Composer Series,  Interviews,  Movies/Entertainment

Interview…Composer Brian McOmber on the Emotional Instability of ‘Krisha’

Krisha headerKrisha, the feature length film from Trey Edward Shults (which is adapted from his short film of the same name), has a lot in common with Requiem For A Dream. But instead of strung out junkies, the character fraying at the edges is a member of his immediate family. Further, this film showcases the exceptional talent of Krisha Fairchild (Trey’s real-life Aunt) as she portrays a character unraveling in front of her family on Thanksgiving; the result is a performance as magnetic as it is horrific. Part of what makes this modest feature so compelling is the uneasy music from composer Brian McOmber.

McOmber digs deep and hits on a number of emotions and feelings, specifically hope, anxiety, fear, and desperation. With cues that get closer to moody genre music than actual score, Brian accentuates each dizzying scene with his edgy and persistent themes. The character of Krisha has a fractured emotional state, and this uncomfortable narrative follows her through her last chance to connect with her estranged family.

Aside from his brilliant work on this emotionally charged drama, McOmber is also a former member of the popular band Dirty Projectors. Enjoy the highlights of our time with Brian as we discuss his work on A24’s Krisha.

GoSeeTalk: Brian, how has your experience been taking this music from a short film to a feature-length narrative? The soundtrack has samples from the short, but did you ever think that this would have been adapted to film?

BrianMcOmberBrian McOmber: Trey cold called me after seeing a short film I had done, and sent me over the short film for Krisha. After seeing it, I thought it could be a feature, and I found out later that he had actually tried to make it a feature with about $7,000 over the course of a weekend. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out and he made it into the short, but after having done that he went on to make the feature we have now. That was his second try at what he had always intended to do.

With the short, he tried to put everything he could into it. We threw everything into the mix, so it has classical percussion, strings, electronics, and it was kind of like the “kitchen sink” approach. All that said, he wanted the music to be big! But when we got to work on the feature, he knew it was going to be a slow-burn, so we didn’t want to throw everything at it at once.

We broke all the aspects apart, and treated them individually. We wanted to use a lot of different types of instruments, and a lot of different styles. The short film helped inform what we were going to do with the feature, but we didn’t take the exact same approach. This needed to be paced better with more diversity to the cues. I included music from the short on the soundtrack because I was really happy with the way it turned out.

Picking up on that diversity, which is an understatement, that applies to both the film and your music. It was a combination of things – from horrific, to sad, to pathetic, to funny, and then just bizarre. There’s one scene in the kitchen as the turkey comes out of the oven. Even though it didn’t use your music, it was just terrifying. The visuals must have provided a lot of material for you to work with, right?

Absolutely! They were hugely important for the score. The same cinematographer who worked on the short worked on the feature. I credit Krishahim a lot for helping me extract some of the ideas I had. Actually, I didn’t even read the script – both myself and Bill Wise, who played Uncle Doyle, never read the script. When I saw the cut, that changed the lot of the ideas I had rolling around based on my experience with a short film or any descriptions I had read about this film. Once I saw the cut, that absolutely influenced me.

One particular scene, that is in the beginning of the film, happens in the kitchen. It was about a minute long in the short, and now it’s more than five minutes. Once I saw that, and how the arc of the scene played out, it gave me a whole new set of ideas. I don’t think reading the script would have done that for me. Also, logistically, I couldn’t start working on the film until Trey gave me something that was almost locked. Trey edited the film himself, and he was able to make some cuts to accommodate some of my music, but other things were cut out completely.

One of the most compelling things about the movie are the long takes – specifically the first scene. It’s a little unnerving, and because of the irregular height of the camera, and the shakiness, it feels like a voyeuristic documentary. Also, because Krisha is way out there, it represents her struggle to stay in the moment and keep up with everything that’s happening. Some of these scenes just kept going, and it seemed like your music was on an endurance run just to keep up with the chaos.

There’s a funny moment in that Steadicam shot – where Krisha is on that long walk to get to the front door of the house – and Orlando, the camera operator, was pulling out. He bumped the camera and I remember him telling me he thought he messed up. But Trey saw it and he said, “No, that’s perfect. That’s exactly the kind of thing that makes it unique!”. The little mistakes you make can be embellished into something else.

Krisha stillThere are so many of those beautiful long shots, like that one kitchen scene where the camera is just passing back and forth. It really helped me and is such a treat because it helps me remember to make music in that spirit by using a lot of improvisation. Things would happen in the early part of the music-making cycle that were not what I expected, but what was most exciting was trying to make things work in an unexpected way.

It really fit her character well. Krisha was unhinged from the beginning, very close to going over the edge, and your music did that in so many different ways. It wasn’t just a driving theme like Requiem for a Dream, it really played up all of the madness spawning from every encounter happening in the house. Your music had some static, it had woodpeckers, but then it was very experimental and improvisational. It sounded like at one point you even dropped the drumstick.

[Laughs] I totally did! Those little things are, I think, what made it special. It’s a combination of being really, really slick, and homemade at the same time. That combination presents itself in the dialogue too. Some things are scripted, but lots of other things are just improv. The entire outside scene between Uncle Doyle and Krisha, where they’re just going at it verbally, is completely made up on the spot. But also the scene where they wheel in Grandma – she didn’t know she was being filmed because she has Dementia. So in that aspect, it’s like a documentary, and it really was, because she was interacting with her real family. These unique, and unplanned moments really helped influence the score as well.

Krisha Fairchild is just magnetic. Whether she’s got the camera on herself – like that scene where she’s leaving her boyfriend a voice mail – or she’s with one character, or the whole family, she really anchors this film. So talk to me about the spotting sessions. How did you decide what music to put in and what to leave out?

A lot of those decisions came from Trey who, immediately after shooting, jumped right into editing. SoTrey Edward Shults he already knew where he wanted music and where he didn’t. But there were a few instances where I would jump in and add or remove something. Now that was something that I was most self-conscious about in the beginning – thinking there was too much music. Trey already had a strong vision because, in a way, he’d already made this movie. By failing to make the feature, and focusing on the short film, he knew what he wanted to do and that made it easy. A lot of times when I’m given a film, the director doesn’t know where music goes and where it doesn’t. But Trey really did have an idea, and that made the spotting really quick and easy.

Going back to that sequence where Uncle Doyle and Krisha are outside, that has music come in and out of the scene over the course of seven minutes. It creeps in and creeps out four different times, and that was one of those spotting sessions that came about as we started to tweak the music. That particular cue is just so Bill Wise_Krishafreaking annoying that you couldn’t take seven minutes of it. So fading in and out at certain points keeps it from being entirely anxiety producing. It’s less in-your-face, but it is still persistent and creepy. We spotted it so the music would sneak in when things were getting really heated and the music could be loud, and then other times it would drown out and become unnoticeable and disappear.

So, spotting was easy, but as far as difficult requests, that came when Trey wanted to have an epic seven minute piece that builds and be comprised of orchestral instruments and synthesizers. If you don’t have a lot of money to record strings and orchestral instruments, it can get very expensive.

This will probably open a lot of doors for Trey, but have people contacted you about their projects after seeing the film?

Well, I’m doing pretty well. I’m very busy right now working on a film with a director named Dustin Guy Defa. He made a short film called Person to Person and is expanding that to a feature-length film with more characters and different elements. I’m doing less of what you would call score work, and focusing on more songs and source music.

Personally, I like to do music for film because I like doing it for the film, not because the director is asking for a particular type of music. Krisha had a score, but I just like making genre music. I’m going to make one piece for the film which is like late ’90s melodic hardcore metal. Another is like late ’60s classic soul music, and then a different one is modern synth pop.

I don’t feel that a lot of indie films have scores, although I’ve done a couple recently and one was for a film called Ma, directed by Celia Rowlson-Hall. That’s a silent film, so that was a score, but I did aKrisha_OST documentary called Nuts! with director Penny Lane, and that was another one where it was less score and more writing songs to fit into the film and work with other licensed music they were working with.

I hope people see Krisha and like what they hear, because this for me was the most exciting film to write music for especially when the director is looking for that type of atmosphere and score. The music is an indicator of her own emotional state, and the music is coming from within her and her internal thought process and emotions. So it was a really fun process.

Would you clear up one thing for us? How do you pronounce Krisha? I thought it was like Trisha but with a ‘K’. You say it with a long ‘e’, so is it Kreesha?

[Laughs] I did the same thing! I’m from the Northeast so I would pronounce it Krisha, but because she’s from Texas – they are like a Texas Family – they say Kreesha. So I’ve learned to say it that way. [laughs]

Thanks to Brian for his time. Krisha is out in limited release now.