Film Composer Alan Silvestri talks working with Robert Zemeckis and the Denzel Washington film “Flight”
November 1, 2012 by Dana Feldman
by Dana Feldman
There’s a quote by Francois Truffaut that Academy Award winning film director Robert Zemeckis aspires to with his work. “He said that a movie that works is the perfect blend of truth and spectacle.” The dramatic thriller “Flight” fits the bill with strong characters each on their own compelling emotional journey in what remains a hopeful and redemptive human story about a man’s struggle to be truthful with himself amidst his own personal demons.
In a phone call with film composer Alan Silvestri to discuss his original score of the film, he laughs as he describes working with Zemeckis for what is their fourteenth collaboration. “It usually starts out with a phone call that goes something like this, ‘Well, Al, we’re going back to work!’” The two have worked together consecutively on films since their 1984 hit “Romancing the Stone” starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. “I’ve scored all of his films since then,” he happily reflects.
To ensure that the performances would grow organically, Zemeckis chose to shoot the film sequentially on the John Gatins penned original screenplay, which he started writing back in 1999. Silvestri admits that this fact alone can add some pressure. “There are moments that thoughts creep in that this is someone’s lifeblood. There’s also the pressure of a studio having millions of dollars on the line.” And his thoughts on why some films such as this one and another he worked on with Zemeckis (1994’s Forrest Gump), can take so long to get made, “It can take a lot of persistence and endurance with some films and you have to wait for the world and the market to come around.”
Scoring that terrifying moment in the film just after the horrific plane crash, he says, was a challenge. “You have to find a way to just stand in front of the material and let it wash over you. What we were all looking for was something that was visceral, not melodic, nothing that would let us off the hook.” Making the transition between that scene and the hospital room, he explains, called for a dark and foreboding sensibility. “The score has to be there, it allows us to go from the inside to the outside of the character.”
Two-time Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington, in his first pairing with Zemeckis, portrays Captain Whip Whitaker, the quintessential anti-hero as deeply flawed as he is brilliantly skilled as an airline pilot, who miraculously crash lands his plane after a mid-air catastrophe. Immediately hailed as a hero for his miraculous landing that saved ninety-six of the one hundred and two people on board, he’s just as quickly questioned as more lingering questions than answers come to light as the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) investigate the cause of the crash.
Per Gatins of writing the character of Whitaker, “Part of Whip’s addiction includes the lies he tells himself and the ones that other people ask him to maintain. His real crucible comes when the weight of those lies come to a breaking point where he’s going to have to make a decision.” What this story meant to Gatins, he says, was the question of the value of living an honest life. In this case, the plane crash is just the beginning of Whitaker’s true-life journey.
This all begins on a mid-Autumn morning as SouthJet flight #227, a Jackson-Ridgefield 88 passenger jet, departs Orlando, Florida for what should be a quick routine southeast regional flight from Orlando to Atlanta. Upon massive storm conditions and inexplicable mechanical malfunctions, including the loss of its hydraulics, pitch and vertical control, the plane begins an uncontrolled rapid descent and is forced to crash land in a bean field two miles from Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
As the plane continues to spiral downward and out of the pilots’ control, Whitaker decides that his only recourse to gain control and maintain a level altitude is to maneuver the 50-ton plane into a barrel roll and complete inversion, allowing it to glide without its engines until he can right the plane and land it.
Within minutes, unable to make it to the airport, flying the plane just a few hundred feet off the ground, he finds a patch of nearby land adjacent to a church where he attempts his landing at 140 miles per hour. Inverting the aircraft, he brings it down with a shattering impact. In an incredible, ingenious stroke, he manages to land safely enough to save all but a few of the people on board.
With more to the story he has to come to terms with his personal demons or he’ll completely self-destruct. We all tell lies to ourselves and others but at some point you have to stop. Just as Whitaker says in the film, “It was like I ran out of lies.”
Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood, Academy Award winner Melissa Leo, Brian Geraghty, Tamara Tunie, Nadine Velazquez, Garcelle Beauvais and James Badge Dale also star.
On a lighter note, Silvestri is currently working on the DreamWorks animated adventure “The Croods” (2013) with Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds and Emma Stone.
Watch the official Flight movie trailer
photo by Tom O’Neal