film, and these guys can't find anything that's ringing their bells yet. Would you be interested in doing something on spec?' Naturally, I said yes."
The conversation that Silvestri had with director Robert Zemeckis that night would prove to be one of the most important of his life. Zemeckis asked him if he could put together three minutes of music that would go with a South American movie sequence in which Kathleen Turner is chased through the jungle, in the rain, by a bunch of machete-wielding maniacs...and bring it in to him the next day. Based on Zemeckis' description, Silvestri stayed up all night in his home studio creating a three-minute demo for their meeting the next day. "I'm standing there in this Calvin Klein white sweater, and all of a sudden Bob walks in wearing the exact same sweater," recalled Silvestri. "Right then, we knew that we were connected for life."
Zemeckis' film was Romancing the Stone, which Alan describes as "incredibly important to everyone involved in it. It was important in terms of Bob's career as a director, it was important to Kathleen Turner and Danny Devito as actors, and it was important to Michael Douglas as an actor and a producer. There was definitely a kinetic energy which existed between everyone involved in that picture, and I think the audience picked up on it."
Seven films later, Alan Silvestri and Robert Zemeckis still bounce that energy off of one another. Their most recent collaboration was the #1 box office hit of 1994, Forrest Gump. In creating the movie's orchestral music, Silvestri set out to develop a score which would reflect the deep emotion of the film while comfortably blending with its classic songs. "Bob told me that he wasn't going to need what he usually needed from me in this film," he says. "He wanted me to put together one or two big themes, that would recur throughout the film. When I first saw the rough cut of the film, I thought 'What am I going to do?' There was so much emotion there, I felt that I needed a fresh environment."
"I started on the first reel, and as each cue came up, if I needed a new theme to fit that situation, I would sit down and write that theme," Silvestri recalled. "The score just came. There was so much content emotionally in the film, that the notes came without tremendous suffering. The suffering came from trying not to second-guess myself."
While soundtracks to every film Alan Silvestri has composed do not exist, there is a wide variety of music available in stores by this magnificent composer. The Quick and the Dead, Richie Rich and Father of the Bride Part II are just a few soundtracks which have been released on CD. Silvestri's distribution label, Varese Sarabande, released a Greatest Hits compilation on the composer, called "Voyages: The Film Music Journeys of Alan Silvestri" in late 1995.