When I was an intern with The Celebrity Cafe I wrote many stories. I just discovered that all those stories are no longer featured on their webpage but I have saved my work from those years ago and I can still share some of my stories. One of my favorite assignments was an interview with Academy Award-nominated composer John Debney. He is an amazing composer best known for The Passion of the Christ, Sin City, and Iron Man 2. This interview was conducted back in 2010 and he spoke to me about his recent work on the film The Stoning of Soraya M, and his other upcoming projects.
The Stoning of Soraya M is a drama set in 1986 Iran when a journalist, Sahebjam is told the unjust story of Zahra’s niece, Soraya and her tragic ending. What I remember most about this experience was how nice he was and getting a glimpse into his creative process.
Below is the interview with John Debney.
Marjorie Quinn: How did you get involved in the film “The Stoning of Soraya M?”
John Debney: It was kind of cool. I worked with the producer before on a film, “The Passion of The Christ” and his name is Steve McEvetty. And Steve is an old friend of mine and we’ve done a couple of movies together. So when he first called me about the movie he sent me a script and I read the script and I just feel in love with the script and the rest was sort of just, you know, we’ve worked together before and whatever he’s doing I try to do it if he needs me.
MQ: How long did it take you to write the score?
JD: Well, it was interesting. It was a very quick turnaround. I only had about 3 weeks to do it. So we had to put everything together really, really quickly. So I made a lot of phone calls to a lot of incredible performers that I know. People like Sussan Deyhim who is a wonderful singer. And other wonderful players and I just sort of put everybody together and they came and we sort of just started to work on the thing and it turned around very quickly. It was a quick turnaround.
MQ: So you said you were able to work with Sussan Deyhim. What was it like to work with her?
JD: Well she is, I don’t know if your familiar with her but some of your readers will be. Sussan is really a great artist in her light and has done a number of albums and has sung on a number of sound tracks and I knew imminently that I wanted to try and approach her with this because she is very socially active and politically active. She really loved the story about the two Iranian women. She just came and offered to work with me. It was fantastic. She didn’t even bat an eye. She just jumped in and did amazing work on the film.
MQ: You said this wasn’t your first time writing this kind of cultural style. What kind of process did you go through to write this kind of music?
JD: Well, thank you for asking about that. I really did a lot of research when I did ‘The Passion’ and the Hollywood circles is sort of hearing a score that is influenced by that part of the world and by that great music in the middle east. And one of my pet peeves is hearing it when it’s done sort of not true to life as it were, and needs to be real, is what I guess I’m trying to say. So, I did a lot of research when I did the Passion, I listened and study a lot of this music. So that going back there for this filming, to do this kind of score was a joy because I love this type of music. So it was again just a nice journey for me going back and trying to do it in the most real way possible. And again I was very, very fortunate to bring in people like Sussan Deyhim and other performers to do the real thing. And they lend, I think, a credibility to the score.
MQ: Well your name is now attached to stopping the practices of stoning. How are you doing to do your part?
JD: Well, I think my little part is being involved with this film and I think it is just so very important a subject that hopefully people will see this film or if they can’t see the film there listen to the music and maybe I can help raise the awareness for this horrible barbaric practice that still incurs and we just got to stop it and meaning we as a world community. The point of women in certain parts of the world is still, unfortunately this way and not only women but men too but especially women. So I just think my being a part of a very important film about a very important subject is an honor really.
MQ: Pulling a little bit off the movie. I read that your symphony “The Passion Oratorio” will be performed in Saint Peter’s Square. Can you talk a little about that? It must be exciting.
JD: Sure, I can. I would love to talk about that. You know, after I had done the film score, about five years ago now, wow I can’t believe it’s been that long. The idea arose that I might create a larger sort of concert work base on the music from the film and so I embarked on that journey and created this large work called “The Passion Oratorio” which we then performed one in Rome about five years ago and performed it a couple of time since for charities. When Katrina accrued we did a big concert for the Katrina victims, which was wonderful. So know we are going to perform this again this June 5th I believe is the date in Rome in Saint Peter’s Square which is completely humbling for me to have it performed there again. It will be a free concert for everyone basically who wants to donate anything it will go to the charity of Rome and for the restoration of Saint Peter’s Square. So it is for a great cause. Its going to be a wonderful, amazing concert with some of the performers of the film like Lisbeth Scott and I just couldn’t be more thrilled. It’s going to be with a huge, about 100 piece orchestra, about 200 piece choir and it’s going to be an amazing thing. There’s a wonderful woman conductor by the name of Candace Wicke. So I can just help with the planning of it and enjoy the concert that evening. So it is going to be a great world event. And it’s meant for people of all faiths, honestly, to just come and enjoy a concert under the stars in Rome with a spiritual base.
MQ: You’ve gone to and won many awards. Are there any pre-award show rituals you go through to insure a win?
JD: Oh my goodness. No. That’s very sweet of you. I’ve been fortunate enough to win a few Emmys and stuff like that. You know I really don’t. I think any kind of accolade like that is a wonderful, wonderful thing. I guess the biggest one would be the Oscar I haven’t gotten yet but have been nominated, which is wonderful. I’m not very good preparing for those things. I honestly think the accolades are great but for me I learned it’s mostly about the journey and it sounds cliché and it’s about the work. It the work is deemed worthy then I’m delighted but I don’t really live for the awards thing. But it is an honor and it’s fun. When it happens it’s wonderful. Then it gives me the opportunity to thank those that like the work and give advice to those coming up. It’s fun. It’s a great thing but I don’t dwell on it too much.
MQ: Are there any new upcoming projects for you?
JD: There are a couple of great ones. I just finished one called “Valentine’s Day” which is a Garry Marshall film. It’s my fifth film with Garry Marshall and the cast has probably every beautiful actor and actress of Hollywood in it and it just turned out so well. It’s a great film. It’s romantic, funny. What can I say it’s Garry Marshall again at his finest. We just had a ball doing it. Just finished that. And then I’m in the middle of just finishing Iron Man 2, which is huge and fun, and lots of big loud music. And we’re going to be in London, in about 3 weeks to about a month now. So it’s busy and it’s wonderful and I couldn’t be happier working on these films.
MQ: Is it hard for you to switch styles of music between films?
JD: You know it’s actually cathartic for me. It’s actually a great thing to be able to switch gears. I’m just a pretty good multitasker and I’ve learned through the years kind of being able to switch gears is a fun thing for me. It sort of clears my head a little bit. So working on two so different projects is kind of liberating and kind of fun. I think it’s harder if I were doing a couple of one kind of thing back to back. That could be kind of hard. But this is fun. Being able to write a really romantic, pretty melody one moment and then turn around and write some kick ass “Iron Man” music. It makes it a lot of fun.
MQ: Do you know what kind of direction you will go towards when you receive a film?
JD: It’s always a lot experimentation in the beginning. Always that way. That’s great to be able to do that if there’s time because then I can really experiment with the director and we can figure out what’s the tone of the things going to be. I don’t always have as much time as I like but when there’s a little extra time its really wonderful to do that. And with “Iron Man” and “Valentine’s Day” there was enough time for me to experiment a little bit which was fun.