Even though this is a subject that he’s spoken about about several times, the second part of the symposium was devoted to his work with James Cameron. After the video excerpt of Avatar, the composer went back to the origins of his collaboration with the Canadian director on Aliens, the creation of the Avatar soundtrack, and then explained how the director had directed this film.
Next came the Titanic video with the famous kissing scene at the front of ship. Deeply moved, James Horner drew a parallel between this scene and the flight scene in Avatar that was previously projected just before.
"James Cameron always referred to this scene as “the flying scene” in Titanic and “the flying scene” in Avatar. It' just interesting, in his mind, he saw the two scenes as being almost identical and he asks me to score it–and this is what I mean by, with filmmakers, how tricky it can be. How do you sort of score Avatar like Avatar and not doing it like [Titanic], when he's asked me for the same emotion."
The composer then explained that, apart from the Titanic 3D world premiere in 2012, he has not seen the film for a long time. However, he briefly mentioned a few things that came back to him:
"I remember several scenes, several parts of this for instance where Jim said: "Can you make it sound more like the ocean?" I hear myself. I put some piano themes in there I played them in by myself and that did the trick for Jim. He liked the sound. There are so many sort of customizations that I do in films. It's such an intimate process for me, writing them. And in the middle of the scene, Di Caprio has this song he sings to Kate Winslet, and my music had to go right over that, and Jim had already shot this scene so he was stuck with the song that was in there. And I just ignored it. It's interesting what you sort of remember after you look at these things again."
James Horner asked the audience if they had questions. The first one was unfortunately unoriginal as it concerned the creation of the song My Heart Will Go On sung by Celine Dion, a topic which the composer has already talked about so many times in 15 years. However James Horner expanded his answer by first discussing the creation of the soundtrack:
"James Cameron didn't want me to use violins, and he didn't want a love theme. But he wanted a film about love. I started working on it, on doing my themes and I'm doing my orchestrations and listening to bits of penny whistle… Using boys’ choir and all the little colors I'm doing… piano… no violins but I knew I was going to end up using violins and, over the course of writing, there's a tune that’s hummed by a woman, very beautifully."
Then he explained that the opening of the film was initially very different:
"The movie originally opened was in a real “Jim Cameron” way. It was a black screen with a deep rumbling engine sound, or some sound and you realized after about a minute in black, the ship was going slowly… He had Mars from Holst. That was the beginning of Titanic. (…) I said to Jim, why don’t you start the movie, instead of what you’ve got, but with ship and sepia and everybody waving, slow motion, and put the voice over that particular one… and that was a very radical thing, obviously, to undertake. But he thought about it and two months after we talked about it he asked me down to his place–we would meet in 3 days and I’d play the music for him–and he had re-cut and re-shot the whole beginning of the film with this footage, of the film leaving Southampton in slow motion in sepia and everybody waving, and he had put the women’s voices over it and that's how film became Titanic."
He returned to what led him to think of a song to accompany the end credits.
"At the end of the film I had the problem, that after all this emotion, all of this stuff that happens to the ship, how do I end this movie without using violins and orchestra and how do I accomplish that as a composition, as writing, as a painting. I felt the only way to do this was something very, very intimate, that was probably using a voice or solo instrument, and I ended up using voice. I had stitched together this sort of song based on the two main themes of the film. One of the rules of my working with Jim was no violins, no songs, no schmaltz."
The result is well known: James Horner secretly wrote this song for Celine Dion, who he had known since she was 16, but did not know whether she would accept because she had become a renowned singer, and no one even knew that such a song existed.
"I played it for her in her room at Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas. They had a fountain in their room and I had to get the maintenance staff to turn off the fountain because I was going to play this small piano and sing, and I didn't want this waterfall sound in the background. That's how I got Celine to agree do this song. Personally, I liked it but I did not know much about contemporary music. But I knew it was a good enough song, but it was a good for the kind of movie, spiritually."
James Horner kept the DVD containing the mock-up song for two months in his pocket, waiting for James Cameron to be in one of his good days.
"He was very happy one day. He showed me the first special effect of a Titanic scene, where the ship is at the bottom of the ocean and the old woman, Rose, starts telling the story and the camera moves up the ship, and as it moves up, the ship becomes real, and we see the dry dock, and we can see all the people coming. It was a stunning piece of filmmaking. Jim just loved it and he's very happy. He had been trying it for months that had never worked out. And now he got a version of it and I took that day: ‘Jim, can I play you something?’ He said: ‘yeah!! sure whatever… sure.’ and he's listening to the song."
After having played it to his family, James Cameron decided two weeks before the film's release to put the song during a test session in New York.
"Right before the screening, he decided to put the song in, as opposed to the orchestral piece that I wrote. He was so frightened, that if I was too corny, that the song was just too much over the top… And, obviously the reaction of the audience was what he had wanted: everybody was appropriately emotional and it was only in that moment that he agreed to take the song."
He concluded the discussion on his collaboration with James Cameron by describing it this way:
"There's always some tricky aspect of working in film and working with these gifted directors that all have an idea of what they want to do but don't know how to achieve it. Jim Cameron is unique in that, now… He’s always told me, if he could write the music he would, because he does everything else: camera, writing, all of this stuff… Now on Avatar, because he got the hang of editing the music done so well, because his scenes changed so much–he was editing film from 4 hours down to 2 hours–and he did all the music editing himself… so he now feels anything I write he can redo himself. It’s just one of those things."

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