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One of James Horner's final collaborators pays tribute to the composer

HOLLYWOOD - DECEMBER 16:  Composer James Horner arrives at the premiere of 20th Century Fox's
HOLLYWOOD - DECEMBER 16: Composer James Horner arrives at the premiere of 20th Century Fox's "Avatar" at the Grauman's Chinese Theatre on December 16, 2009 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** James Horner
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

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When film composer James Horner died this week in a plane accident, he left behind a career marked by epic scores on films like "Titanic," "A Beautiful Mind," and "Field of Dreams." But he also made smaller scale films, and one of the last he completed was "The 33," a drama about the Chilean miners who were trapped underground for 69 days in 2010.

Patricia Riggen is the director of "The 33," and she joined us on The Frame to talk about her relationship with James Horner and their unusual method of collaboration.

Interview Highlights

How did you hear about James Horner's death?

I woke up in the morning and I got an email from one of the writers of "The 33," letting me know and apologizing. Then I got email after email. It's just unbelievable. It's very hard to digest that he's not around. I did talk about the flying with him, I have to tell you.

I told him I didn't like him flying — I've always thought it was really dangerous to fly private planes, and that's not what he did for a living. But it was his absolute hobby and he said it was one of the things he loved most. So when I heard the news and they weren't sure it was him, I just knew it was.

It sounds like you became very close with him during the making of this film.

James was a very loving man. He told me that he had become very picky about the movies he makes, and he didn't score many movies any more. He just wanted to make movies that he really cared about, and he wanted to make "The 33" because it moved him profoundly, he told me.

I discovered that was true because we would sit together in the recording room every day, and I would see him cry when we reached certain moments in the movie. It was something that really touched him.

How was the collaboration with him different from working with other composers?

All musicians are artists and they're all very eccentric and live in their own worlds, but James was particularly a special guy. He's very shy and quiet, almost feminine — he spoke very softly. He was just a huge talent.

What's very different about working with him is that I was sitting by him when he was composing the score, the entire time. So it's not that he went away and came back — he was really doing it with me. He was creating the music and we had the musicians in the room and he was making it right there. He described it as painting, a picture, using the colors in the moment.

That is definitely not the usual process between director and composer. How did that come about?

That totally was his idea. I was a little nervous, because I wasn't going to be able to hear anything before we actually got to the stage to record, but we were using such special instruments that that was the way to go.

He flew in the most brilliant flautist in the world — the guy's from Britain and he brought a humongous amount of Indian flutes — long ones, tiny ones. Remember the famous Ennio Morricone score for "The Mission?" That's the same guy who played those flutes back then, and it's the same guy who played the flutes in "Braveheart," which James composed.

We had all these great musicians in the room and we were recording at the same time, so when he finished composing we basically had the score recorded.

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