Composer Henry Jackman has one of the most versatile resumes in film scoring, having the ability to mix classical scoring techniques with his experience as a record producer and electronic music creator. His versatility can be traced to his time studying classical music at Oxford, while simultaneously singing in the St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir and working in the underground rave scene.

With Netflix’s massively budgeted action film, The Gray Man, he found a new level of exploration… writing his first film cue without any footage. “If you really want to explore ideas, and come up with original ideas, the best space is away from picture,” Jackman shares. “Because you’re pursuing the logic of the ideas and you’re not boxed into what you’re seeing.” 

Jackman spent eleven months on the now famous The Gray Man suite, which is seventeen minutes of pure sonic inspiration. The Russo Brothers, his longtime collaborators (Captain America Winter Soldier, Captain America Civil War, Cherry), were immediately enthralled with the piece.

Jackman used the suite and its themes as the basis for the score, and you can check out the piece in Netflix’s cool visualizer below —

Jackman spoke to Awards Focus regarding his film scoring approach, working with the Russo Brothers, and how evolving cuts of a film rarely effect his work. 

Awards Focus: Having worked with the Russo Brothers for over a decade now, what are some of the elements that they gravitate to musically when it comes to scoring their films? 

Henry Jackman: You know, most movies are a singular adventure with their own atmosphere and tonal requirements. For instance, The Gray Man is nothing like anything I’ve done with the Russo Brothers… even with the Captain America sequels, you’re starting with a new world each time.

AF: Editorially, The Gray Man is moving so fast in the action that it almost feels like there’s an electricity in every frame. Is that something that you try to match with the music or do you lean toward a counterintuitive approach? 

Jackman: The funny thing on this film is that the seventeen minute piece at the opening of the soundtrack was actually written before I saw any picture. It’s a slightly unusual approach but my partner and I had your first kid in March 2021, so I took some time off and really worked on building this music world for The Gray Man away from picture.  It was devised from reading the script and speaking with Joe and Anthony (Russo), but it was done without seeing a frame of the film.

AF: How much time did you put into the track in total, and did you find it more rewarding to write away from picture? 

Jackman: Well I didn’t write every day so it’s hard to know, it felt a lot more like making a record because of all the engineering that went into the track, on top of writing the themes.  It had a very handcrafted approach, particularly with the percussion sounds because I knew I had the time to really dig into it.

When I started the suite, I stared with piano and thought, “Well, I’ll just leave it at that.” But I just keep chipping away at the piece, it started at three minutes and it just kept going and went where it wanted to go. 

If you really want to explore ideas, and come up with original ideas, the best space is away from picture because you’re pursuing the logic of the ideas and you’re not boxed into what you’re seeing. Often, scheduling doesn’t permit that type exploration unfortunately, so when you do have the opportunity it’s fantastic. 

AF: With the ending being reshot for The Gray Man, how that effects your process when you’re scoring. Do you repurpose any of the closing music from the previous ending or always start fresh?Jackman: If there are reshoots on a film, particularly toward the end of the film, it often doesn’t effect the composer. My process is working through reel one, reel two, and so forth, so I’m quite behind what the directors and editors are focused on with the studio. Any issues with scenes toward the end, funny enough, are usually sorted out by when I finally get to them.

About The Author

Founder, Awards Editor

Byron Burton is the Awards Editor and Chief Critic at Awards Focus and a National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Award winning journalist for his work at The Hollywood Reporter.

Byron is a proud member of the Television Academy, the Hollywood Critics Association (HCA), and the Society of Composers & Lyricists (SCL) for his work on Marvel's X-Men Apocalypse (2016). Working as a journalist and moderator, Byron hosts Emmy and Oscar panels for the major studios, featuring their Below The Line and Above The Line nominees (in partnership with their respective guilds).

Moderating highlights include Ingle Dodd's "Behind the Slate" Screening Series and their "Spotlight Live" event at the American Legion in Hollywood. Byron covered the six person panel for Universal's "NOPE" as well as panels for Hulu's "Pam & Tommy Lee" and "Welcome to Chippendales" and HBO Max's "Barry" and "Euphoria."

For songwriters and composers, Byron is a frequent moderator for panels with the Society of Composers and Lyricists (SCL) as well as The ArcLight's Hitting the High Note Oscar series.

Byron's panels range from FX's Fargo to Netflix's The Crown, The Queen's Gambit, The Witcher & Bridgerton; HBO Max's The Flight Attendant, Hacks, Succession, Insecure, & Lovecraft Country; Amazon Studios' The Legend of Vox Machina, Wild Cat, & Annette; and Apple TV+s Ted Lasso, Bad Sisters, and 5 Days at Memorial.

In February of 2020, Byron organized and hosted the Aiding Australia Initiative; launched to assist in the restoration and rehabilitation of Australia's wildlife (an estimated 3 billion animals killed or maimed and a landmass the size of Syria decimated).

Participating talent for Aiding Australia includes Robert Downey Jr., Michael Keaton, Jeremy Renner, Harrison Ford, Jim Carrey, Josh Brolin, Bryan Cranston, Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, JK Simmons, Tobey Maguire, Alfred Molina, James Franco, Danny Elfman, Tim Burton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Tim Allen, Colin Hay, Drew Struzan, and Michael Rosenbaum.

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