James Iha on Scoring James Franco’s ‘Mother, May I Sleep with Danger?’

     June 17, 2016


In honor of the 20th anniversary of the cult classic, Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?, Lifetime and Sony Pictures Television teamed up with James Franco to remake the classic TV movie, as a lesbian vampire love story. With a script by Franco, this updated tale follows theater major Leah (Leila George), who brings home the special someone in her life to meet her mom (Tori Spelling), but her mom’s suspicions about Pearl (Emily Meade) lead her to make a startling discovery that puts Leah in serious danger.

Collider recently had the opportunity to speak with the film’s music composer, James Iha, best known for his work with The Smashing Pumpkins and A Perfect Circle. During the exclusive phone interview, he talked about how he got involved with Mother, May I Sleep with Danger?, collaborating with James Franco and the producers, checking out the original film on YouTube, what he responded to with this reimagining, finding the moody sound that complimented the heightened emotions of the story, how he originally got into composing for film and TV, and being happy doing a variety of different things.

Collider: Mother, May I Sleep with Danger? is certainly a fun, wild ride.

james-iha-01JAMES IHA: I like the movie. I think it’s really fun and crazy. Because of James Franco, it steps beyond what is normally associated with Lifetime movies. It’s a fun and crazy movie, and I had fun doing the music. It was easy to do the music because of the picture.

How did you come to be doing the score for this? Was it just a project that came your way, or did you know James Franco?

IHA: I have an agent and they put me up for this. They thought I’d be good for this kind of thing. So, I talked with James before I did it, and he gave me a few references and told me about the vibe of what was going on and said to run with it.

Had you been familiar with the original film, at all, or did you not worry about that, since the two films are so different?

IHA: I did YouTube it when I first heard about it, and I watched five minutes of it. But from the script that I was given for the 2016, I realized that it probably was not going to relate, at all, so I stopped watching it. And then, I tried to look at it again and it had disappeared from YouTube.

The music in the film is very atmospheric. Was that a sound you wanted to add to it, or did they ask you for something that was very moody?

IHA: Some of it came from James, some of it came from direction from the producers and the editor, and some of it is me. Some of it is just the way it was shot and the way it came across to me.

Did you only have the script to go off of, or did you get to watch the film, as you were doing the music?

IHA: I had the picture for most of it. With some shows, you can [do it without watching it]. But for this, there were a lot of things that had with the picture. And it helps with tempo. Even if it’s atmospheric, there are some things that hit that are percussive or tempo-driven that you have to have the picture to accurately convey and push the mood of what’s going on.

The original film was about an abusive relationship, and this is really about more of a dangerous relationship than an abusive one. Were there things that you specifically responded to, as far as the storyline and mood of the film?

IHA: Without really knowing totally what the original was about, I knew the basics. The thing I liked about this was that, from the opening, it seemed evil and like there was a heightened sense that I was trying to push. There’s this evil cabal going on, but there’s also some lighter, romantic things. And there are parts where it could be more atmospheric. I was always trying to make things musically more heightened and bigger, and was trying to push whatever the emotion was, in the picture, as hard as I could.

Do you feel like the music is a companion piece to what’s going on, on screen, or do you see it as a separate entity from the story?


Image via Lifetime

IHA: I think it definitely is a companion to the film. All of the music works on its own, but it doesn’t really make as much sense without the picture. I was also glad it wasn’t tongue-in-cheek because of it being a remake. I felt like I was trying to be as dramatic as what was going on in the new version as possible, and there wasn’t any camp. I didn’t write or direct it, but it just came across that way, from the beginning. There’s definitely a leap of faith that you have to make, but overall, it was earnest, scary and a little bit evil.

Composing within a band must have specific parameters because you have to think about the band’s sound and what does or doesn’t fit in with that. Do you feel a sense of freedom when you’re composing for film and TV that you don’t feel when you’re in a band, or is it just a different set of parameters because you’re keeping within the story and characters and you’re answering to filmmakers?

IHA: It’s both, depending on the project and depending on how much leeway the director or the music supervisor gives you. I felt I had pretty good direction from James, the producers and the editor. I had a pretty good vibe on what to go for. It is liberating just to try different things. But at the same time, it’s a job and you serve whatever is on screen. You’re not making music for the sake of making music. You’re trying to push whatever feeling is on screen, or whatever the subtext is, if you’re going against what’s on screen.

How did you originally get into composing music for film and TV? Was it something you had thought about doing for awhile, or was it something where the opportunity came up and you thought you’d give it a try?

IHA: When I lived in New York, there wasn’t as much TV or film around. I got asked to do a couple of indie films, just based on me being from The Smashing Pumpkins and A Perfect Circle. I did a couple of indie movies from Japan and one from Canada, and I thought it was an exciting, fun thing to do. I had a great time doing it, it was just that, in New York, there really wasn’t as much. My studio in New York closed, so I moved out to L.A. and just started looking into composing as another thing to do, as a musician. I like it a lot. It’s fun and it’s a different way of thinking about music.

Many actors don’t like to watch their projects because they get uncomfortable seeing themselves acting, but do you enjoy watching the final product with your music?

IHA: I think it would be a lot more strange, being an actor. With the music, if it works, it’s definitely a fun and cool experience. I think it will have to be awhile from now before I can watch it objectively, just because I watched it so many times while I was composing it, but it was great.

How different is the experience of composing for a movie like this, in comparison to composing for a season of a show, like you did for Deadbeat?

IHA: There’s just a lot more music that you have to turn out on a TV show, and the deadline is a lot more frantic. And it’s a sustained frantic, hectic schedule for three or four months. It was definitely a good experience doing that. I liked it. But, it’s different with a film. There obviously was a deadline for this, but it wasn’t as hectic as a TV show.

Have you thought about the kind of projects you’d like to continue to do? Have you thought about possibly doing a theme song for a TV show, or whether you’d like to continue to focus on film?


Image via Lifetime

IHA: I’m just into it. I haven’t done that much so far. I’ve done four films and a couple TV shows, and it’s been great. I’m having fun with it. It’s great working with directors and with somebody else’s vision. I’d like to keep doing film and TV, and I definitely can appreciate a good theme song. If it’s memorable, that’s a great thing.

You’ve been in a band, you’ve done solo albums, you’ve worked in a studio, you’ve gone on tour, you’ve done our own thing where you’re completely responsible for the outcome, and you’ve worked as a musician for hire. Do you prefer any aspect of the creative process over another, or does dipping your toe in all of it make you feel more fulfilled, as an artist?

IHA: I’m happy doing different things. Being in a band is great, but being in a band can be difficult sometimes. The music industry is not what it used to be. Being in a good band is great, and I’ve been lucky to be in great bands. I’ve done solo stuff, and that’s been great. I also produce rock bands and I do co-writes, where I write with different singers in bands and songwriters. Composing is just another exciting thing. It’s as exciting as being in a band. It’s kind of like joining a new band for three months. I like all of it. I feel lucky to be able to do all of those different things.

Mother, May I Sleep with Danger? premieres on Lifetime on Saturday, June 18th.


Image via Lifetime


Image via Lifetime


Image via Lifetime