Lorne Balfe talks Top Gun: Maverick

Lorne Balfe during the Mission Impossible: Fallout scoring sessions at Air Studios on May 31, 2018.

Lorne Balfe spoke with Solzy at the Movies about Top Gun: Maverick, including his reaction when he first heard Lady Gaga’s “Hold My Hand.”

Balfe was a long-time assistant to Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer. Having scored Mission: Impossible – Fallout, the composer is familiar with Tom Cruise’s approach as a producer. Balfe serves as the score producer for Top Gun: Maverick which went into full gear during the pandemic. Harold Faltermeyer, Lady Gaga, and Hans Zimmer all contribute music to the film’s score. They didn’t go into production on the score until after the pandemic started. Balfe was recording the score for Black Widow on the day before Abbey Road shut down.

This interview was conducted last Wednesday during a roundtable consisting of three journalists in total.

It’s so nice to meet you.

Lorne Balfe: Lovely meeting you too. Is that Casablanca on the wall? I can’t read it.

Yes, it is Casablanca.

Lorne Balfe: Nice.

I’ve got Jurassic Park and Avengers: Endgame off-screen.

Lorne Balfe: Okay.

I saw Top Gun: Maverick yesterday and loved it.

Lorne Balfe: Ah, yes!

In terms of producing the score for Top Gun: Maverick, what was the most challenging aspect of having to produce the score during the pandemic?

Lorne Balfe: Geographical awareness. I think we’re taking it for granted now. We’re living on Zoom. We all do. Look at you all. It’s a luxury to wear deodorant sometimes now, knowing that you’ve got to go out. But it’s that. It’s the interaction of being in a room and working with people. That was the thing that was difficult because we weren’t there. But in one respect, it worked out well because it gave us more time and it gave us time to kind of reflect on the music and step back. There were advantages of it.

The first time I was working on Bad Boys—my studio in LA is next to Hans’. He’s got a large complex of different studios. I’d been told, and this was before I was finishing up Bad Boys, I was told that Harold Faltermeyer was in the building next door and did I want to go and meet him. I got too nervous to go and see him because all of his music has meant so much to my youth. Oh, no, I’ll just leave it. I had to leave the country to go back to Britain and then I never ever got to see him. I still have never met actually met in the flesh. Maybe it’s a good thing because if I was, I’d start mumbling. It was things like that. When I was gone, then he was working with Hans. That was another part of my kind of role was how everyone wants to look at it. The score producer was to just try to kind of help us make sure everything was connecting, and everybody was feeling that the music was right because it was during very difficult times.

Top Gun: Maverick
Tom Cruise plays Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in Top Gun: Maverick from Paramount Pictures, Skydance and Jerry Bruckheimer Films.

How hands-on was Tom Cruise as a producer when it came to the score?

Lorne Balfe: Always very hands-on. I think every department is very important to him. But the music’s very important and the same to Jerry. Jerry, I think music to him is one of the most enjoyable parts of the post-production process. He loves it. Tom’s always very hands-on musically and especially when you look at the Mission world, he’s been part of it since the beginning. Ethan’s melody is that theme. He’s very involved with it and always wants to kind of make sure that we’re doing as much as we can to help give the audience emotion.

As a composer, do you find it more challenging signing onto a franchise with already established themes like Top Gun or Mission: Impossible or?

Lorne Balfe: I’d be in trouble if I was because I seem to do a lot of franchises. No, not at all because I’m a cinema goer. I love the cinema. It’s an honor to be able to kind of work with these themes. It’s sometimes strange to me when there is a franchise and they don’t use the themes. I never understand why because as a viewer, I want to hear it. I want to hear that theme. So, no, I think when I start the project, I feel intimidated with it, then I feel relieved that I don’t have to write a theme as good as that. I’m kind of, okay, the hardest job is done now. But then you want to kind of be respectful to the theme also, and you want to kind of—like with Lalo, it’s a legacy to him so you want to be truthful to it and it’s weird saying the word reinvent because it sounds like there was something wrong with it. There’s nothing wrong. I think it’s just giving it a different approach to a different generation of viewers. Doing that with Harold’s theme is purely an honor because all these things have been part of my life so getting to work with them; it’s like a boy in a candy shop. It’s fantastic.

What was your initial reaction when you first heard “Hold My Hand” by Lady Gaga?

Lorne Balfe: Close to crying possibly, which is a hard word to say when coming from a Scotsman. It was perfect to the story and it’s very rare that happens. A lot of times when you’re working on films, people submit songs and the songs are kind of trying to kind of take the storyline and make an actual plot with lyrics. They don’t always work. This is just, it’s the love of aviation, the love of human beings. It’s the passion. It’s so appropriate and beautiful. I know I’m humming it all the time. I know I wish I wrote it so perfect, that’s for sure.

If only there was a time machine!

Lorne Balfe: (Laughs) I think they made a film about that, didn’t they?

Yeah, they made several.

Lorne Balfe: (Laughs) Going back and rewriting on the Beatles songs. Yeah, no, no. But it really is the heart and soul musically of Maverick. I feel.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from Hans Zimmer about scoring a film?

Lorne Balfe: The biggest thing? The movie comes first. It’s not about being a great track on an album. It’s got to work with the movie and it’s got to work so that the audience kind of feels connected to it. The biggest thing has been the concept of filmmaking. We’ve never kind of sat down and analyzed chord progressions and diminished seventh chords. Right from the beginning, it’s been about storytelling and the concept of filmmaking and storytelling. That’s the biggest thing, I think.

What is it about theme songs that make for good ring tones?

Lorne Balfe: In my personal opinion or in a kind of a monetary way?

Personal.

Lorne Balfe: To me, I think a) it’s a memory as soon as I hear it. At one point, I had The Goonies as a ringtone so as soon as I hear that, I flashback 30 years. I think it’s about that memory, the moment in time when you kind of experienced it. Weirdly enough, I know quite a few composers who have got their own music as their ringtones. I’m not too sure if that’s acceptable or not but I think it’s about that memory of that period. I get it, sometimes, we’re working on films for three or four years so I think maybe composers have a right to do it. But I think generally, it’s that memory that we had. Look, a film like this, very few times do we kind of, in life, have movies that we can generally all kind of connect to. I think there’s movies, a lot of the superhero movies. My mother’s not necessarily going to go to see that but I know all my friends and my mother’s friends are gonna go and see this movie. I know quite a lot of friends’ children are gonna go and see them. I think everybody should be getting that “Top Gun Anthem” going for Harold. Raise it! Do it for Harold!

Thank you.

Lorne Balfe: My pleasure. Lovely talking to you.

Top Gun: Maverick is now playing in theaters.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.