Celebrating “Crime, Death, and Resurrection,” the Behind the Music panel at Comic Con paid tribute to the work of composers in enhancing genre TV and film. The panel opened with a highly-applauded reel of the composers’ work: Jeff Russo for Fargo, James Levine for American Horror Story, Daniel Licht for Dexter, Steve Jablonsky for Transformers: Age of Extinction, Brian Reitzell for Hannibal, and Christopher Young for Deliver Us From Evil. Actor Shane West (Salem, Nikita) moderated.
During the Q&A the composers discussed the challenges of writing music for the horror genre, the synthesis of developing continuing working relationships with the same directors or creators, and teased upcoming projects. Additionally, Young talked about pitching himself to compose the score for Marvel’s Doctor Strange.
Young was initially not forthcoming when asked about what he’d be doing next until a fan pointed out that his longtime collaborator, director Scott Derrickson (who just made Deliver Us From Evil with Young), is slated to direct Doctor Strange. Has Young been tapped to do the score? “Oh, I better had!” joked Young. “I did a little pitch over the phone. [Derrickson] kind of laughed. He didn’t say ‘Oh, you’re going to do it.’ I pray to god. If he doesn’t hire me I’m going to strangle him.”
Licht confirmed his work for the Sundance Channel’s The Red Road, with Russo doing the same for season two of Fargo and Levine for season four of American Horror Story. Reitzell said he couldn’t talk about his next project, implying that it was a video game: “Video games are like the CIA, you can’t talk about that stuff.”
Jablonsky: “My next project is a daughter. After the madness of Michael Bay I’m taking some time off.”
The composers discussed their favorite aspects of writing for the horror genre. “I like to be as surprised by it as the audience,” Reitzell said. “I don’t want to overthink it. I want to have that AHH!” Jablonsky: “I think about making the audience jump and laugh while writing.”
Horror scores, said Young, are “not loaded with melodies you walk around humming. You gotta come up with the killer little motive that beats its way into the audience’s head and scares the bejesus out of them,” he said, citing John Williams’ theme from Jaws and Bernard Hermann‘s score for the shower scene in Psycho.
All the panelists spoke highly of continued collaboration between composers and film directors and TV show creators. “Bay and I have a shorthand,” Jablonsky said. “I just look for his facial movements. When he likes it he leans in. He doesn’t always verbalized it. If Michael hates something he’ll just [makes thumbs down gesture].”
Reitzell: “You develop a relationship of trust that allows you to try something new.”
“There’s a need to outdo yourself,” Young said, referring to the grisly clip from Deliver Us From Evil shown in the reel. “[You think], I’ve done an exorcism scene with you before, how am I going to top that?!”
When West complimented Licht’s use of unusual instruments and sounds — “duct tape, knives” — in his work for Dexter, Licht gave credit to Young for the inspiration. “We went to college together. We had a jazz band,” Young revealed. Licht said he was working in advertising after college and Young encouraged him to come out to Los Angeles and pursue film scoring. “I love to use real sounds,” Licht said, and described the acquisition of native bone instruments. “I didn’t have to use bones, but it was fun to play it on a femur.”
The panelists also offered advice to aspiring composers, encouraging them to just keep writing music: “One of the first scores I ever did was a fake Logan’s Run sequel,” Reitzell said.
“When I first moved out here I was pissed at god for not making me a son of Jerry Goldsmith,” said Young, laughing. “But you have to be sort of half insane to want to work in this business in the first place.”
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