Interview: Composer Brian Tyler Ushers in Epic New Sound for ‘Iron Man 3’

By  · Published on May 2nd, 2013

Iron Man 3 hits theaters this Friday, but you can already get the soundtrack composed by Brian Tyler. While the music of the previous two Iron Man movies was rooted in rock and roll, the newest entry ushers in a new era of Tony Stark, and Tyler rises to the challenge of creating a more epic sounding score to accompany this change in tone.

Tyler and I discussed his sound profile for a new era of Iron Man, the process (and importance) behind creating a memorable theme, and the joy of recording in the same studio where an iconic film score was made.

To start ‐ were you a fan of Iron Man while you were growing up?

Oh yes. I had, not all the comics, of course, but I had many of the comics and I was a fan of “Tales of Suspense” and all those with the origins of Iron Man. Down to the point where I was aware of who his arch nemesis, The Mandarin, was and I was really excited when I read the script that, “Oh gosh ‐ they have The Mandarin in here!” as well as Killian, who was in the later series. So yeah, it was something I was really happy to see also when they made the films originally and cast Robert Downey Jr. ‐ I thought he was the perfect Tony Stark casting. It was completely something that I was excited about once I was brought on to the film.

Having not scored the past two films, Iron Man and Iron Man 2, how did you get involved with this third installment?

This was the first Iron Man movie that comes in a post-Avengers world so the tone has changed in terms of the stakes are higher now and so they wanted a new voice for the series. And the thing that Marvel had talked about really wanting to go for was they wanted a very thematic, melodic score that was somewhat of a throwback to earlier scores. The vibe was to be more like Raiders of the Lost Ark and things like that where you have a really hum-able theme and there was a change in Tony Stark in the sense that now there’s so much more at stake in this post-Avengers world. Like we’re under threat from not only domestic terror and that kind of thing, but there’s aliens involved because of the Avengers and we have other worldly threats.

Everything has become kind of larger than life so when they were looking for someone they, Shane [Black] the director and Kevin [Feige] at Marvel and Stephen Broussard [Executive Producer] and many of the people that were really heavily involved, Dave Jordan [Music Supervisor], all these people are really heavily involved in the music for the film and the thing that they gravitated towards was how I write themes. So I was brought in under that understanding that we would try to really create the theme for Iron Man that now related to him and the Avengers ‐ a theme that could kind of tie it all together.

What was your process of making your score fit within the fabric of not only The Avengers, but also the previous two Iron Man film scores by Ramin Djawadi and John Debney? Or was this more of a re-imagining since we are moving into a new phase of the story?

I didn’t recall specifically to the previous scores from a melodic standpoint, but there’s certainly a momentum that was created with those two scores that I really enjoyed because it reflected a lot of Tony’s attitude which is this billionaire, inventor, playboy, wise cracking character, which is totally that fun of the Tony Stark thing so, in that sense, the tone bled into the score. The thing that is different is because the story itself now requires a kind of more epic thematic angle so while it does have some of those flavors, the overall drive of the score is now different just because the character is in such a different place than he was in those first two movies.

And with the first two movies, a lot of music from the band AC/DC was featured in the film and on the soundtracks ‐ did any of that music influence your score to give it that kind of rock edge?

Not really. The idea of AC/DC and that tone was really part of that era of Tony Stark being a different guy and the idea was we would move away from that and go more of a way like you would find in a movie like Star Wars where it’s not so much about songs and attitude. I think the audience understands that Tony Stark has that in him, but in order to make the whole movie feel a bit more epic in the sense that there’s much more at stake now, the music had to reflect that. So there aren’t those songs that pop up in this film, this is going for a much more classic type of film music sound.

It seems the themes on this film are a bit darker.

Yeah ‐ the great thing about it is the movie is still very funny because he [Tony Stark] has such a gallows humor sense about him and he’s got this great witty banter and all that, but I think musically it kind of needed to stay in the world of recognizing that there’s a imminent threat and that Tony now is almost burdened with something he didn’t ask for ‐ which is he needs to be a hero. And Iron Man is that kind of heroic persona of what he is so I scored, kind of for the first time, the music in the theme of “Tony Stark is now a legitimate superhero” theme, which you couldn’t really do in the earlier movies because he wasn’t there yet. Even though he’s reluctantly taken on this mantel of the leader of the Avengers and this superhero ‐ he nonetheless is.

So the music had to do that and that’s why you have this Iron Man March basically is that theme you hear throughout the film and it’s variations that really speak to the superhero nature of what Iron Man is as opposed to merely the attitude of Tony Stark. So they’re both there, but certainly the weight is on the shoulders of the heroic music.

What was your process of creating the key themes needed for this film? Were you seeing edits of the film or were you working off of the script?

I started thinking about the theme right when I read the script, except that I wasn’t really sure what the look would be, but I loved the script. The thing was when I read the script I couldn’t take the script with me, because it was super high security, and I read it in a room by myself [Laughs] and had to kind of try to memorize it in a way. So it was really when I sat down with Shane and started watching the film and getting the footage in, because I was on board as they were filming the movie, so as that started to come through, I just sat down and basically, just from scratch sitting down in front of a piano, started writing themes and strangely enough the very first theme that I wrote is the “Iron Man 3” theme.

And I went off on all these other directions, but I kept coming back to the very first thing I wrote ‐ it just stuck. You know, I just wanted to make sure that was the right thing and then eventually presented the theme to Shane and to all the people at Marvel, the creative team, and we went from there and it was a really fantastic process to be able to have that kind of support as well.

Was your process more of a collaboration between you and the director, Shane Black? I know other people certainly had opinions about the music, but did it primarily come down to you two to ensure Black’s vision was coming across as well as yours?

Yes ‐ and it was a pretty wild time because they were still filming. Robert Downey Jr. got injured during the filming and we had a release date so that made it so that they were shooting later into the process than they normally would be. But yeah, in terms of the collaborative side of it, Shane is a true collaborator and he’s a huge film score fan and knows his music. Like at lunch, I would sing out a melody and see if he would know what it was and he invariably did ‐ I mean all the way down to knowing the theme from, not even the theme, the secondary theme from The Black Hole — he nailed it in about three seconds. He knows his composers and the history of film music and he loves it.

And the same with Kevin Feige over at Marvel and Stephen Broussard and all those guys ‐ they’re true filmmakers, but film fans as well so all of the input that I got was all very constructive and it really felt like we were trying to do something new for the series and we were on the same page about that so it was just exciting. It was a lot of work and it was a wild time, but definitely all of the people involved had that same goal that we just wanted to make an awesome movie and we wanted to make a movie that we would all just like to go and plunk down some money and watch on a Saturday.

How does a delay like that that affect your process in the production chain? I’ve heard horror stories where you’re still mixing the music and you’re looking out the window at a poster for the film you’re working on with the release date on it.

Oh for sure ‐ and that was definitely going on. It’s a race and there’s really no time to second-guess yourself on a movie, regardless of the scale, when the time crunch is upon you. And again, I was watching movie trailers for Iron Man 3 as we were in mid-stream and just, it becomes so apparent that this thing is going to be released. I cannot believe it is coming out now ‐ I feel like we just finished! I was just going through my room and organizing things and I went through my bag and I realized, “Oh ‐ I still have my bag from when I was in London conducting at Abbey Road!” That bag still hasn’t even been unpacked and the movie’s coming out! It’s just a weird time warp that happens on these things.

How did the decision come together to record at Abbey Road?

You know, I don’t remember exactly how we came to that final decision of where it would be, but I knew from the beginning Marvel wanted to record at least in England. I knew it would be in England, I just didn’t know where and after that they left it to me to say, you know, “Whoever you want to use, and wherever you want to record, great.”

I wanted to really use the best and it turned out to be fantastic because it was the London Philharmonic Orchestra, which is actually rare that they do film scores. I mean they did Lord of the Rings, but in general they’re a difficult orchestra to get because they’re a very popular, touring orchestra, probably the most popular in the world. But we found a great window of time where we could get them to perform the score and also we were very lucky to happen to get the large room at Abbey Road to record, which of course that’s where the original Star Wars was recorded so it’s kind of hallowed ground for film score fans like myself. So it was pretty great and to conduct that orchestra, they sounded unbelievable, it was fantastic.

So the movie is coming out this weekend, believe it or not, what are you most excited for audiences to see when it finally hits theaters?

Oh ‐ I mean to take the whole journey in. It’s great from frame one to the last frame ‐ you have a nice little surprise scene after the credits roll.

So stick around after the credits?

Ohhh yeah ‐ stick around after the credits. The whole thing is great. There are some surprises along the way and there are definitely some twists. I just saw it with an audience at the premiere two nights ago and it was really great to see the reactions ‐ I think people are going to love it, hopefully as much as we loved making it.

The score for Iron Man 3 is now available through Hollywood Records.

1. “Iron Man 3”
2. “War Machine”
3. “Attack On 10880 Malibu Point”
4. “Isolation”
5. “Dive Bombers”
6. “New Beginnings”
7. “Extremis”
8. “Stark”
9. “Leverage”
10. “The Mandarin”
11. “Heart and Iron”
12. “Misfire”
13. “Culmination”
14. “The Mechanic”
15. “Hot Pepper”
16. “Another Lesson From The Mandarin”
17. “Dr. Wu”
18. “Return”
19. “Battle Finale”
20. “Can You Dig It (Iron Man 3 Main Titles)”

Iron Man 3 flies into theaters May 3rd.

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