Here’s a sneak peek of my interview with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross about their score to Gone Girl. This appears in the October 2014 issue of Film Score Monthly Online.
By Kristen Romanelli
This is not a love story. On their fifth anniversary, Nick and Amy Dunne’s marriage takes a twisted nosedive as Amy appears to have been violently abducted from their home. In the flurry of media attention, Nick emerges as the prime suspect as pundits whip the public into a frenzy and the police slowly uncover bits and pieces of the puzzle of what happened…or of what someone wants them to think happened. Gillian Flynn adapted her bestselling novel for the screen, and the film, helmed by David Fincher, presents an unsettling, unblinking look into the lives of deplorable people.
For a third time, Fincher partnered with composing team of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. This time around, their signature ambiance is laced with piano, harp and strings, giving the score an organic—yet rotting—quality beneath its electronic veneer. Even after a few decades of industrial rock and record production experience and with an Academy Award under their belts for The Social Network, the pair feel like they’re still finding their way in this realm of film composition. Reznor and Ross speak to FSMO about their journey and where it may take them.
Kristen Romanelli: One of the things that stood out to me after the film ended was the symmetry in the score. It’s book-ended with “What Have We Done to Each Other”/“What Will We Do” and “Sugar Storm.”
Trent Reznor: We’re learning as we go, scoring films, and what we were consciously trying to do this time was have something that cohesively feels like a whole not only through sonic textures but also through themes that might create some sort of sense of resolution. Our way of working with David and his team—Kirk Baxter, his editor; Ren Klyce, the mixer and sound designer—is that we tend to give them lots of options. We write way more than we need for the film. I’ve really learned the value of collaboration here and with that specific team of people, we have enough trust, understanding and faith in one another. We’ve found that trying things out often sparks ideas and can influence the whole pace of the film and sometimes even which scenes are included. The catch with that is that sometimes at the end of the process—and we felt this with Dragon Tattoo—it can veer away from that goal that we as composers have, which is to have it feel like it’s got a connectivity between things—that it doesn’t feel too patchwork-y. We’re pleased with the way Gone Girl contained that kind of element where it felt like a cohesive, big thing. Because it ends in an odd place for the non-book-reader, hearing that theme you heard at the beginning starts to indicate, in my mind, a sense of resolution and helps the film feel a bit more cohesive.
Atticus Ross: Also, on that end cue, you notice that it’s the same piece of music but at the beginning we don’t quite get to the dissonance that really blossoms at the end of the film. There’s a shot that David uses to connect these two parts and when you get to the end of the film, it’s not exactly a feel good moment.
KR: Now we all know about the “spa music” inspiration for “Sugar Storm” and throughout the film. It’s this weird veneer that is laid atop “the Amazing Amy”—the image she uses to beguile people around her. And when we get to the real Amy, the cue “Technically, Missing” plays beneath the scenes as we see her plan unfold and it’s methodical and cutting and even the layers of the music sound calculated. Can you speak to that manipulation that you present through the music?
TR: Tough questions today. [Laughs] That’s such a goose bump moment in the movie when you realize the first half of the film wasn’t necessarily the truth. You have to rethink, “Ah! Okay, everything’s shifted.” We wanted something that got out of the way of her dialogue but felt empowering and free, but it felt angry. The choice of instrumentation in playing those melody lines was me strumming a guitar all tuned to the same string, multitracked, playing as fast as I can and when you finish, you can smell the pick kind of melting a little bit—your arm hurts. But a single note can feel tense and you can feel anger inside. I wanted that kind of tonality to be part of that thing where it was a freeing, majestic and powerful melody sitting over a repeating chord phrase but at the same time to feel like it is ready to burst at the seams…and stay out of the way of what was being said. A lot of the pacing of that was real collaboration with Kirk and David in terms of how they wanted the scene to ebb and flow and build in the middle and cut down again and build back up because it is a good four and a half minutes or so—a pretty sizable chunk of time. We wanted to lock into something that felt like it kept repeating so it could build and have the tension but get out of the way at the same time.
AR: Yeah, I think it ended up being six minutes if you add on the piece that leads into the hammer, which is, to me, kind of part of that same transformation. It’s also the same piece that plays at the front and the very end.
The full article may be read at Film Score Monthly Online.