Interview with ‘Waterman’ Composer Tim Jones

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Waterman, a documentary about surfing narrated by Jason Mamoa, follows Duke Kahanamoku a surfer and world-record-setting Olympic swimmer. Tim Jones main focus is storytelling through the compositions he writes for the projects he works on, Waterman is no different. Read on to learn more about Tim’s work on Waterman, his past work on projects like Thor Ragnarok and Chuck, and his upcoming projects.

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Hi Tim! How have you been?

I’ve been really well!  Everyone is healthy and we made some changes to my home and business during Covid-19. I built a studio next to my home and it has been really nice to be here with the family.

What is it like working with a collaborator as successful as Isaac Halasima? Tell us more about your working relationship and short hand with them.

Isaac was wonderful to work with. He has an amazing eye for visuals and a really honed sense of story; his videos for Imagine Dragons are just an example. Isaac is also a student of film and especially film scores.  We could (and did) spend hours talking about films and music.  I was so lucky to  work with a director who is such a friend to music. He truly encouraged me to dig into the core of the story and try some things.

You brought a unique approach to Waterman. Can you take us behind one or two of your favorite scenes? Tell us more about your process and how you decide the right way to approach it.

I have to give you a little backstory for the scene I’m talking about.  ’Waterman’ is the story of Duke Kahanamoku, who was an American Olympian and the father of modern surfing.  In 1925, in Newport Beach, Duke ran into the water with his surfboard.  He paddled out into 20 foot waves and rescued 8 men from a capsized ship.  This was likely the first time anyone had used a board this way. He did it by putting two men at a time on his board and going out multiple times into the massive storm.  Once he had gotten all those alive, he went back out for I think another 7 who had perished and brought them in too.  By any definition, this was a superhuman feat.  Isaac shot this scene in a way that made it feel like a giant feature.  He told me that Duke needed to feel like Superman, because he was!  I scored the scene with powerful brass and drums that propelled him paddling through the waves.  It was really inspiring to try to make that moment riveting for an audience almost 100 years after it happened.

Let’s talk about Waterman‘s selection for both the Maui International Film Festival and the Hawaii International Film Festival (congrats!) – how did it feel to get this recognition?

It felt so good!  I actually knew nothing about Duke when I started this project.  As I learned about him, and wrote more music for him, I was hooked. He was such a gentle soul in a body that was made to do incredible things both in competition and in real life.  He is a really inspiring figure. He was someone who encountered a lot of setbacks in life and just kept getting back up.  Duke was the fastest swimmer in the world for quite awhile, and was a huge figure during his time.  People from Hawaii know much more about Duke, and I hope that the world will as well after this film. I wish he was still around so I could meet him!

Did you approach scoring characters in Waterman in a specific way at all?

It was really about Duke for the most part.  I used a live piano for some of the smaller moments with Duke, which felt honest and stripped down.  We also had a string section that helped bring the strings to life and give them the vibrancy Duke embodied. I just tried to make sure that the music was tracking Duke’s humility, as he wasn’t someone who ever bragged about what he did. Ever.  I wanted the score to be restrained where it needed to be.  However, at moments when he was doing amazing things, I really opened up the music and let Duke soar.  It was so much fun to give him that.  He was never able to be a leading man because of the color of his skin and the time he lived.  That was one of the first things Isaac said to me, ‘We’re going to give Duke the Hollywood leading role he never had in life’.  Sign me up, I said. Haha. 

What were some of the other challenges you encountered with Waterman? How did you overcome them?

Well, I’ve been talking about how the music got expansive at times. There were moments when I wanted to keep it expansive, but couldn’t because of the dialogue. It’s absolutely my job to bob and weave around the speaking, but more than once I found myself thinking, ‘What if all this pesky dialogue wasn’t here?’.  Haha.  Seriously though, Isaac did a great job of balancing the information you need to take in, with these immersive (literally) scenes of Duke doing his thing.

What are some of your other favorite past projects?

Doing ‘Chuck’ on NBC was a wonderful project.  That show ran for five seasons. I also wrote music for ‘Thor: Ragnarok’. That was really fun.

What else is happening next in your world?

I have a film coming out in 2022 called ‘Hide and Seek’.  It’s a thriller directed by Joel David Moore; I’m really excited for people to see it.  It’s about people living in your walls and has a super creepy tone.  It’s pretty much the opposite of ‘Waterman’.  I’m planning on travelling to Hawaii for the premieres and I cannot wait to soak up some ‘Aloha’ and bring it back to L.A.!

Thanks!

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