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Ken Burns, Trent Reznor teaming up for Vietnam documentary

PASADENA, Calif. -- Ken Burns and Trent Reznor would seem two unlikely collaborators, but both describe their recent work on the upcoming PBS documentary on the Vietnam War as among the most satisfying of their careers.

Reznor, the Nine Inch Nails singer and Academy Award-winning film score composer with partner Atticus Ross, made the score for the 10-part series that debuts this fall.

They came into the project after Burns’ production partner Lynn Novick saw the movie, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” Captivated by the film’s music, she stayed through the final credits to learn Reznor and Ross were responsible for it, and contacted the composers to see if they’d be interested in working on the Vietnam documentary.

A meeting was set up, and Reznor watched film footage they had gathered to tell about the war that divided Americans in the 1960s.

“For most of the clip, I’m trying not to start crying and wondering what my voice was going to sound like when the lights came up,” Reznor recalled on Sunday.

Reznor said he initially found the idea of working with Burns’ team intimidating; Novick, meanwhile, thought they’d never be able to rope in a pair of in-demand, Oscar-winning composers. But the marriage was made, and 18 months later a dropbox of music arrived in Burns’ and Novick’s email queues. She downloaded it, took a long drive and popped in the music, and had to pull over to call Burns.

“Our minds were collectively blown,” she said.

Burns said the music evoked the harshness and divisiveness of the times, yet with a strong underlying melodic sense. Rather than place the music atop already existing scenes -- the way scores generally work -- the documentarian said he was able to build scenes around the music itself.

The score will work along with a full soundtrack of music from the era, Burns said. The documentary from the team behind “The Civil War” will unfold over 18 hours.

Reznor and Ross won an Oscar for their score of “The Social Network.” Within the past year, they’ve been working simultaneously on music for the movie “Patriot’s Day,” the documentary “Before the Flood” and for a new Nine Inch Nails disc, Reznor said.

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