If the art of composing is akin to being a general following creative orders dictated by the director, then that bigger budget leader must have a stalwart support staff who knows the specific troops need to be recruited, how said formations need to be maneuvered, what equipment is necessary to win the battle. Of the multitudes needed from positions ranging from programmers to orchestral contractors and music mixers, a vital, if often unsung rank belongs to music editor. Helping to set the tone with temporary music, taking down director’s notes, or even creating “new” music from various elements the composer’s already recorded, the editor ensures the battle will be won, or at least make it to safety in some semblance. Hence the historic accomplishment of Alex Gibson, a vital lieutenant in the acclaimed, Oscar-nominated collaboration between composer Hans Zimmer and filmmaker Christopher Nolan that now reaches its metaphoric, Oscar-nominated apex for “Dunkirk.”
Starting his career in the booming LA punk scene as the guitarist and songwriter for The Little Cripples and B People, Gibson made an electrifying scoring debut with the ragingly authentic punk soundtrack for Penelope Spheeris’ 1983 cult film “Suburbia.” After the album “Passionel” and one more score for 1988’s noir satire “From Hollywood to Deadwood,” Gibson segued into a prolific career as a music editor. With Hans Zimmer’s scores to “Point of No Return” and “I’ll Do Anything” among his first credits, Gibson worked with such composers as Elmer Bernstein (“Devil in a Blue Dress”), John Lurie (“Get Shorty”) and Mark Isham (“The Getaway”), working on any number of genres from comedy (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”) to musicals (“That Thing You Do”) and political suspense (“Thirteen Days”). Now as an editor at Formosa Music Group, Gibson has established himself as a go-to guy for Hollywood action blockbusters, among them “Live Free or Die Hard,” “Mad Max Fury Road,“ the Transformers” series and the forthcoming Zimmer-scored “X-Men: Dark Phoenix” among his prolific credits.
First teaming with Christopher Nolan on the David Julyan-scored soundtracks to “Insomnia” and “The Prestige,” Gibson would turn from these flowing, suspenseful approaches to the rhythmically hard-driving sound of Hans Zimmer when the filmmaker began working with the composer on “Batman Begins.” Spanning the bat-flapping percussion and atmospheric superhero noir of “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises.” Gibson would help chart the beyond-complex thematic dream flow of “Inception,” then take an organ-fueled spaceship through “Interstellar’s” wormhole.
With “Dunkirk,” that synergy falls to earth for the first, true time to grasp victory from utter defeat as the British army receives a last second rescue from the shores of France. Time is of the essence to Zimmer’s hypnotically rhythmic approach, as far afield from any traditional war score as one might imagine. But abetting in a composer-director partnership that’s all about defying convention is what Gibson’s partnership has been all about in this case, literally keeping track of a time-jumping structure to help Zimmer ensure musically seamless momentum. “Alex is our creative brother,” the composer enthuses, “’Dunkirk’ was mind-blowingly complicated and stretched us all to the limits of the possible. Chris made a hugely experimental film, and it takes a truly adventurous spirit like Alex to embrace what so often during the process seems to be the impossible. Sometimes the phrase ‘I couldn’t have done it without him’ is far from an exaggeration.”
While Gibson has certainly received numerous professional accolades for his work among industry peers, it’s in the sound design of “Dunkirk” that he’s truly reached above the line with an Oscar nomination for Sound Editing. Shared with Richard King, Gibson’s achievement is a first for recognizing music editing as a vital part of the entire sound process, the kind of achievement made on his dual talents for insuring both invisibility of music cutting and its maximum impact. As the general of his own troops, Gibson now reflects on a partnership that’s helped his profession take its most visible leap yet, very likely on the stage of the Dolby Theater on March 4.