A Passion for Music,
A Battle with Satan
By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST
BEVERLY HILLS, CA (ANS) -- John Debney is used to writing movie scores for
comedies like Liar, Liar and Bruce Almighty, but he admits that
composing the score for Mel Gibson's powerful movie, The Passion of the
Christ, was the most difficult assignment of his life.
For it turned out to be a battle between good and evil that he had never
experienced before in some 20 years in Hollywood.
don't think I will ever be given the opportunity to write again for a movie
as powerful as this one," he said during a recent media interview in
Beverly Hills, California. "I was stretched every which way but loose.
I was stretched by Mel Gibson. I was stretched by the Guy Upstairs and also
I was stretched by the guy downstairs. What it did was completely strengthen
my faith and I have realized something very interesting. I had never before
subscribed to the idea that maybe Satan is a real person, but I can attest
that he was in my room a lot and I know that he hit everyone on this production."
Debney said that the battle he felt with Satan as he wrote the music became
"really personal between us." He went on to say, "I had all
these computers and synthesizers in my studio and the hard drives would go
down and the digital picture that lives on the computer with the music would
just freeze on his [Satan's] face. Then the volume would go to ten and it
would happen all the time.
"The first time it happened, it scared me. Once I got over the initial
shock of that, I learned to work around it and learned to reboot the computers
and so I would start talking to him.
"There was one day when I had been on the movie for about four months
when it really became bad that day and a lot of things that were causing doubt
in me and I had had enough. The computers froze for about the tenth time that
day and it was about nine o'clock at night and so I got really mad and I told
Satan to manifest himself and I said, 'Let's go out into the parking lot and
let's go.' It was a seed change in me. I knew that this was war. I am not
a physical person, but I was really angry on this occasion.
"I am up on the second floor and on the bottom floor of my building
there are therapists and they see patients until midnight and their windows
are right at the parking lot and I was coming down the stairs and I had had
it. I had booted everything down and saved it and I was walking down the stairs
and I was verbalizing and saying to Satan, 'Manifest yourself right now.'
As I am walking out and saying, 'Come on, let's go now,' I looked over and
I could see someone looking at me and I realized how silly I must have looked."
He didn't manifest himself, but I wished he would have. It changed for me
How He First Got Involved
John Debney explained that he was first brought into the movie by Stephen
McEveety, a producer on the movie.
"The way God works is very mysterious," he said. "This gentleman
is a life-long friend who happens to work for Mel Gibson and Icon and he and
I grew up on the same street together in Glendale, California."
This resulted in Debney writing some special music for the movie and Gibson
then came over to his office to listen to it. The next thing he knew, he was
hired to write the score.
"If you were to draw up a list of composers who would have been perfect
for this movie, I don't think I would be on it ... It is a complete miracle
that I became involved with the project and every day the thing that got me
through was my faith prayer which was, 'Lord, if you want me to make it to
the finish line, then help me make it to the finish line.'
"That was my journey. I started working with Mel Gibson and I found
him to be incredibly intense," he said. "He's incredibly demanding
but he was also incredibly collaborative."
When I asked him what it was like to watch the horrendous suffering of Christ
day after day, he replied, "It was very difficult and I can describe
the process that I went through. I had to at times divorce myself from the
visuals at times. You can imagine, day in, day out, you are watching this
incredibly powerful journey that Christ went through, it was very difficult
for me and I was able to get past it and realize that it was a movie; that
really wasn't Him there although the movie was very powerful and beautiful
and a wonderful representation of Him, so that kicked in and it was an intellectual
process, although it would obviously still get the best of me from time to
"For instance, I would be working on a certain scene, like when Mary
flashes back to the baby Jesus falling down, and I would see it 20 times,
and then I would see if for the 21st time I would just start to weep because
it is so elusive, the power of this film. That was a way I would get through
it. It was difficult; it was uplifting. I would sit there and try and write
a piece of music on Jesus being hammered to the cross. So there has to be
a little bit of a disconnect. I had to distance myself enough and trust that
He would tell me what to do and everyone on the music say that day in and
day out, it was extremely difficult.
"I would imagine that we all worked as hard as we ever could. We were
all exhausted as we could ever be, but oddest thing was as exhausted and physically
drained that I was, I never got tired. I would be exhausted and yet I would
find myself in my studio at midnight.
"My studio is a lovely room and I have a work station with my keyboard.
I write everything at a keyboard now. Technology has got so far in the last
few years that I sit at the computer and realize the score. And what I mean
by that is that I wrote and I orchestrate at the same time. So that when Mel
Gibson comes and sits in the room, he will hear a piece of music that is fully
orchestrated; it's synthesized orchestrated. He'll hear the obo, and then
the clarinet and the strings, and so literally, I am composing note for note;
instrument for instrument."
"So I have the screen in front of me with the visuals and then I have
the speakers and computer screens that have all my synthesizer information
on it. So my virtual orchestra is in a box and I just pick my instruments.
"What I was trying to do with the music was to write first of all the
best that I could write and try to be true to the period, so I tried to utilize
instruments from the period so there are a lot of ancient instruments in the
music. In the bigger picture, I gave it all up to the Lord and whatever came
out. I didn't have a lot to do with the writing of this music. I have done
a lot of music, but literally things would just come out.
"I was tested. I once said to Mel, 'With every lash that Christ felt,
I was feeling those lashes in my own way.' I was sorely tested.
He then talked about doubt. "What happened with this movie was that
I started to doubt myself," he said. "Mel started to doubt me and
there was a lot of it going around. You can imagine how important this film
was to Mel and God bless him for having the courage to do it. But during my
working with him musically, he would say things to me like, "It's really
good, but I want it to be great."
For those who have seen the movie, we can all say that despite all of the
spiritual battles that he went through, God used John Debney in a powerful
way to bring home the visuals in an incredible way. His passion for the movie
really paid off.
For more information on John Debney, go to www.johndebney.com
More from The Passion of The Christ special
feature on CBN.com
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