Archive for the Music for Film Category

Scoring Horror: Interview with MARCO BELTRAMI (Part 2 of 2)

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Barry Dejasu Columns, Based on Comic Book, Marvel Comics, Movie Music, Music for Film, Mutants!, Scoring Horror, Soundtracks with tags , , , , on July 3, 2013 by knifefighter

Scoring Horror Presents:
An Interview with MARCO BELTRAMI
By Barry Lee Dejasu
(Part 2 of 2)

Composer Marco Beltrami

Composer Marco Beltrami



Directed by James Mangold (with whom Mr. Beltrami worked on 3:10 TO YUMA), THE WOLVERINE stars Hugh Jackman as the eponymous character, a metal-clawed (and indestructible) mutant of the X-MEN franchise, left wandering the world alone in the wake of the events of X-MEN: THE LAST STAND (2006).  Logan’s travels take him to Japan—where his own mysterious past comes back to haunt him in ways that could challenge his whole future.

BLD: Superman, Indiana Jones, and many other staple cinematic heroes have a central musical theme—something to identify them with as soon as it’s heard.  How did you approach the character of Wolverine, in these regards?

MB:  THE WOLVERINE is a very unique take on the superhero movie.  In that respect, it’s a very stylized picture.  Most of it takes place in Japan, and there’s a little bit of a mystery to it, almost a noir-ish mystery to it; the character Wolverine is a bit of a loner.  Having said that, there is a sound and melodic structure and harmonic structure that is used for him, but it’s not like a Superman type of theme; it’s much more reserved.  I used early on when you see him, in the woods, (a) harmonica.  The harmonica has a fairly strong thread throughout the score, as Wolverine’s sound.  Sometimes it’s processed and treated, other times it’s fairly straight, but it seems to work well for him, and it goes well with the harmonic structure that’s used for him.

Hugh Jackman as Logan, AKA Wolverine.

Hugh Jackman as Logan, AKA Wolverine.

BLD: The fact that the movie is set in Japan immediately puts into mind, of many a typical American moviegoer, images of exotic locale and culture.

MB:  Things that we consciously avoided, musically.  I think the last thing that Jim (James Mangold) and I wanted to do was Japanese music associated with Japanese places.  There’s a reference; I do use Japanese instruments, (but) not really in a traditional way; koto is used, but as a percussion instrument.

Koto, a Japanese instrument used in the score.

Koto, a Japanese instrument used in the score.

There’s Japanese flute stuff, but it’s treated in more of a Western way; it’s not really based on any pentatonic scales.  There’s echo tunnel drumming that takes place in there, but often times it’s processed, and different effects are put on it; so it’s nothing really traditionally Japanese as part of the score.

BLD: How was it to work on this (particularly unique) superhero movie?

MB:  It was really refreshing.  It really went smooth.  Jim was really into the stuff; he’s very musical, and had really interesting comments and ideas that would spur me, creatively, in different ways.  It was a lot of fun.  Again, it was a short schedule; we started on it…it doesn’t seem that long ago, but it was sort of fast, and there was a lot of music in it.  It goes off in a lot of different directions.  The ride goes from the woods of the Pacific Northwest to part of urban Japan.  It’s a really fun movie to watch.


Part Three: In Closing

BLD: In what portion of a movie’s production do you usually come aboard?

MB:  It’s different in every project.  This, THE WOLVERINE, was all shot except for a couple of pickup shots, and I had a full edit.  The next movie I’m doing, which is called THE HOMESMAN, a Tommy Lee Jones project, they’re just finishing shooting right now, and we’ll start talking about stuff (in the) next week.  It can be early in the process, which I like, because it gives time to think about a new way to approach things.  There’s a certain time factor; if you rush what you’re doing in too short a time, it can handicap the process of exploration.  Coming on a little bit earlier is a bit better.  Although, having said that, I don’t like working from scripts; if someone sends me a script, I usually don’t start working right away, because it’s really deceiving.  I’ve tried that in the past, and stuff that I’d come up with invariably (had) nothing to do with the movie that was shot.  It changes dramatically.

BLD: What particular (or non-particular) movies would you most want to work on, if you had the opportunity?

MB:  The movies most influential to me are probably the (ones) scored by Bernard Hermann—you know, the Hitchcock stuff; the spaghetti westerns (scored by Ennio) Morricone, and the Fellini movies by Nino Rota.  And to some extent, I’ve been able to do some Western stuff, which I really enjoy doing.  Just…the way Morricone was able to make non-orchestral sounds part of the score, that really inspired me.  Similarly, the Rota scores, the music doesn’t take itself seriously, and it skipped genres, and plays with a lot of different colors.  There are some I haven’t done much of yet, but are something that would be very appealing to me.  They don’t make movies like that now, but if there were, I think that’s what I’d be most excited about.

BLD: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

MB:  You know, maybe, I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to work in a variety of genres, and I’ve had a lot of fun exploring musically.  The worst thing to me would be to keep repeating things over and over, and (to) repeat the work of other people.  To explore other areas is what I find interesting about film scoring, and I hope that I can continue to be able to do so.

THE WOLVERINE opens on July 26th.

© Copyright 2013 by Barry Lee Dejasu


Scoring Horror: Interview with MARCO BELTRAMI (Part 1 of 2)

Posted in 2013, Apocalyptic Films, Barry Dejasu Columns, Based on a bestselling book, Film Scores, Movie Music, Music for Film, Scoring Horror, Soundtracks, Zombie Movies, Zombies with tags , , , , on July 2, 2013 by knifefighter

Scoring Horror Presents:
An Interview with MARCO BELTRAMI
By Barry Lee Dejasu
(Part 1 of 2)

If you’ve seen any of the following movies…

  • ·         SCREAM (1997)
  • ·         MIMIC (1998)
  • ·         SCREAM 2 (1998)
  • ·         THE FACULTY (1998)
  • ·         SCREAM 3 (2000)
  • ·         THE WATCHER (2000)
  • ·         DRACULA 2000 (2000)
  • ·         ANGEL EYES (2001)
  • ·         JOY RIDE (2001)
  • ·         RESIDENT EVIL (2002)
  • ·         BLADE II (2002)
  • ·         TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES (2003)
  • ·         HELLBOY (2004)
  • ·         I, ROBOT (2004)
  • ·         FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX (2004)
  • ·         RED EYE (2005)
  • ·         LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD (2007)
  • ·         3:10 TO YUMA (2007)
  • ·         THE HURT LOCKER (2008)
  • ·         MAX PAYNE (2009)
  • ·         SOUL SURFER (2011)
  • ·         SCREAM 4 (2012)
  • ·         THE THING (2012)
  • ·         THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012)
  • ·         THE THING (2012)
  • ·         TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE (2012)
  • ·         WARM BODIES (2013)
  • ·         A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD (2013)

…then you’ve also heard the music of Marco Beltrami.

Composer Marco Beltrami

Composer Marco Beltrami

To date, he has scored almost sixty films and a number of television shows, in just about every genre.  Mr. Beltrami is recognized not only by the sheer abundance of his résumé, however; he was nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Film Score for his respective work on 3:10 TO YUMA (2007) and THE HURT LOCKER (2008).

Earlier this year, he’d scored the “romantic zombedy” WARM BODIES (partnered with fellow composer/producer Buck Sanders), as well as the latest adventure of John McClane (Bruce Willis), A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD.  This fall, moviegoers will also hear Mr. Beltrami’s music in the CARRIE remake, as well as in the post-apocalyptic snowbound train thriller SNOWPIERCER.

At present, however, moviegoers will be thrilled with the double-assault of two big summer tent pole films featuring Mr. Beltrami’s work, WORLD WAR Z and THE WOLVERINE.  Mr. Beltrami was kind enough to carve some time out of his busy schedule for an interview about his music in these films.




This is the story of the end of the world in the rise of a zombie apocalypse, and humankind’s attempts to end the threat.  A former UN investigator, Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), is forced to leave his family to help in the war against the undead

BLD: This movie, as just about everybody knows, faced an unusually long and bumpy ride in its production.  When did you become involved?  And did you have to keep up with any of its final changes (including the filming of an entirely different ending)?

MT: I started a year ago, last October.  We had a movie to work from, to look at, to get ideas from.  They had some additional photography they were doing, and some reshoots and stuff, and during that period, I stopped working, because there was no picture to work on.

BLD: So during all the reshoots, did you have to just sit and wait, or did you try to keep working at the score on the side?

MB:  It’s a long time to be on a film, and plenty of times (I had) ideas as the footage came in.  It actually wasn’t that long of a time; I already had things fleshed out for some scenes, but in terms of getting things written, it was time consuming, and the picture was not really locked (because) even then things were changing.  So it turned out to be a short schedule for something that was a long process.

BLD: Was it hard to stay focused, or did you have a general plan that you stuck to?

MB:  No, I had ideas.  We had a really good music editor that guided us on it, John Finklea, and he really stayed in close with the editorial team and the producers and was able to get a good sense of what they were looking for.  There were different people involved, creatively, and anytime there’s more than one person involved, it becomes a little bit of a translation thing, to figure out what exactly is the common ground for everybody.  (John) was really instrumental in deciphering that and helping the process go smooth.

BLD: This film focuses largely upon one particular person (Brad Pitt) and his plights in the zombie uprising.  How did you approach that dynamic of individual empathy against the backdrop of worldwide horror and survival?

MB:  For me, the story was at once epic, but also intimate.  There’s a universal nature to a horrific thing that’s going on.  There’s also the very personal nature of this guy, Brad Pitt’s character, trying to save his family.  The interesting thing is where these (plots) intersect, because thematically, I think the same themes can play for both, because every man’s journey is the journey of mankind.  Sometimes it became a question of instrumentation and orchestration.  There’s a thematic continuity between the epicness and the intimacy.

Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his wife (Mireille Enos) struggle to protect their family in WORLD WAR Z.

Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his wife (Mireille Enos) struggle to protect their family in WORLD WAR Z.

BLD: Did you incorporate, or even create, any unusual instruments for the score?

MB:  The original thought of the score was that it would (follow) the first scene in Philadelphia, when all hell breaks loose and things are going bad (and it) cuts to this  emergency tone.  It always did, from the first time I saw the picture.  When Buck (Sanders, composer) and I first looked at it, we thought it’d be really cool to use that emergency broadcast signal as a musical start, or like a motive, from which everything else could be derived.  So we began to research what was involved in that, and it turns out that the pitches were something that can be used melodically as well, so that became a basis for much of the music.

The other thing that we thought would be neat, rhythmically, was the nature of zombies using their teeth, so we needed something that related to that.  It turns out that there’s a… (laughs) Actually, Tommy Lee Jones told me about this; I remember I was talking to him, and he told me that in Texas they have these wild pigs called javalinas which actually communicate with their teeth.  So I did a little bit of research, and so that became a pretty important part.  I figured it might be neat to have all the rhythmic parts derived from these jawbones, or these teeth gnashing together; so when we recorded in London, that was something I focused on.

The skulls used in the score.

The skulls used in the score.

BLD: Sometimes a film falls into one particular genre, but the composer approaches it with a different angle.  (For instance, Christopher Young scored the original HELLRAISER as a twisted romance).  How did you approach WORLD WAR Z?

MB:  From these melodic and rhythmic approaches, everything else could be derived.  At heart it’s very simple.  One of the challenges on it was that there was this idea of the intimate versus the epic.  There was the thought that, on one hand, the score should be a biblical, sweeping score, and on the other hand, it’s something much smaller, where you hear the rosin on the bow kind of thing, to give it that urgency and immediacy, and aggressiveness.

So this was the first time I had ever done this, but I actually recorded the score two different ways, in two different studios, one at Abbey Road, which was a bigger group, and simultaneously we also recorded at a smaller place called British Grove, and there we were able to experiment a little bit more with the sounds, and the more aggressive sound of the orchestra.  The sound engineer, John Kurlander, was then able to mix all the elements together, and take advantage of both the smaller and the bigger scores and mix them together in a neat way.  So that was, at least for me, a greater approach, this idea for the score.

WORLD WAR Z is in theaters everywhere now.


© Copyright 2013 by Barry Lee Dejasu

Scoring Horror: Interview with NATHAN WHITEHEAD

Posted in 2013, Barry Dejasu Columns, Film Scores, Horror, Interviews, Killers, Murder!, Music for Film, Science Fiction, Scoring Horror, Soundtracks, The Future with tags , , , , on June 11, 2013 by knifefighter

Scoring Horror Presents…An Interview with NATHAN WHITEHEAD
By Barry Lee Dejasu

It’s that time of year again, folks!  Yes, Purge Night is here, where for twelve solid hours, any and every crime is 100% legal.  So go out there and get your deepest, darkest urges on, and remember: all emergency services will be suspended for the duration of Purge Night.  Good night, good luck – and have fun!

ThePurgePosterThis is the world of THE PURGE, written and directed by James DeMonaco (LITTLE NEW YORK, 2009; also the writer of 1998’s THE NEGOTIATOR and 2005’s ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13).  In an alternate America where the regulated legalization of crime helps reduce its effects on the populace for the rest of the year, a family is preparing for another long, safe night indoors on Purge Night.  This time, however, things don’t exactly go according to plan, a group of masked visitors come knocking…

The visitors arrive.

The visitors arrive.

Such a grim cinematic tale naturally has to be told with a voice of thorough suspense.  With all things visual and verbal being handled by the actors and the director on their respective ends of the camera, there is the necessity of bringing not only traumatic stimulation to the eyes and ears of the audience, but to subtly introduce tension and empathy to the soul—and for that, the music is key.  For this purpose, composer Nathan Whitehead was brought in to unleash his talents.

Composer Nathan Whitehead

Composer Nathan Whitehead

No stranger to cinematic tales of suspense and action, Mr. Whitehead’s credits include work on LORD OF WAR (2005), TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON (2011), as well as TV and video game work.  Mr. Whitehead was kind enough to share some of his thoughts on scoring THE PURGE.

BLD: How might you describe your score to somebody who hasn’t yet seen the film?  (Or better yet: what kind of story did you try to tell through the music?)

NW: I would describe the score as dark, textural and fairly minimal.  We wanted to convey a sense of unsettledness and dread surrounding what’s happening on this Purge Night, but we also wanted to explore what this means as a society.  What does Purge Night say about us as human beings?  With the music, I think we were trying to tell both of these stories; how can we survive this night and even if we do, what does that say about us?

BLD: What kinds of instruments and/or vocals did you incorporate for the score?   

NW: The score incorporates a lot of synth and sound design elements which are both tools that I love to work with.  There are strings in certain moments and sparse piano but also a lot of synth pads and textures.  Even with the more electronic sounds, I tried to keep them organic and it’s difficult to discern what is an acoustic instrument and what is a synth.  Almost everything was processed in one way or another too, so even if it started as a shaker or something it usually ended up morphing into something completely different.

BLD: Did you implement any unusual instruments or playing methods, or even construct any new kinds of instruments for it?

NW: Yes!  I think “unusual instruments and methods” describes nearly the entire score.  I really love thinking about the emotional content of sounds, especially things that on the surface might not seem to have any emotional content at all.

I was visiting my parents and there is an ancient microwave in their basement.  The door on this microwave had this great spring rattle sound when you closed the door.  It probably rang out for five or six seconds.  I always travel with a little pocket recorder of some kind so I can grab any interesting sounds I find.  So I put my recorder inside the microwave and slammed the door and got these great, growly spring decay sounds.  I took this back to my studio and just started experimenting with them – distorting, filtering, weaving a bunch of them together to create a longer bed.  Eventually I had this unsettling low throb that seemed to feel organic and odd and it became a central component of the score for THE PURGE.  It just seemed to have this nagging discomfort and familiarity that felt right for what was going on.  Most of the synthetic sounds in the score are made in similar fashion from some sort of real-world recording like traffic or wind through leaves or banging on a trashcan.

BLD: What were some particularly favorite scenes that you scored?  (That is, if you’re allowed to be, or are comfortable with, talking about them)?

NW: Well, I don’t want to say too much, but I really loved scoring the scenes that highlighted the internal human struggle going on.  Not just the struggle to survive but more the sinking realization or question of “What have we become as people?  As families?”  There are some great moments; just simple looks between James (Ethan Hawke) and Mary (Lena Heady), when we feel the weight of how messed up things have gotten—those were really juicy moments to explore, musically.

Lena Heady and Ethan Hawke star as Mary and James in THE PURGE.

Lena Heady and Ethan Hawke star as Mary and James in THE PURGE.

BLD: You’ve worked in a number of genres and mediums.  Do you wish to work more in a particular medium and/or genre than others?

NW: I’ve been really fortunate so far in my career to work on a wide variety of projects.  I love that variety.  I think working in different genres and mediums keeps things fresh and challenging and also allows me to continue to learn new things.  Each project generally informs the others in one way or another, and that’s exciting.

BLD: What kinds of films do you enjoy watching, in general?

NW: It might sound a bit generic, but the short answer is I like films that are good stories.  I love movies and storytelling in general because of their ability to make a human connection, whether it’s entertaining or challenging or terrifying or something else.  I don’t think I can narrow it down to a particular genre; there are too many great but different movies out there!

BLD: What was your first instance of noticing music and sound in film?

NW: I guess the very first was probably RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983). It was my introduction to John Williams and STAR WARS, so that’s difficult not to notice.  The theme from the TV show AIRWOLF (1984-1986) also was really exciting to me.  Tim Burton’s 1989 BATMAN wasn’t first but I remember being amazed by (Danny Elfman’s) music in that movie.

BLD: Who and/or what are some of your biggest musical inspirations, in general?

NW: There are too many great ones to mention them all, but to pick a handful I would say Steve Reich, Arvo Pärt, Philip Glass, Fugazi, NOFX, Operation Ivy, The Cure, Bach, Carter Burwell, Danny Elfman, Mark Mothersbaugh, the list goes on…

BLD: What led to your film work?

NW: Music has always been very exciting to me.  It has always felt magical or like a superpower.  I’ve also always loved experimenting with electronics and gadgets and computers.  Early on I remember playing with this Casio keyboard that my brother and sisters had as kids.  It was an SK-1 so you could do really basic sampling with it.  We would make either short stop-motion videos or skateboard videos and I would “score” them with the SK-1.  It was a precarious arrangement to record the Casio’s output onto the audio track of a VHS tape and it meant that I erased whatever sound was there before.  (I actually still have an SK-1 which I used a bit on THE PURGE.)  In high school, I had played guitar in a punk band and started putting together a basic project studio. I really loved working in the studio.  I started recording local bands in college and also creating music and sound effects for some short films.  I think it just clicked that writing music in my studio for film (or games or TV) combined all these things that I love, things that consumed my thoughts and imagination anyway, so I should explore doing that for a living.  After college I moved from Tennessee to L.A. and started working for a sound design company while writing music for any project I could get my hands on.  Slowly I started doing programming and arrangements for other composers around town and that eventually led to scoring films on my own.  I have been really fortunate to have some great mentors along the way, particularly Steve Jablonsky.  He gave me some great opportunities and we still collaborate on projects today.  I think there’s a huge part of film scoring that you have to learn on the job and it’s crucial to find those opportunities to learn.

BLD: Are there instruments that you haven’t yet used that you’d someday like to explore and experiment with?

NW: All of them!  I have a pretty insatiable appetite for exploring and experimenting with new instruments.  I am a guitar player but I’ve never used a real dobro; I think that would be fun to work with.  I would also love to experiment with a cristal baschet.  I know Cliff Martinez has one and I’m a huge fan of his work. It seems like such a beautiful instrument.

BLD: If you could re-score any pre-existing film (but preferably older ones, and the older, the better), which would you choose, and why? (Other composers have mentioned NOSFERATU, for example.)

NW: I would choose the original 1954 GODZILLA.  Godzilla has always been one of my favorite monsters and I think it would be really fun to score all that mayhem and drama.  Plus Akira Ifukube (the original composer) created Godzilla’s classic roar with, I believe, a double bass and I think that’s awesome.

BLD: There are tons of films always in the works.  If you could choose and score anything in particular, which would you jump for? (Anything from a new documentary to, say, one of the new STAR WARS films?)

NW: I would love to work with the Coen brothers, Spike Jonze, or Michel Gondry someday and I would jump at any opportunity that came along.  I would also love to score (Steven Spielberg’s) ROBOPOCALYPSE.  The book was great and I’m very excited for the movie.

BLD: Would you like to add anything else?

NW: Thanks for the great questions, this was fun!

THE PURGE opened everywhere on June 7th.

© Copyright 2013 by Barry Lee Dejasu

Scoring Horror Presents: An Interview with MICHAEL WANDMACHER

Posted in 2013, Barry Dejasu Columns, Classic TV Shows, Horror, Interviews, Music for Film, Science Fiction, Scoring Horror, Soundtracks with tags , , , , , , on April 17, 2013 by knifefighter

Scoring Horror Presents:
By Barry Lee Dejasu

Film composer Michael Wandmacher

Film composer Michael Wandmacher

 For over two decades, musician and composer Michael Wandmacher has scored a little bit of everything, be it action, horror, science fiction, and comedy.  Just a small handful of his film works include Twin Dragons (1998), Cry_Wolf (2005), Punisher: War Zone (2008), Drive Angry (2011).  He’s also ventured into video games (last year’s Twisted Metal) and television, including the now-defunct Night Stalker reboot, and the Fox comedy Breaking In.  Most recently, he’s scored this year’s sequels to 2006’s The Haunting In Connecticut, and 2010’s The Last Exorcism.

 The Last Exorcism, Part II continues the first film’s story of Nell (Ashley Bell), who is somehow still alive after a grisly supernatural possession.  Nell is trying to get her life back into order, but the demons of her past—literal and otherwise—are far from finished with her…


Michael, you’ve worked in a wide variety of film, television, and even video game genres.  Are there any particular areas that you like working in more than others?

Well, not really.  I like genre stuff because that’s what I grew up with.  So I guess from a comfort level, that’s what I like to do, and it’s easier for me, just because it’s something sort of ingrained in me.  I’ve been watching monster movies and cartoons and reading graphic novels and comic books and things on TV since I was a little kid, and I kept on doing that my entire life, so all those types of storytelling are very familiar to me.

It really boils down to what the musical approach is on a particular project.  Dramas can be fun because they tend to focus more on melodies and fleshed-out musical ideas, so that’s a different challenge.  Comedies are fun because there’s a very broad spectrum of what exactly comedy is; they can range anywhere, from more that actually sounds like doing songs that are produced without vocals, to what a lot of people consider to be classic comedy music—that’s more kind of an upbeat orchestral approach, going back to what was done in ‘40s and ‘50s cartoons, the kind of zany, Carl Stalling-type thing.  It’s really broad, and that can be fun because each one, even though it might be classified as a comedy, it can be a completely different kind of take on what that is, exactly.  I just like different things; I like the variety, because it continues to keep things interesting (and) to not get stale, and you’re always trying to find ways to approach something differently.

Even in your days of working on various Jackie Chan movies, you have brought lots of variation to the situations going on, from screwball to slapstick to action.

His brand of comedy is sort of an evolved variety of the Keystone Cops.  It’s cartoonish, it’s comedic, although the action is played pretty straight.  Depending on the film, there’s sometimes an Asian influence, but most of it is pretty modern, at the time, modern action scoring because it was all based on him being either a cop or a spy or some sort of government operative, and he would go from being in a very serious situation where someone’s wife was in danger, or there’s a big car chase, or explosion, or some chase through a building that was burning down—something like that to being a complete misfit in social situations.  Those scores are challenging, because a lot of times… within a single cue, there was a transition between a big moment in terms of action and it would literally cut away to something that was going on that was simultaneously very goofy and zany, and to sew those two together into one cue was really challenging.  But it’s fun!  It’s great, and when it doesn’t work, it can make you crazy.  (laughs.)  He’s a great physical comic.  He really has a gift for it, and for those stunt people, it looks like it’s easy, but it’s not; the people who can do physical comedy really well are few and far between.

TwinDragonsPosterWhat was your first instance of noticing music and sound in the cinematic experience?  (Including in video games and television?)

I think on TV, the original Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-75) was the first thing that I really got into, music-wise.  It was something that I wasn’t even supposed to be watching, but I’d sneak downstairs with my brother and watch it, and that had a big impact on me because the music in that show was something that really added to what was going on.  That show really scared me.


And on the movie side, as with a lot of people in my generation, seeing Star Wars for the first time, because it was coming out on the end of a whole run of films in the ‘70s that were sort of… they were more jazz-based scores.  You go back and see a Dirty Harry movie, or something—all the action movies, and the sci-fi movies even, had very jazzy, very combo-ish type of scores, and that classic, golden age-sound of Hollywood music hadn’t really been heard in a film in a while.  So when you’re sitting in a theater, and you see that very first…that Star Destroyer coming across the screen, and that massive fanfare playing, and everything.  The title coming up, the back story rolling across the screen… There was this huge-huge-huge music playing with a very definitive theme that left a huge impression on my ten-year-old brain.  So that was something that sort of set me off from there, and got me into film music.  At that point, I started collecting film soundtracks, and listening to scores from that time.  I still have a lot of that vinyl, and I still listen to it from time to time.  I was a score collector and enthusiast before I even got into working on them directly.

StarWars1977PosterWhat led to you working in the field?

I guess the straight answer would be… I don’t know; I just liked music, and started out in playing in bands, and I was also really interested in technology.  It was something that I did all through high school, started in junior high, just experimenting with whatever electronic instruments I could get my hands on.  I started playing guitar, and I was listening to film scores at the same time, so I was sort of absorbing both sides of the spectrum, and that eventually led to coming out of college, (when) I started working doing advertising music, just all commercials, network promos, news music, that kind of thing, which was great.  At that time, it was a great learning experience, because you have to write so many different kinds of styles of music, you have to do it fast, and you have to think in terms of music in both five second increments and five minute increments.  So getting all those skills was really good in terms of applying it to film music because I moved into that.  I lived in Minnesota, and I left there to pursue film music, and that’s when I started to get into television and movies.  It grew from doing short films to doing really small independent films, and a couple in California, and as you form relationships, it blossoms into something bigger.  The most important thing you can do, as a composer, is try to form alliances with young filmmakers as you’re coming up the ranks, and hoping that they keep the team together, and continue to work with you; so as their responsibilities grow, they bring you along, and as everyone works together, the projects just keep getting bigger.

Speaking of experimenting with different sounds and instruments, in your score for The Last Exorcism, Part II, there’s such a variety of sounds being employed.  Some of them are more immediately recognizable, such as stringed instruments and piano; however, there were a few sounds that were almost unrecognizable; what were some of the other instruments you used?

For each score, I try to find a different template of sounds.  In the case of The Last Exorcism, I knew, going in, that in terms of the score, it was going to be smaller in sound.  It wasn’t going to be a big orchestral score, or even a big electronic template, like some of the other horror scores that I’ve done.  It’s an intimate story, basically centered around one character, and we found that just using a smaller template was scarier.

It was a long experimentation process.  The film score went through a few iterations, in terms of trying different approaches.  It started out as experimental and very open, and kind of avant-garde and weird, and ended up being much more scene-driven, but there were sounds that we came up with early on using instruments like a guitar vial, and an old baroque instrument called a psaltery, and I used a few traditional instruments that were played in really weird ways.  If you listen to the score, you’ll hear this kind of bending, screaming solo string sound in a lot of the cues, and that’s me doing a kind of random bowing technique on a variety of string instruments, and it’s meant to be sort of a juxtaposition between the two main voices in the film, and that’s Nell’s evil side becoming seduced by the demon presence in the film.  You can hear those two elements are separated, and other cues where they’re sort of coming together into one complete thought.  At moments it can feel really cacophonous, and suddenly there’s a consonance that happens as they sort of consummate with seduction.  It was cool!  It was a very odd, unorthodox sound, it’s not something you normally (use) in a score, and I’ve had other people ask me, “What is that?”  It really came out of a period of sitting here, trying out different instruments, playing things like string instruments with things besides bows, or…I don’t know, just taking a random shot at it and seeing what happens.

There’s been a lot of experimentation going on in film scores, I think, in the past ten or fifteen years.

It’s definitely a trend.  Every composer I know is constantly searching for a new sound, a timbre, a texture, a color, that they can use in a score; (something) that sticks out, that might give some sense of time, place, some particular emotion, that is new.  Even if it’s an instrument that some people would consider traditional, or something used in the past even often, they may find a different way to utilize it.  Some composers build their own instruments.

What I did on The Last Exorcism was basically destroyed a piano in the process of doing the scoring.  I was playing a prepared piano with lots of different things.  I got particularly good effects by using chopsticks that were taped together, and squeezing the strings between the chopsticks, and then either hitting the chopsticks with another stick, or rubbing them up and down the wound strings really, really fast.  It (brings) almost a human quality to the sound of it when it was resonating; it sounded like someone was breathing very shallow and quickly, and (it was) creepy.

The one way that composers can differentiate themselves, try to make the process more interesting and fun for people on the outside, when you’re trying to sell yourself on the job, is that they like the idea of doing something new and different.  (By) taking some chances and find a new sounds, things that are really particular to the films that give it a unique twist, musically, that’s important.  Even in films that are thematic, it can help to have some kind of texture in there, or some tone or instrument that is a sort of really unique color in the whole palette of the film score.  It’s just one part of the process that makes it more fun.

Do you find that everything comes together, depending on what one film requires versus another?  Or do you have a checklist somewhere, of instruments or sounds that you wish to use someday?

It’s both.  There’s always what I call a “mad scientist mode” on a score, where I’ll take two or three days for no other purpose than to figure out a set of sounds that are particular to that project, and I can never say for sure where they’re going to come from.  It might be a very typical source, and it might end up being me banging on the washing machine with a sledgehammer—I have no idea.

I’m pretty much willing to try anything, and I’ll use that, and I have an idea of what kinds of sounds will work in the score, based on what it is.  If it needs to be, say, more fluid, or more legato, or more melodic, or if they can be very percussive, or metallic, or something that’s more soft; it’s something that speaks of wood, or cloth, or something warm in tone—those are just generalized terms that I might be throwing around in my head while I’m looking for particular sounds.

A good example, and every composer goes through this, is, say, small percussion; finding the right ticking sound, or little tiny percussion sound, right when you need to create tempo, or pacing something—you need background ticking sounds.  So many different ways to create that sound, instead of, say, using a shaker, everybody’s constantly looking for little new, cool ways to make a little ticking sound.  I sampled the igniter snap on the range here in the house; it’s that snapping sound of trying to light the gas flame (on our stove).  I recorded that, and cut it up, and used it as a sort of a hi-hat, and it’s got a very short attack and release, but it really cuts through everything; it has a really powerful snap to it.  If you play it back in a mix, it sits in there really nice, but it’s really hard to figure out what it is, because it’s not anything actually being struck, it’s air moving.  I don’t want to get too technical about it, but it’s just a really cool noise, and I never would’ve thought of that, but when I’m in that process of, “What’s going to be cool in the score?,” my ears are open.

So (my wife and I) are sitting there making dinner one night, we turn on the stove, and I’m like, “Wait, that’s cool!” (laughs) “Do it again!”  So I run and get the recorder and stand next to the stove, going, “Okay, start it!” (laughs)

So you must be listening to sounds all the time.

Yeah.  I did a lot of sound design when I was working in commercials.  I’d spend fifty percent of the time I was working doing sound designing, and the other half writing music, so I had a lot of practice doing that.  My brain is sort of in that world all the time, a little bit at least, and being aware of things that just have different tones and textures and might elicit certain emotions very well, even if it’s just a single tone.  You’d be surprised how many mechanical things that are just sitting in the background, anywhere, in an airport or a mall or something, and you just listen.  You go beyond the voices and just listen to the tones of the place, the lights, the air conditioning, the guy cleaning the floor—the things that have more of a drone-y qualities, they usually have a pitch, and I’ll tune in on those things, and then think, “Okay, that sounds really cool, if I can capture that noise I can sample it and put it in and re-pitch it and script it so it’ll work as an instrument.”  And you have something that’s both organic and electronic at the same time, and you often can’t quite place it with your ear, which makes it more interesting.

With so many movies in the works, any number of possibilities of scores could happen.  Which ones would you want “dibs” on, given the chance?

Anything that has to do with superheroes; that’s still something very near and dear to my heart.  I still so totally believe that every single superhero movie, you should come away with a theme that’s so knocked into your head that you’ll never forget it.  What’s sad is that a lot of the (superhero) films that have come out, you don’t have that, at least the newer ones; some of them do, some of them don’t.  I just think that should be very much a (given) for the score.  We need a theme that everybody’s going to remember.  We need the next Superman, that sort of thing.  I need to do that, that sort of challenge-movie, that would be awesome.

I don’t know, I would love to do something that’s more of a sword-and-sorcery-type epic.  A Lord of the Rings type of film would be such a blast, because you get to do so many different types of things.

What would be most fun to do one film that was completely acoustic, very traditional, because those are usually the films that are the most fun to do, musically, and then do one that was completely electronic, where you have to create all the sounds from scratch, or—I was telling the director on The Last Exorcism that I would love to do a horror film just with a choir, and nothing else.  That would be a lot of fun, because I really believe you get the scariest noises with humans.  To be able to use both acoustic choir writing, and then to take the voices and manipulate them into other things, but to use nothing but a forty-person choir for the whole score, would be a blast.  That would be the scariest score of all, because people always respond to in music, if it’s there, the human voice.  If it’s in the cue, if it’s in the theme, singing the theme or whatever, your ear always goes to the human voice first, no matter what.  It’s the most relatable thing, the human voice.

What about scoring the next Star Wars movie?

I don’t know if Star Wars would be (for me). Like, talk about pressure!  Oh my god!  I just don’t think…   My personal feeling is, no-one should touch that.  Even if they have to take the old music and re-record it and re-cut it for the new film.  They got it right the first time, and that’s the most iconic film music of all time, so don’t touch it, don’t try to change it, don’t try to update it.  It’s like trying to cover Pink Floyd—just don’t go there.  I even felt that way with Superman (1978).  That’s another Top 10 theme of all time; don’t mess with it!

What about a Tarzan movie?

That would be incredible!  I especially love primitive instruments doing period movies from the time of the Bible, or the Dark Ages, or Ancient Egypt, or something where you can really go back and use indigenous instruments, get something that’s really raw and primal would be a lot of fun.  Those scores are always a great learning experience, not just from the writing standpoint, but you learn about an entire culture, musically, when you’re doing that, too.

As a composer, you just want to keep skipping around, doing as much as you can.  The biggest problem for a lot of composers in Hollywood is they get pigeonholed very quickly when (for instance) most composers do a lot of action films are completely qualified to do comedies and vice versa.  Or people do a lot of, say, period dramas could do an action film, and vice versa.  They’ve got a lot more ability than people give them credit for.

The Last Exorcism, Part II comes out on Blu-Ray and DVD on June 18th.

© Copyright 2013 by Barry Lee Dejasu

Scoring Horror Presents: An Interview with JOSEPH BISHARA

Posted in 2013, 70s Horror, Aliens, Barry Dejasu Columns, Compelling Cinema, Demons, Evil Spirits, Indie Horror, Music for Film, Occult, Outer Space, Paranormal, Scoring Horror, Soundtracks with tags , , , , , , on February 13, 2013 by knifefighter

Scoring Horror Presents:
By Barry Lee Dejasu

There’s a sound for everything, including fear.  Not everyone can hear those sounds, but for musical composers such as Joseph Bishara, it’s the very realm of inspiration.

Joseph Bishara

Joseph Bishara

A veteran of genre films since the late 1990s, Mr. Bishara’s work includes the scores to The Gravedancers (2006), the Night of the Demons remake (2009), and Darren Lynn Bousman’s 11-11-11 (2011).  He also served as producer on the soundtrack to REPO! The Genetic Opera (2008).

Mr. Bishara also made a bit of a splash in the horror scene with 2010’s Insidious, a tale of creeping menace from director James Wan (Saw, 2004 and Dead Silence, 2007).  With appropriately eerie musical touches, Mr. Bishara’s presence was heard—but he also took on another responsibility, namely acting, on-screen, as a scarlet-faced demon lurking in the shadows.


Something unique for you amongst other composers is that you’ve appeared on-screen in the very movie you were scoring.  How did that come about?

Basically, James just asked me to do it one day, hanging out on a friend’s film set.  For some reason, he seemed to think it’d be a good thing.  It was a good experience.  It definitely was a fun thing to do.

Joseph Bishara as the INSIDIOUS demon.

Joseph Bishara as the INSIDIOUS demon.

Will you be involved in the recently-announced sequel to Insidous?

Yes, I’ll be involved.

What do you think was the most influential film upon your work?

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) was an early influence on me; I first saw it on Super 8 film; I was probably eight years old.  That really stuck in my head, that imagery always really got to me.  The visual and sonic and whatever (other) creative stuff bleeds together into something that can affect things musically.

What was your first instance of noticing sound and music in movies?

Hmm.  I don’t know if I can recall the first, but I can definitely think of some early instances where my mind was pretty blown.  Some of the first sounds that really compelled me were the early synth sounds; Tangerine Dream, that kind of stuff.  I remember seeing Liquid Sky (1982), and thinking that one really stood out as like, “Holy shit, this is different, this is…wow.”  (laughs)  It’s this kind of off-beat little… New-York-alien-drugs-synth-heroin movie.  It’s worth a look (if you haven’t seen it).  Some really interesting synth work in that.  It’s a really unique electronic sound.

LiquidSkyPosterWould you say there’s a sort of “signature” to your sound?

It’s probably more audible to others than myself; I don’t really think about it too much.  It’s more of a feeling-response for these kinds of things.  It’s not really a… I’m sure something comes up that someone else might be able to point to; you could probably tell that better than I could.

What are some older/classic movie scores you’re into, or were influenced by?

I love the Howard Shore score to David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983); I think it’s fantastic, I love that, and Scanners (1981).  I loved that whole wave of Cronenberg films.  It’s just such a rich collaboration.

When you’re watching a movie that you’re working on, how does the score come to you?

I think I’m fortunate enough to get started on projects pretty early.  I’m usually thinking about projects from just talking about it or at script stage; it’s been pretty cool to work that way.  It can start anywhere.  Instrumentation is what seems to come to me first.  It can come off of anything in there; even a frequency range or a pitch; maybe it’s a way of the light that everything’ll grow out of.  The first exposure to the material you’ll get these splinters that stick (and) they grow into tumors, I guess, or something (laughs).

In a film like Insidious, so much silence is used to help set the mood or create tension.  How much input do you have about using silence?

That does come up, and I voice my opinion there with James; but we’re on the same page when it comes to being okay with a lot of quiet.  I like extreme dynamics; it sounds right to me.  I kind of like hearing things that are barely there.  It’s the kind of thing that the tendency is when something is quiet, (someone will want) to turn it up—but it’s like, “No-no-no, it’s quiet like that for a reason.”  It’s the finding attention to these little things that— It’s part of the palette, I guess, having the full range from barely-there to extremely loud.

This year also sees the release of Dark Skies, from director Scott Stewart (Priest, 2011 & Legion, 2009).  When you were watching the early cuts of Dark Skies, which musical/thematic approach did you have in mind, and what did you wind up creating? 

From the script, one overall idea that stood out was that of a stripping away of familiar context.  It became a fast process of getting into the energies and finding it, taking in the concepts and talking with Scott.  He was looking for a motivic, rather than thematic, approach, and that informed the composition process.

Unrecognizable sets of sounds comprise the palette, along with crystal bowls and an ensemble of viola, cello, and bassoon.

DarkSkiesPosterAnd how about with The Conjuring?

For whatever reason, I was hearing a brass clustering pretty early in response to the stuff.  Somehow, I just really wanted to hear this really quiet shimmering flutter-tongue brass effect.  For some reason, that’s what I was hearing; it started with that, and kind of grew from that.  It won’t be until (this) summer, but it’ll be out there soon.

Patrick Wilson, Vera Farminga, Lili Taylor, & Ron Livingston in THE CONJURING.

Patrick Wilson, Vera Farminga, Lili Taylor, & Ron Livingston in THE CONJURING.

What are some other projects in the works for you?

(I’ll be) starting up Chapter 2 of The Devil’s Carnival (2012).  I’m not scoring, but I produce the music.  I did REPO! The Genetic Opera, and The Devil’s Carnival, so now there’s the second part of that.  I’m starting that very shortly here, so that’s going to probably (take up) the next little while.

What are some movies you’ve enjoyed recently?
Off the top of my head… There’s the Maniac remake (2012), A Serbian Film (2010), and Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present (2012).

With any number of movies in various stages of production, if you had dibs on them all, which ones would you “jump at” the most?  For instance, there’s the new Star Wars movie…

I probably wouldn’t be a very good choice for that.  (laughs) I would make time for anything Lars von Trier was involved with, same for Gaspar Noé.  The Funhouse (1981) is a film I’ve always enjoyed, (and so) if a remake happens, I would be interested to see where it goes.

Would you use any unusual instruments or other approaches, if you had free range to do whatever you wanted, musically?

Probably.   I don’t think about it (in terms of) unusual instruments; there’s nothing really unusual in there to me, it’s just kind of whatever it is.  That said, I do enjoy experimenting with things, in finding the sounds that things make, whether (it’s their) intended purpose or not, or even with some more experimental art instruments.  There are some pretty radical electronics engineers out there with pretty neat art instruments that generate some pretty neat sounds.

If you had full freedom to do so, what are some already-existing movies you would want to newly score?
Wow, um…  Hmm.  That’s such an exercise to even think about.  As far as what I would bring to something, it would more be purely for enjoyment, I would think. It would be (less of) a creative thing, it would be more for fun.

I’ve been drawn to making a Cabinet of Dr. Caligari score; that wouldn’t really be replacing a score, since it was silent.  That was something I always wanted to do one day.

Nosferatu (1922), that would be cool. Any of the striking-visual stuff, just because that’s fun stuff. Santa Sangre (1989) definitely. How could you look at something like that and not have something to throw out (musically)? Häxan (1922) I could get into. Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972) definitely.

What music is out there now, be it popular or underground, that you enjoy (and may or may not influence your work)?

I like constantly listening to new stuff.  It really kind of comes and goes in waves.  It can be an electronic wave, which’ll go into a black metal wave, which’ll go into…some other weird genre metal stuff wave, and then back into ambient, and there’ll be a lot of variety.  These days, there’s a band called Crossover, they do some pretty cool stuff.  This guy Daniel Knox, a singer-songwriter, amazing.  I did just pick up this thing recently called Botanist; it’s basically black metal with a hammered dulcimer; pretty interesting sound.

What is it about horror, and genre films in general, that you’re so drawn to?

I don’t know if I can really answer that.  It’s just kind of…  It’s where I’m drawn, it’s what feels right.  It holds my interest.  I’m generally drawn to darker material.  It’s what I like.  I’ve always enjoyed horror and more extreme cinemas; that’s just what I like to watch.  That’s kind of the world I like to live in.

Mr. Bishara was very much into his INSIDIOUS character during the interview.

Mr. Bishara was very much into his INSIDIOUS character during the interview.

Dark Skies opens February 22nd.

The Conjuring and Insidious: Chapter Two open this summer.

And to learn more about Joseph Bishara, go to his site.

Interview © Copyright 2013 by Barry Lee Dejasu

Scoring Horror Presents: An Interview with CHRISTOPHER YOUNG (Part 2 of 2)

Posted in 2012, Barry Dejasu Columns, Film Scores, Haunted Houses, Horror, Music for Film, Scoring Horror, Soundtracks, Supernatural with tags , , , , , , on November 13, 2012 by knifefighter

Scoring Horror Presents:
An Interview with Christopher Young (Part 2 of 2)
by Barry Lee Dejasu

Part Two: Sinister

Young’s latest film score, SINISTER, is his second collaboration with director Scott Derrickson (2005’s THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE being the first).  In this film, a true-crime writer named Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) and his family have just moved into a new house; for Ellison, there is an ulterior motive to this move: the previous family had been coldly murdered…and he senses a chance to write a new hit book in which he solves their mysterious deaths.  Upon running across a box of innocuously-named home movies, Ellison soon discovers that they are in fact films of the murdered family—and others—in their final, brutal moments.  As his fascination begins to turn into obsession, Ellison soon starts realizing that these cold-blooded murders might not have been committed by human hands…and that the horrors of the past are far from over.

SINISTER has an unusual score in that the music is mostly dark ambient and/or electronic, with lots of unusual sound effects and samples throughout.  What brought about that musical direction?
Well—did you just listen to the movie or the (official film score) CD?  The reason I ask is because the CD is different than the film.

Really?  How so?
It’s essentially the same material, but it’s structured differently.  Why, you may ask?  I think when you’re dealing with industrial music or sound design-oriented score music, that generally means is one of two things: either, through some twisting, pulsing idea, or extended pads or clusters of sonorities that can hold for long periods of time.  Where they might work incredibly well in the context of the movie, if you take them away from the picture, they lessen the listening experience, because in fact, they’re not utilizing those same (elements) that a tonal film score uses when it’s made of melody and harmony.  The minute you start writing a score that’s got melody and harmony, there’s certain laws that sort of fall into place without thinking, because it’s been around for so long that you subconsciously resort to those things that you know will work.  There’s certain logic in that kind of writing that governs tonal music.  But in sound design and industrial music, that all gets flushed down the toilet, and anything goes, really.  So what I decided for the CD, I was going to rework it, and use a lot of the same material, but add new material as needed and restructure it, so I thought it would make a much more fascinating and digestible listening experience.  With a lot of these industrial sound design CDs, they don’t play well for me; after the third or fourth track, I’m kind of like, “Well, I don’t know about this anymore,” and maybe you experience the same thing.  Now what I’ll say about the CD, like it or not, I’d like to think that it’s trying to doing something a little different; it’s not your average score, it’s not even your average industrial or design-type score; it’s totally different.

Number two, in answer to your question, why did that language come about?  Because Scott Derrickson, the director, turned to me and said, “You know what?  Even if we had the money for an orchestra, I don’t think I would want you to do an orchestra soundtrack to this movie.”  He’s the one that planted the seed; he’s the one who said, “let’s go off and do something different.  Let’s do a sound-design score, an industrial-type score, or whatever we use, one that is not orchestral, one that doesn’t utilize those orchestral -isms.”

I was thrilled, because this was something I always wanted to do, but ever since HELLRAISER, really, when I get hired to do a horror score … they’re usually looking for something that’s somehow connected to HELLRAISER, and if it’s a romantic thriller, it’s somehow connected to (my score for) JENNIFER 8 (1992).  I’ve humorously said that a lot of my scores to romantic thrillers since JENNIFER 8 can be called Jennifer 9, Jennifer 10, or Jennifer 11; they’re very much like that score, but that’s what I was being asked to do; that’s okay, that’s fine.  And it’s the same thing with the horror films; they always want a big orchestra, because big orchestras sort of like improve the production value.  Film scores are a dime a dozen.  “We hire Chris to give us a big fat orchestra score, because it’ll make our film look really high-quality.”

Anyway, this was the situation: we didn’t have the money for a full orchestra, (Scott) encouraged me to go electronic and sound design and industrial in attitude, and that was something I’d been wanting to do, but I hadn’t been able to unleash that part of my musical personality.  I alluded to it many years ago in a lot of my early stuff; and there’d be instances along the way when I incorporate electronic sounds into the orchestra; I could name some of those.  I did a score many years ago for the Tobe Hooper remake of INVADERSFROM MARS(1986), which I was thrilled to be a part of, man; (I was) working with Tobe Hooper!  It got totally thrown out.  It was experimental; it was orchestral music, which was totally traditional, and there was the electronic stuff, which was pretty damn experimental.  I was pre-sampling sounds of acoustic instruments, primarily percussion instruments, creating masses of sounds by modifying through tape manipulations.  But I’ve often said humorously what they were ultimately looking for in the final analysis wasn’t music from Mars, but music about Mars.  It was pretty out there, and it got thrown out, and that sort of cooled my jets in trying to do something that hadn’t been done before.

So I’ve been dabbling with that, working in the world of sound as being the ultimate determining factor; taking dramatic sound, manipulating it in a way that only a composer can, and creating a unique score.  Flash forward to SINISTER, and I’m re-tapping into that part of my musical personality; now being encouraged, and the language is different because the technology is different, so it’s really not any different from the crazy stuff I was doing in the early days; some of the crazy stuff I still do, with electronics and more manipulations of acoustic instruments.  It’s just now, the technology’s improved, (so when) we do all-electronic stuff, it all sounds different.

Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) discovers strange home movies in the attic of the house his family is renting in SINISTER.

Just what the heck were some of the sounds used in the score?  (Namely, that low, warbling vocal track?)
That moaning sound?  That utilizes the concepts that go way back to those days; that’s a modified instrument called the duduk.  It’s a Middle Eastern wind instrument; it’s kind of popular in movie scores, but I modified it, transposed it, played around with it, and turned it into something that sounds like a banshee moan or something.  That was supposed to be that distant call, that siren’s call, from… Again, I’m talking about that black space that goes on forever, and it’s the moan, the cry, that’s coming from within that black space, and in this movie, it’s all this stuff, the invisible which will become visible in time, called Mr. Boogie, the bad guy, the bad guy that exists there somewhere.  You see his picture, his likeness in freeze frames of Super 8 film; and he’s there, he’s out there, existing in the dark somewhere.  That’s what the duduk was; I tried to capture that.  “What’s the sound for this?”  And as it turns out, that’s the duduk thing; that’s one of the predominant sounds.

There’s a number of other sounds which are used in this score; there’s a very long list, and I’m only going to point out one of them, because it involved me, it just popped into my head.  I just did a session where I screamed, you know?  It was just moaning and screams, and they were utilized backwards and stuck into the picture.  (Gibbering sounds.)  You know?  I tried to sound like the devil vomiting, or something, and then it was manipulated.  I did such a long list of sounds, I couldn’t tell you (but it would go on) for the next three days, but those two came off the top of my head.  Right at the beginning, when (Ellison) looks out that window and he sees that tree, the hanging tree, that’s the sound that kicks off the score, and it keeps reappearing, and it has that nice screaming sound a number of times in the picture.

Ellison begins to get obsessed with the disturbing films he has found, in SINISTER.

SINISTER, on its own, has such a voyeuristic quality, with Ellison watching all of these films of terrible things happening.  When you were watching the film, did you feel at all like that?
I would have to say yeah, yes; from the safety of my own room, watching a film of someone watching a film.  There was that distance that made me feel safe; having said that, indeed I tried my best to get inside his head, and imagine what that moment must have been for him, witnessing something that was so awful, so awful, that slowly but surely, he loses himself; again, parts of him are in pursuit of getting his celebrity back, but even more than that, you’ve opened a Pandora’s box thing.  It’s like, once you’ve opened the box, you want to dig deeper and find more and more, but evil things await.  I did get into that part of it; that knowing behind the curtain, there’s something terribly evil, but not being able to walk away.

Ellison can’t stop watching.

With so many horror films that you’ve worked on, have you ever gotten scared of them?
(laughs)  No.  I get scared on every movie I’ve worked on; that I’m not going to do a great job, in the time that I’ve been given, is what scares me.  I’ve seen it all; I really have.  Most of the horror films that I’ve worked on have gratuitous violence, or have some nutcase on the loose who’s going around killing people, right?  A lot of those films (like that are) not my kind of thing, and I can see someone getting ripped to smithereens, like in HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II (1988), someone ripping themselves to smithereens with a razorblade; you know, that’s probably the grossest thing I’ve ever seen.  And I know (director Tony Randel)wanted me to score that “sympathetically” or something, and I’m like, you gotta… I can’t… (laughs) It doesn’t work!  You can’t score that sympathetically, you can only illuminate the insanity of this with music that is so messed-up.  Anyway, yeah, I’ve seen enough of that so that it doesn’t scare me.

But I’d say that SINISTER did, and there are some that do, and they’re the ones that deal with cerebral terror.  Those kinds of movies that, like a great ghost story, talk about the invisible world again; the things that can’t be seen, the things that can only exist as we believe they are to be seen.  I’m a great classic English ghost story enthusiast, and I’ve got tons of books, and (there’s nothing quite like) a great ghost story or a film that’s a pretty damn good telling of a good ghost story.  So, ones in which our minds are being played with—those are the kinds of films that can scare the crap out of me.  They have to be challenging, they have to have some wisdom and wit; they have to catalyze our imagination, because indeed, it’s about us imagining the invisible, as opposed to dealing with the visible.

The NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET movies, they’re great, they’re fantastic; how lucky I was to work on one of them (Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge, 1985) that was a dream come true; that’s about the metaphysical world, about dreams, and Freddy himself is extremely visible, when he’s doing his evil deeds, he’s right on screen, right in your face, doing it. THE HAUNTING (1963), from Robert Wise and based on the book by Shirley Jackson, that’s horrifying; I still watch that every Halloween, or right around Halloween; each year I’ll watch that movie or read the book, because that is done so well; we never see these ghosts; we never see them!

So yes, I do get horrified by films, but it’s usually the types that are playing with my mind.

Mr. Boogie is watching you.

And horror is so subjective.
At the end of the day, let’s face it, who likes horror movies?  A very select few.  Enough so that. Come this time of year, the months of September through November, companies are going to make tons of money to finance their dramatic movies.  (Horror films are) the illegitimate bastard sons of Hollywood, and they like to forget about them, by November, they’re going to pretend that (all the horror movies) didn’t happen; they’ll try to sweep them under the carpet, and move on to dramatically and artistically and more meaningful stuff that gets the Academy Awards.

So, I have a feeling that most people who work in horror have a love/hate relationship.  There are certain things that a composer can do in horror films that you can’t do anywhere else.  The score I did for SINISTER—you can’t do that in any other kind of movie, not really.

Not easily.
No, not easily.  You’d have to find someone who’s really game for doing something weird in playing it against the picture.  And by doing that, all of a sudden, “Wow, this is new, this is different.”  You get to do things that you can’t do anywhere else, and that’s exciting.  Because I fell in love with that whole sound/mass way of thinking, and I was fascinated with sounds in general, and in that quest to define the voice of the darkness, so to speak, I was able in these kinds of movies to unleash that; of course I love it.  I do love it.

But at the end of the day again, there’s not many people who like to (acknowledge the genre); they’re not really remembered films.  It’s funny, every time I go to meet someone at a party or something, or a social gathering, I’m asked, “Oh, I heard you do music for movies?”  They go, “What have you done?”  Just the other day I was asked that, and I said, “There’s this new movie coming out called SINISTER.”  They said, “Oh, that sounds kind of scary!”  I said, “Well yeah, it’s a horror film.”  And I know exactly what they’re gonna say.

They sum it up with one word: “Oh.”
Exactly!  It starts with “Oh,” and I’m thinking, “Oh, I know where this is going.”

They’re distancing themselves from that yawning void of the uncanny that you’re meanwhile so fascinated with.
I am, I am.  And fortunately, there are a lot of people that see things in a similar way.  That’s why a film like SINISTER made $18 million over (its first) weekend; it only cost $3 million to make, so that’s a pretty good sign, and I’ve been very blessed, because I’ve never seen a score line get so much attention.

The nice thing is I feel like my mind is as sharp as it ever was; my musical mind, I think, after all these years, it’s got so much to say, and is still dying to try new things.  I don’t want to do another HELLRAISER; I think they’re going to do that, I think they’re doing another HELLRAISER movie, aren’t they?

They are.  There’s one in development.
I don’t see myself doing that; I mean, I don’t know.  I’m not lusting to do the next HELLRAISER.  If I’m going to continue to do horror films, it would be, after this movie, the people, the directors would go, “My god, I didn’t think Chris could do this!  We thought he only did orchestra stuff!  That’s too old-fashioned!  We don’t want any orchestra stuff in our horror film!”

Nothing made me happier (than the reception for SINISTER).  I get a chance to reinvent myself, and guess what?  I haven’t read one review (or) heard anyone say, “This score stunk!”   (There were) maybe those who didn’t like it, but certainly no one thought it was inappropriate.  And certainly anyone who knows my music in horror films would have to say, “You know, I don’t know anything about music, but this sounds different than HELLRAISER.”  And even Jason Blum, the producer on the movie, said the third question he was getting when he was doing pre-release screenings was “What the hell is… Who did this music?”

I am not going to get an Oscar for this, that’s for sure, because it’s a horror movie; it won’t even get nominated, because it’s a horror movie, but I can get another horror film because of it.  I’m all for that.

But you now have lots of fans out there drooling for more music like this.
You know, I hope it happens.  Hopefully I will still be getting calls until I topple over, and if that’s the case, then you’ll hear more in that style.

Sinister is in theaters now.  The official film score is available for download and on CD.  Give it a listen…and then just try to sleep with the lights off!



Interview © Copyright 2012 by Barry Lee Dejasu

Scoring Horror Presents: An Interview with CHRISTOPHER YOUNG (Part 1 of 2)

Posted in 1980s Horror, 2012, Barry Dejasu Columns, Cult Movies, Film Scores, Horror, Music for Film, Scoring Horror, Soundtracks with tags , , , , , on November 6, 2012 by knifefighter

Scoring Horror Presents:
An Interview with Christopher Young
by Barry Lee Dejasu


Film composer Christopher Young

In a career spanning over twenty-five years, film music composer Christopher Young has dabbled in every genre, from horror to adventure to romance.  Some of his more popular titles include HELLRAISER (1987), VIRTUOSITY (1995), ROUNDERS (1998), THE SHIPPING NEWS(2001),THE GRUDGE (2004),WHEN IN ROME (2010)…the list goes on and on and on.  “I’ve been very blessed in that my mind needs, and seems to comfortably be able, to move from one musical vocabulary to the next,” Young says.  “I’d like to think that I’m not failing in any of them, per se.  I mean, everyone hates being typecast, no matter what their discipline is in movies and in life, and most everyone who talks about it never gets the opportunity to really break out of the mold.  I’m one of those lucky guys who has.”

I was lucky enough to spend an evening chatting with Young about his career, his music, and his latest score, that of the new horror film SINISTER.

How do you go about adapting to such a variety of films?

I think that when I do get calls back on those films that don’t fall into the suspense/horror/thriller (genres), it’s because I seem to be able to do it with conviction.  It’s because my mind is as comfortable in really pretty much anything; I am pretty fluent in different musical languages.  I don’t struggle with them; I get it; my brain is structured that way… (If) I’m thrown a situation where, it’s a language that I’ve never worked with before; the musicological side of me will step in and be excited about the opportunity to research that music.  And then, after a circuit of time, and (some) detailed research … I’ll try to embrace it and try to admire the language while at the same time (have to keep) thinking, “By the way, this is a Hollywood movie.”

I often will say to the director, that I believe there is a perfect score for his movie; and I’m going to find that.  I’m trying to become the vehicle for which that score is realized. I’ve had that opportunity on occasions where directors come up to me and hug me in the recording sessions.  They go, “Oh my god, I had no idea!”  You know?

What was your first instance of having that occur?

The first time that I can recall being really collectively taken with a director, with the editor, with the post-production supervisor … was with (Clive Barker’s) HELLRAISER.  That was a new movie, and we were in a tiny little editing room; it couldn’t have been bigger than the size of a bathroom in an Amtrak train.  That was back in the days when they didn’t have the money to record with picture projection, and so I’d go in and the orchestra would record with the digital “click” metronome.  I’d have to talk about what was going on with the scene, to remind them, “This is when this happens, that’s when that happens,” and they’d go, “Okay, okay,” but it wasn’t until the music was cut into the movie that you were really able to get a sense of how it was going to play against the picture.

So there’s a scene in HELLRAISER when Julia, the main character (played by Clare Higgins) has a flashback to when she first met the bad guy … whose name is Frank (played by Sean Chapman), rather than her husband.  She’s walking around in the house that they’ve just moved into, as she’s having a flashback: she sees him coming to the door, and then she walks into the room where they (had previously) made love…  There’s a cue that I wrote for that, and I remember one of my instructions from (writer/director) Clive where he goes, “Okay Chris, remember, even though this is a horror movie, what this is is a very, very, very sick love story,” about a woman so obsessed with a guy who she knows in her heart is the worst person she could have in her life, because he’s so intrinsically evil; he’s abusive, (yet) she’s so obsessed with him (that) she’s ready to go out and kill people for him, so he can come back to life.  “The music needs to win the audience over in the sincerity of her affection, as sick as it is, for this character.”  So, I wrote this emotional cue—it wasn’t a scary cue, it was an emotional cue—that kept rising and rising and rising while they’re making love; the scene is cutting between them making love, her remembering it, and her husband and these two workers moving a mattress up a set of stairs, and it ultimately ends with the husband cutting his hand on a nail.  Again, I (had) the music change as we move from the memory of the love affair she had with Frank to music for the husband and the workers walking up the stairs.  I paid no attention to what was going on on the staircase; I was thinking about her, I wasn’t thinking about that.

We played that scene for the first time in this tiny little bathroom-sized editing room, and we’d been up all night; we were all exhausted.  After that scene played, there was an absolute dead silence in the editing room; no one said anything; and then I remember standing up and hugging (film editor) Tony Randel; I’m pretty sure I hugged Clive, but I remember we were all in tears—they were crying.  Their jaws dropped, and they said, “…Perfect.  Perfect cue for that scene.  Perfect.”  And it was really that moment that something went on in my head, and I thought, “You know what?  Maybe I really am supposed to be a film score composer, after all.”  Because at that time, I was sort of on the fence, but I was taken; I was even surprised by what it did to the scene—I had no idea that it was going to be that effective, because remember, back in those days, before you did mockups (digital music demos), you just had it in your head, you put the notes on paper, and it’s whatever you had in your head that was recorded.  It was at the beginning of my career (and) I wasn’t entirely secure with what I had in my head.  It’s not like when you’re writing a script; you’ve got the words and you can read those words on the page, and that’s it.  With music, it means nothing until it’s performed and recorded, (or) it used to mean nothing, but now it’s perfect.  You can do mockups, I could’ve heard it, and it would’ve played against the scene, the director would’ve made his comments, he might not’ve liked it and I’d have to go back and rewrite it—it’s a whole different thing now.

Throughout your career, you’ve worked so extensively in so many horror films.  What is it that draws you to them so much, as a genre?

Why is it that those in a position to hire me gravitate towards my home?  The answer to that is pretty simple.  In fact, I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you when I was a kid, I thought Halloween was the coolest day of the year.  I didn’t sit around watching Roy Rogers or (other) kinds of films that most of my peers watched; I connected with monsters; Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolfman… The Universal horror actors and their successors were my buddies.  I kind of really “got” what was going on with them, and I was always really fascinated by the mysteries (of) that which cannot be explained in the ways of the universe. (Laughs) That’s not too bad!

What do I mean by that?  I mean, I’ve always loved daytime, of course; that was always wonderful, being able to celebrate life, and be able to see what was going on, but at the same time, I thought that there was something even more fascinating in many regards, of peering out into the sky at nighttime and trying to wonder, “What is this really all about?”

As H.P. Lovecraft once said, “The oldest emotion known to mankind is fear,” I’m paraphrasing, “the greatest kind of fear is that of the unknown.”  I always thought that there was something really wonderful about trying to look into the darkness and try to make sense out of it, and to be inspired through that sense of fear and wonder that one will have when being ill-equipped to rationally explain a moment in time.  Part of me was always searching for an opportunity to write music or come up with something about sound, like, “How do I turn this into something that can be experienced (audibly)?”

As a little kid, the only music I knew about was what was the music on the radio, (and) what was on the radio was Top Ten Pop Hits (and) rock ‘n’ roll—the three “B’s” of rock ‘n’ roll, the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Byrds.  And that was it; that’s what I thought music was all about.  So lo and behold, I was really, really young, and I remember going in the theater and seeing 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, for the very first time and hearing the music (and) even as a kid, going “Oh my god!  WHAT IS THIS?”  It was describing this, this… face in darkness that I’d been trying to reach all my life, and to me, this was God, this was the voice of God.

What now makes people scream in the movie theater (are) clusters, the same kind of clusters that Kubrick used from György Ligeti in 2001 and Krzysztof Penderecki in THE SHINING, which keeps it kind of vague and bunched together in groups like grapes, and then squished; but that stuff now is, to Hollywood, the voice of terror.  To me, it wasn’t the voice of terror; it was the voice of God.

What are you doing next?

I have two films; one is set, (and) one is nearly set.  There’s one called THE KILLING SEASON, with Robert DeNiro and John Travolta; that’s my next movie.  The other one may be happening, but I can’t be sure, that one is called DARK SKIES, and that’s got Keri Russell in it.  I’m not on that film yet, so I can’t say it’s a slam-dunk.  It’s likely.  Both directors I’ve worked with before.  In the case of the DeNiro movie, Mark Steven Johnson, with whom I did WHEN IN ROME, and then before that, GHOST RIDER (2007).  In the case of DARK SKIES, Scott Stewart, with whom I did PRIEST (2011).  So that’s good; they’re returning guys.


Interview © Copyright 2012 by Barry Lee Dejasu