While a film’s soundtrack may not be at the forefront of films, it should be. Music is the heartbeat of a film, controlling pace and emotion. Timothy Williams, a composer, has created many of those melodies heard in films such as Get Out, IT, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Deadpool 2.
I sat down with Williams to talk about one of his most recent projects, creating the scores for James Gunn’s new film Brightburn, part superhero movie, part horror film.
In the film, a couple (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman) adopt a baby from another world. They raise the boy (Jackson A. Dunn) to use his powers for good, but evil begins to grow within him.
Written by James Gunn and Mark Gunn, Brightburn takes over theaters on May 24, 2019, from Sony Pictures.
Horror Fuel: “You’ve worked on so many amazing projects, do you have a favorite so far?”
Tim Williams: “That’s a difficult question because I’ve enjoyed working on every project, but there are ones that have a special place. It’s like you trying to say you have a favorite child. Every project I’ve ever done has always had something special about it. Certain projects are probably in my mind more challenging to work on. Sometimes, that makes it even better when you are finished.
Get Out was a fun project to work on and I was particularly happy how it was received, given that when I first saw it I thought it was an amazing film, but I worried no one would ever see it. It looked like it might go straight to Netflix. I was really excited that it struck a chord with everyone as it had with me.
Brightburn has been an extraordinary project. The director, David, is an absolute genius. The visuals and concept are so spectacularly rendered. I have to say, it’s probably one of my all time favorites, just by the nature of the fact that it is mixing two genres that have never been mixed before. Trying to combine horror and superhero genres in such an interesting way. That was a challenge. It was fun to kind of create a musical language that would support the film.”
Horror Fuel: “The trailers and clips look absolutely fantastic.”
Tim Williams: “It does doesn’t it? It really was a fantastic idea. Ultimately it is a fun exploration of that idea of what if Superman type character had instead of being a help to humanity, comes from a predatory alien species and that instinct starts to kick in. How would that look? At the heart of Brightburn what makes it so beautiful is Elizabeth Banks and her beautiful portrayal as a mother. She’s got these high hopes for her son and how that unravels.”
Horror Fuel: “I am a fan of Banks’ work.
In the extended clip that was just released, the music is so lovely yet so ominous. Oh, and that eyeball! Oh my god!”
Tim Williams: “[laughter] Yeah! It’s such a huge credit to David being such a brilliant director. Just the idea of how to show that is brilliant, the way that eyeball is pierced with glass, it’s terrifying! I had a lot of fun scoring that scene. When you have scenes like that that are very sort of stalking and hunting, cat and mouse, it really allows you to have fun with quiet moments and slamming, and big moments, ramping up and then letting out again is very exciting to score.”
Horror Fuel: “When you created that score, that dark, “oh crap” music, what instruments did you use?”
Tim Williams: “So, one of the things that I played with throughout the film is this idea of contrasting, the family and the horror. When you see those scenes you’ll notice that there is a fiddle, it gives this kind of lonely, haunting feel of openness and as his powers start to kick in, instrumentation-wise, I move to a large orchestra, against the typical superhero feel, but it’s super dark so there is a lot of low brass, a lot of fast grinding strings as he’s chasing. I used a lot of percussions.”
Horror Fuel: “It’s amazing, even when you don’t realize it, the score is really influencing the way that you feel.”
Tim Williams: “It does. In school, there’s a classic, old scoring example that they use. They showed us a couple of frames of a man walking down a staircase. If you paired it with happy music, you’d think it was a happy scene. But if you put scary music with it, you’d think ‘Oh my god, this person is being chased.’ Music has a huge impact on how you feel. I think music is such an important component of the film experience.”
Horror Fuel: “I couldn’t agree more. It really wouldn’t be the same without it.
How do you go about composing for a film?”
Tim Williams: “Every film is different, but I always need something, some scene that connects me with the tone of the film. That’s the hardest part I think of film scoring is finding the tone. For me, it began with the section of the movie where Brandon asks his mom (Elisabeth Banks) who am I? He realizes he’s not an ordinary person. She’s a mom who just loves him and she’s trying to explain to him that he’s from another planet. But that she loves him even though he’s adopted. I wanted the scene with this – you see it at the beginning, even as a baby – this three-note superhero theme that I think sort of captures the hope that she has for him and captures what he could have become. That scene where they are chatting is a beautiful moment and that was my way into the film. I scored that first. I wanted to have this sort of hook that we could come back to. From there, obviously, the scene mutates into something pretty nasty. It’s the same scene but it’s done with low brass. It becomes very ominous. It’s huge at the end so that for me was the hook into the score.
Once I have the scene, I have what the tone of the movie should be, at that point it’s usually easier to go through the whole film and how the music needs to reflect that story.”
Horror Fuel: “That’s such an interesting process. I’ve always wondered about that.”
Tim Williams: “Yeah, it’s a tough process because you have to divide a movie into little bits and it’s like a jigsaw puzzle. where do we start? How do we pace the journey? Pacing becomes important. It took me like two months to make the score. But it was a lot of fun. The director was in my studio pretty much every week. He had a really great insight into what he wanted the score to be, so he helped me find my way through, what it needed to be. It was a very collaborative experience.”
Horror Fuel: “That’s fantastic. It really is amazing how much music effects a film and scenes.”
Tim Williams: “Oh, thank you. I just want something that would connect with the audience. If you listen carefully, you hear little easter eggs in the theme. We do it in a bunch of different ways, sometimes it is just piano, sometimes it’s a mutated piano. I had the pianist literally put their fingers on the strings and do this plucking the theme out, which comes out twisted. Sometimes you hear it in the strings, sometimes you hear it in this epic low brass. I think it’s nice because it creates a statement and connects people to the film and it creates a journey for them.”
Horror Fuel: “It does. There is such a difference in the music between IT, Get Out and Brightburn, but at the same time, it has a similar feel, versus the different tone of Deadpool 2.” Is it difficult to switch mindsets between genres?”
Tim Williams: It is. That’s the key thing about tone, you’ve got to work out the color of it’s gonna be. And it is sort of a reset. I think Brightburn was very tricky. It wasn’t hard, it’s a superhero film and a horror film. It’s not something I had seen before so lots of the stuff, like I’d did for Get Out, just wouldn’t work. I think that was the hardest part.
I know every department had that same discussion with the director, costumes, set design, it was really quite hard to invent something like that. It’s interesting, trying to blend the film in two different styles. But it’s always fun to work on something that will hopefully create a new genre.”
Horror Fuel: “I think it’s a great idea for a hybrid film. The trailer and all the clips are fantastic. It’s hard to spook me or to get an ‘Oh, my god!’ reaction from me these days, but that so far, every trailer and clip for Brightburn has done that for me.”
Tim Williams: “There are certainly some great sequences. You already got a taste from it with that restaurant scene.” Hats off to James Gunn for his great vision for it and for delivering such a great looking film. It’s just stunning, the way it looks. It was just a great film to work on and the acting is superb. The actor who plays Brandon is brilliant. It’s really a huge ask of a young actor. What he did is riveting. It’s just like, ‘Wow!’ Elizabeth Banks is just fantastic. Matt Jones is brilliant as the uncle who provides some comic relief. It has that James Gunn smile behind it all. Enjoy it.”
Horror Fuel: “I’m a big fan of Gunn’s work. I love Guardians of the Galaxy. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Brightburn leads to a new franchise for him.”
Tim Williams: “Obviously you don’t want to give away any spoilers, but this film definitely feels it is the first part of a storyline. It feels like you could easily do a sequel.”
Horror Fuel: “We’ve got plenty of that goody-goody superhero movies. I think it’s time for some dark villains as well.”
Tim Williams: “Yeah, it’s actually like that. Who doesn’t like a good origin story? The first Guardians, which I got to work on, was fun because it’s an origin story. Sometimes, they are the most interesting of a series because it’s how they come together. It’s always pretty cool.”
Horror Fuel: “The music for Guardians of the Galaxy was great. That was a fantastic movie all the way around.”
Tim Williams: “I had a lot of fun working on that one.
It’s interesting to join genres that I love. This was an effort to really try to give it [Brightburn] a little bit of color of both. It’s really more into the horror side, but it really needed that touch of the superhero genre in a very dark and unsettling type of way.
This one scene that I wrote, if I had recorded it normally, it would sound like a beautiful superhero scene where he releases that he is something special. I wanted the feeling like a beautiful superhero moment but I directed the orchestra to play it slightly out of tune. It’s super creepy. You think ‘Wow this is really beautiful, but there’s something off about it.” That’s what I wanted for the whole score, to sound like something was off, something slightly wrong in places. That’s something I wanted people to feel no matter how pure this hope is.”
Horror Fuel: “That’s a brilliant idea, having the orchestra play slightly off-key during those certain moments.
Tim Williams: “When you hear an orchestra play out of tune – and they can do that because they are so good – and it doesn’t sound like a high school band, you just kind of go ‘Ohhhh!’. It’s subtle, but it works.”
Horror Fuel: “I hate that sometimes when you are watching a movie and the music is so subtle and you’re being bombarded with all that is going on that the music goes underappreciated. That shouldn’t be the case.”
Tim Williams: “It is. But there are so many elements to a film, so many people working on them. When you go and see a film sometimes it’s hard to take it all in.”
Horror Fuel: “The score is so very, very important. It’s almost like it is its own character. If you were to take a movie and strip it of all its music, it would feel one dimensional, shallow.”
Tim Williams: “Definitely.”
Horror Fuel: “Now that you’ve finished your work on Brightburn what are you working on next?”
Tim Williams: “I’m helping out on Hobs and Shaw. Then I’m working on another fun horror film, We Summon the Darkness which is basically an 80s slasher film from Marc Meyers who did My Friend Dahmer. It’s a really cool film. I have some great projects coming down the pipeline. I’m also working on something completely different, a holiday animated film starring Simon Pegg as a dog.” I’m also doing a film called The Swearing Jar. It’s basically an independent drama, I almost want to say musical. It’s really cool. That happens towards the end of the year.”
Horror Fuel: “You’re a busy man. I’ll be honest, I love Simon Pegg.”
Tim Williams: “Yeah, he is awesome. I like to do everything. Independent films make it so I can take more of a risk. There are a lot of up and coming filmmakers who really have a lot of talent.”
Horror Fuel: “That freedom to create and do something really different with indie films probably doesn’t hurt.”
Tim Williams: Exactly. You also get to a little bit more involved with the film too. Some of the bigger films know exactly what tone they want. With independent films, you can be like, ‘Hey, I’ve got this thing I really want to try.’ You can have a little bit more fun.”
Horror Fuel: “Absolutely. That’s fantastic.”
Next time you sit back and turn on a movie, listen carefully to the score and see how it influences a scene, how it manipulates your emotions. You will find a new appreciation for music and composers such as Tim.