Hans Zimmer on Scoring ‘Prehistoric Planet,’ and Why the Series Wouldn’t Exist Without Jon Favreau’s ‘Lion King’

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Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer admits he’s been up and working since 3 a.m. when he calls Variety from London. With his work ethic, it’s no surprise — he’s currently in the middle of his European tour, and still found time this past year to pen scores for “Dune,” HBO’s “The Survivor,” “No Time to Die,” “Army of Thieves,” “Top Gun: Maverick” and Apple TV+’s “Prehistoric Planet.”

For the natural history series “Prehistoric Planet,” Zimmer collaborated with collective Bleeding Fingers Music and co-composers Anže Rozman and Kara Talve says the key was finding music that resonated today.

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Rozman of Bleeding Fingers Music says, “We decided to try to make instruments out of bones, dinosaur bone replicas, fossils, and rocks. We bought a bunch of these at the shop in Sedona and started pondering what kind of creation we could make. We enlisted the help of Chaz (Charles LaBrecque), who has been building unique custom instruments for Hans for years.”

Talve adds, “Soon Chaz helped us bring to life the Raptor Violin, Hadro Cello, Triserachord, Petrified Wood Xylophone, and The Fat Rex.”

With “The Survivor” — the HBO movie that follows Harry Haft (Ben Foster), an Auschwitz survivor who is forced by the Nazis to box other prisoners — it was about conveying themes of love, barbarism, horror and hell.

Amid his work, as he preps to reunite with Denis Villeneuve for “Dune 2,” Zimmer took a moment to discuss straddling the score for “Prehistoric Planet,” collaborating with collective Bleeding Fingers Music and composing the music for “The Survivor.”

You’ve done scores before for shows like “Planet Earth” and “Blue Planet,” but this is the first time you’ve done something with dinosaurs, right? What made you say yes to this?

It’s funny the way everything comes together. The first time I heard about the idea was during “The Lion King” with Jon Favreau. He was talking about using this technology — photorealistic visual effects — and combining it with what David Attenborough and the BBC have been doing. He said, “Wouldn’t it be fun to take the technology that we have in animation, and go back into prehistoric times and be very accurate about the whole thing?” So, that felt good to me and my friends at Bleeding Fingers Music.

Talk about working with Bleeding Fingers Music on this six-part series, how did you divide and conquer?

It was about throwing ideas around. I come from a band background, and I love surrounding myself with people and giving them as much freedom as they give me to be creative and get the work done.

The thing about episodic and series, it’s a lot of episodes and it takes a lot out of you. If you do it in a group, first of all, you don’t have to be the only one who is utterly exhausted. You can still produce quality because it requires other people to help you. Secondly, as much as we like each other, there’s always friendly competitiveness of saying, “I’m going to write something great. Now, go and beat me at it.” Also, Bleeding Fingers Music is very young and truly, I’m the oldest person there.

Bleeding Fingers Music was set up as this place for young composers, fresh out of music school, who have an enormous amount of student loan debt and nowhere to go. We thought that they could come to us and learn something and get paid from day one. And, we just found unbelievable talents from around the world. It’s become very international.

What was your approach to scoring “Prehistoric Planet” — did you do that by episode or give each dinosaur an instrument?

When you’re looking at the pictures, they were immensely inspiring. But there’s this complication because we’re in prehistoric times, which we don’t know, but at the same time, we do know because David Attenborough and his team would have done his research.

We must be adding an element of subconscious reality to things as well. We didn’t go out and find ancient instruments, it was more that we were trying to find [instruments that reflect]the spirit of something from so long ago that still resonate today.

I’m curious, did you have a preoccupation with dinosaurs growing up?

We all did. Although, maybe I was more into them than most. I have an uncle who is good friends with David and was a South Pole explorer. I grew up on the side of being given grown-up books on dinosaurs. So, I was very happy in that world. I grew up knowing more about dinosaurs than racing cars.

You also worked on the score for HBO’s “The Survivor,” which is completely different. What was that project like?

First of all, Barry gave me my first job in Hollywood, and he was the first person who ever had faith in me. I come from a family of refugees from the Holocaust. It is a funny thing, if you’re the child of refugees, even when they don’t talk about it, you feel a sense of looking over your shoulder thinking it can all happen again.

For instance, you can look at Jan. 6 and think, “It could happen there. It could happen anywhere.” But there are so many levels to this story [and score]. Barry did an extraordinary job to take us into this horror of hell, and this moral ambiguity of everything. There were these extremes and I was going to write music about the darkest, brutal, vulgar, disgusting side of human nature. At the same time, I was going to write an amazing love theme. And I was going to write about hope amid barbarism, bloodshed and the worst that humanity can do to each other.

I didn’t treat Harry as a hero. A true hero must be flawed and has to grapple for the rest of his life with the consequences of his actions. That conflict between light and dark was constantly there for me to acknowledge [through music] and for me to respect.

When you work on projects — and it doesn’t matter if it’s a project for David Attenborough — you realize that he, in a very gentle and beautiful way, is reminding us that we as humans have a moral obligation to be morally superior about how we treat our neighbors on this little, small blue dot. We are not the only animals on this planet. With “The Survivor,” it’s the same thing. It doesn’t matter if you’re Jewish or Aryan, it’s a warning about how easily and how quickly things can degenerate into decadence and brutality. It’s a reminder that this is not who we want to be.

I noticed you used female vocals in both “Dune” and “The Survivor.” Tell me more about that.

That was a coincidence. With the score in “Dune,” the vocals are about the strength of the women. With “The Survivor” and Harry Haft, the vocals you hear, it’s the call of love that keeps him alive. This memory of all that is good is women, and it’s all he’s asking for. He’s obsessed with this woman, and that is what gets him through it.

I love movies that are about the strength of women. If you look at the films I’ve done, I’m pretty sure I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’ve worked with more female directors than anybody else. It’s just something that I gravitate very easily to.

When Barry says Harry was obsessed with this love — that’s why he wanted to fight Rocky Marciano, so he would get into the papers and this woman would take notice of him. That would get him through this hell, this idea of love. What’s the greatest currency you have? It’s the memory of love.

Lastly, I have to congratulate you on winning an Oscar for “Dune.” Where are you keeping it?

Oh, that’s in Los Angeles.

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