Scoring Horror: An Interview with TODD BRYANTON
The Tall Man: An Interview with TODD BRYANTON
By Barry Lee Dejasu
Written and directed by Pascal Laugier (well-known for his previous film, 2008’s MARTYRS), THE TALL MAN is set in a small mining town in the state of Washington, where children are disappearing without a trace, reportedly at the hands of a mysterious being known only as “The Tall Man.” When a nurse (Jessica Biel) discovers her own son has been kidnapped, the boogeyman becomes quite real as she sets out on a dark path to reclaim her child…
For any horror film that features a soundtrack, the music has to be appropriate to the mood. Quick glimpses of a phantom silently stalking unsuspecting characters, meant to unnerve, have to be scored carefully so as to not overwhelm—or distract—the audience with bombastic orchestrations. Composer Todd Bryanton worked hard on the score to achieve that certain kind of creeping terror in THE TALL MAN—to bring that extra dimension of mood that reaches out of the film and haunts the audience in their voyeuristic position.
“I think the musical philosophy of THE TALL MAN was to underscore not only the horror elements, but also the drama/mystery,” Bryanton says. “The core mystery—‘Why Are the Children of Cold Rock Disappearing?’—deals with themes of childhood and innocence and loss, so the score often required subtle, breathy textures. But the music also needed to be very visceral and hit hard to match the elements of horror and suspense. I think it was important to keep that sense of dynamic range, to match the shifts in the story as it unfolds.”
Here is my interview with Mr. Bryanton:
Would you say THE TALL MAN was your first venture into full-fledged horror?
I guess you could say that. However, I did score Jennifer Lynch‘s thriller SURVEILLANCE (2008) and I also composed the music for a lesser-known Canadian feature called HUNGRY HILLS (2009). Both of those films went to some fairly dark places and used music to underscore tension.
How did you and Pascal Laugier go about the planning and composition of the music to this film?
Pascal spoke with me about the tone and emotional feeling he was looking for in each scene. He also referred often to the works of Bartok, Penderecki and Ligeti for inspiration.
Did you work with any of the actors, as far as the direction and/or composition of the music?
I didn’t work directly with any of the actors. I mainly worked with Pascal, and with the music supervisor George Acogny; they’re both fantastic, very knowledgeable about music and a pleasure to deal with.
Did you have certain themes, passages, or other ideas in mind, going into this film?
I try to stay fairly flexible to the needs of each project going into it; in this case the rhythm of the cuts and the picture itself naturally inspired a lot of the musical choices.
Did you do anything different, unusual, or experimental with this composition?
I did some unusual things with my voice and processed them. There are some fairly eerie, alien sounding effects that are just me screaming or singing in falsetto or breathing into the microphone, and then stacking those effects, pitch-shifting them, and using granular synthesis to stretch out the sounds.
Did you and Mr. Laugier make use of silence, at least as far as where the music is concerned, to build tension during certain scenes (such as a certain cat-and-mouse scene which takes place around – and under – a truck)?
I think silence is a very important part in any composer’s toolkit. It’s an old musical truism that the notes you don’t play are often more important than the notes you do play, and dynamics play a huge role in reeling the audience in and heightening their anticipation.
Do you have plans—or indeed, any desire—to score other horror films in the future?
I’m currently working on a science fiction movie that has some horror elements; unfortunately I can’t really give any specific details away. But I love horror movies and I love working on them, so I hope to get the chance to work on more in the future.
What music did you love growing up?
I listen to all kinds of music, but I really loved listening to bands like Nine Inch Nails and Skinny Puppy growing up. I think there’s a lot of things about those bands that translate well to film (and especially horror films) in terms of the use of distortion and ambient soundscapes.
Can you name some films in which you first noticed the soundtracks?
I noticed the soundtracks for a lot of different films growing up, but I think the first one that personally inspired me, and that I tried to emulate at the time, was Clint Mansell’s score for PI (1998). I think it’s important to draw inspiration from a lot of different sources, though. I enjoy a lot of synthetic, unconventional scores but THE TALL MAN is also much more of an orchestrally-based score.
If you had the chance to score an older film, especially anything from before the 1970’s, which one(s) would you choose, and why?
Am I allowed to pick non-narrative films?
I love Harry Smith‘s animations from the ‘40s and ‘50s; they’re very visceral and organic looking, and I think it would be an interesting challenge to trying scoring them. Here’s a link if you’re not familiar with them: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wYJ51nSXRQ
Are there any films in the works that you would want first dibs on scoring?
If there are any directors out there reading this interview, I would love to work on your movie. I love making music, and all I require is to be fed and watered semi-regularly.
Would you like to add anything else?
Thank you so much for asking me to do this interview! It’s a great honour.
THE TALL MAN is currently available On Demand, and will have a limited theatrical release on August 31st. It will be available on Blu-Ray and DVD on September 25th.
© Copyright 2012 by Barry Lee Dejasu