Every year I seem to have the same reaction to The Oscar nominations - a collective sigh for the films that haven't been nominated. Usually these omissions are better than the nominees. Worst omission is Ex Machina, missing out on Best Film and Best Director for Alex Garland. Hot on the heels though is It Follows and Rich Vreeland a.k.a. Disasterpeace who delivered 2015's most outstanding score. I suggest tracking the soundtrack down and enjoy the dreamlike music that captures the film's tone perfectly. I loved his music so much I interviewed him to find out more about his work on It Follows.
1) How did you first become attached to scoring It Follows?
I scored a game called FEZ a few years ago. David loved the music and reached out to me via e-mail. Our initial discussions were straightforward; we talked logistics and expressed our interest in working together. David touched base early, right before he started filming I believe, and then we fell out of touch for about a year. When he came back to me, prepared to start scoring, I had a lot of projects on the table and was a bit strapped for time. I think I turned him down a few times, but he could tell that I wanted to work on it, and I eventually gave in. I'm glad I did! We initially talked about exploring an aesthetic with guitars and other acoustic instruments, but eventually we realized that by using synths we could make the scary parts and the not so scary parts still retain cohesion.
2) This is your first big foray into scoring a feature length film. How different was this process compared to scoring a game like Fez?
Scoring film is in some ways a nice reprieve from working on games. Right now, I'm working on a game that allows you to be a subway designer, and I am staring at code every day trying to make each interaction with the game world symbiotically musical. It can be intensely intellectual and rewarding as a result. Scoring linear media for me can be much more zen, where I have a known quantity in front of me, and I can just paint on the canvas. I still go through the process of trying to achieve symbiosis, but the number of dimensions is often not as inconceivable as it can be in a non-linear format.
3) How did you approach creating the music for It Follows? Did you do it based on David Robert Mitchell's screenplay or did you want to watch the film first?
For my first feature, I chose not to write very much until I saw the film. I think I started working on a couple of themes at the piano, but ultimately none of them ended up on the soundtrack. I read a script early on, and I was actually a bit on the fence. It's a bit hard to judge a horror script I think, especially one that is character heavy and has a deliberate pace. I think I was willing to dive in with David because I had seen his prior film, "Myth of the American Sleepover". I knew he could take a script and masterfully bring out a sense of humanity in the characters. The first time I saw the movie it was a silent cut, and I knew right away as I was watching that I could be a part of something great. David later presented me with a cut that featured a temp score, to help steer me a bit and also to compensate for a very short turnaround schedule. We only had three weeks to create the music after the film got into the Cannes Film Festival.
4) Your score has a retro feel which will no doubt draw comparisons to 80s cinema, particularly that of John Carpenter. There's also a creepy intensity to your score for It Follows. How did you work out how to get the tone right which at one hand pays respect to past synth-heavy scores but also one that establishes a more intense atmosphere that feels more modern.
The temp score cues were scary and high energy, but we talked about making them even more intense, and so we tried to push that level even higher. We hoped that having that attitude right from the very first shot set up the film in a way that you as the moviegoer are always wondering when that scary moment is going to come again. David had a definite affinity for the music from FEZ, and we took steps to honor that aesthetic but also bring something new to the film. A few of the cues are loosely based on cues from FEZ, which was not my favorite idea at the time but in hindsight I think it was a worthwhile and challenging exercise. David actually used some of the music from FEZ in the temp score, and developed a serious case of 'temp love'. It was very difficult to steer him away from those initial pieces that he felt already worked well in capturing emotions he wanted to express. Referencing material from other composers was a satisfying process, but I will say that trying to reference some of my own pieces was the most challenging of all.
5) Where does your inspiration come from that got you to create music for games and now for films?
I was flabbergasted that writing music for games could be my job. It seemed so far-fetched to me, and I realize how rare it is to be successful at this, so I've worked very hard to make the most of my opportunities. My inspiration comes from everything. I have a strong desire for each of my projects to be different from the last, and I think above most other reasons, that is what keeps me going musically. I relish the challenge and the opportunity to strike out in a new direction. My exposure to horror was minimal, to put it mildly. I don't think I could name you five horror films that I've seen in my entire life. Despite that, I had a curiosity about the aesthetic and the form and wanted to participate in the process.
6) Synth scoring is making somewhat of a comeback with films like Drive, The Guest and Cold in July, which is great, but why do you think this genre is re-emerging again in modern filmmaking?
I think there has always been some level of desire for non-orchestral soundtracks for film, but I think synthesizers have crossed the threshold from questions of datedness into potential for timelessness. Granted there is still a lot of 80's tinge going around, and I am certainly guilty, but I think we are reaching a point where synth soundtracks can stand the test of time. All the waveforms and knobs (among other things) allow for an incredibly deep approach to sound design, and they're also budget friendly. The barrier to entry is also thousands upon thousands of dollars cheaper than working with a live orchestra, so there's that.
7) What are your thoughts on It Follows? Are you happy with the end results from your collaboration with David?
I am proud of what we have accomplished as a whole. It was an intense period of work, and there was a lot of back and forth. Ultimately, we managed to do something unique and in not much time. I'm hoping to have more time in the future! Three weeks was tough.