We Create Music Blog
February 14, 2014

Film Music Friday: Pedro Bromfman on RoboCop

Pedro Bromfman

Pedro Bromfman

Reviving RoboCop would seem like a herculean task, especially given that it’s been 20 years since we’ve seen this cyborg peacekeeper on the big screen. But Brazilian director José Padilha and his go-to composer, Pedro Bromfman, know plenty about high-stakes filmmaking. Especially after collaborating on the acclaimed Elite Squad: The Enemy Within, the most successful film in Brazilian film history. Bromfman spoke to us about his thrilling score to the RoboCop reboot.

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Did the original RoboCop make its way to Rio de Janeiro when you were growing up?

Yes of course! I was about 11 years old so I didn't see it in theaters but I vividly remember watching it a few years later on VHS. I saw it as a teenager and I don't think I went back and watched it again until the beginning of 2013. The film is a great piece of social and political criticism and I am very glad we were able to re-invent RoboCop while being faithful to that aspect of the film. We didn't "dumb it down." On the other hand, this is a very politically engaged and current film, while also being a kick-ass action movie.

You previously collaborated with director José Padilha on the two tremendously successful Elite Squad films. How did working on those prepare you for RoboCop?

The previous experiences were invaluable in shaping our working relationship. I am glad that, by the time we got to work together on a project of this magnitude, we had two films together under our belts and understood each other's creative sensibilities pretty well. With José, I'm involved very early on in the process, in this case from the time they were writing the script. In my opinion, that is an amazing asset for a composer. It certainly turns out to be a lot more work for a composer – sometimes I'll write enough music to score three films, but you understand the characters and what the picture needs in a much deeper way. Not only that, you don't need to fight temp scores all the way through the process. 

Was a big-budget film like this more or less stressful than your previous feature film projects? Were there more people to please, more cues to re-score, etc.?

To tell you the truth, the process was surprisingly smooth. It was very stressful at times – since José and I have a particular way of collaborating, I had 60% of the film scored and had no idea whether the studio was on board or liked what I was doing. I would talk to José and he'd insist that I keep going while the studio would advise me to wait until I received feedback. Every day I would wake up and go into the studio without knowing exactly where I stood. However, I knew my director was very happy, and that kept me excited and moving forward. In the end everyone was happy, and all the horrible stories I kept hearing from colleagues fortunately never materialized. My main job as a composer is to follow my director's vision, and you're truly lucky when you get to work with one who has it so clear and is truly inspirational!

This score could’ve gone so many different directions - heavy metal, industrial, even Motown since it’s set in Detroit. How did you figure out the instrumental palette you wanted?

I think it's a little bit of all of the above, except Motown maybe. I wish I had talked to you before starting to work on the film and maybe that would've been in there! No seriously, we did give this a lot of thought and, even though I was involved from the time they were writing the script, I didn't really start composing any music until the movie was shot. Most of the initial work had to do with finding sounds, thinking about the instrumentation, character themes, palette of colors, etc.

This is RoboCop, so it makes sense that you’d want a combination of organic and synthetic music. Was it difficult to get the balance just perfect?

I like to start my scores with conceptual ideas. “Half man, half machine,” for example, led me into mixing electronic and organic instruments, metallic sounds with warmer elements, live percussion with robotic pulses and synthesized beats, etc. It took us some time to figure it out and it was a process of trial and error. Not only the balance of electronics and live instruments in the film, but how that balance would be tweaked within the film to differentiate the worlds we see on screen.

When we're with the robots and you see the ED208s and 209s in action, we have a more industrial type of music, with a lot of processed instruments and metallic percussion. With OmniCorp, we have a more "precise" theme, with robotic pulses and rhythmic elements playing along the string section. When we're with Murphy's family we have a much softer side, a piano-driven piece with orchestral strings with which we also mixed mechanical sounds and other electronic "inferences," representing how difficult it is for RoboCop to connect with his family after the transformation. Finally, in the big action sequences, we have intense orchestral action, percussion and all sorts of processed instruments: guitars, synths, etc. 

Did you typically work out the string parts first, then wrap the programming around it? Or was it all conceived at the same time?

It varied from cue to cue, theme to theme. In the beginning I always started with the orchestral parts and wrapped the programming around it. As we started to have a palette of the electronic sounds we were using in RoboCop, sometimes we'd start with the original loops and sounds created specifically for the film.

On the programming side of things, I worked with a good friend and very talented programmer, Sebastian Arocha Morton, a fellow ASCAP member. it was a very interesting and rewarding process. I also love to experiment with sounds, recording an instrument, sometimes the entire orchestra, and processing the captured sound (running it through plug-ins and different gadgets) until it is barely recognizable. Also, ethnic and rare percussive instruments are always big parts of my scores. I use them as sound effects and, in the case of RoboCop, mixed in with orchestral percussion for a big rhythmic, propulsive sound.

Where was your commercial and video game background the most helpful in composing this score?

I think every experience I've had in my career somehow shaped the composer and musician I am today. Commercials have a very quick turnaround and certainly taught me to be quick and stick with my first instincts. Video games need an immense amount of music. They teach you discipline and how to take a score one step at a time. I was a session musician and music producer before going into films, and those were also invaluable experiences for me.

I get to wear the music producer hat quite often in my films. On RoboCop, we had to re-record the Wizard of Oz piece "If I Only Had a Heart," with full orchestra and a singer. We wanted to create almost a sound-alike of the original. It was great!

How has being an ASCAP member impacted your career? 

ASCAP and the great people working there have always been an amazing source for information and advice. They are ready and able to connect you with fellow music professionals, as well as directors and producers. I've been with ASCAP since I first moved to the US, 12 years ago. I'm happy to consider myself a part of the family.

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RoboCop was released in theaters and IMAX on February 12th, 2014. Find out more online at www.robocop-movie.net.

Visit Pedro Bromfman online at www.pedrobromfman.com.