In the process of finishing the score to WHITE DOG for director Samuel Fuller, the composer had done very little work at the time in America and was not particularly happy about the experience. He initially turned us down, flattered, but claimed he had begun early work with Sergio Leone on ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA ( Morricone told me though translation that he planned to spend a full year with Leone in pre - production ). We arranged to have the script translated into Italian, and sent it along with a case of wine to his suite at The Chateau Marmont in Hollywood. This gesture, along with a kind word put in on our behalf by director Bernardo Bertolucci ( whom I knew through a previous association ) led him to request a screening and late one evening in early December 1981 Morricone, visibly tired, took a look at THE THING for the first time.
The film was far from complete or coherent - John was still filming in Stewart, so the film lacked most of the exterior scenes as well as amost all of the special effects, save the kennel . Morricone complained about the lack of continuity ( normally we wouldn't have run a film for any composer in this shape, and with the director not present ,but we did not have the luxury of time - we needed to secure his commitment, and were trying to wedge ourselves in to his schedule ) but agreed that if we were to come to him in Rome he would "see what he could do".
This necessitated a two day trip to Italy in early January, 1982 to meet - conversation was done through translators which made things difficult. Matters improved slightly when John sat down at the piano and began tinkering, searching for a way of communicating the feeling of what he was after, with Morricone listening intently. This was the first time John had ceded control of the music to any of his films, and I believe the experience was extremely difficult. It was agreed that due to the shortness of time Morricone would provide the music in a series of thematic suites, with both electronic and orchestral elements present, that we would then later edit to fit - this would simplify things, save time and eliminate the need to conventionally "spot" the film. He would record the electronics in Rome, but come to Los Angeles to score the rest, as was mandated by union contracts at the time. His fee for this was to be Forty Thousand dollars.
On the return trip home John was uneasy and wondered whether he had communicated his thoughts successfully - after all, there had been only one meeting between the two men, and there would be no more face - to - face conversation until the session in Los Angeles. The language barrier was a big problem - were there others, generational, cultural? Above all, would this work ?
Doubts were definitively dispelled two months later when Morricone opened up his tattered valise and removed a reel of two inch tape containing the now-emblematic "heartbeat " theme. As we heard this for the first time in the recording booth at Universal I looked over at John, whose expression was initially one of relief, followed by something close to wonder... it seemed that Morricone had understood John perfectly. At the orchestral recording session the next day, I remember John coming in late and shyly taking a seat in the back, an observer for the first time as Morricone recorded the rest of the music for his movie. Having been recorded in large brushstrokes of sound, there was still the need for more specific transition and suspense cues which John, along with his partner, Alan Howarth, then supplied.
Morricone was not pleased with the music mix at Universal, by the way - we took the masters to our dubbing stage at Goldwyn sound and mixed them directly into the film. As was the custom at the time, the Universal mix was used for the lp and cassette release, so there are large differences in tone and balance between the three formats. SUPERSTITION was only purchased by Universal for the initial theatrical run of the film - early tape, laser disc, and cable versions feature ONE CHAIN DON'T MAKE NO PRISON, a track the studio already owned...
One last musical note - we returned from Rome in time to attend THE THING wrap party, held at the Roxy on Sunset Blvd. The band asked to play that night was the legendary Flamin' Groovies...