Film / Music / Sundance
"I started off interested in playing music in bands, touring the world and being a part of a musical community of like-minded artists."
We talk with award-winning composer Brian McOmber about working with director Chloe Domont whose latest film FAIR PLAY premiered at Sundance 2023.
Hi Brian, thank you for talking with The New Current, how have you been keeping?
What did it mean to you to be named one of the 25 New Faces of Independent Film in 2016 by the Hollywood Reporter. Did that type of recognition add any extra pressure on you?
I didn’t feel any pressure there. But I’m a musician and not really a filmmaker, actor, producer or even a pure film composer. It was nice to be recognised by the magazine, but I had already been doing what I was doing for a few years at that point and had been to Cannes twice with two different feature films. It’s nice to be recognised, but I didn’t feel I needed it and definitely didn’t feel any pressure.
Congratulations on having Fair Play premiere at Sundance 2023, do you ever get nervous ahead of a new film being screened?
Thanks! I get excited more than I get nervous. It’s a thrill to watch the film with a big crown for the first time and to feel the audience respond. Fair Play played very well at Sundance and people were cheering and audibly gasping at a couple key points. It’s quite fun to experience it with an audience.
What is that feeling like being able to be in a cinema with an audience and seeing them react to your music?
It’s exciting and fun.
With this being Chloe Domont’s debut feature what was it about this film that connected with you and inspired you to want to create the score?
Chloe had a very specific vision and I was confident she wasn’t going to hold back where I think other directors might have if given the same script. Other than the first music cue, I felt confident I could take chances with the music because she took chances with the script and in the edit. I think a lot of directors are content to play it safe and make something everyone likes and try not to offend anyone. Chloe is not that kind of director.
Does it help you to read a screenplay beforehand?
In this case, yes. Not always. It depends, I guess. I don’t think it hurts as long as you are willing to throw away all your ideas once you actually see the film.
How important is the creative collaborative relationship between a composer and your director?
It is very important to how I work. Others may work differently, I’m sure, but I like to collaborate and let the film and the director pull the music out of me rather than impose my musical ideas on the film. I’ll fight for ideas, but in the end it’s about helping bring the directors vision to life through sound. I know other composers would be content to just make the music and hand it over to an editor and be done with it. And while that can work in certain settings, sometimes for the better, it also can just feel like a bunch of needle drops, especially when the edit is already underway before the music is competed.
If you could describe your score for Fair Play in three words what would they be?
A ticking time bomb.
Have you always had a passion for composing?
Not really. I started off interested in playing music in bands, touring the world and being a part of a musical community of like-minded artists. I was also interested in the more technical aspects of recording and producing music, mostly out of an inability to afford enough studio time to experiment. Later on into my 20’s, I got more into experimental music and experimental recording techniques, which led to an interest in film scoring. I’m drawn to the process of putting sounds to images.
Do you have a different approach to how you would score a TV series and and a film project?
I take a different approach to every project I do. I try to customise the work to that specific project and the director(s) attached. I look at every score differently, regardless of the format it will be presented in.
Growing up what was the first instrument you fell in love with?
The Drum set.
Who where your biggest musical influences are?
Varies over the years but not limited to: Bach, Slayer, Wu-Tang, Mötley Crëw, G’n R, John Coltrane, John Cage, John Zorn, Melvins, Converge, Meshuggah, Orthrelm, Xenakis, Ligeti, Black Flag, The Minutemen, Hendrix, Zeppelin, Nirvana, Neurosis, Louis Andriessen, Boredoms, GG Allin, Fishbone, Mike Patton.
Is it helpful to be flexible with your creative approach when you are composing for a film like Fair Play?
Yes. Very often, like with FAIR PLAY, things change and new insights come to the director as the edit develops. In my opinion, it’s the toughest part of the job, unless the film is locked or hasn’t been shot…but then still, things can change. There is no constant.
Do you have any rituals that you stick to that help guide your creative process?
No. There is nothing sacred about the creative process to me. I’ve scored my best stuff in my living rooms, in a hotel in India, on an airplane, etc…I just turn it on when I need it just like you would turn on the water to take a shower. I am not superstitious. Sometimes it takes awhile for the bath water to get warm enough, but it will get there. The difficult part is figuring out how hot your collaborator likes it before you decide to jump in together.
What does you music say about you?
I have no idea.
Of all he projects you have created the score for do you have one that you are really connected to?
My favourite film score works are for KRISHA (Trey Shults), THE STRANGE ONES (Lauren Wolkstein and Christopher Radcliff), HAIL SATAN? (Penny Lane), BLOW THE MAN DOWN (Danielle Krudy and Bridgette Savage-Cole), KINGDOM OF SILENCE (Rick Rowley) and the newest one, FAIR PLAY (Chloe Domont). They are all very different scores and very different films. I get bored easily.
Having collaborated with a host of incredible musical artists does this creative output help guide or inspire the way you approach your filmmaking?
I suppose it makes me more confident to reach out to new collaborators. The best music doesn’t happen in a bubble and I’m generally skeptical of anyone who says that it does.
Do you have any advice or tips you would offer someone wanting to get into composing?
I went to school and studied science on an athletic and academic scholarship, which allowed me to get a good paying job and to make money so I didn’t have to worry about making a living purely as a musician. My first job was working in the biology department at Wesleyan University. It was there that I started studying drums and music with Pheeroan AkLaff, who I could afford to pay and who gave me the best advice when I asked him about being a professional musician. He said to me, “Don’t quit your day job unless you have to”. Eventually, many years later, I had to. And to this day, most of the musicians I truly admire and respect have day jobs. I know plenty of “professional” musicians who have all the technique and theory in the world who I find incredibly boring, both as people and as artists.
Finally, what would you like audiences to take away from your music?
Whatever they like! Anything, really.