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Deconstructing the Score: Exclusive Interview with DON’T LOOK BACK Composer Chris Thomas

With titles such as Final Destination, Final Destination 2, Tamara, and Day of the Dead under his belt, it’s safe to say that writer Jeffrey Reddick knows what genre fans like. With his latest horror/thriller, Don’t Look Back (Now on VOD), Reddick is adding feature director to his resume.

Synopsis:
When a young woman overcoming her traumatic past is among several witnesses who see a man fatally assaulted and don’t intervene, they find themselves targeted by someone, or something, out for revenge. 

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Adding to the terror is the score by composer Chris Thomas, who describes his compositions as “melodic and orchestral, but haunted by a dark and supernatural presence.” Thomas isn’t new to the horror world; he is the man responsible for a lot of the music you hear at theme park Halloween attractions, such as the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride. To learn more about the science of how a film score is made, and more specifically the score for Don’t Look Back, we spoke exclusively with Thomas below. The score for Don’t Look Back is being released October 20th, 2020 by 79th & Broadway Entertainment. Pre-order, HERE.


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Dread Central: How did you initially get connected with or approached to compose Dont Look Back?

Chris Thomas: The film’s producer, Andrew van den Houten, and I had just worked together on another project. It was a drama with a romantic-era style score, nothing I thought would put me in the running for Don’t Look Back. As it turns out, director Jeffrey Reddick wasn’t only looking for horror. He wanted a melodic, timeless score that captured the hearts of the characters in addition to being really scary. That said, it is a Jeffrey Reddick film. There will be some fantastic scares!

DC: How would you describe your score for the film?

CT: I would describe this score as melodic and orchestral, but haunted by a dark and supernatural presence. The film is more character driven than not, so the score had to reflect this. Rather than taking a back seat and making spooky background drones, we opted for rich melodies for strings, voices and alto flute. Even the invisible force of karma has it’s own theme in this movie. The film is also a supernatural thriller, so all of these musical forces are constantly conflicted with uncertainty and tension. I tried expressing this by recording wild sound FX with a string orchestra, beating up the insides of a grand piano with hammers, turning live singers into ghostly whispers, and recording giant, hollow aluminum boxes at a junkyard.

DC: Were there any specific challenges with scoring Dont Look Back?

CT: Once we hammered down the tone of the movie, and the themes were working well, there wasn’t much of a challenge left. Of course, finishing any score on time is always a challenge. Even then, the process was remarkably smooth. I will say that I faced some serious personal challenges during this score. There was a period I was flying out of state every week to help care for a family member on hospice. That was a very emotionally complicated time, not to mention physically exhausting. I feel like I was one person when I started this score, and a very different one by the time we finished. 

DC: Jeffrey Reddick directed Don’t Look Back. He is pretty much a horror master at this point, creating the Final Destination franchise and other films such as Tamara and The Final Wish. Were you nervous starting work on this project because of his resume?

CT: For sure, I was a bit nervous when we first met. I’m a big horror fan, and his reputation proceeds him! We first met during filming in Baton Rouge. I was brought in for a week, and he was very busy managing a gigantic set. When we had a minute to chat, I got to see the kind, thoughtful, and very genuine person he really is. Not all filmmakers are so easy to communicate with. He created an environment that allowed me to create freely and expressively. He just knows what music works on screen, and what doesn’t. That alone made the entire scoring process so much simpler and effective.

DC: How involved was Jeffrey with the composing process and score?

CT: He was very involved, in the best possible way! Initially, we spent a few weeks throwing themes and sounds against the screen until we found something that worked. Once we had a direction, I would compose cues against picture and send to Jeffery for feedback. He was very clear about which moments were moving the scene in a good direction, and which were not. We would pass ideas back and forth until the music was really hitting the mark. For me, that’s what a good film scoring process should be. Not a lone composer dictating the music down to the film, but a composer serving the movie as a collaborative team member.

DC: It was recently announced that your score for the film is going to get officially released on October 20th, congrats. If you could pick two tracks from the album that are your favorite, which would they be?

CT: Many thanks! The score will be available on the October 20th. It’s hard to choose favorite children, but here a few tracks I enjoyed quite a bit: First, I’d pick a track 5. The Vigil because of it’s moody, dramatic strings and dark alto flute solos. Then, I’d pick a very different cue like track 20. The Body/Victim #3. I choose this one because what happens in that scene still makes my skin crawl. I also felt the score really brought out the sheer nightmarishness of that moment in the most delightful way.

NOTE: the score can be purchased, HERE.

DC: We heard that you also score Halloween attractions for theme parks. Can you tell us a little bit about this?

CT: Oooh, yes I do! It started with me writing scores for the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride for a few years. I wanted to explore getting exact scene timings for a live attraction, and writing scores for them like I would for a movie. The music should fit the scene perfectly, so you feel as though you are running for your life in a horror film. After my second year of scoring the hayride, other attractions in the Los Angeles and New York areas were wanting original scores for themselves. Soon, I’m all over the country, then the United Kingdom, and Europe scoring spooky live attractions and dark rides. This eventually led to writing music for all kinds of large theme parks all over the world.

DC: How is scoring a Halloween theme park attraction different then a horror film such as Dont Look Back?

CT: Scoring for a theme park ride is more forgiving than a film. Timings are more flexible, and adaptable to your music (within a few seconds). With film, on the other hand, you are forcing musical moments to land on frames of film (fractions of a second). The deadlines are tighter, there’s more music to deliver, with far more technical hurdles to clear along the way. Writing theme park scores still feels like being on a fun vacation for me.

DC: Are you ever going to get to release any of this music?

CT: Absolutely! You can visit https://musicforhaunts.bandcamp.com/ to check out my haunted attraction albums. Every year, I release an album of the previous year’s hi lights. For example, my 2020 album, Hush, is comprised of all my favorite tunes from the 2019 season. You can see a decade of Halloween musical madness up there!

DC: Are you personally a fan of the horror genre? If so, what are some of your favorite horror films?

CT: Yes, I am! I was introduced to horror at a young age, and loved it right away. I would see horror films with my mom and grandma. They would laugh and shriek with joy at all the horrifying absurdities on screen. I think their visible enjoyment of those movies disarmed any sense of dread in me. In fact, horror has become a bit nostalgic for me now. I feel warm and fuzzy with these movies now that I associate them with my mom and grandma.

Goodness, my favorite horror films? I would say, on the one hand, films like Hereditary, Silence of the Lambs, Exorcism of Emily Rose, Let the Right One In, and The Shining are standouts in the sense they are just great cinema. They successfully span several cinematic genres brilliantly. On the other hand, when it comes to a good scare, the Final Destination films, The Ring, IT, The Blair Witch Project just irrationally scare the f**k out of me every time!

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Have you seen Don’t Look Back? What did you think of our exclusive interview with Chris Thomas? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram! You can also carry on the convo with me personally on Twitter @josh_millican.

Written by Josh Millican

Josh Millican is the Editor in Chief at Dread Central.

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