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Remembering James Horner

At TED2005, James Horner shared the secret of what made him such a powerhouse film composer — he made it a point to watch each film as a viewer rather than as a creator.

“Very often directors will say, ‘That’s not what I had in mind. I shot it with this in mind.’ But when a bystander who’s not been involved in the creation of the movie looks at it, they have a whole different perspective,” he said. “As a film composer, you can’t look at a film from the director’s point of view. You have to look at it completely objectively.”

Horner composed the scores for Braveheart, A Beautiful Mind, Avatar and many other movies. A longtime collaborator of James Cameron’s, he won the Oscar for his original score for Titanic, as well as the Oscar for best original song for “My Heart Will Go On.” He was nominated for a total of ten Academy Awards.

Horner died in a plane crash near Santa Barbara on June 22, 2015. He was 61. And while we’ve never been able to post his TED Talk because it contained film clips that require rights clearance, we wanted to share the first seven minutes of it. It’s a meditation on an unusual art form — one where the artist works in service of another’s vision and isn’t able to return to ideas and themes they want to explore. He said, “Each time out must be a completely clean canvas.”

His talk is remarkable in that, while Horner details the challenges inherent in composing for film, his passion for the craft shines through.

“I can make the music help the scene blossom,” he said.