Reel Music: James Horner & James Cameron

Film score composer James Horner has had some of his greatest successes working with director James Cameron, but it was not always a happy union. The two got off to a bad start in 1986 working on Aliens. With just six weeks to the movie’s release date, there was still no final edit of the film, and therefore, nothing for Horner to score, since, in the movies, timing and cues are everything, and the music has to match. Aliens

By the time James Horner was able to get to work, time was so short he had to record the film’s score in just four days. But the result was perhaps proof that sometimes the pressure of a deadline is good for the creative spirit because James Horner picked up his first Academy Award nomination for Aliens.

After the film was finished, tensions between the director and composer were so high, that Horner assumed he and Cameron would never work together again. And for ten years, they didn’t. Then, in 1995, James Cameron heard the score Horner wrote for Mel Gibson’s epic, Braveheart, and realized Horner was perfect for his own epic, Titanic.

On set, much of the cast and crew got a dose of what Horner had endured on Aliens. Director Cameron was known for his explosive temper and screaming rants. Actress Kate Winslet said, “There were times when I was genuinely frightened of him.” When the film was running long and well over budget, studio execs suggested a full hour of specific cuts, to which Cameron responded, “You want to cut my movie? You’re going to have to fire me! You want to fire me? You’re going to have to kill me!”

Composer James Horner, having learned from his experience on Aliens, waited until James Cameron was in an acceptable mood to present him with the now-classic song, “My Heart Will Go On.” Director Cameron wanted no songs in the film, particularly at the end, which he felt might be perceived as “going commercial.” After hearing the song several times, however, Cameron consented, and the rest is history. The song and the score won James Horner his first—and so far, only—Oscars.

Enjoy a tribute to James Horner on the next Reel Music, Friday, August 29, at 9pm, on 89.9 and And to hear music from Aliens and other classic films, listen to this recent concert by the Brevard Sinfonia: