By Will Mavity
After composing the scores on “Bug,” “Tropic Thunder” and “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty” Theodore Shapiro is receiving some of the best notices of his career for the Karyn Kusama directed thriller “Destroyer,” starring Nicole Kidman. Theodore was kind enough to sit down with the Next best Picture team and talk about his work on Karyn Kusama’s latest.
Click below to read our interview with him.
I’m used to your light-hearted work in films like “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” How did you decide to go so dark?
I mean it came out of the script. Obviously one of the great things about getting to do this job is you know the story and the picture tell you what to do. So you’re always confronted with every project with sort of a code to crack. I like puzzles. Jigsaw puzzles and crosswords and solving things. And one of the joys of being a film composer is that every film is sort of a puzzle. You’re given a set of information and try to come up with a code for it.
And fortunately, this script and the character of Erin Bell is such a complicated and unique character. And that gave me a jumping off point along with conversations I was having with director Karyn Kusama gave me sort of a jumping off point.
In a film that’s so different from your previous scores, what did you draw inspiration from to guide you?
Well, one of the interesting things about how we worked in this process was, there was no temp music. I wrote about an hour of music before they started shooting the film. So after reading the script, we had an improvisational recording session with a small group of musicians in which I gave them some ideas to play off of. And then I took the material off of that recording session and used it as building blocks to build this huge library of music. And then I gave it to Karyn to kind of influence her while shooting and then give her something to edit to in lieu of temp music.
We did talk a little about influences. One thing we talked about was “God Speed You Black Emperor,” this band who does this kind of epic ambient rock. And we talk about Wagner a lot, in particular, the beginning of his opera Das Reingold which has these kinds of waves of sound. It’s something that Karyn really responds to. This idea of overwhelming waves of sound. And that definitely had a lot to do with it.
You said you like puzzles. In many ways, the film is full of these circular motifs. How did you incorporate that trend into the score?
Well, that’s a very perceptive observation and it’s something that we actually talked about a lot. There are a lot of circular shapes within the score. Most importantly there’s this idea of these descending scales throughout the film. And the idea is that they just keep on repeating and overlapping each other so they’re constantly going in a cycle. Those scales throughout the body of the film tend to underly the relentlessness of Erin Bell’s search for Silas. And at the end of the film, there’s this moment where those scales transform into this moment of ecstasy and relief. And that’s just one example.
Talk to me a little about working with sound designer Onalee Blank.
We didn’t overlap much until the final score was recorded, but what I would say is she is particularly attuned to music in her mix and has a wonderful musical sensibility. It was a joy to work with her in the way she mixed the final film. But for sound overall, I think because the music was always there, it was easier for Karyn to sort out where she wanted to highlight sound effects or score.
And Karyn Kusama…
We have a really close relationship and she does something that you want every director to do. She makes you feel very unafraid to fail. She encourages you to do your boldest strangest most aggressive work. And if you go too far that is encouraged. That’s an atmosphere where a composer can feel free to do his or her best work and feel unafraid to make mistakes. That’s what a great creative collaboration looks like. I’m hugely grateful to have her as one of my closest creative partners.
Well, we’re all realizing we did her wrong on “Jennifer’s Body.”
That’s right! It’s interesting because what was clear in the aftermath of that movie was that the marketing campaign for that film told the wrong story about what the movie was. So I think people were inclined to have a negative reaction to the movie based on the idea that Megan Fox is a sex bomb when in fact the movie is doing something radically different from that. I’m really happy to see it start to get its just deserves.
This is one of your most string-heavy scores to date. How did you go about your instrument choices this time around?
When we did that pre-record session, two of those musicians were string players. One of the great things about strings is they have so much flexibility to create really different sounds. Animal sounds and grinding noises…there’s so much that can be created with bow technique like taps and groans and squeaks and squeals so that was something that I thought had real potential. And in addition at the end of the film, we wanted to achieve this kind of shaking ecstasy and that was something that only the sound of strings would be able to accomplish.
As we wrap things up, anything you want to add about “Destroyer” as a whole?
Ultimately, I want the work to stand on its own. I’m really proud of this work and I think that in the character of Erin Bell, I think that Nicole Kidman and Karyn and the screenwriters have created an indelible cinematic character. And I think that people will be thinking about this character for a long time. And I do think that the musical language of the film is part of the character. I was lucky enough to meet and chat with Nicole Kidman and she shared with me that some of the music I had created early on for the film she had listened to early on to prep for the film. And the idea that some of the music might have seeped into her consciousness and helped kind of inform what the character was is a huge honor. And being able to play the role where music can impact production in some way is kind of rare in my experience and very exciting.
So where will we see you next?
I’m starting to work on “Spies in Disguise” which should be great fun, and the new movie directed by Jay Roach and starring Nicole Kidman and Charlize Theron about Fox News and Roger Ailes so that’s very very exciting. It has a fantastic script by Charles Randolph and Jay is a wonderful wonderful director to work with. So it’s been thrilling to try to crack the code of that puzzle. I’m going to be working with Paul Feig again on his film last Christmas. So I think 2019 should be a good year.
And I always have to ask: Do you have any favorite film scores from this year?
I am absolutely in love with the score for “Isle of Dogs.” I just thought the way that Desplat married the Tycho drums with the woodwinds or whatever it was in that ensemble was so great and unique. The way that he and Wes Anderson approach music is a unique language for Wes’s films. That was the one I walked out of feeling happy and inspired.
”Destroyer” releases in theaters on Christmas Day.
You can follow Will and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @mavericksmovies