The Profile Dossier: Hans Zimmer, the Film Composer Using Music to Manipulate Your Emotions
“At my best, words will fail you because I’m using my own language.”
You know the opening Zulu chant in The Lion King? Or how about the grand orchestra playing as Jack Sparrow sets sail in Pirates of the Caribbean? Or the ominous music in the background as The Joker asks, “Why so serious,” in The Dark Knight?
Hans Zimmer is the legendary composer responsible for those iconic sounds. Zimmer has scored 150 films, including Inception, Interstellar, Gladiator, Sherlock Holmes, Dune, The Last Samurai, Man of Steel, and Dunkirk.
Zimmer’s hidden genius lies in that he’s able to make you feel certain emotions without having the vocabulary to explain why you feel that way. It’s all done subliminally — with music.
“At my best, words will fail you,” Zimmer says, “because I’m using my own language.”
And his own language is totally unorthodox. To create these emotion-laden and memorable sounds, Zimmer has used banjos, bagpipes, buzzing electronics, an old-fashioned orchestra … and an instrument made out of an ostrich egg.
Born in Frankfurt, Germany, Zimmer has loved music ever since he was six years old. He had been exposed to it at a young age since his mom was a classically-trained pianist. Instead of college, Zimmer chose the path of rock & roll.
He performed with The Buggles, the band behind the massive hit Video Killed the Radio Star. He and the rest of the band made history in 1981 with the first music video to air on MTV.
That’s when he began composing music for low-budget films. He got his lucky break when director Barry Levinson hired Zimmer to score the film Rain Man, which won the Oscar for Best Picture of the Year and earned him his first Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score. The Lion King followed, and the rest is history.
He’s been called “one of Hollywood's most innovative musical talents,” but Zimmer doesn’t look at it that way at all.
“I don’t know if I believe in talent,” he says in his Masterclass. “People keep saying to me, ‘Oh he’s really talented,’ or this woman is an ‘amazing talent.’ And then when I investigate a little bit further, it turns out it’s just somebody who works really, really hard.”
Talent, he says, can create one remarkable thing. But can they replicate that success again and again? If they can, that’s not just talent. That’s talent paired with a relentless appetite for hard work.
As someone who has scored more than 150 movies, here’s what we can learn from the most hard-working film composer in Hollywood about creativity, storytelling, and the importance of “committing to the struggle.”
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