30 MPH / A New Action Score

DUN DUN DUN DUN DUN DUN!

With the picture locked, post-production on Speed moves from what we see to what we hear, beginning with an original score that will stand out from the fray. Like every other facet of the production, the top tier is a little out of range. Though the studio does take a stab at one notable standby in the action genre.

“Michael Kamen was a discussion,” producer Mark Gordon says of the celebrated Die Hard composer. “I think somebody may have talked to him and said, ‘You’re going to get this job,’ but he was never hired. And Jan didn’t want him.”

Indeed, depending on who you ask, Kamen either was or was not officially on the movie, but it wouldn’t matter because director Jan de Bont would see something special in the up-and-coming Mark Mancina. Toiling away in composer Hans Zimmer’s shop, working on song arrangements for The Lion King and knocking out this or that scene on movies like True Romance, Mancina’s relative lack of experience would prove to be an asset for the director.

Mark Mancina
Composer Mark Mancina would craft a groundbreaking original score for Speed that is well-remembered to this day.

“I was so lucky to have found him,” de Bont says. “He had the right background from working with big recordings from rock bands. This movie needed a composer who actually wasn’t very experienced in film composing…If you work with a lot of composers, you know that they use their repeat performance quite often, what they’ve done on other movies and that worked really great. They then keep using it. And for him, this was the first time, so he could only think about his old recordings for bands and things like that.”

Mancina comes into the project with a barrel of creativity at his disposal, ready to upend expectations and, in so doing, influence a whole era of action film music composition.

“The first thing I did, which at that time, nobody had ever done, I had a friend of mine who was really, really great at sampling instruments and putting them on your keyboard, and I had him sample bus sounds,” Mancina says. “I had him sample wires, metal, crashing hubcaps, all sorts of stuff like that. Now you can buy those libraries, but back then, that was extremely cutting edge. So, instead of a high hat going ‘tacka-tacka tacka-tacka tack,’ I had a hubcap, ‘tacka-tacka tacka-tacka tack.’ It just gave that score a sound that sounded like the bus.”

Melodically, Mancina’s score would find its place as well, soaring where it needed to, and particularly, leaving a sonic imprint with a central theme that is well-remembered out to this day.

“The first thing I came up with was the little bit, the ‘bum bum bum bum bum bum,’ that little thing,” Mancina says. “That was like a little tag that just sounded like the bus racing through town. I didn’t come through with the theme until the bus rescue, when he’s getting people off the bus. I just kept working with it until it sounded heroic and memorable. In the ’90s, there became a backlash to themes. Now action scores are just a bunch of stuff, and for me, Speed was an action score with a bunch of stuff, but it had a theme, you know? And that theme played such an important role and it became a character.”

All of that and more on this week’s episode of 50 MPH!

Episode 30 Transcript

Kris Tapley Your Host:

Kris has covered the entertainment industry for nearly two decades, with bylines at Variety, Vanity Fair and The New York Times. He now works as a writer and consultant in Los Angeles, where he lives with his loving wife, lively son and lazy cat. He likes Speed.