How ‘Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F’ Composer Lorne Balfe Turned the Heat On With a Throwback Score | Exclusive Video

Composer Lorne Balfe is uniquely suited to the challenges of scoring a reboot of a classic like “Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F.”

In 2022, Balfe served as score producer on “Top Gun: Maverick” and accomplished the impossible, wrangling a small stable of composers (Hans Zimmer, Lady Gaga and original “Top Gun” composer Harold Faltermeyer) and coming up with a score that made you feel like you were watching “Top Gun” for the first time. It wasn’t that the score was a museum piece — far from it. While certainly nostalgic, it was also contemporary and vital, serving as the emotional bedrock for a movie that could have been all thrills, no feels.

That is a challenge he faced a second time with “Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F,” this time as composer and again adapting an iconic 1980s Faltermeyer score for modern audiences. Somehow, he pulled off the magic trick for Round 2.

TheWrap visited Sony in mid-March and watched Balfe score “Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F.” We spoke to the composer, director Mark Molloy and representatives for Musicians at Play Foundation, whose RISE Diversity Project assisted on recording for the film.

Going back to basics

“I think we’ve learned our lesson with ‘Beverly Hills Cop’ where the first two scores were quintessentially classic,” Balfe said. The third movie’s score, composed by the legendary Nile Rodgers in 1994, didn’t work as well because it was too orchestral. “We’ve used the orchestra more as a bed around it, just to be an underbelly.”

In order to replicate the sound of the first and second movie, Balfe assembled what he referred to as “the synth orchestra.” “They’re all the Jupiter X and Oberheim and Moogs, because that’s how they used to do sessions, they used to have synth players sitting there,” Balfe said. “And that’s all changed.”

Sitting at Sony, the array of vintage synths was incredibly impressive, sitting on one side of the recording stage, all lined up – giant, boxy machines from a bygone era being used to resuscitate a sound in the most authentic way possible.

Balfe worked with the Vintage Synthesizer Museum, located in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, to source the instruments and to find players who could operate them. “It’s like an archeological deep-dive of finding out what the sound was, recreating the patches, trying to get it back to how it did sound originally,” Balfe said.

Molloy, who is making his feature directorial debut with “Axel F,” would sometimes watch playback on set with music from the original movie. “As we were shooting, I actually had some of the old soundtrack on and when a shot would be done and I was like, Does this feel right?, I’d just press play on some of the old soundtrack,” Molloy said. “And you do like these long dolly shots or a long zoom. I’d play that, I’d be like, Yeah, this is going to work.”

Finding the sound

Both Balfe and Molloy admit that it was trickier than they’d imagined to land on the sound. Balfe joked that it had just happened a few weeks before they had started recording the score. “It’s not about trying to redo things, it’s about being influenced by it in the right way and moving forward,” Molloy said. “But that took us a while.”

Finally, they aligned around Sunglasses Kid, a TikTok personality and musician who posts videos with titles like “P.O.V.: It’s 1987 and you’re getting out of the big city after things went bad” and music that could have been ripped out of a particularly suspenseful episode of “Miami Vice.”

“A friend of mine sent me a link and said, ‘You’ll like this,’” Balfe recalled. “That was like, Oh. That’s actually a clever idea here. He’s being faithful to the past but he’s doing something new.” Molloy said: “I remember listening to it and thinking, This is new but I feel like it could be in ‘Beverly Hills Cop.’”

And what’s more, Molloy and Balfe reached out to Sunglasses Kid, who describes himself on his website as “a British producer making ’80s pop and cinematic instrumentals,” who wound up playing on a couple of tracks on the score, alongside Tim Cappello, a saxophonist and singer perhaps best known as the “sexy sax man” from Joel Schumacher’s “The Lost Boys.” (He was famously lampooned in a “Saturday Night Live” digital short called “The Curse”; Jon Hamm played an alternate universe version of him.)

“Mark also had an idea about the songs, about old and new, and how do you connect this thing?” Balfe said. That idea led to a modernized version of “Hot in the City,” produced by Stuart Price, who has worked with everyone from Madonna to The Killers to Dua Lipa. “He understood it not actually from a music perspective, but more from a character’s perspective. That’s what I love,” Molloy said. There’s also a new Lil Nas X song that samples Faltermeyer’s immortal “Axel F,” along with classics from the franchise like Bob Seger’s “Shakedown,” Glenn Frey’s “The Heat Is On” and the Pointer Sisters’ “Neutron Dance.” Because would it even be a “Beverly Hills Cop” movie without them? Exactly.

Molloy said that trying the older songs in the new movie (he was really pushing for one of the Patti LaBelle songs to make it in) was tricky, as was “finding how that relationship with contemporary stuff would play.” Not that they were ever trying to make their own version of one of the older songs from the soundtracks. “We knew that if you tried to recreate Pointer Sisters, there’s something cheap about that,” Balfe said. “How do you beat that? You can’t. So you shouldn’t.”

Instead, like the rest of the music, they married old and new and came up with something unique.

Paying it forward

Something that’s really special about the “Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F” score is that it was made with the assistance of musicians from the RISE Diversity Project, whose goal is to help young musicians, typically from underfunded and underprivileged areas, to eventually work in the orchestras of film and TV productions. It is part of the Musicians at Play Foundation, which counts Netflix among its sponsors.

The organization was cofounded by John Williams’ sister-in-law, April Williams, who also serves as executive director. She told TheWrap that the foundation was found a decade ago to support live music, but it has taken a turn “to creating career pathways for studio orchestras.” After seeing the young professionals train, Netflix asked them to come and do “Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F.” It would be “a real studio engagement gig for our musicians,” Williams said, noting that this year’s RISE class consists of about 50 participants.

Some of the musicians are still high school students, the youngest that performed on “Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F” was 15. They are partnered with mentors in the actual orchestra, who could help guide them through their day.

While recording at Sony, the integration of the student musicians was seamless.

“They will now get this opportunity to see it can be possible,” Balfe said. “It’s about trying to get the new blood in and if these students here see this and think, Well, I can actually be part of this.”

Williams noted that some of the musicians who worked on “Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F” have already booked new gigs.

“Every year, we want to bring in more and more recruited young musicians so that one day, it might be twice a year now,” she said of what’s next for the foundation. They also have a classical orchestra called the Civic Orchestra of Los Angeles, which is another platform for young musicians. “If there aren’t enough jobs for musicians, let’s create the jobs,” she added. “Let’s have an orchestra and launch them off into the world. That’s our attitude.”

As for contributing to the “Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F” score? “It was a wonderful experience,” Williams said, elated.

“Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F” is streaming now on Netflix.

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