Horror films depend on many things. Definitely relying on special effects to evoke the atmosphere that will eventually lead to the shock and scares that the film's pay off will result in a successful horror film. Sometimes they rely on the acting itself like the surprisingly successful thriller "The Conjuring" or just simply it's just a blood and guts affair that's either done well or sunk in by a simply terrible script.
When you add the final layer to the mayhem, a music composer really has as much input on the success of the film as does the special effects on screen and the sound effects that also produce the chills and thrills. Matthew Llewellyn is a relative newcomer to film scoring but under the mentorship of the brilliant Brian Tyler, he's become a solid composer in his own right. After working with Tyler on several big projects that include blockbuster hits such as "Iron Man 3" and "Now You See Me", Matthew is now on the right path for some blockbuster films of his own in the near future. His upcoming Chiller film, "Deep In The Darkness" is another stepping stone on that path in which he's written another stellar soundtrack that will certainly grab the attention of many.
For this special interview with Matthew, he candidly shares his thoughts about the film, the recording sessions, the soundtrack, we look back on another horror film in "Dead Souls" and his thoughts on his favorite films and projects. So don't get too scared and enjoy the thoughts of this terrific young composer.
Please tell the readers about what made you become interested in music.
ML: I’ve loved music for as long as I can remember. Before it became easily accessible on the Internet I used to buy CDs the day they came out, throw them in the CD player and just escape. Nowadays my weekly tradition consists of logging into the iTunes store every Tuesday and checking out all of the new music. It’s much more convenient now! I started playing piano at a young age and picked up the guitar when I was a teenager. Eventually I got this crazy idea to go to a music college and I ended up going to my first choice, Berklee College of Music. I later attended grad school at USC’s Thornton School of Music. I studied Film Scoring both as an undergrad and graduate student.
Let’s talk about your recent work on the upcoming horror-thriller “Deep In The Darkness” which is being released theatrically on April 29 and also broadcasting on Chiller in May. What got you interested in this project?
ML: I’ve been fortunate to work with director Colin Theys and Synthetic Cinema International for a few years now. Whenever they have a project in production we have a chat about what they’re looking for musically.
How did you and Colin collaborate from the beginning of writing the score to the final production?
ML: After the film was temped we used that as a guideline for the spotting. When we agreed upon where the music would go and what it would say dramatically I started writing themes. Once the themes were approved I moved onto writing individual cues. Colin is based on the east coast so I would typically send him “mini dubs” which are QuickTime videos of a particular scene with the production sound and music mixed in. I also provided the cue on its own so he could listen to the music away from picture as well. After all of the cues were approved I began preparing for the recording session.
Were you and Colin on the same page from the very start with regards to how the film should sound in particular moments that didn’t need that full bombastic horror stinger sound?
ML: Definitely. We knew the film needed a moody but thematic quality. We even discussed how the film would be temped before I wrote a single note. I was a massive fan of Roque Baños’ score for “Evil Dead” and Fernando Velázquez’ score for “Devil” so we used those scores to outline the spotting of the film and determine how my score would help tell the story.
After watching the film for the first time, did the themes come to you quickly or did it take a little time for you to come up with the material that you ultimately came up with?
ML: I always spend quite a bit of time nailing down what the themes will be. For me, it’s essential that the themes are memorable and have the ability to appear in different dramatic fashions. Prior to spotting, Colin and I talked about how themes would be used in the film. For instance, we knew we needed a theme for the town of Ashborough (Welcome to Ashborough), Michael (A Good Fit / Eyes in the Distance), Lady Zellis (Don’t Trust Lady Zellis), and finally the Isolates (Infiltrating the House). Once the themes were approved it’s just a matter of adapting and developing them to help tell the story.
How much music did you end up recording for the film?
ML: There is about seventy minutes of music in the film. I was able to record fifty minutes of orchestra and the remaining twenty was produced here at my studio.
What were the recording sessions like?
ML:Smooth sailing. I’ve worked with orchestra contractor Paul Talkington’s crew a few times now and they are fantastic. The key to a successful recording session is over-preparation.
Will there be a soundtrack released for your score?
ML:The score will be digitally released April 29th followed by a physical release sometime in May/June.
In looking back on “Deep In The Darkness”, how do you feel about the movie and how do you feel your music adds to the film?
ML:I’m very proud of how it turned out. Not many horror films these days have thematic scores. My goal was to help the film stand out in this regard.
You also scored another thriller film for Chiller in “Dead Souls”. What led to your involvement in that film?
ML: I scored Colin’s previous films so when he started developing Dead Souls with Chiller he gave me a call.
Was this an easier film for you to score in terms of what was asked of you musically?
ML: Each project has its own unique challenges. I will say there’s nothing more fun than writing thematic orchestral music. On “Deep in the Darkness” I had a blast doing some of the angrier, darker, more aleatoric cues, like “They’re Coming for You! / Rise of the Isolates”. The challenge was ‘how angry can I get 50 players to sound’ and I’m extremely happy with the result.
How did you come up with that cool theme?
ML: Strong themes make a strong storyline. When I sit down to write a theme my number one priority is that it has to be memorable. I typically write themes at the piano on paper and once I’ve solidified the harmonic and melodic language the rest falls into place. In the Ashborough Theme I use a three-major chord, which allows me to instantly modulate to another key. This is one compositional tool that enables the music to keep moving forward and always keeps the listener on his/her toes. When I first wrote it, it actually reminded me of the chord change in Willy Wonka’s “Pure Imagination”, haha. It’s an odd comparison I know but it still makes me think of that.
What were the recording sessions for the score like?
ML: Spectacular. Paul Talkington and Allan Wilson (conductor) have a put together a fantastic team and they are always a pleasure to work with. The recording sessions are one of my favorite parts of the process. They are the culmination of many weeks of work and they’re like that last bite of your favorite bowl of ice cream, pure bliss. Did you have to rewrite anything during the sessions? Thankfully no. Since I orchestrated every single note I had to make sure all of the cues were approved before I recorded.
Let’s talk about the soundtrack that MovieScore Media/Screamworks Records released not too long ago. How did you feel when the label decided to release your score?
ML: Ecstatic. Composing a score is a massive amount of work and it’s quite satisfying to see it out there in the world.
Tell me your experiences on putting together the soundtrack album and working with Mikael Carlsson?
ML: My initial vision was to have the title track “Deep in the Darkness” be track one and close with “Back into the Light” because I felt that help symbolize our main character Michael’s journey. Mikael helped immensely with the inner sequencing and I think he did a fantastic job.
Are you happy with how the album came out?
ML: Couldn’t be happier!
You got your start as an assistant to Brian Tyler. How did that come about?
ML: A great friend of mine, and fellow USC graduate student, Bob Lydecker was Brian’s assistant and he gave me a call when they were under the gun on a couple of projects. After getting my feet wet with projects like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Final Destination 5, I continued to work at Brian’s studio for a few years.
You’ve also contributed additional music to some of Brian’s projects. How did that happen?
ML: He wanted to collaborate a bit more on a creative level so he allowed me the opportunity to do some additional writing, something of which I am very thankful for.
What was it like working with someone of the caliber of Brian?
ML: It was an invaluable experience that I don’t think I could’ve gotten at another studio. It’s not easy working on those big projects but it sure is fun.
Do you enjoy orchestrating as much as you do composing?
Oh yes! I’ve always thought of orchestrating as a part of composing. I typically outline cues out on piano first then extrapolate my orchestration from that. Sometimes I know straight away how cues will be orchestrated; it really depends on the type of music. Proper voice leading and orchestration is essential to getting that “big” orchestral sound.
What is your favorite film score that you’ve worked on to date?
ML: I’ve had a blast working on Brian’s projects, he has a great team around him and I love them all. Iron Man 3 and Now You See Me were especially satisfying just from the shear amount of work that we put into both of those scores but everything that comes out of his studio is insanely high quality. When I was working there he allowed me to take some time off to focus on my own projects such as “Dead Souls” and “Deep in the Darkness”.
Who is your favorite director that you’ve worked with so far in your career?
ML: Every director brings a different vision to the table and each situation proves to be a new challenge. That’s the beauty of writing music to film, it’s like a puzzle of musical creativity and it’s my job to figure out how that puzzle will be put together and help tell a story. Colin and I are almost always on the same page so it makes the process very second nature.
What is your favorite film that you’ve personally scored to date?
ML: I’m exceptionally proud of this latest score for Deep in the Darkness. With each new score I always strive to make it better than the last.
Please tell the readers about your future upcoming projects.
ML: I am in negotiations for a few things right now and I can say for sure that I have some exciting projects coming down the pipeline.
Very special thanks to Matthew for being so gracious with his time in sharing his thoughts and feelings about the projects he's worked on.
Deep In The Darkness opens in select theaters on April 29 and airs on Chiller TV May 23.
Here is the link to the official "Deep In The Darkness" movie website @ http://www.chillertv.com/movies/deep-in-the-darkness
Please feel free to visit Matthew's official website @ www.matthewllewellyn.com/ for updates on his current and future projects
About Matthew Llewellyn:
"Film composer Matthew Llewellyn's musical repertoire is grounded in the traditions of symphonic music for cinema as well as the modern movie making experience. Llewellyn has been an integral member of composer Brian Tyler's team working on high profile projects such as IRON MAN 3, THOR: THE DARK WORLD, NOW YOU SEE ME, THE EXPENDABLES 2, and FINAL DESTINATION 5. Llewellyn composed additional music for the critically acclaimed video game FAR CRY 3 and Don Coscarelli's (Bubba Ho-Tep, Phantasm) film JOHN DIES AT THE END which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012. He also provided musical arrangements for the hit video games ASSASSIN'S CREED IV: BLACK FLAG, ARMY OF TWO: THE DEVIL'S CARTEL and CALL OF DUTY: MODERN WARFARE 3.
Recently branching out with his own composing career, Matthew Llewellyn has scored three feature films for the Chiller Network, a division of NBC Universal, including DEEP IN THE DARKNESS, DEAD SOULS, and REMAINS. His dramatic orchestral scores for DEEP IN THE DARKNESS and DEAD SOULS were both recorded with the Slovakia National Symphony Orchestra. The DEAD SOULS soundtrack was released in 2012 by Screamworks Records and MovieScore Media and his forthcoming DEEP IN THE DARKNESS soundtrack will be released by MovieScore Media in partnership with Kronos Records in May 2014.
Matthew Llewellyn graduated from the Scoring for Motion Picture and Television program at the University of Southern California as well as receiving a Bachelors of Music degree in Film Scoring at Berklee College of Music. Born in California but raised in Minnesota, Llewellyn has played piano since the age of six and guitar from the age of fourteen. He also plays mandolin, bouzouki, ukulele and bass. For more information on Matthew Llewellyn, visit the composer's website at www.matthewllewellyn.com."