Here we are; Fishtown in Philadelphia, sitting in a hot, dark dingy warehouse you might easily suspect is the setting for a slasher film . Whispering hints of horror and suspense buzzing around each dusty corner, lurking from the shadows softly fading away just as subtly and sharply as they appeared. No this isn’t a scary movie, but the making of what goes into one, or at least, the part that sends those chills of anxious suspense down your spine, before you ever see anything at all. Just around one of the many stacks of forgotten books, one might think was a ghost by the cloud of dust that sneaks off of it as you pass by, stands Will and Brooke Blair huddled over a worn piano that looks like it has had many past lives, singing about them all at once. Blair with a hammer in one hand, carrying a menacing but concentrated look, and Will with a guitar string in his two hands holding a baneful expression moving with eerie sonic precision, creating the soundscape to their upcoming film project.
I have worked with the Blair Brothers a few times now, initially for JUMP Philly, a small Philadelphia based music quarterly. We work together brilliantly and have a great connection. The most recent of which was in this warehouse filming them while they meticulously created electrifyingly tragic sounds full of anxiety making you feel as though an entire cast of scream queen worthy actors and actresses would jump out from every corner of the dim spectral feeling building. I have always been interested in how a film is scored and what goes into it. With their love for classic monsters and suspenseful adaptations of what makes your skin crawl, it was a treat to see their process.
Will and Brooke are composers that have worked on a number of projects ranging from film, TV, web and PR. Their work has been well accepted earning them credits, and press with publications such as The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, USA Today and many others. Their work has appeared in many places with clients like MTV, Showtime, FORD, HBO and more. One of their recent film scores is with director, Jeremy Saulnier for his movie Green Room, (with a very recognizable villain, a dark and brutal Patrick Stewart.)
The brothers, bros, brosifs, were awesome enough to chat about their work, in a more formal interview. Enjoy!
- ST - StevieChris
- WB - Will Blair
- BB - Brooke Blair
ST: So what made you get into music scoring?
WB: We grew up with an strong curiosity about the creative process in general, so music and film, or drama/storytelling/form seemed to be of equal interest. We probably first noticed the relationship of music and film working well together with the John Williams films, Star Wars, E.T., Indiana Jones, Jaws, etc. And as we grew up a bit, and started exploring music on our own terms we found ourselves surrounded with other artists - a few filmmakers, and naturally found film projects to work on. A lot of student films while in college have led to long term, feature length scoring projects.
ST: What types of bands/music were you into before this?
BB: I tend to be all over the place as far as my musical tastes, I love old doo wop and RnB, indie rock, early 90’s hip hop, jazz, instrumental music…the last few albums that I really dug into were Gregory Alan Isakov The Weatherman, Jimmy Hunt Maladie d’amour, Rodrigo Amarante Cavalo, Kevin Drew Darlings, James Vincent McMorrow Post Tropical
ST: Any funny stories between you and any actors or directors come to mind?
WB: We regularly work with our older brother Macon and Jeremy Saulnier. These guys make dead serious, dark and heavy films. But they are the funniest guys at the end of the day - I think every project we’ve worked on has ended in laughs of some sort. Nothing specific is jumping out except for fart jokes maybe.
ST: You’re never too old to laugh at a good fart joke. How do you feel the perfect score helps with the overall tone to a film opposed to something like a commercial or television show?
BB It is something that should develop over the course of the film and arc of the story…it should evolve and change as the characters change and the situations change. I really enjoy when scores creep in barely noticed, which is unlike a commercial that is meant to be upfront and grab your attention as quick as it can.
ST: Is there a certain vibe you guys tend to gravitate towards?
BB We sort of have a comfort zone which leans towards the atmospheric and ambient side of things. We also have a lot of fun working with tension and release. We like to blur the lines between acoustic instrumentation and electronics, where the source of the sound is a little less obvious. Some projects we’re working on now, we’re composing for more traditional, orchestral instrumentation as well.
ST: What inspires you when scoring a film?
WB: I think a few things; the tone and the setting of the film itself become a huge point of information for us to start with. Where and when the story takes place, has just as much of influence of the direction we’d like to start in, as does the characters of the story. It’s super fun to think of music in terms of a physical location, and try to find a way to make that place “sound” more believable. But also our collaborators, the directors and writers of the stories themselves become a huge source of inspiration. In order to get a movie done and to the stage of scoring requires filmmakers to literally dump all of themselves into a project without looking back. Sometimes it’s been years or more working on the same project - and there is such a clear vision and passion to their work - it’s exciting to transfer that drive into what we get to do, even if we’re just part of the last phase of production.
ST: What has your favorite project to date been?
BB That’s really tough, it’s usually the film we are currently working on since our heads are completely immersed in that story and our sonic approach to it. Blue Ruin will always be very special for us since it helped push us towards being able to make a living scoring films. It was a scrappy little film that kind of blew past everyone’s expectations, and we’re super proud to have been a part of that.
ST: In Green Room, what was one scene that leapt out at you when scoring it? What kind of feeling did it give you after hearing your work go along with the footage?
WB: I remember a particularly challenging scene that kept stumping us. Without spoiling: it’s a very unexpected, vicious “chase, flee and fight for your dear life” sort of scene, with was edited in such a frantic and horrifying way. Very high-speed, graphic and realistic. We kept trying a few different approaches and nothing ever felt quite right, or seemed to match what we were seeing. We had to step back for a few days - reevaluate our approach and start over from a very different direction. Without knowing if things were working or not, we realized we were actually responding emotionally, freaking ourselves out, gradually scaring ourselves silly as we added layers of music and sound.
ST: Any new exciting things coming up or being worked on? I know we talked about a few exciting things, but wanted to see if you’re allowed to talk about it or not.
WB We’re currently working on a bunch of exciting films, most of them bound for big festivals soon - the work is taking us right through the end of this year. Stay tuned as they’ll start to emerge early or middle of next year. There is a very real possibility of getting to work with our older brother, Macon next year. He’s been acting and writing and producing, and has hands in many things at the moment. But it looks like he will get to direct his own movie next year, which he wrote - and he’s invited us to score the film. The three of us have collaborated plenty of times, but not in such an intimate - Director/Composer relationship. Feels like childhood has come full circle.
ST: Do you, being brothers, ever get frustrated or want to throw in the towel earlier on certain days?
WB: YES! But we’ve agreed to get beyond that instinct very quickly. The shared goal of continuing to work on projects that excite us and make us proud, is far more important than brotherly squabbles. We actually agree more and more on things as we work more towards this goal. But, for the record, what I lack in physical strength I compensate for in guts and scraps; I might be able to finally hold my own against big brother should it ever come to fisticuffs. But I’m not interested in finding out for sure.
ST: What is one of your favorite soundscape pieces you’ve created and how did it come about?
BB: We did a sound installation at the Kelly Pools which is housed in the old Waterworks building on the Schuylkill. It was a 14 minute ambient piece in which all the synthesized sounds were built from field recordings of water, or we used virtual instruments which use water to resonate (crystal baschet, wine glasses, glass armonica). We also split the mix into 4 sections of instruments which each went to a different speaker in the four corners of this massive concrete room. If you stood in the middle of the room, you would hear the full mix, but as you move around the room you would be able to zero in on different instruments, and essentially create a new “mix” of the piece depending where you are standing in the room. There was also great lighting design that accompanied the installation, so overall, it was a super unique and special piece for us to create.
ST: Ok, I know we both share a nerdy affinity with super-heroes and monsters. That being said, who would win in a fight, spider-man or batman? Wolfman or Dracula? (Lets face it, the Creature is busy finding fish-food)
WB: (Although completely contradictory to my previous answer) Batman - simply his age and experience alone would be enough of a weapon to destroy Spiderman.
BB: I’d have to go with Batman and Wolfman all the way.
ST: Man, that was too easy to answer. What about the Spidey-Sense, his agility and web shooters?! You know, that one is a lot tougher than I previously thought. Wolfman, ok I can agree there. Besides a silver bullet, which we both know Dracula probably doesn’t have handy, vampy is dog food.
ST: Favorite wolf man, go!
BB: By a long shot I’m going with Lon Chaney Jr….hands down….paws down….The Wolfman 1941 is a classic.
ST: Ok one last question and then it’s time for a beer. What kind of projects do you hope to work on in the next couple years? Are there any “dream clients” or “dream gigs”?
WB: There’s a huge list of filmmakers we’d love to work with - we’d love to apply what we’ve done with scoring and composition in general to more of a live situation. Live score with a film screening? We’re also curious about the world of television, but it would have to be just right. We wouldn’t be a perfect fit on a lot of shows out there now, but programming is changing so much with HBO and NETFLIX original series and similar television models. Having a season, multiple episodes, to explore a story and a cast of characters that evolves weekly, rather than just a 2 hour movie experience would be a lot of fun. Season 6 of True Detective if you’re listening from the future???
Thanks so much for Brooke and Will to take some time and answer some questions. I hope some of them weren’t too cliche since I was a bit selfish with loving to hear about other people’s inspiration and process. I love the process. Brooke and Blair also just recently instructed a class on Creative Live. If you are interested in learning about composing for film, definitely check it out.
Here are a few links to learn more about Brooke and Will: