From Screen To Stage: Rupert Gregson-Williams’ Live Concert Journey

By Kaya Savas

January 4, 2022

It’s one thing to slip on your favorite pair of headphones or crank up the volume in your car to disappear into your favorite music, but it’s a whole different experience to be sitting in a live music venue feeling the music as it fills the air around you. Music binds us to our emotions, to the people and places around us, and in the context of films, it complements the narrative to take us on a journey. That binding quality is also what draws us to the magic of live music. This is one of the many reasons why film music concerts have grown in popularity over the past few years.

One film composer particularly excited to bring his music from the sound stage to the concert stage is Rupert Gregson-Williams, one of the most well-known and in-demand composers working in film, tv, and video games. Gregson-Williams’ talent as a melodic storyteller has seen him score across various genres with projects like The Crown, Bee Movie, and Hacksaw Ridge. He also scored Wonder Woman and Aquaman, giving two of DC Comics’ most popular superheroes their musical identities. Now, Gregson-Williams and Schirmer Theatrical are collaborating to share these heroes’ musical identities with orchestral audiences around the world.

Rupert Gregson-Williams recording the score for Aquaman.

Photo Credit: Dan Goldwasser |

Schirmer Theatrical is one of the leading producers of film with live orchestra concerts whose goal is to create extraordinary and memorable productions showcasing the beauty and nuance of iconic film scores. “I was very excited to work with Schirmer,” Gregson-Williams stated about being approached by the Schirmer Theatrical team to develop Wonder Woman and Aquaman into film with live orchestra productions. After discussing the preparation process, he realized that revisiting the music “was actually going to be a glorious ride,” and a continuation of the “pure passion” of first working with directors Patty Jenkins and James Wan on the original films.

Rupert Gregson-Williams with Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins.


Before writing the scores, he had to forge relationships with both directors, a compositional process that Gregson-Williams picked up from his mentor, Hans Zimmer. “I like to talk to the director first, definitely, or the writer. On Wonder Woman, I came onto the project while they were in post-production, but Aquaman, they were still shooting. On Wonder Woman, Patty was a little bit busy finishing her shoot. So I went away after a conversation and sat at the piano and wrote those tunes, the first couple of tunes that came to me. The young Diana tune for Wonder Woman was written at the piano, and then I went up to the studio north of London and played it to Patty. And luckily, she loved that one so we're off to the races.” The process working with James Wan was a bit different. “James loves to be there when I'm writing. So I've written a couple of themes with James jumping up and down. He’s very excited, very enthusiastic, and a lovely man. And so, the more I can get him jumping up and down while I'm writing, the more I'm closer to getting what he wants,” Gregson-Williams explained.

Both Wonder Woman and Aquaman have no shortage of amazing themes, and are perfect examples of how Gregson-Williams’ compositional inspiration stems from the films’ characters and story. In Wonder Woman, for example, there are four core themes that have to work with each other to create the narrative flow, and to continue the flow established in preceding DC Comics installments. Before director Patty Jenkins’ began her 2017 Wonder Woman film, an iconic theme had been created for Diana, Princess of Themyscira, in Zack Snyder’s 2016 film, Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice. As Gregson-Williams explained, for “Wonder Woman, there was an existing theme, which everyone will recognize as her sort of warrior theme, which was written by Hans Zimmer. So I started with Diana as a young girl, and her story before she even knew that she was a superhero. That theme needed to be innocent, but also reflect some of the goodness in her. Her other theme, the banshee theme, which I used to call it, (the Hans Zimmer one), that's the most exciting theme. You don't want to overuse that one. You want to use it when she's really going about her business and she knows what she's doing.”

For the third theme in the narrative arc, Wonder Woman’s story also required a romantic melody for Diana and Steve. Gregson-Williams had to navigate this theme unconventionally since we are watching Diana see and meet a man for the first time in her life. There was an innocence and awkwardness that Gregson-Williams needed to capture. “Patty Jenkins was very keen that I didn't just go full romance because it wasn't that. It was complex because she's an innocent woman with no experience of romance. That had to be reflected, and that was another challenge,” Gregson-Williams explained. Then every good hero must have a villain, and Gregson-Williams was able to have some fun composing for the antagonist. “We have the main baddie, Ares, which was a fun theme to write. I really liked doing that. That was a good one. Good fun. I’m not going to spoil the story, but there's a way that we find Ares and we find out about him. And it was nice to be able to make little suggestions early on in the film, and then to finally present the theme,” said Gregson-Williams.

No superhero film would be complete without an engaging battle, and paired with the primary themes, the action and battle underscore are huge parts of what make superhero films so exciting. But there are many approaches to composing for such scenes. Wonder Woman’s action music was inspired by the main character’s inner motivation, as Gregson-Williams explained: “It's Diana against the German army, and it's her realizing the past she's got. There's an iconic, in my opinion, scene in Wonder Woman where she crosses No Man's Land. And it only lasts about a minute and a half, but from the minute she gets up out of the trench to when she enters the trench on the other side she develops from a very confident young woman into a superhero. There was a lot of subtlety, even though it was action.”

Rupert Gregson-Williams with Aquaman director James Wan.

Photo Credit: Eric Charbonneau | Shutterstock

Aquaman is a different hero with a different style; the action scenes were larger in scope and also more playful. As Gregson-Williams described, “You couldn't get more epic where the battle scenes are thousands of enormous ships attacking big lobsters. I mean, that James Wan has such an incredible imagination. Those battle scenes weren't particularly personal so they were epic. I used a lot of synths in that one. It was all about the sound, making it fun, and making it bubbly.”

Gregson-Williams loved the early stages of composing and creative collaboration for a film project, but he also has a flood of great memories from the recording sessions. For Wonder Woman, he got to record the score in the UK with colleagues and friends he’s known since early in his composing career. “I couldn't tell you how many sessions we had because of reshoots, revisiting some cues, and also because we did some editing. Since I was on the film early, we must have had about 20 to 30 sessions. We did a lot of sessions, so it was great just to spend that time with all these old friends in London”, Gregson-Williams recalled. For Aquaman, one of his best memories was arranging Skylar Grey’s end title song, “Everything I Need,” and having her on the recording stage when they added the live strings.

Rupert Gregson-Williams recording the score for Aquaman.

Photo Credit: Dan Goldwasser |

All of those sound stage recording sessions come full circle for Gregson-Williams now that he and Schirmer Theatrical are preparing his scores for the live concert stage, and Gregson-Williams is particularly eager to hear a few cues performed again in person. The composer shared that he’s “excited about ‘No Man's Land’ from Wonder Woman, because it was actually quite painful to write. Not because the scene isn't wonderful, which it is. It was actually precisely because the scene is so wonderful that it was difficult. I really love the scene, and it was finished when I got to writing it. I could either add to it, improve it, or ruin it. So there was pressure. And I did about 50 versions of it until Patty and I decided that the version in the film was the one that was going to be it.” There is also a special cue towards the end of the film. “The ‘Trafalgar Square’ cue at the end was always nice for me, because that's the first thing I wrote for Patty, and it's just realized in a very emotional way, so that would be great to hear live,” he added.

As for Aquaman, it’s just the vision of all the players in front of a large audience that Gregson-Williams enjoys. He pictures “a 60-piece orchestra and a chorus just singing the entrance into Atlantis when Mera and Arthur are just arriving for the first time. It would be epic to watch that.”

Gregson-Williams’ music for Aquaman and Wonder Woman will soon resonate from live concert stages around the globe, furthering the musical legacy that began when he was seven years old and a chorister at Cambridge, singing services with music by William Byrd, Langlais, and Messiaen. Gregson-Williams has new music in the works as well. He’s about to dive into the depths of Atlantis once again to score Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, as well as HBO’s new series, The Gilded Age, alongside his brother, composer Harry Gregson-Williams.