When composer Tom Holkenborg was sacked from writing the score of the 2017 superhero epic Justice League, he didn’t take it too personally.
In fact, part of him took it as a badge of honour, and turned a negative into a positive.
“One of my best friends here in town – and my mentor – Hans Zimmer, told me that I would never be part of the in crowd if I hadn’t been fired off a film,” says the Dutch DJ-musician-composer-producer over Zoom from his Los Angeles base.
“So, the day after I got taken off the film I tweeted that and said ‘I guess I graduated today’ to look at it from a positive standpoint.”
Oscar-winning German composer Zimmer had helped Holkenborg transition from his dance music roots – he had a global hit in 2002 as Junkie XL with the Elvis remix A Little Less Conversation – to one of the most in-demand film music composers in the business. The pair had worked together on director Zack Snyder’s Superman reboot Man Of Steel and its sequel Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Holkenborg was all set to go it alone on the third film in the trilogy, Justice League, when tragedy struck.
Snyder stepped back from the project after the death of his daughter and was replaced by Joss Whedon in 2016. The Buffy and Avengers director significantly reshot, rewrote and re-edited the film – and also turfed out Holkenborg’s half-finished score in favour of new music from Danny Elfman. The final result was something of dog’s breakfast, pleasing few and underperforming at the box office. Like Snyder, Holkenborg has chosen never to watch it.
“The surroundings of Zack’s departure and my departure were unpleasant enough themselves not to be exposed to what it became,” he says.
But after an online fan campaign led to Snyder being given an additional $90 million to release his version, which made its debut here on BINGE last week, Holkenborg was one of the first people he called.
“I am quoting him: ‘Let’s f–ing do it’ – is what he said,” says Holkenborg with a laugh.
The director had expected the composer would resurrect at least some of the music he had already written, especially given the gargantuan task of scoring his four-hour film, and was stunned (but delighted) when Holkenborg said he wanted to start from scratch. The Dutchman says not only did he have some negative emotions about his previous work given the circumstances, but more importantly he felt that the intervening five years had made him a much better composer.
“I have been fortunate to work with some of the world’s best directors in Robert Rodriguez, James Cameron, Peter Jackson, George Miller, Tim Miller and I thought that this four-and-a-half-hour movie needed the best possible score that I could give it,” he says. “And that automatically meant starting over.”
Adding to the degree of difficulty of what he calls his personal “Mount Everest” was the fact that he had to create the entire score in isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic effectively shutting down the global film and music business last year. Again, Holkenborg turned a seemingly dire situation to his advantage, and revelled in the creative freedom the solitude and basic set-up gave him.
“What I gained was priceless and that is really finding what is important musically,” he says. “I have always surrounded myself with lots of gear and equipment and recording techniques and music materialism. But if you are in isolation and you work in a room that is three metres by four metres with a small set-up that is one guitar, one bass, a few percussion instruments and a few boxes that make noises – and that’s it – you really start to appreciate with how little you can get great stuff.”
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is now streaming on BINGE. Soundtrack available on Spotify.