It's a little known fact that one of my songs soundtracks one of the biggest movies of all time. "Accidents Will Happen" is used in ET and fair enough, you could blink and miss it, but one of the characters sings it for about eight seconds when opening the fridge door. Whenever you give clearance for one of your songs to be used in a film, you are taking a big risk. When we agreed to the use of "Accidents Will Happen" — for what, I might add, was a nominal fee — we didn't know how it was going to be used, it could have been a seal tap dancing across the screen for all we knew.
With Short Cuts, for which I was asked to write a song, the situation was very different. I was approached by Hal Willner, the film's music producer, and given an outline of a character, a nightclub singer, and asked to write a song for her. As a songwriter you really welcome this information because it makes your contribution more personal, more like the normal songwriting process, rather than writing into a vacuum which is often the case with film music.
The technique of composing music for film is something for which I had no preparation and so I learnt as I went along. When I worked on The Courier [1987 Irish thriller starring Gabriel Byrne and Costello's wife Cait O'Riordan] I was working 'blind' and my approach was simply to record what I hoped would be enough music to be used in all the situations. I immediately learnt a harsh lesson, which was that just one frame either way is crucial for the stress and meaning of the music. As a result, the music in the film was flawed, but it was a good lesson to learn.
I've been involved in some fairly disastrous things, Party Party springs to mind as among the worst. Another was Americathon, a comedy supposedly in which I performed a song as the character Earl Manchester. My problem has been signing up for a project on the strength of a name director only to find out that they're producing the film, or hearing of somebody I really admire being involved, and for them to later drop out. It's a minefield.
What's made it a lot easier recently is being able to write music. At the time I was doing GBH with Richard Harvey (Alan Bleasdale saga starring Robert Lindsay which won a BAFTA award for Best Original Music) it was like an assembly line, and it needed both of us working flat out. I was playing and he was orchestrating, frantically trying to keep up with each new episode. Now that I can write music and have started to do my own orchestration, life's a little easier.
I've got many influences and heroes when it comes to film music, but the number one would have to be the Italian composer Nino Rota, who did all the classic scores for Fellini's films like La Strada and La Dolce Vita and then went on to work with Coppola on The Godfather. As for really good use of music in film, I would say "We'll Meet Again" at the end of Dr Strangelove, and Stravinskv's "Rite Of Spring" in Fantasia is pretty breathtaking too.