FYIG recently had the chance to chat with composer Brandon Roberts about his work on the upcoming film Unbroken: Path to Redemption. Learn more about him right here!
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Brandon Roberts. I composed the score for the upcoming film Unbroken: Path To Redemption.
Was becoming a composer always one of your aspirations or is it something that evolved over time?
It definitely evolved. I grew up on the Monterey Peninsula and music, especially jazz, is a huge part of the history of that area. I was very fortunate to have wonderful and supportive teachers when I was younger, and the Monterey Jazz Festival had educational programs for upcoming musicians. Once I attended USC, my interests shifted from jazz performance to jazz composition, and then finally to film composition.
How did your time at USC shape you as a composer?
The teachers in the film-scoring program were amazing. When I attended, Buddy Baker ran the program and we were fortunate enough to have classes with Elmer Bernstein, Christopher Young, and David Raksin. The biggest inspiration, however, was my fellow classmates. Marcus Trump, Tim Davies, Dana Niu, Jim Dooley, to name just a few. Everyone was doing unbelievable work, and that healthy competition pushed each of us even harder.
You’ve done music for movies like Logan, A Quiet Place, and Scream 4 to name a few. Do you have a favourite genre of movie to compose music for or do you find each project to be its own unique challenge?
Each project is definitely unique with its own set of opportunities and hurdles. I have been lucky enough to collaborate with Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders on several of their films and they run the gamut, stylistically. It’s a great way to hone one’s skills in a variety of musical styles. I confess to having an affinity for melodic dramas and dark thrillers. In actuality, any film that provides an opportunity for a unique musical approach is always a major plus.
You worked on the score for Unbroken: Path to Redemption. What was it like to write music for that time period and the psychological struggle of the protagonist?
I loved Angelina Jolie’s original film, as well as Alexandre Desplat’s amazing score, and wanted to retain some of that feel. After much discussion with director Harold Cronk, and producers Matt Baer and Lisa Gooding, we strove to keep the musical world similar, but create new themes and musical arcs that reflected the next stage of Louis Zamperini’s life story. The challenge in Unbroken: Path To Redemption was that much of his struggle was internal. Finding a musical way to express the complexity of that was the biggest challenge.
I’ve read that you incorporated actual Japanese artillery shells into your instruments to capture the nightmares of the main character’s PTSD. Where did that idea come about?
I was intrigued by the resonant qualities of brass artillery shells and acquired some WW2 casings on eBay. The vision behind it was to create a palette of melodic, rhythmic and ambient sounds that would make up the musical palette for Louis’ PTSD struggles and flashbacks to his torture at the hands of Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe. Through a lot of experimentation and electronic processing, the shells yielded some uniquely effective results.
Take us through the process of creating music for a film.
Before I was hired I joked with director Harold Cronk that my process starts with a day of panic and a box of Honeycomb cereal for comfort. The way he revealed that I got the gig was to stealthily hand me a box of Honeycombs and tell me to get to work. After that, comes the real experimentation. I try to create a sound palette unique to each film to accompany the musical themes. By locking down the entire sound pallet early on, the score has a cohesion throughout that unconsciously translates to the viewer. Then, after spotting where the music goes with the director and producers, I start composing the individual scenes using my material.
What’s your favourite piece of music that you’ve composed and why?
In Unbroken: Path To Redemption, I am very proud of the music I composed for a scene near the end of the film when Louis Zamperini finally has a spiritual breakthrough at one of Billy Graham’s revivals. The scene is shot beautifully and Harold, Matt, and Lisa had a lot of trust in me to help sell the moment though imagery and music. Another favourite moment is the Main Title sequence. Matt found a way to tell the entire backstory of the original film in two minutes using news clippings and animations. For this sequence, I composed what amounted to an overture for the film that weaved through the footage, and was
able to introduce many of the musical themes right at the beginning.
Did you come up with any other outside the box ideas while composing the score?
For the scenes portraying Louis’ spiritual awakening, I wanted to create a unique feeling of peace with a hint of etherealness. This was a difficult balance to strike, but eventually, I utilized electric violin and ambient synths to create the vibe and then supplemented with a string orchestra and soft bell-like sounds blended with live harp.
What’s next for your career? Are there any people that you’d particularly like to work with?
Marco Beltrami and I just completed a co-score for a film called, Underwater, starring Kristen Stewart. It all takes place on the sea floor and it a great thriller directed by William Eubank. Recently, I have also started composing for a TV pilot called Motherland, which revolves around witches and the military. The premise sounds bizarre, but it works.
What advice would you give to aspiring composers?
Be Patient! The path is different for everyone, but one thing seems to be consistent and that is, it takes time. I was lucky enough to work for, and learn from, some very talented people including Marco Beltrami, Buck Sanders, Chris Lennertz, and Bear McCreary over many years. That experience was, and remains to this day, invaluable.
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