Academy Award-winning composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross did not set out to have careers scoring music for films, and because they’re not beholden to making sure they know where their next scoring job is coming from, they look for projects that will challenge them, in some way. With the ultimate goal of satisfying the director that they’re collaborating with, Reznor and Ross also like to push the boundaries of whatever genre they’re working in, and their latest project, Patriots Day (now in theaters nationwide), is no exception.
Collider was recently invited to the London Hotel in West Hollywood to chat with acclaimed musicians Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross about their work on the Peter Berg film about the events surrounding the Boston Marathon bombing and the manhunt that followed. During the in-depth interview, they talked about how they weigh their options, their desire to color outside the lines and work emotionally and from the heart, the challenge of scoring an ever-evolving film, and how the collaboration with Berg compared to their previous experience with David Fincher (they’ve scored The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl). Reznor also talked about why he’s not really interested in taking on a superhero film, that he’s intrigued by the idea of scoring for TV, and how he ended up in Showtime’s return of Twin Peaks.
Collider: Patriots Day is a powerful story that not only pays attention to detail, but also gives a real humanity and human face to the heroes that came out of such a tragedy. There are so many ways that this film could have gone wrong, but it handled the situation beautifully. What was it about the story that spoke to you and made you want to sign on as composers for the film?
TRENT REZNOR: We worked on the [David] Fincher films, did a lot of Nine Inch Nails stuff, and then we did some separate things for a couple of years. I was touring and [Atticus] took on some other projects. Early last year, we talked about, “Let’s take the next few years and do things together.” There were some options that we both had come in, and we were really thinking about what we’re trying to do. We’re not just trying to take any work, so we had to figure out what’s exciting to us, or what we’re trying to prove. The main thing was just to find something that felt interesting and felt like something we hadn’t done, and force ourselves into a situation that is unfamiliar and learn from it. And there wasn’t any good rom-coms to pick from. This film had been talked up to us, and we read the script and [Atticus] had met with Pete [Berg] a couple of times.
ATTICUS ROSS: I spoke to him on the phone.
REZNOR: And then, we sat down with Pete and our first concern was basically what you just voiced. We’re not interested in something that could go in one of those directions, like super pro-American drum banging. Quite honestly, I hadn’t thought that much about this trend of re-creations of fairly recent events. I’m not sure exactly what the point of it is, although I enjoyed United 93. Anyway, Pete did a good job of convincing us, with the utmost respect, that this is to do not only Boston proud, but to investigate the story. They didn’t know if it was over. It was a terrifying several days of figuring out what was actually happening. And I had forgotten some of the actual story from the news, of what had gone down. So, we read the script and this is really a procedural, at its core. Aside from getting assurance from Pete that what he was going to do, as a filmmaker, was aligned with what we thought would be tasteful, we wanted to make sure that he had the right expectations of what we wanted to do, musically.
Our whole thing is that neither of our career trajectories, as a child, was, “I can’t wait to score films.” I’m not saying that with disrespect, but it came upon both of us, somewhat accidentally. It’s an exciting medium to work in, but we find it filled with mediocrity and a lot of very turn-key, scoring by numbers type of stuff, that can work. It’s like a good pop song that’s designed to do that thing. We’re not interested in knowing how to do that, or to replicate that. We wanted to make sure Pete was okay with the idea of us coloring outside of the lines, a little bit. In our minds, we could take this film and elevate it into feeling something even less specific about Boston and more about today, or what might be the result of today. Something in the fabric of society is tearing, so we thought maybe we could make this film a little wider and create a sonic pallette that’s a bit more interesting than what it could be. And he was all up for that. So, we thought, “Fuck it! Let’s see what happens.”