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Frank Ilfman Talks Scoring ‘Big Bad Wolves’, ‘ABCs Of Death 2′, And More

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If you haven’t seen the Israeli revenge-thriller Big Bad Wolves, then you’re sorely missing out. The film is absolutely fantastic, featuring some of the best black comedy I’ve ever seen in a film while, at the same time, being a tragic, heartbreaking story of a man who simply wants to put his child to rest. I’m sure you’ve heard it many times by now but just in case you haven’t, Quentin Tarantino has stated that it’s, “…the best film of [2013].

One of the best aspects, in my opinion, is the phenomenal score by composer Frank Ilfman. Playful yet serious, grand and then subtle, the music has already won the award for Best Music at the Saturn Awards and the Israeli Film Academy. I had the chance to speak with Ilfman a few weeks ago about the film as well as his future plans. You can read this exclusive interview below!

Make sure to pick up the soundtrack via iTunes.

Shalom! How are you doing?

Shalom shalom! I’m doing very well, thank you!

Welcome to the US! How are you enjoying your time here?

Yeah, it’s pretty cool! Good weather, great people. I’m having fun! I haven’t had a chance to see my family. My uncle is here.

Congratulations on the “Big Bad Wolves” score being nominated for a Saturn! The film, and your music, have received a lot of praise. Tell me about that!

It’s been an amazing roller coaster. Everything started up once Quentin Tarantino declared it the best movie of the year, talking about the score and photography and everything. Since then, it just kind of skyrocketed. It started winning all these awards and now, with Magnolia Pictures, we got submitted to the BAFTA, where we were nominated for Best Music and then Best International Film. It’s pretty cool, it’s pretty amazing. And the soundtrack is doing pretty well, which is great.

Did the success and critical acclaim of the movie surprise you? Were you prepared for the reaction that people have had to it?

No, I think this is something I’m actually quite amazed because I’m working on some big budget movies in London and you always think, “Oh, that’s the one that’s going to go somewhere.” And then this low budget Israeli movie that we did and suddenly it broke through and shot like a rocket through everything. Next thing you know, you’re on everybody’s radar and everybody wants to meet you and everybody wants you to score their movie. You never know where you’re going to be, which is a great surprise.
And also, we worked really hard on Big Bad Wolves. We spent six months working on the score and Ronen, the sound designer, spent another six months working on sound designing and the mix. So, when something like that happens, the awards for the working so hard, they’re just phenomenal. It feels great to get that.

It’s opened a lot of doors. What are some projects or opportunities that have come up?

There are some I can’t talk about because of confidentiality but some of the big companies [in Los Angeles] and heads of studios want to meet me. Also, because the score sounds big and rich but was done on a very low budget scale in London, with the London Metropolitan, a lot of people are curious how I managed to do that. It’s one of my tricks, I guess!
So, I met with Millennium and Legendary and a few Warner Bros., and a few others. It’s a good experience because they like the music and they like the movie.

How did you capture that amazing playfulness within the film so effectively in your score?

The movies is actually quite hilarious. I think it’s more funny than anything else. It’s obviously very dark but there are many comedic moments. But that was the challenge. How do you balance those subtleties, almost between light and darkness. A lot of the scenes which are very intense but then they start cracking jokes but then they go back to the intensity. Sometimes there were certain sounds or innuendos to have more of a light feel. Then we would turn back the music into something more dramatic or menacing. It took a while on a few cues to try and do that subtlety so that you don’t lose the humor. There are scenes that are pure humor. But most of it was very fine balancing.
I know that there are a lot of Jewish references. For instance, there is the grandfather, who is a bigger-than-life character. He’s that old school Jewish fighter from the army. So we thought that something Jewish thematic would fit because we wanted people to have fun with the character but still take him serious. There was an idea that we would use Russian marches, like in the early days when we used to have the Russian refugees coming to Israel. But that was something we adapted for him, like in the scene that is in slow motion when he’s going down to the basement.

What was one of your favorite moments in the film?

That’s a hard one! There are so many good moments! I think one of my favorite moments is the part where the father, who was sent by the guy he kidnapped, the pedophile, to look for the head in the greenhouse. It’s quite a long scene and he has all this intensity and he goes there to dig for the head of his daughter, where he thinks she’s buried. That scene is one of my favorite ones. I think there is something so gentle. It starts really big but then goes down into a lyrical cello solo when he’s digging for the head, because he wants to bring his daughter to burial. And then it erupts. It has all of these subtleties.
That scene, even without the music, is very strong. The reaction you get from the character, his acting, is just phenomenal. When I first saw it, I thought that we didn’t need music. It’s a beautiful scene.

Talk about your involvement with the ABCs Of Death 2.

I did a segment with Aharon and Navot and I can’t remember which letter we had but we finished that a few months ago.

What kind of feel will we get when we hear the music for that segment?

All I can say is that there will be references to our next movie, which is ‘Once Upon A Time In Palestine’.

Thank you very much!

Thank you! Bye!

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