Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders threw themselves entirely into the 1960s to create their Ford v Ferrari score. Centered on two mavericks who built a revolutionary race car in ’66, to challenge Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the drama appealed to the pair as an opportunity to depart from their typical musical methods. With their electric score, which drifts between jazz and rock sounds, the pair looked to honor the musical innovation of the era depicted on screen, while capturing an energy and excitement in their cues unlike any they’d created before.
Meeting over 20 years ago at West LA video rental store Lazer Blazer, the longtime collaborators worked tirelessly in their fourth collaboration with director James Mangold to represent through their score all the tension, excitement and emotion inherent to life on the racetrack. “One of the biggest challenges was not getting in the way of the picture itself, supplying an emotional arc to the Le Mans scene that has a lot of ups and downs, and keeping the energy and tension throughout that long period of time,” Beltrami explains, “so that it feels directional and not static.”
Bringing their complementary skill sets to bear on the film, Sanders and Beltrami feel now that Ford v Ferrari is the best pic they’ve scored to date. “With Jim, it’s always a pure experience. We’re working with him, and only him. He’s got a vision for it, and you really want to go down the road and collaborate with him,” Beltrami reflects. “Because he’s one of the rare genius filmmakers that exists today.”
DEADLINE: What excited you about the notion of scoring Ford v Ferrari?
MARCO BELTRAMI: In a very basic sense, I’m attracted to it just because I have a love of racing and cars. I knew the story of the rivalry of Ford and Ferrari, so at the outset, even before reading the script, I was curious about it. But after reading it and talking to Jim—and actually, we went out to the set and saw some of what he was doing—it became clear that what he was doing was a special film that was not just geared toward motorheads.
He’s always very opinionated about what the music should be, which is good. He’s very inspiring like that. He would send us his own playlists that inspired him—period pieces, going back to jazz from the ’50s, rock from the ’60s—and we began thinking about score from that standpoint.
BUCK SANDERS: That was the thing I was most excited about, was the time period of the film, because that’s when lots of innovations were happening in music, and film music itself. We tried to reference that, using period sounds like fuzz guitars from the ’60s and muted brass, and tried to record the score as they might have in the ’60s, with a band in the room. It could all be performed in one take, keeping that dynamic energy alive throughout the score.
On lots of films now, the score is so pre-produced before you get to the recording stage with the musicians that dynamically, everything’s already been laid in stone. When you produce on the stage with musicians, you get much more excitement in the music, and we really had a blast doing that.
BELTRAMI: Traditionally, we record things ahead of time and then manipulate them in the studio. It was less of that on this film and more writing for a unique ensemble, having all the effects and everything that we were going to be doing performed live in the room. What Buck and I worked on together was really crafting what that would be, and how that would work, and that was really the fun of it—doing it over the course of five months, as opposed to just having one scoring session at the end. Giving it to the editor, having them play with it, cut it in, listen to Jim’s notes, going back and doing other parts of the movie. Working like that made it a real collaboration.
SANDERS: Jim has always been honest, since 3:10 to Yuma, about wanting that energy that he gets from the scores that he loves, and I think this is probably the closest we’ve gotten to this sort of live energy, where you don’t feel a click track, and you don’t feel the production.
DEADLINE: Your score really brings the world of the racetrack to life. What functions did you find your score serving that were unique to this film, given the nature of the story you were telling?
BELTRAMI: I think what this score does—for instance in a long scene like Le Mans, the long race—is it carries an emotional arc to the race, so you feel the journey of Miles as he’s racing, and Shelby, and the energy of the race. I think one thing that the sound mixers did so beautifully was to integrate the music and the sound together, so that they’re working in tandem—so that the engine sounds are musical. When they cut between the inside of the Ferrari and the inside of the Ford GT, and they each have their own sound, and then with the music supplementing that and giving an emotional voice to the race, I think it all works together.
DEADLINE: It felt to me like there were a few key musical threads running through your Ford v Ferrari score, which bring out beauty and thrilling tension, as well as a sense of triumph of man over machine—a vindication of the boundaries Shelby and Miles pushed together.
SANDERS: But it’s all centered around the same 15-piece band. We hired the musicians so that they could go between genres, with jazz and rock-influenced stuff. Then, when we get to Le Mans, it’s a bit more in line with what Marco and I have done in the past, with tight, rhythmical editing. But that was always edited to the band. If there were extra guitars that we would play here at the studio, it was always just behind the band, and edited to the band, instead of the band being edited to a click track.
BELTRAMI: In places where it feels like “7000 RPM”, where it’s more ambient, a lot of those pad-like textures are created [with] a lap steel guitar. There were no strings with this; it was created from either feedback tones from guitars, or brass sustains, or the lap steel.
DEADLINE: At times, guitars were also used to create mechanical sounds, which would jibe with those created by the sound department. Could you describe the way in which you arranged guitar parts to produce different sonic textures?
BELTRAMI: First of all, we had three guitars. It’d be a mixture of steel-string guitar and electric guitar, and the guitars all brought pedal cases, too—pedals from the ’60s.
SANDERS: One of the driving forces through a lot of those Le Mans cues are muted acoustic guitars, strumming dead strings. It’s actually a tribute to Johnny Cash, with a dollar bill wrapping the strings, and it gives it almost a snare-type quality, snare drums. So, it’s a bit rattly, and that’s one of the techniques.
Another one was guitar harmonics that are tightly programmed to play a certain pattern that also shows up in the band. It sounds almost like an ARP-type synthesizer, but it’s all custom. We were trying to stay pretty pure with keeping [the score] non-synthetic.
DEADLINE: Could you break down the full range of instruments we hear in your score?
BELTRAMI: We had three guitars that all interchanged. Them we had a bass that was either acoustic, upright bass—especially earlier in the ’50s cues, for the jazz stuff—or electric bass for more of the ’70s stuff. We had a traditional drum kit player, but we also had a percussionist that played vibraphone, hand percussion, shakers and metallic stuff. We had a pianist that also played B3 organ; we had a small brass section [with] three trumpets, two trombones, and a flute that doubled saxophone.
DEADLINE: What inspired the cue “Le Mans 66”? With its crescendoing waves of brass, this track powerfully manifests the sound of achievement, in the face of incredible obstacles.
BELTRAMI: [Mangold’s] temp sort of played the scene without any big melody. It’s tough because he didn’t want to detract from the picture, so we were careful with that. But it was that moment in Daytona when he wins the race; it’s pure joy and excitement for Miles, and it’s the only time he really feels that. He feels that at the end, but that’s the main time. So, the idea was to come up with a simple, almost Rocky-like theme for him in this moment, and Jim really responded to it. “Don’t be shy about it” was what he said. “Let’s put in the trumpets. Let’s make it something that we’re not hiding from. Let’s make it shine.” So, that’s what we did.
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