BD Exclusive Interview: Tom Hajdu ‘Tomandandy’ Talks Resident Evil: Afterlife

In excitement for the release of Resident Evil: Afterlife, Bloody Disgusting scored an exclusive interview with Tom Hajdu, one of the composing duo of Tomandandy, about his work on Resident Evil: Afterlife! Tomandandy’s movies credits include The Mothman Prophecies, The Strangers, Killing Zoe, The Hills Have Eyes (remake), and many more. Here, I got the opportunity to ask Tom several questions about the composition process for Resident Evil: Afterlife, working with Paul W.S. Anderson, the impact of scoring for a 3-D film, and his thoughts on the future of entertainment. Check after the jump to check out this Bloody Disgusting exclusive and let us know what you think!

How are you doing?
Greetings and Salutations! We come in peace! Andy [Milburn] isn’t here actually, as he is off doing something else. But you can ask me anything you want!
Well then! How do I pay less on my taxes?
Well, if I knew the answer to that…I would have something clever to say. [laughs]
[laughs]
Resident Evil: Afterlife comes out in one week. Any feelings of anticipation?
Feelings on anticipation! Of excitement! We’re really excited to have it released because we really feel like it’s a very fresh representation of the series. Paul [W.S. Anderson] really wanted to, essentially, freshen up the brand. Almost rebrand it. In a way, it’s almost as extreme a shift as it was going from Terminator 1 to Terminator 2 and it really does feel like something new. So I’m excited to see how people respond to it. 
Had you seen the previous three films before working on Afterlife or did you need to go out and have a movie night?
Oh no, I had seen them. But upon taking the assignment, we went and looked at them more carefully. 
Did you take influence from the three previous composers in your approach or was it a blank slate situation?
Well, Paul [W.S. Anderson], the director, really didn’t want…he really wanted this to be fresh and new, so one of the criteria was absolutely no orchestra. No traditional sounding instruments at all. So that basically made the score palette fundamentally different than any of the other three films, right off the bat. But we were certainly inspired by the first one in the collaboration between [Marco] Beltrami and [Marilyn] Manson. But apart from an inspiration, there was nothing directly connected to the other three pictures or scores. 
How much of a presence does Paul Anderson have on the score? Was he over your shoulder at all?
Well, we would make music and bring it in for him and he would respond to it. And after our first meeting, when he said “No traditional orchestra,” we brought in some music that had some traditional orchestra in it. And he repeated himself, you know? No means no [laughs]. So we really had to find a new sound! And that was very, very exciting! That’s a really interesting and exciting thing for a director to say. 
My editor saw Afterlife and thought that the movie was very score heavy and felt almost like an extended music video. What is your response to that?
Well, I actually haven’t seen the final mix. Andy [Milburn] was at the final mix, and he didn’t say that. But I don’t have any response to that except to say that based on my seeing of the film NOT mixed is that it certainly doesn’t feel like a music video. If anything, it feels like a new cinematic experience that has a lot of music and images in it, but I wouldn’t say it feels just like a music video because the music is not playing as a song, it’s playing as a score. And I don’t know if you’ve heard the soundtrack CD at all.
I was sent a copy and listened to it several times. 
Okay. It’s produced like a modern CD. It’s not produced like a traditional score, but it certainly functions as a score, without a doubt. So I think it’s starting to address the traditional notion of what a score means and how a score functions in cinema, yes. But I wouldn’t just then make the leap to music video at all. That seems oversimplified to me. 
The movie was filmed with the same technology as James Cameron’s Avatar. Did that have any influence on how you approached your compositions?
Yeah. I mean, when we first walked in to watch some excerpts of the film as it was being edited, we were blown away by how rich and gorgeous the footage was. So we were absolutely inspired, and in fact challenged to make the music as interesting and rich as the visual experience is. And that’s how come we took so much time to produce it, to painstakingly make it sound like a rich production. A lot of film scores sound really nice but they’re not necessarily produced with level of detail.
Have you played the games at all? 
Yeah, we both started playing video games when they were just small characters on a keyboard, you know? Because we did our PhDs at Princeton University and Princeton had a very early internet connection with online games and stuff. So we started playing games very early on and have always been interested in the way in which technology interfaces with entertainment, and gaming is certainly one of those major experiences, so yes. 
Did you take inspiration from the music of the games?
No, because Paul’s [W.S. Anderson] vision was really to essentially reboot the brand so we didn’t want to have any relationship to something that had come before, at least not consciously. 
Which composition do you feel best describes Afterlife?
Well certainly the opening is very strong and it’s very iconic. That one certainly comes to mind. I believe the film opens with just music and images for an extended period of time. I think that’s pretty effective, so I would say the opening. 
What can we expect from Tomandandy in the future?
Well, you know, we’re working on several projects. The scores that we do, the projects that we work on are all very different from each other, so look for something as different as Resident Evil was to the last big movie we had come out, which was The Strangers. So, I think that hopefully we’ll be able to continue to do things that are fresh and innovative. 
What are some of your favorite horror soundtracks or themes?
Wow! You know, I don’t think in terms of themes, so let me think about that. Honestly, what I really like? I hate to answer the question with some kind of clever non-answer, but I really like the way in which silence and sound design are used in The Strangers and the way in which the music supports that. I mean, obviously we can go back and think about the grand tradition of theme and thriller-genre like Psycho, Bernard Herman’s work, or then following in that tradition, you know Jaws, and then moving forward to more contemporary pieces. But I was struck in The Strangers at how effective the use of silence was and how effective the use of just sounds was as a thematic element that made people feel really uncomfortable and nervous. At least, it made me feel that way. 
Well, I have to say that I’m excited to see Resident Evil Afterlife!
So you heard the soundtrack, what did you think? It’s perhaps not as traditional as far as scores go. What thoughts did you have about it?
For me, just like you say, it’s not a traditional score. It makes me actually more excited for the film because the film already looks very stylistically impressive and I think the two [the score and the film] will play very well off of each other that will hopefully create a new type of experience in the realm of action-horror and even hopefully in horror by itself. 
Well I think that was the intention and that’s certainly the intention of the music, to start thinking of the way in which music functions as score in cinema in general. Because if you listen to this music, it’s not traditional horror music. It’s almost like a new way of looking at action music and the experience I had, and this is why I was struck by your editor having looked at the movie this way, was because my experience of it was that I’m feeling like I’m touching or at an index of something that is emerging or is a new entertainment experience. It’s not a music video and it’s not a traditional cinematic experience. It’s kind of where technology and aesthetics are leading us to a new kind of experience. And it would be interested to talk and see what you think about that and see whether or not if you asked your editor that, I’d be curious as to what he thought about that. Because that’s was my intuition anyway and I haven’t seen the entire finished project, but it felt like, at moments, that I was touching something new. 
So there was a feeling that you were, in a way, paving new groundwork?
Yeah, it’s definitely pointing to a new experience. As opposed to pointing to, let’s say for example, Inception, which is a very well received movie and is very highly regarded. And the way in which it’s functioning is fairly traditional! The narrative is chopped up and there are very interesting elements going on, but it’s very much within the tradition, so to speak. This movie [Resident Evil: Afterlife] seems to be touching, crossing over. It’s like a metamorphosis. It’s in the chrysalis or something. It’s becoming a butterfly, or something like that. It’s a new kind of experience, at least that’s what it felt like to me, but I haven’t seen it from beginning to end nonstop and I’m going to an IMAX theater to see it as well because I really want to see if what I was picking up on is in fact what was going on. 
This conversation reminds me of the first time that I played the video game Silent Hill. The music in there was so out of the norm for video game soundtracks that it felt like what you are describing: a shift in what could be done with music and sound. 
I think what is interesting in the context of Silent Hill, one of the big breaks was the audio. In this case, everything has gone outside of the norm. The use of music, the kind of music that is being used, they way it’s shot, the way it looks, and the fact that it’s in 3-D, and it’s real 3-D, not simulated 3-D, is touching on something new! It really feels new. At least those are the glimmers that I got while wearing 3-D glasses watching clips on a very small screen. We weren’t doing that in our studio, because we didn’t have a 3-D TV, but we did when we were going to the studios look at it that way. But to be honest, I haven’t seen more than small clips here and there in 3-D, so I’m just really intuiting. But I have a very strong feeling that it’s certainly going to be a very powerful experience and I feel that it’s so powerful that it’s touching on a huge opportunity for people to think about entertainment in a new way. 
Well, I’m very excited to see the movie and I wish you the best of luck with Resident Evil: Afterlife and I look forward to the future of Tomandandy.
Thank you so much! Take care!