Film composer Carter Burwell has opened up about the challenge set him by movie director Martin McDonagh, when working on the music for his multiple award-nominated movie The Banshees of Inisherin.
urwell has worked with such directors as The Coen brothers and Spike Jones — and he composed, orchestrated and conducted the music for the Twilight movie franchise.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent after being nominated for a Golden Globe for his work on Banshees, Burwell said McDonagh gave him one golden rule for the film: no traditional Irish music.
The story involves an Irish fiddler on an Irish island during the Irish Civil War — so Burwell initially could see no reason the music wouldn’t be Irish. But McDonagh made it clear that he hated “diddly-eye” scores.
“Martin didn’t want any Irish music,” Burwell said. “He sincerely hates Hollywood versions of it in film scores, like The Quiet Man. That’s exactly what he didn’t want. He wanted to make it a little more like an allegory or a fable.”
Burwell stumbled upon a solution while reading the Brothers Grimm to his 11-year-old daughter. Unlike the Disney version, the stepmother in the earlier telling encourages her daughters to cut off parts of their feet, in order to fit into the slipper.
Armed with this insight, Burwell began to look at the self-mutilation of Brendan Gleeson’s character as a fairy tale — and that informed the music, playing on Colin Farrell’s character’s loss of innocence.
The approach paid off, and Burwell has been nominated for best musical score at the Golden Globes in January. The movie has also been nominated as best picture, as well as in the categories of director, screenplay, leading actor in a comedy or musical (Colin Farrell), supporting actress (Kerry Condon), and twice for best supporting actor (Brendan Gleeson and Barry Keoghan).
Asked how working with McDonagh compared to the Coen brothers, Burwell said in the recording studio the brothers tended to “sit back and let it all happen”, while Martin was still “throwing ideas out there”. He described him as a “perfectionist”.
The pair met in 2007 when they worked on In Bruges. The collaboration was such a success they agreed to team up every four years. They have since worked on Seven Psychopaths and Three Billboards.
Burwell said he understood and accepted that his job as composer involves toying with people’s emotions. “That’s what film music is — it’s very much emotionally manipulative. Manipulating the audience moment by moment,” he said.