Scoring Horror Presents…
AN INTERVIEW WITH GREGORY TRIPI
By Barry Lee Dejasu.
Gregory Tripi is often known for his collaborative work with composer Cliff Martinez. Films such as DRAG ME TO HELL (2009), CONTAGION (2011), DRIVE (2011), and ONLY GOD FORGIVES (2013) are just a handful of their efforts. However, Mr. Tripi keeps himself busy with projects of his own. Having composed the score for multiple feature-length and short films, video games, and TV series (all in a number of genres), he’s always working on something new. His latest solo work can be heard in the forthcoming film DARK PLACES.
Based on the 2009 novel by Gillian Flynn (author—and screenwriter—of this year’s GONE GIRL), DARK PLACES centers on a childhood survivor of a murdered family (Charlize Theron) who is contacted about the massacre by a secret society that claims to solve major crimes. Adapted and directed by Giles Paquet-Brenner (SARAH’S KEY, 2010, and the 2009 horror film WALLED IN), DARK PLACES also stars Chloë Grace Moretz, Nicholas Hoult, Christina Hendricks, and Corey Stoll. In production for some time now, the film is currently without a release date.
Mr. Tripi was kind enough to dish on his craft (both with and without Cliff Martinez), the origins of his interest in film music, and the “crazy” process of scoring DARK PLACES.
BD: You’ve done a lot of collaborative work for quite a variety of movies, including programming. Can you talk about your work with Cliff Martinez?
GT: I’ve collaborated with Cliff Martinez for, I dunno, about fifteen, sixteen, seventeen films now; it’s a pretty ongoing thing that we do. It’s a very collaborative thing that we do; after a couple of years, it got to be kind of second nature. We always seem to do these projects together. DRIVE was a pretty good experience; we actually did it right in the middle of CONTAGION; we actually stopped working on CONTAGION, did DRIVE, and went back to CONTAGION, so we were already kind of warmed-up, I guess.
And (for) ONLY GOD FORGIVES, we had a good experience with the same people; he was in Thailand when we did it, and I was in Los Angeles, and we just worked long-distance, even though we were (otherwise) living about two miles down the road from each other at the time. It was a good exercise in Internet collaboration. But, I think a lot of these movies, no matter who you collaborate with, you know…if it’s a good movie, and you’ve got a good director, good story, good acting, additional music comes together pretty easily.
Is there anything specific you want to know about the collaboration?
BD: Well, what kinds of work did you actually do in them?
GT: I did a lot of the additional music in all the movies. We used to call it “producing” for a long time, so when you produced a score, that meant anything that needed to happen; if it meant additional music, arranging orchestration…a lot of times I’ll handle all the orchestral parts of the score. It’s about jumping in and doing whatever needs to get done to get the score finished.
On DRIVE, I played guitar, sitar, some sound design work, I played the keys, did all sorts of sound mingling. Kind of the same deal on ONLY GOD FORGIVES, too; I played some saz with an eBow. We (also) did all sorts of recordings with the crystal baschet on that.
BD: Do you have a family of instruments that you like working with the most?
GT: Well, it depends on who I’m working with. On my own projects, I play a lot of metallic instruments; I have a lot of things in the ideophone kind of category; hang-drum, tongue drum…a lot of metallic, harmonic percussion instruments. I like playing on those a lot; those feature pretty prominently on the DARK PLACES score, too. But when I played in an orchestra, I played bassoon; I don’t play that much on the scores, but more in my background is orchestral stuff.
BD: How did you get involved in scoring films?
GT: It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do; I’ve always played music, always loved music, and I’ve always loved film, so it seemed like a pretty natural thing to do. I went to Berkeley [College of Music] in Boston, and studied film scoring, which was really a good way into it, and I won several fellowships in Los Angeles and moved out here and just started. That worked out, I guess! (laughs) I wish there was a deeper answer than that, but I’m just incredibly fortunate to get to do the job I always wanted to do.
When I was a kid, when I was nine, ten years old, when the original (1989) BATMAN movie came out, the Tim Burton one, I thought, “This is what I want to do. I want to make this music.” I had no idea what it was; I had no idea that “film scoring” was the name of the job, I just told my parents, “I want this music.” So, for Christmas that year, they were nice enough to give me the Prince soundtrack to BATMAN, (laughs), which is totally not what I wanted—I wanted the Danny Elfman soundtrack—but they gave me the Prince one. That started the long, confusing road to figuring out how to do this job. So that’s been in the back of my mind forever.
BD: That’s funny you should say that, because my own interest in film scores began with Danny Elfman’s score to BATMAN RETURNS (1992).
GT: Oh yeah? (laughs)
BD: How did you come to be involved with DARK PLACES?
GT: The production company (Exclusive Media Group) knew me from a while back in meetings, and they knew my style was pretty similar to what they were looking for, so they called me and asked if I wanted to demo for it, and everyone seemed to like what I sent over. Over a bunch of meetings, I got to meet with Charlize Theron and her production company, and the director, and a couple other producers, and some more producers, and basically everybody wanted to check me and make sure I was completely crazy enough to take the job. They denied the fact that they’d already hired and fired a few other composers, and there was no time left. They wanted someone completely crazy and willing to do it, so…I think I passed the test. (laughs)
BD: Why did you have to be crazy?
GT: We only had three weeks to do it, and (while) they had an idea of what they wanted, they didn’t know how it was going to happen so quickly, so they wanted to make sure that I was physically able to do it in that time. Challenging, but I think it worked out okay.
BD: Having not yet read the book, myself, am I right in picturing DARK PLACES as being dark, moody, edgy, and suspenseful? And what other moods make up the movie?
GT: Based on the title? (laughing) I’ve not read the book, either. I’d not even heard of it until I started working on the movie, and there wasn’t even close to enough time. I barely had time to read my contract, much less the book. I went into it pretty blank-slate.
But you’re right: it’s a very dark drama; a lot of tense moments, but it’s got some light moments in it, too. But it definitely explores a very dark and weird time; most of it takes place between modern day and then 1984, I believe. There are all these long scenes flashing back to this horrific murder happening to this little girl’s family, and showing how it relates to how she’s coping with it in the modern day, all over the map.
BD: Do you approach films with an overall mood/vibe in mind for your music, or do you break them down scene-by-scene?
GT: I watched the whole movie, one day from the production company, and I went home—I hadn’t even been hired to do it yet, but I had a really cool idea in mind, and I just started writing and composing based off of that first impression. I came up with ten minutes of music that I liked a lot, and when I got hired, I put the music against the picture, and it worked pretty well. (It was) a very organic process that just came together. And also, you know, the style that they were looking for (matched) my style of composing, you know; a lot of electronic and organic textures all blended together. I played a lot of metallic instruments on it, like the hang drum and the Vadjraghanta drum—that’s a metal instrument from the Ukraine—and some tongue drums. I (also) played some guitar, an eBow guitar…you know, all these long, weird, tense-sounding, evolving notes. So that style of writing is very familiar to me; it just happened to fit this movie very well. I guess the real initial spark of inspiration, when I first watched the movie, just sort of worked out.
BD: Did you ever end up having time to read the book?
GT: (laughs) I don’t want to spoil the movie when I see it. (laughs) No, I’ve not read the book yet, but I heard it’s fantastic. I’m much more in the mindset of seeing the movies, then reading the book after; it’s probably backwards for most people.
I saw 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968), I loved it so much, I went and got the book and read it. I just like having the visual of the movie fresh in my head; it paints this really amazing image when I’m reading the book. I’ve got a really terrible problem when I read books: all the dialogue sounds like ZOOLANDER (2001) when they’re talking. (laughs) It makes it really hard! So I see the movie first, (and) I get a sound for somebody’s voice in my head, and it’s easier to read the book. Everybody sounds like Lance Henriksen; that’s just my own messed-up way of reading.
BD: I also like reading the books after I see the movie sometimes, because otherwise, I end up making this mental checklist of what I’m expecting to see, and even if the movie isn’t necessarily different from the book, I don’t get to experience any of the surprises, because I know what’s coming.
GT: Yeah, me too. I like to be surprised by the movie. I know all these people who’ve read all the GAME OF THRONES books and watch it on TV every week, and are like, “I know what’s going to happen!” They can take away the whole entertainment value of it.
BD: Were there any unexpected surprises, or challenges, in scoring this film?
GT: Not really; I had the challenge really laid out at the beginning of it—there was very little time to do it, and I didn’t sleep for a month straight. But, the last week of finishing the movie, we decided to start using some orchestral strings in it, which had never been the plan before. But we (decided) it would kind of fit some of the later pieces in the movie, and I got everything together in one day, sent it over to Macedonia that night, got up at six in the morning the next day, and recorded it over Skype with an orchestra over in Macedonia. It was a 24-hour turnaround; later that afternoon, it was on my mix engineer’s desk; that evening, it was on the mix stage.
BD: Is that becoming a common thing nowadays? To record parts of a score internationally, and/or over the Internet?
BD: On a side note, on behalf of a lot of wondering fans: what is going on with the theatrical release of DARK PLACES? Any idea of when it’ll come out?
GT: Nope. It’s already got distribution in most of the markets around the world, except the United States. I think the reason you haven’t seen a release date yet is because the U.S. distributor hasn’t been chosen yet. But it’s already got distribution in other countries, so you might be able to see it in another country before you see it in the United States; I’m certainly not the person in charge of that, but I certainly expect to see it sometime early next year.
BD: What are you working on next?
GT: Next? Well, I just finished working on the Cinemax series, THE KNICK (EDITOR’s NOTE: currently one of the best shows on television); we just finished scoring that. I’m going to start working on a movie called THE MORTUARY COLLECTION, which is from a director named Ryan Spindell; very cool movie. It’s like a real homage, kind of throwback, to the classic anthology horror series, like TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1989-1996), and it’s a really awesome project, and Ryan is really one of those talented guys I know from L.A., so it should be pretty cool. He’s already got the first part of the anthology finished, and we’re going to get started on that pretty soon.
BD: Will you be scoring the whole movie, or just certain segments of it?
GT: No, the whole thing.
BD: Given free range to do anything you wish, what kind of project would you like to work on? (And please, name names if there are directors/actors you’d like to work with!)
GT: I love scifi; I would love to do more scifi movies. If there’d be, like, Darren Aaronovsky directing one of the FAST & FURIOUS movies, in space, that would probably be okay with me. (laughs) Something like that; I tend to do better with dark, scifi, weird stuff than feel-good family comedies, so I’ll probably stick to that area for now.
BD: If you could re-score any pre-existing movie (the older, the better), what would you choose, and what would you bring to it?
GT: My, that’s a tough one. Growing up, I loved to watch old scifi movies from the ‘50s and ‘60s; especially pre-moon landing ones with the really fantastic ideas about, you know…everyone will have a rocket-powered car by 1965, with an 8-track player in the deck? I love old black-and-white ones like A CRACK IN THE WORLD (1965), stuff like that. I would love to do one of those really retro scifi movies, but give it a really contemporary treatment, and, you know, a two and a half hour Theremin thrown over on top of it.
BD: Would you like to add anything else?
GT: Thanks for being patient with the baby crying. He’s going to be a heavy metal singer; I can see it in his future. (laughs)
BD: Thanks, Greg!
GT: Thanks for reaching out!
DARK PLACES is slated for theatrical release sometime in 2015.
© Copyright 2014 by Barry Lee Dejasu