Bloody-Disgusting has scored an exclusive interview with composer/orchestrator Timothy Williams, who has worked on such films as 300, Sucker Punch, Watchmen, Doomsday, Halloween, and many more. Recently, Timothy has been receiving a lot of acclaim for his work on the short film, The Butterfly Circus (which you can watch for free here), which is being converted into a full-length feature film. After the jump, you can read about his approach to composing, what genres he likes composing for, and what it take to composer for a horror film.
First of all, thank you very much for taking some time out of what I’m sure is a very busy schedule to do this interview.
Thank you for asking me!
I found you and, subsequently, your work by watching the short film, The Butterfly Circus. On top of being a beautiful, poignant short film, it had some fantastic music. What I noticed the most about the music was that it fit so well into the period of the film. How did you go about creating that mood with your music?
Butterfly Circus is one of the rare films that come along once in a while. I watched it with the director, Josh Weigel, and my first thought was “This is an amazing film. I better not screw it up!”
It has been watched by over 8 million people on line, won 14 or more awards including a Clint Eastwood Award for best film and filmmaker, it won “Best Score” at the 24fps International Festival and is now being turned into a full-length feature film. Unexpected and very exciting!
The movie is about a traveling circus in the depression era. My first thought was how to set the tone for that period and solo violin and acoustic guitar immediately came to mind.
The other breakthrough I had was about the main characters journey from being a self-loathing dropout to someone who discovers his full potential in the circus. The journey is one step at a time and so I wanted a theme that developed one note at a time. Breakthrough comes one step at a time. The theme grows one note at a time slowly climbing higher each phrase…
I’m glad it resonated with you and the colors worked to evoke the period!
The Butterfly Circus is being expanded into a full-length film. Will you be composing for that?
I will. I am really looking forward to seeing the full film. It will obviously have it’s own new character and life apart from the short film, so it will be great to be involved in that.
Looking at your resume, you’ve scored or orchestrated for a wide variety of genres. Do you find any one genre to be easier than others? What about one being more fulfilling?
Having worked on 300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch, Green Hornet and the upcoming “Conan” as orchestrator and some additional music, I enjoy large epic heavy dark action scores. I love the scope and power of recording 100 musicians at Abbey Road or Warners.
But I also enjoy the darker dramas and more intimate thrillers. With my scores for The Passage or Mulberry Tree I used more experimental ambient scores. Variety is a good thing!
Having done so much action, I would say it certainly comes easier to me, but I also seem to get called on a lot for more emotional thematic material, which I also enjoy writing.
Rather than a specific style being hard for me, I think the hardest thing for me is always the FIRST cue for any film. Finding the heart and tone of a film is the hardest thing. Once I have the tone, the rest is easier!
I’ll try four or five things that don’t work and finally hit on the right theme or color for a film.
When it comes to scoring for horror, what techniques do you find you use? Also, are there any particular instruments or tones that you feel create a quintessential aural “horror” experience?
I’ve worked on a lot of horror… as an orchestrator on Slither, Day of The Dead, Devils Rejects and Halloween and composer on The Passage, Stephen King’s Gotham Cafe and recently Brazen Bull.
Horror relies heavily on dissonance and orchestral effects and especially sudden changes in dynamics. Long sections of quiet with sudden LOUD moments that make you jump.
I think bowed cymbals are great for horror. Also the extreme ranges of instruments… low strings and brass and high creepy violins… Over the years at the end of orchestral sessions I’ll spend the last ten minutes experimenting. I’ll call out crazy shit for the orchestra to try and just conduct it. It can create some amazing and interesting textures. Most of it sounds bad but sometimes a few things will be amazing and they’ll give me the basis for a whole film!
In my opinion, sound and music in a horror film is as much of a character as the people within the film. If you had to describe horror music as a character, how would you do so?
There is that famous film school video of a guy walking up stairs. You just see his feet. It is scored first with comedic music and you watch the guy walk up the stairs and it’s funny. It is then shown with the creepiest spine chilling music and you feel terrified. You know any moment he’s going to get axed.
Same shot, different score. You can’t have a horror film without music. Simple as that. The music sets up the whole suspense…makes you uncomfortable… waiting for the sudden turn. Silence can also be suspenseful but when you hear the music start to come in you know something bad is about to happen.
In terms of the character I think often the music plays the point of view of the bad guys. The one waiting in the closet to jump out with the knife.
I’m going to switch gears and ask a few random questions: What is your favorite beverage while composing?
Margarita would be the honest answer! But water works too! Day always starts with a good “bowl” of coffee though.
What are some of your favorite movie/TV/whatever scores?
People say we are in the golden age of TV and I think that is true. As the economy has turned, films being produced these days are often remakes or very safe product films. The real innovation in story and style is happening in TV.
“Breaking Bad”, “24”, “Lie To Me”, “Mad Men”, “Tudors”… the list of great shows goes on and on. Robert Duncan scores a lot of TV shows and I love his work. I had the pleasure of orchestrating for him on his upcoming thriller “The Entitled”. To be honest I think the writing for TV at the moment is significantly more interesting and innovative than film. I scored the TV series Sym Bionic Titan last year with Tyler Bates and Dieter Hartman. It was an amazing animated show for kids by director Genndy Tartakovsky (Dexters Lab, Power Puff Girls) and the writing of the stories was exceptional. We were told to score it like a real film, and it was great fun to work on.
Can you tell me about any of your upcoming projects?
I just finished orchestrating Sucker Punch and wrote a couple scenes for that. The soundtrack has already sold over 60,000 copies and climbing!
I am finishing out Conan, doing additional music and all the orchestrations for Tyler Bates.
I have 2 films coming up, “Unconditional” and the feature version of “Butterfly Circus”. I am also doing a new TV series (which I can mention just yet). I will also be doing some music for 2 major video games, so it looks like this year will continue to be busy!