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Composer Kenny Wood Talks “Gatlopp”

Friday, July 22, 2022 | Interviews, Music


In the new dark comedy thriller GATLOPP, a night of nostalgia takes an unexpected and treacherous turn for four old friends. Reunited in support for one of their own going through a difficult time, the expected combination of drinking games and drunken antics ensue. However, the mysterious board game at the center of their debaucherous behavior soon starts to make some interesting moves of its own. As the severity of their situation becomes apparent, the group is forced to confront harsh truths, past mistakes, and buried secrets – or suffer the game’s severe consequences.

Directed by Alberto Belli, GATLOPP is a heartwarming and darkly humorous, small-scale adventure tale. Starring Emmy Raver-Lampman (The Umbrella Academy), Jon Bass (Baywatch), Sarunas J. Jackson (Insecure), and Jim Mahoney (who also wrote the film), GATLOPP is full of surprises. In short, it’s Jumanji for adults. Fully aware of this reference and the importance of establishing the film’s tone, Belli knew a strong score would be of the utmost importance. For this, he turned to composer Kenny Wood to help seal the deal. 

An incredibly thoughtful composer, Wood took a deliberately rich and bold approach to the music of GATLOPP. By choosing a big orchestral sound with wonderfully lyrical lines, Wood expands the scale of GATLOPP far past the small house where most of the action takes place. Dextrously navigating the shifting tones and genre influences, Wood stitches together musical moments, performances and scenes in a way that ultimately makes GATLOPP work. 

In celebration of the film’s recent release on VOD, Rue Morgue sat down with Wood to play a Q & A game of our own. As we navigate the board, we select cards that ask about GATLOPP, working with Hollywood composer Brian Tyler, his advocacy for composer assistants and so much more. 

How did you first become involved with this project?

So this was the feature debut of Alberto Belli, who has been a longtime friend of mine. We’ve been doing short films and commercials together since we were students at USC all the way back in 2010 and 2011. This was a very cool thing to see come full circle, with his feature debut and me being able to help him out with the score. It was a great honor to be on it. 

What were the initial conversations with Alberto like regarding the film’s musical direction?

When Alberto first showed me the movie, the first thought I had was, “Wow. This is really fun! We can do a really fun type of score with this.” Something in the style of The Goonies or in the style of the great Spielberg classics, Star Wars, you know, all the best movies from the ’80s and ’90s. And, that was exactly why Alberto and I were kind of a perfect pair for this. 

Those are the movies we liked when we were kids, and that’s what we grew up on. So it was kind of like, “Just trust your gut and go with it.” And that’s exactly what we did.  Right from the get-go, the first thing I wrote was the “Main Title” sequence. Alberto was in love with it from the very first version, so we knew it was going to be a smooth gig from there. 

Talk a little bit about your approach to scoring that big opening title sequence. Not only is it a rather large piece of music, but it’s also a great moment to establish the tone for the rest of the film. 

One key factor is just being able to see all that animation work happening. I think any film composer would tell you they would love to work on just anything visually stimulating and for sure, those visuals in that sequence were just off the chain – even from the early versions that I was looking at before it was totally finished. So it’s easy to get inspired by that. 

There are these big landscapes, lighting and the dramatic speed at which the cards are flying around; That all has to do with the musical decisions I make, and, the first thing we wanted to do was kind of establish some identities in the sound. Since the movie is about a drinking game, we thought it’d be a good idea to get some beer bottles and bang on them and blow on them; Let those be one of the key factors along with the orchestra. So when all that came together, we have this kind of neat title sequence. 

The only thing I haven’t mentioned yet is – and I don’t want to spoil anything for the movie – but there’s this [redacted for spoilers] that comes from the game. That also manifests itself in the title sequence, too, with this very electronic-sounding synthesizer that happens. 

GATLOPP has elements of thriller, horror, and comedy. While these genres share some similarities, they’re also quite unique — especially when it comes to music. How did you navigate this tonal puzzle? Was it at all challenging to balance these elements?

There are a lot of different emotions and styles. It’s kind of a genre-hybrid in a sense, and that was one of the first challenges … getting all those things to match together. But the cool thing that really makes it work is a combination of the acting. All the performances were really spot on; The characters are convincing, and they’re all just doing a great job. There’s no lapse in whatever emotions they’re trying to portray. That’s always a good thing for music. There’s nowhere that I had to make up for any deficits in that area. So that’s always nice. 

The other thing is Alberto’s direction with these fast-paced cuts. We’re moving from scene to scene quickly and everything is kind of structured differently. For example, in each scene, you’ll notice that the particular seating arrangement is always different between the characters. They’re never really in the same place, and they’re never really all on screen together until the very end when they finally figure things out and work as a team to get the game done. 

So musically, we’re playing with all of those things. That kind of helps [to] give me ideas to tie things together, combine certain instruments and give the sound palette a shape that matches the story and all the genre elements in between. It’s really just about going full throttle, believing in what’s happening and not holding anything back. This is, again, something Alberto and I like to do. We set a target, and we just go full speed into it, and whatever happens on the other side of that wall is what you get. So we’re really glad that it came together, and audiences have been liking it. 

This is a very big, orchestral-sounding score, but from what I understand, a good chunk of the production took place in 2020 when there were obviously a lot of restrictions due to the pandemic. How did that impact your work? Was it difficult to record or get players together?

Well, I’m going to just be upfront and honest and say that we did not record a single musician on this. This was all done in a computer or “in the box” as we say. So I’m very flattered by those comments because it means that I’m doing a good job putting together these virtual instruments, and part of what made it sound so great was the mixing done by my good friend, Michael Bosca. He’s an amazing mixer, and we’ve had some good synergy in the last five or six years. He’s done it before where I’ve just given him all virtual instruments, and he’s able to make it sound like there are real people sitting in chairs. 

There’s a real warmth to it for sure. And, that means this is all 100 percent you, which is honestly pretty cool! 

Exactly! Thank you so much. 

Composer Kenny Wood

Switching lanes a bit, while looking over your credits, I couldn’t help but notice films like Scream (2022), F9, Ready or Not, and Rambo: Last Blood. All of which are films that have scores composed by Brian Tyler. How did you get involved with Tyler’s team? 

Oh, I love these guys. Well, I’m a USC grad so a lot of my friends are also USC people. If you look at Brian Tyler’s team, the vast majority of his assistants, additional writers and arrangers are from USC. It’s funny how the school has sort of become a pipeline to his studio there. 

So the person who I would attribute to getting on board with him is my good friend, Bob Lydecker. He’s gone on to do some cool stuff like the Lethal Weapon and Iron Fist series. He also co-composed the Sleepy Hollow TV series with Brian. We go way back to our USC days, and we keep in touch, and we’re always giving each other updates. 

So Bob brought me on board and the first thing we did was a movie called XXX: The Return of Xander Cage. That was a lot of fun to work on. And through that, I met Brian’s music editor, Joe Lisanti. He was impressed enough with my work that he brought me on board to a bunch of other Brian Tyler movies including The Fate of the Furious, F9 and one of my personal favorites, Ready or Not. That kind of paved the way for those guys to make the latest Scream installment. They’re working on number six now which, fingers crossed, I hope I can put some notes into that one, too. 

There are a lot of different roles and positions with a team like this. What exactly is your role?

I’m a music arranger. So what that means is that Brian is kind of the king of the mountain there. He’ll come up with the source material and all the themes. Then myself and guys like John Carey and the other people we mentioned are responsible for taking those themes and actually structuring some of the cues that go into the movie. We’re the support staff, I guess you could say. On a major feature film like that, there’s a certain level of quality that you have to attain. There’s also a very narrow time window that you have to get that done in, so you need a team to get that done, and we’re here to make it work and make it possible. 

Let’s dig into the assistant path a bit more. While it may not be for everyone, there are folks like yourself who have had really positive experiences going that route. What do you love about being an assistant to a major composer? Also, what is tough about it?

Oh, this is such a great question. And this also ties into another part of my life, which is advocacy for assistants. So the best thing by far about assisting is getting access to these very high-profile jobs if you’re working for the right composer. For example, if you look at my department credits, there are a lot of impressive things on there. There’s stuff from Universal, stuff from Illumination, even a Pixar movie is on there. And it’s cool to see the behind-the-scenes stuff of what happens with those films. It’s something that you wouldn’t get otherwise unless you were attached in some way to someone who’s getting those gigs like Brian Tyler, Mychael Danna (Life of Pi), and Heitor Pereira (Despicable Me). Those are three people I’ve worked with. Also, Keith Power (MAgnum P.I.), who I’ve done a lot of work with as well on the TV side of things.

[As far as what is tough about it], I think most people who go into composing kind of know that the hours are grueling. The demands are also kind of unrealistic at times, but if you want to have a fruitful career, you sort of have to give into that. You sometimes just kind of turn your life and your body inside out to make it happen. 

There is, however, a recent trend that is a bit of a reversal of that which I think is very refreshing. It’s good to see people figuring it out, where they either get more efficient in their flow, they’re using more technology to get things done or they’re just pushing back against the crazy demands of the studios and getting either longer stretches of time to work or more allowances for bigger teams to help. It’s not as fire and brimstone as it might have been 20 or 30 years ago. It’s getting better. 

From what I understand, you wrote a whole book on this subject. Tell us a little bit about it and what inspired you to write it. 

So the book is called “Assisting the Composer.” Myself and a team of good friends and really experienced assistants and composers put it together … three years ago now. Wow. It’s been a long time. And what it is is kind of a set of expectations, guidelines and realities of how it works in a composer studio. 

It’s also an educational resource for someone who’s never assisted before. So they can not only get a glimpse of what it’s like but also get a bit of an inclination of what is acceptable and what is not. And if you’re presented with a situation, here’s what you should do. It’s also a how-to guide for being a composer’s assistant. Ever since we launched it, it’s been great. Hundreds of people have messaged me privately saying how it has helped them, and there’s just nothing like it that came before. And people are doing really well with it. I’m really honored and flattered. 

I’ll go back even further to how it all began. Some of the assisting jobs I worked were not too easy. I’ve also seen team members of mine suffer through some stuff, get mistreated, get abused, get yelled at and railed for things that are just unnecessary. They didn’t deserve that, and I think there’s a better way. Maybe if there was just more discussion, more talking … I’m not the type of person who’s going to uncover and rat anyone out, but I will say there are better ways to do things. 

So, we got together and decided, “Okay. I think this is going to be a good thing for the community and a good thing to do.” We started this whole community. We have a Facebook group and Discord group which are very healthy and thriving. Discussions are happening there all the time. So I think we’ve done exactly what needs to be done at this time. And, we’re still brewing on things that we can do in the future to make life better for all assistants. 

If someone is just starting out as a composer and looking to go the assistant route, what is some advice you’d give them?

First, be persistent. There are a lot of people who complain about the oversaturation of composers in the industry and if you have sort of a narrow viewpoint, then, yeah, it does kind of look like that. But what they may not realize is that the amount of opportunities has really exploded. It just might not be in the direction you initially thought. So have an open mind, be persistent and be patient of course. Things will come. Opportunities will get you there. 

I also highly recommend coming to our Facebook group. It’s called TEAMMATES. Myself and the other people who are in charge of the group are all available. If you want to directly message us and get an answer to whatever question you might have, we’re all available. 

The only other thing is, while I said before there is a shift happening towards better treatment and assistant rights, it’s also still good to have that mindset of like, “I’ll be willing to do anything to help the composer.” It’s more about boosting the composer you’re working for and waiting for your own rewards. You sort of have to be a team player in that regard. But then, where TEAMMATES comes in, is making sure that they don’t take advantage of you for having that mindset. You know, getting carrots dangled in front of you without the reward at the end of the road. We can help you determine whether that’s happening or whether you’re in a good place, and you should just stay right where you are. That’s what we’re here for. 

GATLOPP is now available on VOD. Wood’s score for the film is also currently available via Spotify, Apple Music, or Amazon. For more info, you can check out his website, here.


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