Composer Alexander Arntzen Talks Composing the Killer Score for INITIATION

College is all fun and parties–until the bloody bodies start piling up, that is! From the trailer and poster (below), Initiation may appear to be just another slasher like Urban Legend or Scream, with a masked killer hunting down victims.

But it’s actually a lot more.

Whiton University unravels the night a star athlete is murdered in the wake of a buried assault allegation. Kicking off a spree of social media-linked slayings. As a masked killer targets students across campus, a trio of sorority sisters race to uncover the truth behind the school’s hidden secrets. And the horrifying meaning of an exclamation point – before they become the killer’s next victims.

Official Synopsis

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John Berardo directed Initiation from an original screenplay he also co-wrote along with Brian Frager and Lindsay LaVanchy. The film stars Jon Huertas, Isabella Gomez, Lindsay LaVanchy, Froy Gutierrez, Gattlin Griffith, Patrick R. Walker, James Berardo, Bart Johnson, Shireen Lai, Kent Faulcon, Yancy Butler, Lochlyn Munro, and Maxwell Hamilton.

Adding to the terror is the score by composer Alexander Arntzen. He even manages to incorporate the killer’s weapon of choice, a drill, in his compositions. Read about this and more in our exclusive interview.


Initiation is available on Digital and On Demand.

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Alexander Arntzen

Dread Central: Before you started working on Initiation, what did you do to prepare?

Alexander Arntzen: I had already written some music during the period when John was creating pitch deck videos and teaser trailers. So I already had a strong idea of the direction the music would take. Once I got the film, it was just a matter of executing the vision and make adjustments where needed based on how certain sounds and ideas worked to the final picture.

DC: Did you give each of the characters in Initiation their own themes? If so, can you talk about those?

AA: I can’t say there was a theme for each character. There was essentially 3 themes: 1. The main melodic theme that plays throughout the film in various places. It was the most “traditional” theme in that you could actually hum it. 2. A theme for when Ellery is in the lab which is more of a slow moving synth ostinato pattern. 3. The killer’s theme which was more of a sound and vibe: drill/metal sounds, pitched down vocals that I recorded myself to sound like a monster, and a lot of percussion and depending synch bass lines.

DC: What was the most complicated scene for you to score in the film? Why was it challenging?

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AA: I can’t say there was a particularly difficult scene to score. We did a lot of preparation so the scoring process was honestly very smooth the whole time. I think the most complicated scenes would be scenes where you’re scoring under a heavy dialogue scene. The challenge there is to be interesting enough to not be boring, but not too interesting that it distracts from the actors’ performances and what they need to say in the scene. It’s a challenging balance to achieve and I think we did it well in Initiation!

DC: What instrument(s) did you find were key in this story. To set the musical theme you all were striving to achieve?

AA: Since the film revolves around social media, it was critical to have a largely electronic base of synth instruments: pads, basses, distorted FX, etc. On top of that I still wanted to bring out the humanity in the main characters, so using piano and strings to highlight those moments of emotion was key.

DC: Because Initiation is a horror film, did you feel extra pressure with the music? Because a lot of time the scores in this genre almost act like another character, telling the audience when something bad is about to happen.

AA: I think the inherent pressure with horror, like comedy, is that you HAVE to bring out a reaction from the audience or else you’ve failed the mission. I certainly hope that the score became a main character, but I certainly tried not to telegraph when something bad was about to happen. Sometimes you have to, but I think the scarier thing is not knowing when something bad will happen and then hit the audience hard with a brutal sound out of nowhere. Keep them on the edge of the seat!

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DC: You like using “found sounds” in your scores. Like a drill for Initiation. What are some other found sounds you’ve used in your scores?

AA: Yes! It seemed like a perfect opportunity to blend the traditional aspects of the score with something on top of the music that sets itself apart from any other score. If I haven’t at least attempted to create something with the score that has never been done before, I don’t think I’m doing my job to the best of my ability. I also added my own voice doing rhythmic breathing patterns, but pitched down and distorted to create a monster-like sound in the score as well.

DC: Are you personally a horror fan? If so, what horror films have made the biggest impression on you?

AA: The irony is that I am the biggest scaredy-cat when it comes to actually watching horror films that I haven’t worked on. I’m the person in the audience who has their hands to their eyes almost the whole movie. So in a way, I am slowly getting used to watching horror films more now that I work on them with regularity. My favorite horror franchise by far is Saw, in no small part due to the incredible score by Charlie Clouser!

DC: As a composer, what is your philosophy with jump scares? Do you like to use this technique, or are you more a fan of the slow burn?

AA: I think like anything in life, you need variety! Sometimes a jump scare is a perfect way to express the story beat you’re trying to tell. Other times, it’s the slow discovery of something creepy that brings out a better reaction. I think you want to utilize both to get the best of both worlds!

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DC: What would you say is your personal “compositional style”? Meaning if we were to listen to your film scores, would we find commonalities?

AA: I think among the same genre, I am perhaps starting to create a “sound” for myself. But I have been told by friends and family as well as filmmakers that they are always surprised that I can seemly sound nothing like myself from one genre to another. I think there is a balancing act to hopefully be set overtime in my career. I certainly want to have a unique vibe to my music that no one else can quite do, but I also don’t want my music to get predictable either. Always wanting to make and break new ground with music wherever possible!

DC: What’re you working on next?

AA: I have 4 other features that I have already wrapped my work on in various stages of completion to be released hopefully coming out sometime later this year! It always amazes me how long it takes for films to get completed and released, but great things take time. Besides that, I will begin scoring a new feature, 3 Days Rising, a horror-thriller starring Peter Greene, Mickey Rourke, & Ice T soon!

Alexander Arntzen’s Initiation score is now available on all major digital sites including iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, and Apple Music.

Have you seen Initiation yet? What do you think of our exclusive interview with Alexander Arntzen? Let us know below or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram! You can also carry on the convo with me personally on Twitter @josh_millican.



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