Composer Alan Silvestri on Going Big in Avengers: Endgame

There’s hardly a movie-goer alive who hasn’t heard at least something of Alan Silvestri’s body of work. The composer started making music in Hollywood in the early 1970s, he’s scored all 17 of Robert Zemicki’s films—including the Back to the Future trilogy—and in 2011, he entered the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with Captain America: The First Avenger. The following year, he scored The Avengers, and strains of that theme music can be heard in his newer work in the back-to-back epics capping off this superhero saga, Infinity War and Endgame.

To get inspired for the three-hour Endgame epic, Silvestri spent time on set before creating a new set of anthems to aurally define the story’s most pivotal moments, while bringing a myriad of characters together under one often thunderous musical umbrella. With every superhero from the MCU going up against Thanos, a Brobdingnagian villain hellbent on preventing the return of half of life in the universe that he wiped out Infinity War, this was no small task. Whether grand and poignant (“Portals”), foreboding (“Becoming Whole Again”), or surprisingly jazzy (“The How Works”), Silvestri’s score epitomizes the sound of the modern-day superhero epic.

He spoke with us about gleaning energy from the on-set experience, what directors Joe and Anthony Russo were going for from the beginning, and how he approached the movie’s most climactic scenes, whether on a renewed battlefield or in the quantum realm.

Going into Infinity War and Endgame, what were the Russos looking for in terms of music?

When I started with Joe and Anthony on Infinity War, it was the first time we had met. It was just amazing how clear their vision was of what the score needed to be. They knew they wanted something thematically driven. They knew they wanted something orchestral. And they knew right from the very beginning that when called for, they were looking for epic proportions, and certainly they achieve that visually in their films. So, they were using words like operatic and epic, right from the beginning. And it was very helpful that they were so clear about the tonal direction of the score.

Can you describe how the on-set experience inspires you?

It’s wonderful to be invited and to have a chance to be in the energy field of the making of the film. It’s a wonderful chance for a composer and a director, or in this case, directors, to kind of energize each other. They’re in the heat of battle at that point, and I’m a visitor, but there’s a chance for them to show me what they’re doing, show me some film, show me sets, be there for some of the shooting, and really get a bit of the flavor of that movie-making process that they’re in the middle of. It’s very energizing and inspiring for a composer to be around that process that directly.

What kind of audience experience were you hoping to elicit, when they heard the different theme songs throughout Endgame?

We had a couple of directions we could have gone in. Theoretically, one direction would have been to do a lot of different thematic material for all of these characters. And certainly Infinity War had a lot of characters, but Endgame even more so. The other possibility was to have the music be more unifying and to have an influence in the film that would help tie all of these characters together, rather than separate them. And again, Joe and Anthony were very clear about that direction. So, Thanos was such a significant influence in Infinity War, and remained so in Endgame, that we felt very comfortable with Thanos being our bad man, having his own thematic sensibilities. And then we also had our original Avengers thematic material from the original Avengers film. So even though we had all of these characters, they really were Avengers. Hopefully, we found a good balance between all of these different tonal moments in the film, while still keeping it unifying.

How did you approach Portals, the music to one of the most defining moments of the movie, in a film full of defining moments?

That was a moment in the film that the filmmakers recognized as being a pivotal scene. They knew that they had brought the Avengers to their knees and all was lost. And they knew that they were about to bring in, one by one, the entire Marvel cinematic universe to gather and rally behind Cap. So we tried a number of different approaches to that. We tried some approaches where we were more specific with the arrival of these amazing characters. We wound up doing something that was, I would say, anthemic, and it kind of represented the fact that the team, the entire universe was gathering behind Cap. It was designed to build and build and build, but it played over this gathering of these characters, rather than separating them out and playing each of those moments as its own event.

The visit to the quantum realm is a scenic and musical departure from a lot of the rest of the film. How did you come up with this part of the score?

Well, Joe and Anthony wanted to have some fun in the film, as always, and they loved this idea of a time heist. And they loved this idea of, this is our Avengers team in a caper, all of a sudden. There’s all this intrigue. So we kind of tipped our hat to caper music, and yet we were still able to use our thematic material from Avengers, and even some things from Captain America floated over—the bongo drums and all this percussion. It was our way of having fun with the caper aspects of the film.

With Infinity War and Endgame made back-to-back, this seemed like an unusually long and involved process for everyone involved. What was it like to say goodbye?

For me, I finished before Joe and Anthony and Jeffrey [Ford, the film’s editor along with Matthew Schmidt] and pretty much everyone else, but it was an amazing amount of work for everyone who worked on this film, just from the physical point of view. There was certainly a sense of relief when the last note had been recorded. I think it was bittersweet. And Endgame, in its narrative, was a bittersweet film. It was about the transitioning of loved ones. It was about 11 years and 23 films coming to a sense of closure, a page turn, a new chapter. There’s going to be a bittersweet sense to that. It’s a sense of looking forward to the future, but having to say goodbye to something.

For Avengers: Endgame coverage, check out our interviews with costume designer Judianna Makovsky, or click here for our massive trove of stories.

Featured image: Marvel Studios’ AVENGERS: ENDGAME. Thanos (Josh Brolin). Photo: Film Frame  ©Marvel Studios 2019


Susannah Edelbaum

Susannah Edelbaum's work has appeared on NPR Berlin, Fast Company, Motherboard, and the Cut, among others. She lives in Berlin, Germany.