Simon Franglen: Avatar: The Way of Water composer [Video Interview]

“First of all, I’m astonished,” Simon Franglen reveals about the mega-success of Disney’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” at the box office and with awards groups, where it’s one of the 15 films on the Oscar shortlist for Best Score. The composer and co-writer of “Nothing is Lost (You Give Me Strength)” adds, “I’ve been working on this for five years, so there’s a sense of relief as well. There were 3,800 people working on this film. For my team, I had a 105-piece orchestra, which we recorded in Los Angeles. There’s three hours of finished score in this film and close to five hours that I actually finished because of editing and revisions. I’m so just relieved that people are liking the film. It’s hugely satisfying. I’m astonished by the millions of people that are listening to the soundtrack — it really just flabbergasts me.”

We talked with Franglen as a part of Gold Derby’s Film Composers Oscar Shortlist Panel Q&A event. Watch our exclusive video interview above.

Franglen has been a part of the “Avatar” world for 14 years now, being in the music department of the original 2009 film under composer James Horner, and then scoring the Disney World Pandora attraction, and now of course “The Way of Water” and the upcoming sequels. Is there anything he wishes he would have known a decade-and-a-half ago that he knows now? “The depth to which we go” is one of the things he didn’t truly appreciate at the time, he readily admits. “The attention to detail is what makes this a part of the journey.”

“I have already written 10 hours of music for the various different parts of ‘Avatar,’ and there’s obviously more. It looks like we are not fired yet,” the musician jokes. To date, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is the second highest-grossing 2022 movie at the domestic box office (behind only “Top Gun: Maverick”), and it’s getting closer and closer to reaching the $2 billion mark worldwide.

Franglen read all four “Avatar” sequel scripts in December 2017. He recalls director James Cameron telling him, “You need to know the destination to understand the journey, to understand where you start.” Franglen explains, “The first thing I had to write was the song chord for Neytiri [played by Zoe Saldaña], and that in some ways is the main theme for this film, because it is that idea of family. Jim said to me that he wanted a slightly more thematic film than ‘Avatar 1,’ although there are some phenomenal themes and I brought some of those elements from James Horner, not only to honor James [who passed away in 2015], but because it’s a series.”

After writing Neytiri’s music cues, he went about creating the “connection between the Metkayina and the sea,” and then the relationship between Payakan and Lo’ak, which he likens to “a boy and his Labrador, although the Labrador may be 300 tons.” He also wanted a theme that evoked a sound of “mermaids calling as those kids jump into the water … and so those are the sort of things that we talked about thematically — how do you connect?”

Also in our exclusive video interview, Franglen gives a one-word tease for “Avatar 3” (“ash”), he discusses the major differences between the water tribe and the forest tribe, and he opens up about collaborating with The Weeknd on “Nothing Is Lost (You Give Me Strength),” which made it onto the Oscar shortlist for Best Song.