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How A Painting On Hans Zimmer's Desk Inspired The Look Of "The Joker"

LOS ANGELES — Long before The Dark Knight became an instant classic revolutionizing the superhero genre, director Christopher Nolan and Hans Zimmer gathered in Zimmer’s Santa Monica studio to talk inspiration.

This was going to be a different kind of Batman story, and the Joker would need to be terrifying — not comic-book evil as seen in previous shows and movies.

Lucky for Nolan, Zimmer had been in the middle of another project at just the right time, as Zimmer told the crew of SCORE: A Film Music Documentary, coming to theaters in June with an accompanying book available on Amazon containing interviews with Zimmer and dozens of other composers and directors.

Taped to the side of Zimmer’s computer monitor was a Francis Bacon painting — used as a sort of visual inspiration to achieve a certain music quality for another project.

Francis Bacon

The painting was haunting, creepy, twisted — something not unusual for Bacon. Nolan saw the potential for his Joker right then, Zimmer told the SCORE crew. Fast forward some months and Zimmer saw the result, Heath Ledger’s smeared clown makeup — a perfect visualization of the disconnected unease of the Joker in Nolan’s story.

Ledger’s Joker became iconic because of this look — inspired through Zimmer. After principal photography, Zimmer began to tailor the sonic image of the Joker: a bending, uneasy and uncomfortable violin string that rises in tone.

The Dark Knight was the furthest Zimmer had ever dived into the sound design side of film music, seeking out approval of sound designers and editors during the process, he told the SCORE crew in an interview featured in the new paperback and Kindle book SCORE: The Interviews.

But the visual inspiration from Francis Bacon proves the connection between a powerful image and a powerful sound. Zimmer explored this with the work of Bacon and finding a music language that felt a part of the visual inspiration.

The never-before-seen interview with Zimmer is one of dozens featured in the new book SCORE: The Interviews, available in paperback and on Kindle — a treasure trove of rare interviews and insight with dozens of composers and directors will accompany the May release of SCORE: A Film Music Documentary.

The 352-page paperback book is packed with insider stories and never-before-heard in-depth interviews with dozens of maestros of the modern age, including Hans Zimmer, James Cameron, Quincy Jones, Rachel Portman, and one of the last long-form interviews conducted with Hollywood icon Garry Marshall.

Readers will step into the soundproof studios of film's top composers with the SCORE team to experience composers' journeys, struggles, secrets and how they find their groove.

The book is available on Amazon.

Composers Hans Zimmer (The Lion King, Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Dark Knight, Inception), Quincy Jones (The Color Purple, The Pawnbroker, In Cold Blood), Randy Newman (Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., The Natural), Howard Shore (The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Seven), Trent Reznor (The Social Network, Gone Girl, Nine Inch Nails), Tom Holkenborg (Mad Max: Fury Road, Batman v. Superman) and more. Plus, hear rare insight from director James Cameron and the legacy of James Horner, along with one of the final interviews conducted with legendary director Garry Marshall.

Modern maestros reveal their creative secrets.

  • Composer David Arnold: Bond, the British sound and using music from dreams.

  • Director James Cameron: How score shapes a film and working with James Horner.

  • Composer Quincy Jones: Music s evolution and emotive power on us.

  • Composer Randy Newman: Great film music in history and scoring for animated films.

  • Composer Rachel Portman: Using music to your advantage and female film composers.

  • Composer Howard Shore: The great epic film score and connecting all the dots.

  • Composer Hans Zimmer: The joy (and vulnerability) of musical experimentation.

  • Director Garry Marshall: How to use music to fill, fix and enhance film.

  • Composer Bear McCreary: Creating an efficient, tight-knit film composing team.

Goosebumps and exploring music's cutting edge.

  • Composers Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross: Production value and the film score as an album.

  • Composer Brian Tyler: Growth, excitement and striving for perfection.

  • Composer Mychael Danna: Musical styles across different nationalities.

  • Composer Tom Holkenborg: Intensity and goosebumps.

  • Composer Harry Gregson-Williams: Traditional score meets technology.

  • Composer Steve Jablonsky: Reinventing electronic sounds.

  • Composer John Debney: Inspirations from childhood to the scoring stage.

  • Composer Trevor Rabin: Wrestling with the clock and working with producers.

  • Composer Patrick Doyle: Life and passion reflecting through music.

Inspiration and film music's worldwide impact across languages.

  • Composer Mervyn Warren: A record producer approach to film scores.

  • Composer John Powell: Flipping the film score on its head.

  • Composer Alexandre Desplat: International influence and the beauty of music.

  • Composer Elliot Goldenthal: Deadline pressure and mastering a sound.

  • Composer Henry Jackman: The British film score invasion and melody.

  • Composer Marco Beltrami: Finding the right sound and music for thrillers.

  • Composer Mark Mothersbaugh: The rockstar-turned-composer.

SCORE: The Interviews is available on Amazon. For bulk pricing discounts for educational institutions, please contact

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