Born in Burbank, CA
Began playing guitar at age six.
Studied at Loyola University and CalArts.
Earned Emmy's for THE YOUNG RIDERS and SEAQUEST DSV.
Passion Of The Christ
Welcome To Mooseport
The Hot Chick
Spy Kids II
The Scorpion King
The Princess Diaries
Cats & Dogs
The Emperor's New Groove
Michael Jordan: To The Max
End Of Days
The Next Generation (1987)
The Jetsons: Movie
With early-2004's most
talked-about film now a part of his repetoire, versatile composer John
Debney shares about his involvement in Mel Gibson's The Passion of
CC: How did you become
involved with THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST?
JD: It was sort of a fluke. I received a
call back in early October 2003 from an old friend, Dave McEveety, who
is one of the producers of the movie. He wanted to get some
advise on a film he was working on. He didn't reveal to me right away
what the film was. He was simply talking in generalities and that they
weren't sure what direction the music should be. As we talked more and
more, he eventually revealed that is was THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST. I
just about fell off of my chair, because I had already heard a lot
about the film over the previous few months! And, well, to make a long
story short, he showed me the film. I offered to write some music
because, being a life-long Catholic, that this is sort of dream come
true. I wrote some music over a weekend and he (McEveety) was kind
enough to bring Mel (Gibson) in on a Monday. He heard the music I was
writing and liked the direction I was going. I later got a phone call
and found out that Mel (Gibson) wanted me to join him on this journey.
CC: Did you ever feel overwhelmed by having to write the music for
this particular film?
JD: Oh! Everyday! I'm sure you can
imagine! It's sort of like "be careful what you wish for" you know. It
has been one of my dreams and prayers to have the opportunity to write
for a very dramatic story that would test people's emotions and heart.
I've been known, throughout my career, as a comedy guy, so I could
hardly imagine being "given" this thing. So,
of course, there were many days when it was sort of daunting to do
anything. Still, it was a process and Mel (Gibson) was very
collaborative. He came over often - every few days. I'd play him some
music and we would talk and low and behold about three months later we
were in London recording the score.
CC: Just how involved was Mel Gibson? How did his involvement compare
with the other directors you've worked with?
JD: Well, every director is different.
I'd say Mel (Gibson) was probably the most involved of all the
directors I have ever worked with, but you can probably understand
why. This is just so personal for him - so close to his heart and
belief system. It's been something that he has been wanting to do
forever. So, I'd say he was more involved than I've seen most
directors be, but I'd have to say that this was a good thing.
CC: How much music did you write for the film?
JD: I think I wrote upwards of 80 to 90
minutes. In the film, I'd say there is at least 70 to 80 minutes of
CC: Was there any truth to the rumors that there would not be any
score for the film?
JD: Yes, there was some truth to that
because, during the film, Mel was thinking about exactly what type of
movie he wanted to make. At one point, they were thinking about not
even having sub-titles and they were considering using music from the
period as the score. I think as time went on, I think Mel realized
that he wanted some underscore music in there also, because it would
help the dramatic content and move the story along. Hence the phone
call to me.
CC: In listening to the sampler CD of your score for THE PASSION OF
THE CHRIST, I noticed that your palette of instrumentation roamed
beyond the Middle-Eastern and Western instruments, but dipped into
Eastern as well. I believe, at one point, I hear a Chinese erhu. Is
JD: You've got a good ear! That is
exactly what that is.
CC: What motivated you to use that instrument?
JD: I'll tell you exactly what that was.
To answer your question - going into this thing very early on, Mel and
I talked a lot about representation of Satan in this film. And it was
a bit of a challenge as Mel said that he didn't know what the music
for Satan should be. He said that he didn't want it to be cliché or
just some sort of "scary" music that you always hear. So he said that
it would be great if we could find an instrument. So I said, "Well,
Mel, the way you have represented Satan in the movie (which I think is
a great representation), is not what you'd normally see. He's not just
some guy with horns, but has this seductive quality." After trying out
a few things, I finally came to the erhu. The erhu is such a beautiful
sounding instrument - very voice-like and I found this incredible,
world-renown, player, Karen Han. We decided to have her over one
night to play. I didn't know exactly what I was going to get, but what
came out was incredibly beautiful, exotic sound that has this
human-vocal quality to it. As soon as Mel heard it, he loved it and
kept bringing it back up to me. So that became the instrument to
represent the devil-person in the film.
CC: With there being so much controversy surrounding the film already,
does it concern you that the Asian community could get a little
ruffled over the use of an Oriental instrument to represent Satan?
JD: Well, I certainly hope not! I don't
really think so, though. Literally, there is every other type of
ethnic musical instrument represented in the film. The idea is that
this score be sort of a "world score." What you'll find is that the
full, commerical CD, has a much broader representation of the score's
pull. You'll hear elements from just about every culture from
different woodwind instruments and so on.
CC: How did scores from previous films centering on Jesus influence
you? Was there any temp music used in the film?
JD: When I saw it, Mel had not really
temped the movie, but had a lot of traditional music and a little bit
of music from THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. I think the music I wrote
was probably more influenced by who I am as a person. I did; however,
hire a couple of people who played on THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST.
My idea was that score be inclusive of just about every idea that Mel
had. I don't think it is disjointed in that message. It is sort of an
amalgamation of everything Mel and I talked about.
Early on there are a few moments in the
film where the music does swell and get "bigger" and more emotional
and so I asked Mel if he thought it was "too much." He said, "No. I
think you can go further." He was very conscious in that he never
wanted to manipulate the audience at all. He said many times that he
didn't want any "God" music in here - any reverential music, which is
interesting. Still, when it does get more "powerful," Mel would say
that we've "earned it" at this point and I think the audience needs to
feel this emotion at this point.
CC: You certainly have a wide range of work, from adventure, horror,
comedy animation. Is there a score that you feel "defines" you? - a
score that you could take and hand to people and say, "This is me."
JD: This would be it! It's who I am. I'm
a life-long Catholic, who, for a few years, lost his faith and then
when my mother died, went on his own spiritual reawakening as it were.
I had a number of conversations with Jim Caviezel (who plays Jesus in
the film) and we both agreed that for everyone who worked on the film,
whether a Christian or not, you can't be untouched by this film. I
would say this would be the best work that I've done so far and that
it would probably express most clearly who I am and what I believe. It
has certainly been the hardest thing I've done and yet the most
CC: How was it to be working on WELCOME TO MOOSEPORT and THE PASSION
OF THE CHRIST at the same time? Was it difficult to switch gears back
JD: I was finishing up MOOSEPORT and THE
PASSION was starting and, in a way, it was sort of cathartic. I could
do a little MOOSEPORT, put that aside and then open up THE PASSION
folder and work on that. So it was sort of a nice respite from working
day-in and day-out on THE PASSION. You can imagine, just considering
the visuals (from THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST) on the screen, that it
hits you pretty hard.
But to be honest with you, some days it
was hard to make the switch. There was probably a week or two when I
was working on both films and I'd be working on something for THE
PASSION and realize that I'd have to finish up this four-minute piece
done for this other movie.
CC: You are certainly one of the most prolific, not to mention
versatile, film music composers out there today. Do you think your
versatility is actually a key to your "prolificness?"
JD: I think you hit the nail on the
head. I, for whatever reason, I guess I have some sort of "rep." I
feel so fortunate to be able to do so many different kinds of films,
because, as you know, in Hollywood you get type-cast. Having said
that, I've done mostly comedies, but to be able to do something like
THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST is so enriching for me. I'm hoping that this
project will be successful and that I can then do more.
cc: Well, controversies and all, I hope that both your name and Mel
Gibson's are getting mentioned as nominees around this time next year.
Both of your efforts are deserving.
JD: That's very kind of you. For myself,
I don't even want to think about it yet, but I'm telling you, for Mel,
I hope all that is true because he would deserve any and all
CC: Thank you so much for your time and all the best to you in your
JD: Thank you Chris and God Bless you.