The 700 Club with Pat Robertson


John Debney: Composing 'Passion'

By Cheryl Wilcox and Scott Ross
The 700 Club Academy award-winning director Mel Gibson accomplished what no other filmmaker has to date: he captured the eternal story of Christ’s redemptive suffering with uncompromising realism and cinematic brilliance.

The powerful imagery of The Passion of the Christ was created by dedicated artists -- in front of and behind the lens. Their effort garnered three academy award nominations for achievement in cinematography, make-up, and music. The film’s overwhelming international success continues with the release of the re-cut version.

Conductor/composer John Debney is well known for his expertise with comedies and family films. He wrote The Passion's dramatic film score.

John Debney: I’ve done mainly comedies, and I love doing comedies. I love making people laugh.

Scott Ross: Just rattle off a few.

John: Liar, Liar, Bruce Almighty, The Scorpion King, The Princess Diaries -- some of my favorites but my prayer has always been to do a very dramatic piece. I would love to do more dramas. I used to sort of laugh with the Almighty, that the joke was on me. Not only did I get a dramatic film, but I got “the” most dramatic film of all time -- the most dramatic story of all time. So I think that there’s a great sense of humor at work here.

Scott (reporting): Debney’s task of creating music for the often visceral images of the film seemed impossible. Gibson demanded a compelling score without what he referred to as epic sounding “God music.” Liz Beth Scott, the film’s melodic vocalist, collaborated with Debney to achieve Gibson’s vision.

Scott: Did Mel just cut you loose or did he stay close to you on it?

John: We worked very closely actually. It’s very interesting the way he works. He would leave me alone to let me sort of stew about things. Just when I didn’t know really up from down, right from left, he would come in and guide me. This is the way it would work. I would write some pieces of music, and he would go away for a couple of days. I would present the music to him, and then he would give me his likes and dislikes. It was a wonderful process with him because there were some very difficult days, and then there would be days of bliss and sublime happiness. First time I ever played for him -- I’ll never forget – [it] was a piece of music that accompanies Mary when she’s having the flashback of Jesus falling down –

Scott: ... As a child.

John: [It was] very poignant for me, and I think for most viewers First time he heard that piece of music he cried. We all started crying. Those are the kinds of days. There were high highs, low lows. But we were all in this thing to create the very best we could.

I believe that music has to almost take you away from what you’re seeing. Mel made this very clear to me. This is one of the brilliant things that he imparted to me, that there were times in the film where we, as an audience, don’t even know if we can go on, if we can watch. Mel was so right when he would then have the music pull us away a bit or pull us into a different world.

Scott (reporting): Debney’s own artistic journey with the music of The Passion was born out of a crisis of faith. Two years prior to being selected for the project he was at a spiritual crossroads after the death of his mother.

John: It was a very difficult time. You reach a certain age, and we all experience loss. I’m an only child. I lost my dad years ago, and it was very fast, thank God. It was a quick passing. My mom was the opposite. She was a very difficult passing. This was a great challenge. I was the only one that could make certain decisions. It was very, very difficult for me. And through that process, I started to try to find out what faith was. What is faith? We can’t answer all the questions and when you come to that point, that’s where faith comes in. So I went on that quest. What I discovered through a lot of reading, a lot of prayer, and a lot of searching was that there comes a point where you just have to decide. What I decided was to believe.

Scott (reporting): The music of The Passion became the intense culmination of this composer’s peace with Christ. John's painful loss gave him the artistic inspiration needed to musically convey the relationship between a mother and a son.

John: This was so personal to me. I didn’t have to be a Christian, but I happened to be one. Because I am, it was very important for me to express my devotion, my own personal feeling.

Scott: Are you surprised at the success of the soundtrack?

John: Yes… I’m so blessed. I wasn’t terribly surprised about the film because I think a lot of us hoped and prayed that it would have the impact. We all knew how powerful and how brilliant this film was. Our leap of faith was that we hoped that the world would feel and they did. They did embrace this film. The music to this film might enable me to affect people in a good way. Mel has given me that opportunity. So I’m hoping that goes on, and I think it will.

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