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Composer Joe Kraemer Dominates The Rogue Nation of Mission: Impossible

Updated on August 13, 2015

Meeting Joe...Again!

I've had the pleasure of meeting Joe Kraemer a few times now since our first interview together years ago for the excellent, Jack Reacher starring Tom Cruise which deserved to do better at the box office despite some excellent reviews. Life does believe in redemption and Joe and Tom's redemption is their latest reteaming along with Writer/Director Christopher McQuarrie in the latest and most explosive installment of the blockbuster Mission: Impossible films, Rogue Nation which has blown up the competition at the box office over the last several weeks.

Joe's music which plays a perfect role within the film itself is loosely inspired by the work of the great Grammy Winning and jazz pianist Lalo Schifrin, whose music for the original television series is the perfect and essential blue print for providing the jazz laden thrills and suspense that drove the series' success during the 1960's. With composers such as Oscar Nominee Danny Elfman and Oscar Winners Hans Zimmer and Michael Giacchino leading the way for Joe to provide his own stamp on the series, he has done so with style and pizazz. With best-selling soundtrack which was released by La-La Land Records, Joe's musical stock continues and finally gets the just due that his past works have sorely lacked.

For this very special interview with Joe, we talk about Rogue Nation, the process of writing the score, working with Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie and touch upon his past work. So please sit tight it's going to be an explosive chat.


A Friendly Q&A Chat with Joe

Hi Joe, how are you and thank you very much for taking the time to conduct this interview with you today inspite of your really busy schedule. It really is an honor to do so. Please tell the readers about who aren’t familiar with your work of what made you become interested in music and what led you to become a composer.

JK: Long story short, I was in junior high when I met a twelfth-grader named Scott Storm, who cast me as an actor in a super-8 film he was making. I also had a home recording studio and that led to me scoring the film, my first score. I was 15. Through Scott I then met Bryan Singer, through Bryan I met Christopher McQuarrie, and through Chris I met Tom Cruise.

Let’s talk about the blockbuster hit sequel, “Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation” starring Tom Cruise who needs no introduction to the series. How did you become involved with the project?

JK: I was hired by Chris as soon as the production wrapped shooting in Vienna. They had shot coverage of the opera house for the Turandot sequence in the film and realized they needed someone on the set for the London portion of the shoot who could supervise the musical aspects of the filming. Why was I hired? I suppose my work with Chris and Tom on Jack Reacher gave them the confidence that I could do it.

What was your approach for the film upon viewing it musically?

JK: My principle thought was to write a score that really felt like a continuation of what Lalo had done with the TV show. I wanted to write a score that could have been achieved in 1966 when the show began. Other than that, I gave myself the freedom to do whatever I wanted. I felt that would give the score a retro sound without sounding like a pastiche, or a goof on the original music.

The Lalo Schifrin Mission: Impossible theme has played a major part throughout the series as well as his musical style which composers like Danny Elfman and Michael Giacchino before you really took to heart and had a ball with. Did you want to do the same, but also keep your own originality in the process of writing the score?

JK: I suppose so, yes.It seems that the response from fans has been that this score is the closest to Lalo’s work yet.I take that as a compliment, and mean no offense to Danny or Michael.The fact that my own style has also crept in is probably due to the fact that there’s only so many times one can quote Lalo’s themes before it gets diluted, so I tried to be stingy with it.

Was Director Christopher McQuarrie involved in the process while you were writing your score or did he simply give you an idea along with the ground work that was laid out from the other scores in the series and ran with it?

JK: McQ is very involved.The music is very important to him and he wants as much input as he can get into the score for his film. The schedule on this project was brutal on Chris, so he wasn’t able to spend quite so much time with me during the writing process, but he was very present and participated greatly while recording. The biggest adjustment that had to be made was the change in aesthetic from doing a smaller, “cool” film like The Way of the Gun or Jack Reacher to a big summer tent-pole like Rogue Nation.The most obvious difference is the action music – in our first two films together there is virtually no action music at all, whereas in Mission, there is a ton of it!

After Paramount Pictures pushed up the film from its’ original release date of December to late July, how much time did you have to organize your musical ideas to finally get to the recording stage? How difficult was it for you?

JK: It wasn’t difficult for me.I still had plenty of time to explore options and try things out. I began composing music in November ‘14, as soon as I got back from the London shoot of the opera sequence.I got my first footage to score in December, and moved to London in February ‘15 to begin composing in earnest.I was scoring the front of the film while they were still shooting the back!

Was it difficult or easier for you to find a tone for the music for this unlike Jack Reacher, which was a lot of fun?

JK: It wasn’t difficult.Mission:Impossible has certain trademark sounds that really open up the creative process and get the ball rolling. Reacher was trickier because it had to be invented from the ground up.

How much music did you have to write for the film in total?

JK: Because of the crazy schedule, I ended up scoring several scenes that were eventually cut out of the movie.I also sometimes had to rescore scenes that had been changed so drastically in the editing process that the original score could no longer be made to fit the scene.So in all, I ended up recording about two hours and twenty minutes of score. I wrote more than that.

What were the recording sessions like?

JK: They were fantastic.We recorded the score in two phases. The first phase was with a small orchestra at a wonderful studio called British Grove.We recorded the sections separately there, the strings one day, the brass another, and so on.Once those sessions were done, we recorded the entire orchestra together, a full size orchestra at Abbey Road Studio One, which was a dream come true for me.

What were your favorite moments in the film and your score?

JK: I’m really proud of the whole thing, but the Moroccan arrangement of “The Plot” was a highlight, as was the motorcycle chase and the final confrontation between Lane and Ethan. I think the piece “Solomon Lane” might be my favorite thing I’ve ever written so far.

How was it to work with a great director such as Christopher McQuarrie?

JK: Chris is an old and dear friend, so it’s always great to work with him. It’s also very challenging because as friends we hold nothing back. A thick skin is very much in order. But as you say, he’s a great director and they are few and far between.

Would you love to work with Christopher and Tom Cruise again?

JK: In a heartbeat.

La-La Land Records is releasing the soundtrack album to your score. Can you please tell us about how you put it together?

JK: I started with the first cue in the film and worked my way from there. I like the album to play like the film as much as possible, and in this film that was more easily accomplished than with the soundtrack to Reacher. A standard CD holds 74 minutes, so I strived to get as close to that as possible.It ended up being 73:45. I was able to include some part of the music from every major sequence in the film, albeit sometimes with a surgical edit or two.

How difficult was it to put together the soundtrack album? Did you want to have a musical flow to it or follow the film’s narrative and keeping your own rhythm?

JK: I think the musical flow is most important, but then, I try very hard to get a musical flow in the score anyway, so hopefully sequencing the album in film order brings a good flow to the CD.The biggest challenge is determining which parts to leave off for space.

How do you feel when a label releases a soundtrack featuring your music?

JK: It’s incredibly gratifying to have a soundtrack out, so I am very grateful to the labels that do it.

Before your latest adventure of Mission: Impossible, you also wrote the music for the Cinemax series, Femme Fatales. Please talk about the series and how you got involved.

JK: Femme Fatales was envisioned to be an update on the classic noir films of the 40s and 50s. Every episode was designed as a stand-alone story, with a narrator being a connective element, a la The Twilight Zone. The network that ended up buying the show and airing it was Cinemax, and their cost of admission was a certain amount of erotic content per-episode, which we all did our best to make part of the story, like Basic Instinct and Body Heat.

From a music perspective, it was a blast, since each episode gave me a chance to do a different thing – one episode was a superhero story, one was a black-widow noir story, one was a heist, one was a phony reality show, etc. It was great to be able to switch gears like that from show to show.I was involved in the show because it was produced by a close friend and collaborator, writer/producer/director Mark A. Altman.

In writing the music for the series, do you use an orchestra or do you perform the music yourself much like other composers in television do?

JK: This show did not have the budget for a live orchestra so we had to use samples.

Is it harder or easier for you to write for television as opposed to film? Do you think the process is a lot simpler for a composer or just as difficult?

JK: It’s all the same really.A low-budget film that can’t afford an orchestra is no different from a TV show that can’t afford an orchestra.The bottom line is no matter what the project, one is writing music to accompany drama.TV, films, shorts, documentaries, they’re all different shades of the same color, so to speak.

I want to go way back a little bit to a film that really set you off on your current journey and also began your creative relationship with Oscar Winner Christopher McQuarrie, The Way of The Gun, which is celebrating (rather quietly unfortunately) its’ 15th Anniversary. The film holds up exceptionally well after all this time with its’ terrific throwback Western styled action and great actors, as well as solid direction and your score that made it that much grander. Do you think about the film a lot with every project you work on?

JK: No, I can’t say I think about it while I work on other projects.In fact, I listened to it somewhat recently and was surprised at some of the choices I made back then, things I would never think to do now. So it was nice to find some change between me now and me then.I’m very glad to hear the film holds up and still has meaning for people.It was very much an ugly duckling when it was released…

What’s inspired you from that film that you’ve used in your scores in terms of musical rhythms and tempos?

JK: Nothing specific – if there are any continuities between Gun and Rogue Nation, they are simply artifacts of being written by the same person.

Are you proud of the score all these years later?

JK: Yes, definitely.

Which composer do you think has had an effect in your career personally?

JK: On my career? None. On my personal growth as a composer? John Williams.

Your all time favorite film score?

JK: Star Wars

Do you have a dream project you would love to do?

JK: A Star Wars movie.

Very Special Thanks to Joe Kraemer for his time and the interview admist a very heavy schedule.




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