composer-matthew-margeson-goes-retro-to-score-eddie-the-eagle
Hugh Jackman and Taron Egerton in Eddie the Eagle

Composer Matthew Margeson Goes Retro to Score ‘Eddie the Eagle’

The composer for the new underdog sports movie reveals how he turned back the clock to fit his score within the neon-tinted confines of the film's time period.

Every great sports movie has that moment: you know, the one that gets the audience up on their feet, hearts are racing, eyes are glued, goosebumps are forming — the works. And, more often than not, a great sports movie moment rests its head on a piece of iconic music.

Rocky was “flying high now” as he ran up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and hoisted his fist into the air to the music of Bill Conti. Chariots of Fire protagonist and Olympian Eric Liddell ran on the beach of St. Andrews, Scotland, to Vangelis. Notre Dame defensive end Rudy Ruettiger sacked the quarterback and was hoisted into the air by his Fighting Irish teammates to the tune of Jerry Goldsmith (and, of course, countless chants of “Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!”).

Now, unlikely Olympics star Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards puts on his skis and plunges down the 90M ramp into sports history to the music of up-and-coming composer Matthew Margeson. Margeson’s score backs actor-turned-director Dexter Fletcher’s Eddie the Eagle, the tale of the underdog Edwards, who defied his medical history, his country’s Olympic committee and consensus expectations to become an Olympic athlete in ski jumping.

Margeson has primarily worked as an assistant composer in his career, with additional music credits on titles such as X-Men: First Class, Captain Phillips, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Wreck-It Ralph. He’s also done standalone compositions, with scores for films like Skyline and Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse under his belt.

He first heard the calling of composing as a young man, taking in musical theater. A production of The Phantom of the Opera made him recognize that, not only was there excitement on the stage, but also in the orchestra pit. He cites music greats such as Ennio Morricone, John Williams, Alan Silvestri, James Horner and Hans Zimmer as some of his influences. He also mentioned Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Oscar-winning score for The Theory of Everything and Clint Mansell’s score for Requiem for a Dream as individual pieces that have meant a lot to him.

A frequent collaborator of composer Henry Jackman, Margeson met filmmaker Matthew Vaughn through Jackman, and Margeson’s and Vaughn’s work together led Margeson to take the job of composing Eddie the Eagle, a film Vaughn produces.

Eddie the Eagles primarily takes place in the ’80s, and the film’s score takes distinct notes from the time period. It’s a synth-heavy composition, buffeted by tender piano riffs and, towards the end, glam-ready guitar riffs and drum beats.

To Margeson, taking on the project provided a unique opportunity: “I had read the script in the meantime and absolutely fell in love with the script, and because of the setting and just kind of the nature of that beast — it being kind of an ’80s sports movie, Matthew and I had talked about committing to doing this retro ’80s score,” Margeson said. “Once that component entered into the conversation, I was in 110%. I don’t think I’m ever going to have a chance to do something like that again.”

To get the right synthesizers for the time-specific score, Margeson researched the music from the era, which led him to play the part of treasure hunter and rummage around eBay and Craigslist to find the right pieces.

“I lucked out because not a lot of people are using those specific synthesizers anymore, so I was able to go to people’s old studio musician’s garages, and they just had these things collecting dust, and I was able to unload them off their hands for a couple hundred dollars here and there,” Margeson said. “It was a real joy being able to take some of those synths and relearn them from when I was using them when I was 12, 13 years old, and use some of those in the score, and not be bashful about using them.”

Composer Matthew Margeson

Writing an era-appropriate score also allows for a little more freedom in terms of not following along with present-day trends, Margeson notes. Whereas it might be a little odd to hear someone playing a whimsical synth riff over a major post-modern action sequence, it’s absolutely acceptable when scoring a chipper sports underdog story set against the backdrop of boom boxes, neon sweaters and New Coke. “Idiomatically, in telling those types of stories, you can be a little bit more fearless compositionally,” Margeson said.

“There’s this trend now, especially with action movies, where there’s kind of always a pulse: there’s always this driving rhythm and these big drums and string ostinatos and synth ostinatos that will take you through scenes and not necessarily hit every single cut, and it’s a great technique that people have been using ever since the Christopher Nolan The Dark Knight era, but in the ’80s, I think you can be a little bit more on-the-nose with things.”

The synth-heavy compositions also fit as snug as a comfortable pair of acid wash jeans onto the film’s narrative ambitions. Margeson was able to use the era’s music to fit the story beats. The film begins following Edwards as a child , hampered by a slight disability and a long, long way to a room in the Olympic Village, the young boy works hard to train himself to by an Olympian. Margeson tried to fit his music in with the tenderness of the moments.

“In those scenes, there’s a very innocent nature about him and about the film,” Margeson says. Margeson mentioned that in those scenes, he would use the more organic piano and synth sounds, aiming for the feel of a Giorgio Moroder or Vangelis tune.

As Edwards matures into a scrappy young ski jumper trying to make his mark on a sport that wants nothing of him, the score changes, too. The heavier music fits right in with the film’s more bombastic last act.

“By the end of the film in the last queue, there’s barely any synth anymore — but now, you’re almost listening to a rock band, so you can draw I guess a couple of different analogies,” Margeson notes. The composer notes the maturing aesthetic of the film — something that applies to both the hero and the music that backs him.

“By the end of the film, we have distorted guitar playing the tune while in the very beginning of the movie, you were having a synthesized electric piano playing it. So, I think you ride along with Eddie on his journey musically-speaking as well.”

No sports movie is complete without a montage, and Eddie the Eagle has no shortage of inspiring sports sequencing. For a sports montage to work, the music has to be a prevalent presence over the scenes of frantic training. For Margeson, nailing down his montage music involved a shift in perspective.

“It’s almost like you want to write a track,” Margeson said. “You want to write a pop tune that can play over a series of events. The whole thing is a storytelling point; you don’t necessarily want to look at individual shots or individual moments within the montage. It’s almost like if you could ignore the picture and write a piece of music that works for the whole thing rather than stopping here or changing key here or putting in a drum fill here.

“It’s more of kind of looking at the whole thing as a whole and seeing if it fulfills its purpose both visually and orally and if they work together,” he continues. “Pace is so important like that: just the tempo that you’re at if that’s matching the tempo of the picture, to speak technically.”

Eddie the Eagle marks the fourth collaboration between Margeson and Vaughn. “I really love the fact he is so fearless in his filmmaking,” Margeson said of the director. He credits the filmmaker as someone who’s pushed him to be the best he can be, though grey hairs may accompany any great achievements.

“Matthew will be the first person probably to admit that he’s taken a couple of years off the end of my life,” Vaughn said. “It’s always for the better. The thing I love about Matthew is that you know when he loves something and you know when he doesn’t. I’ve played pieces of music for him where he says ‘don’t change a note, it’s great, I don’t want you to change a thing about it,’ and it’s very cut-and-dry.”

Margeson noted what happens when Vaughn sends him back to the drawing board — something that happened with one of the film’s vital pieces — the music that accompanies the film’s climactic jump. “The big 90-meter jump at the end of Eddie the Eagle — I think I probably wrote about 10 to 12 versions of that piece of music because [for] the first couple, [Vaughn] was like, between him and Dexter, it was like ‘Look, we love the score, this piece is not right yet, it’s not as good as the rest of it, so we’re going to push you to really nail it.’

“While that can be a bit stressful going through it,” Margeson continues, “especially if it’s an orchestral score, you’re on version 13, and you have 60 people with musical instruments in four days sitting in front of you ready to record the thing, and you have to rewrite a six-minute piece of music, it can be very stressful. But at the end of the day, the product always turns out better, and the bottom line is that these filmmakers have a vision for what they want it to be, and you’re there to kind of make that happen.”

But, just like Eddie, when you work hard at something, good things can pay off. Margeson recalled going to the U.K. premiere of the film and being in the theater, watching the audience experience the film he helped make. One of the shots in the film, one where Eddie was staring down from the perch of the top of the mountain, was one where he saw the visuals and music merge together.

“You can feel the tension in the room,” Margeson said. “You can see people gasping and siting on the edge of their seat, waiting to see what’s going to happen, so it’s nice to be able to have that Machiavellian power to influence people that much.”

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