Thursday, 11 September 2014

Filmic's Interview with composer Matthew Llewellyn
Interview with Matthew Lllewelyn

Californian Matthew Llewellyn has been an integral member of Brain Tylers team working on high profile projects such as Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark Destination, Now You See Me and The Expendables 2. He also composed additional music for the video game Far Cry 3 and John Dies At the End which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012. Branching out with his own composing career, Matthew has scored three feature films, Dead Souls, Remains and his latest score Deep In the Darkness which was recorded with the Slovakia National Symphony.
Here is my recent interview with him regarding his score to Deep In the Darkness:-

The Opening track really sets the tone, it wastes no time in telling you
of the horror which will unfold. Did you start with the opening track then
build the score round it?

After the film was spotted I focused on thematic material first. This is when I decided what characters/places etc. will have their own unique themes or motives. In “Deep in the Darkness” director Coiln Theys and I agreed that we needed a theme for Michael (protagonist), Lady Zellis, the Isolates, and the town of Ashborough. Since Michael is such a complex character I ended up writing a secondary theme for his more contemplative moments.
Here are some examples of how the themes appear throughout the score:
Michael’s Theme - “Ashborough Assimilation” and “Back into the Light”
Michael’s Secondary Theme (Contemplative) - “A Good Fit”
Lady Zellis’ Theme - “Don’t Trust Lady Zellis”
Ashborough Theme - “Welcome to Ashborough”
Isolates’ Motif - “Infiltrating the House”

I usually focus on bigger/longer cues first then extrapolate other ideas from there. I find that having a musical destination, a fully fleshed out theme first, is a more efficient way of working. Establishing a music target helps me avoid over composing/orchestrating cues too early in the film. It’s extremely important that each theme is unique and instantly recognizable so a first time viewer can really latch onto the story. 

I love the hint of family life and domesticity at the start of The
Deighton Residence, it's quite comforting but turns dark. It’s shown in a
lovely leitmotif, which I would have liked to hear more of. How did you
arrive at this short theme it pops up in a lot of the cue's and makes
you feel safe for a second then the darker tones engulf it. Very clever.

Thanks! This is the Ashborough Theme which could also be called the main theme of the film. Many horror films rely on songs at the beginning to establish the “everyday life” feeling. There ended up not being any songs in the movie and we felt it was a little too “on-the-nose” to have something outright scary or ominous as Michael and his family first arrive in Ashborough. We went with a more traditional approach and I wrote a fairy-tale almost whimsical sounding theme. This theme is written in 12/8 which gives it that bouncy flavor. 

I also love that this a fully orchestrated score, is this how you
envisaged it from the start?

Definitely. I grew up loving Spielberg’s films (E.T., Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Jaws, Hook) with John Williams’ music so that style of filmmaking has made a lasting impact on me. I don’t think my music sounds like John Williams but he is certainly my biggest inspiration. We were also quite fortunate to have an orchestra, which is definitely a rarity these days. Writing for the orchestra is one of my favorite things in the world. There is truly nothing better than going to a recording session and hearing the music come alive.
Particularly in Rise of the Isolates I heard elements of 50's Horror B
movies in there, was this on purpose? Did you research older scores?

I didn’t research specific scores but before I started writing I sent Colin Roque Baños’ score for Evil Dead and Fernando Velázquez’ score for “Devil” to use as temp music. If I know a project is going to require temp music I often help the director/picture editor pick out scores that are in line with my vision. 

Back Light Beauty has a great start, the string formation really lulls
you, I wanted it to go on and on.

Thanks. That’s definitely a tricky thing about writing music for film. The most important function as a film composer is to write music that helps tell the story and it’s easy to get caught up in just writing music. Sometimes I have to back-pedal and restrain myself from over-composing/orchestrating. There was a whole other section of the “Ashborough Theme” that I ended up having to take out because the producers felt it made the film feel like “Lord of the Rings”. 

There is a lot going on in many of the cues like the defiance you can hear in We're Not Going Back but later there is a feeling of futility like 'this thing cannot be beaten’. Did you compose whilst watching the edits of the film?

Yes. The only time I write away from picture is during the thematic writing process. After a film is edited I watch it a few times without any music and jot down notes to myself about which characters could use their own themes. Once I have a grasp on the story I start writing individual themes and often times put them together in a suite form so the director can listen to how themes and the overall score would evolve throughout the film.

Do you actually like and watch horror movie?

I do indeed! I’ve loved watching horror films as long as I can remember. I still remember the first time I watched “The Exorcist”. I had to stop it halfway through because it scared the living daylights out of me. Luckily I have a few friends that love horror movies as well so we always get together and watch the new ones when they come out. I recently watched “Deliver Us From Evil”, it had an impressively long exorcism scene near the end!
Can you tell us what you are now working on?

I just finished working as a score producer for Brian Tyler on “The Expendables 3”. I will be scoring a 1960’s period film titled “Wishin’ and Hopin’” later this year. They just started shooting but I imagine we will be doing a traditional orchestral comedy/drama score.

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