The Band co-founder, who died in August at 80, had a vision he wanted to achieve but was “terrified of delivering something ordinary,” explained orchestrator-conductor Mark Graham during a panel for Martin Scorsese’s epic at Deadline’s Sound and Screen: Film awards-season concert event.
“Marty does not want any movie music, so that’s why Robbie would always say, ‘It can’t be movie music,’” added Jared Levine, Robertson’s former manager. “Marty doesn’t want it to comment on what he’s doing. It has to somehow fit and illuminate something in his film without it being used as a tool to make you feel something or think something is going to happen. It has to play a different role than what is usual. I had to talk Robbie into it, make him believe that if Marty wants you to do this, what you do is what he needs.”
Written for the screen by Eric Roth and Scorsese, Killers of the Flower Moon is based on David Grann’s bestselling book. Set in 1920s Oklahoma, it depicts the serial murder of members of the oil-wealthy Osage Nation, a string of brutal crimes that came to be known as the Reign of Terror. Leonardo DiCaprio, Lily Gladstone and Robert De Niro star.
Robertson already had scored many of Scorsese films including The Irishman, The Wolf of Wall Street, Gangs of New York, Casino, The King of Comedy and Raging Bull. But he had a special connection to Flower Moon; his mother’s family is Mohawk, a member of the Six Nations. Some of Robertson’s solo albums reference and/or incorporate indigenous music.
To prepare for Killers, Robertson traveled to Oklahoma to meet with Osage people to “really get into the culture, to make sure we were honoring it,” Levine recalled.
“Usually there isn’t that much score in movies that Robbie does,” he added. “He does a lot of music, prerecorded, so this was a much bigger task.”
Speaking of bigger tasks, he found himself having to convince Scorsese that maybe he didn’t need that much harmonica in his movie. “He was using quite a lot,” Levine said. “I said to Robbie, ‘He likes it, we should do more.’ And Robbie said, ‘Let’s not give him any more.’”
Check back Monday for the panel video.