By RACHEL REEVES
In director Joel David Moore’s new film HIDE AND SEEK, class and chaos collide. A reimagining of Jung Huh’s 2013 Korean film of the same name, this new American interpretation follows a similar narrative path while blazing a trail all its own. Starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers (The Tudors, Vikings), Joe Pantoliano (Memento, The Matrix), Mustafa Shakir (Brawl in Cell Block 99), and Jacinda Barrett (Urban Legends: Final Cut), the film tackles complicated issues of wealth, mental illness, generational trauma, and social privilege through a horror lens. Originally a big hit in Korea, the film is the first in a series of planned American Asian-horror remakes from the South Korean film production and distribution company, CJ Entertainment.
Along with updating the film’s location, cast, and script for a modern American audience, it was important that the film’s sound be refreshed as well. For this, Moore and the film’s creative team turned to the Los Angeles-based film composer, Timothy Stuart Jones. An incredibly versatile and prolific composer, Jones’ natural affinity for tailored and engaging soundscapes has garnered him an impressively eclectic resume. Among these are projects that include Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassins’ Ball, Thor: Ragnarok, Captain Marvel, Bobby Z, Survive the Game, the TV series Chuck and many, many more.
In HIDE AND SEEK, it is Jones’ music that opens a window into the internal workings and mindsets of the characters. Utilizing an interesting palette of sounds, melodies, and performance techniques, Jones’ score builds tension and suspense in a way that feels effortlessly organic. By pulling at carefully stitched auditory threads in a strategic fashion, the final result is a score that feels as narratively satisfying as it is terrifying. To celebrate the film’s recent release on VOD, Rue Morgue sat down with the accomplished composer to learn a bit more about his creative process and the motivating factors behind his musical choices.
How did you first become involved with HIDE AND SEEK?
Well, I worked as the composer on the television show, Chuck. Joel David Moore, the director of this film, happens to be a good friend of Zach Levi who was the lead on the show, and I came across Joel at some point during the show and neither he, nor I could remember when, but I think it was at a party or something. He’s just a really good dude and we got on well so when I heard he was doing the film I reached out and it just seemed like a good fit!
I have to say, it really blew my mind when I discovered he was directing this film. I’ve known of him for years through his acting roles, but I had no idea that he was a director as well!
[Laughs] Yeah, he’s great. He has such an unassuming presence.
As a director, how involved was Joel with the music, and what were some of those creative conversations like regarding the film’s musical direction?
He was very involved. He’s actually very musical himself. I’m not sure what instrument he plays, but I know he has a musical background. Initially, we just talked a lot about texture. As you can see while watching the film, it’s really gritty and the places this guy goes just look dirty, you know? We kind of wanted the music to put you in that place as well. We wanted it to make the place feel kind of slimy. And the scares that happen, we wanted to really pump those up. But actually, one of the overriding things that we talked about, was sort of a Hitchcock approach to the music in a way where you will hit a cut and hit it with big music. That was a conscious choice. For example, when Jonathan’s character is driving downtown there is some brass that comes in on a shot overlooking the city. Joel definitely wanted a wide palette, and it was a lot of fun to do that. It’s a little anachronistic but still fits the story that we had to tell.
Since this is a remake, did you watch the original in preparation for scoring it? Did you draw any inspiration from the original score by Yeong-wook Jo?
I did see the original and I think it was pretty early on in the process. I don’t even know if I was on the film officially yet. [Laughs] I thought the original music was cool! In my score, there is almost a lullaby thing at the beginning of the film that comes back in different places with the mom and the daughter; the original film had a piano piece that was very similar in function. I think that since we were kind of [treading] on the same story, they were necessary similarities. I definitely didn’t go after their sound as much as it was just the fact that we needed a bit of a childlike thing in the beginning. From there, I think the scores diverged pretty heavily. I think ours is a bit bigger and meaner.
The character of Noah goes through quite an emotional journey in this film. He has these obsessive-compulsive tendencies and is very order-oriented in the beginning, but things quickly begin to spiral out of control, and your music mirrors that descent brilliantly. Can you tell us a little bit about your approach to scoring for his character?
I’m glad you noticed that, because it was intentional. In the beginning, there’s a scene where he’s washing his hands and he does it so much his hands start to bleed. I have a violin in there that [is] very sophisticated, doing these arpeggios, and the further he goes down, the more unhinged the music becomes. It’s no longer a recognizable violin. It becomes some kind of weird stringed instrument with some distortion on it or something.
The music itself really did devolve as he did. I designed a sound that I could make it go more or less out of tune with a little mod wheel controller. So, that way, I could be playing it and just start to make it go more out of tune, even though it’s still playing the same notes. It’s just more out of tune with itself, you know? Little stuff like that was really fun.
There’s a moment where [Noah] comes back from downtown and he comes back home. I do remember this specifically where there was a cue where the B flats on the piano were tuned a quarter step low. Everything else was in tune, but whenever you would hit the B flat, it was out of tune. It ultimately has this effect that is just a little bit off-putting.
As the narrative builds, your music builds right along with it – setting the stage for some of the really intense action sequences that incorporate small musical moments, melodies, and cues from earlier in the film. When you’re approaching large action moments like that, where do you start? Do you score the large scenes first and then deconstruct them? Or do you prefer to start from the beginning and build as you go?
That’s a great question. I do sometimes write a bigger piece first and then deconstruct it. On this one, I wrote the individual elements, which were really more of that lullaby theme that I wrote in the beginning. And then I took pieces of that. Then, at the end reveal, there’s a little bit of that lullaby theme under there that was established way back in the beginning.
Also, when we first see the motorcycle guy, there is this sort of bass, brass thing that falls with this bending tone. I just teased that there, but by the time you get to the end and [redacted for spoilers] is in the house coming after the kids, that tone is all over it. It’s kind of like dropping breadcrumbs and then you just scoop them all up and use them all at the end.
Is there a particular cue or musical moment in this score that you are particularly proud of?
One of the things that I did early on, I used an instrument called a hammered dulcimer. It’s a wooden box with strings that are strung across it; 12 banks of 3 strings. Normally you would hit it with little hammers, but what I did was put some contact microphones on there and on the wood itself. And then I ran that into a looper like you would use with guitar and other instruments to create these long loops. Then, I could start stacking on top of it.
I used this little violin bow and I would lean my hand in while my other hand was under the string to bend it as I was bowing. It created some things that sounded very unique. I was then able to kind of spread those throughout the score. These smaller moments, I mean, it’s just this little tiny string, but it almost sounds like you’re inside [Noah’s] head and it has this crazy tone. It was fun to create them with that technique. So, that was something I showed to Joel and he was like, “Oh my god. We have got to use that.” It was fun.
I couldn’t help but notice you have some Marvel credits on your resume including Thor: Ragnarok where you worked alongside the iconic Mark Mothersbaugh. How did that opportunity come about and what was that experience like for you?
I met Mark through a mutual friend and I started working with him just a little bit before we did Thor: Ragnarok. I’m part of a team that works with Mark and he had us kind of orchestrating things and working on different parts of the film that needed attention. For this, he had asked me to work on the arena scene that happens between Thor and Hulk. So I worked on that section, which was so much fun. A lot of the sound of Sakaar when Thor gets there, I was helping out with that as well. Also, at the end of the film when we get onto the Bifrost Bridge.
It was a really cool process because a Marvel film is such a big, giant, fast-moving machine. And, Mark’s right there as captain of the ship asking some of us other guys to pitch in and do what needs to be done. It was also really fun to hear the music recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra. When I finally took my family to the theater and we got to sit there and hear it all in its finished glory, that was a pretty cool day. Because, you don’t work on movies that big every day, that’s for sure! And honestly, I think that might be my favorite Marvel movie…and not just because I worked on it. [Laughs]
I find it interesting that you’ve worked on literally the biggest films being made as well as documentaries, indie films, horror films, television, etc. How has working all sides of the industry, at every level of filmmaking, made you a better composer?
Great question. And you know, it’s funny, this is going to sound stupid, but it’s like being a Ghostbuster. You show up in your car with your backpack and everything, and you don’t know exactly what’s going to be required of you so you just bring your whole toolbox. [Laughs] Every project is different. When I was working on Chuck, every one of those episodes was a little bit different. It wasn’t a standard procedural where the score had to be the same every week. I think I would have gone out of my mind if it was. I have a very short attention span so, for me, it’s being able to show up and kind of plug into a project and figure out what’s going to stick to the picture. That’s my main goal. You write something and you throw it up against there and, does it stick? Or not? But when it does, it’s really gratifying. And that can be any genre. My love is when something is working with picture and it’s helping and it’s doing its job. That’s where I get really excited.
I have to imagine the actual logistics of working on such diverse projects has also really benefited your skills as a collaborator and communicator, which is something they don’t ever seem to teach you in school.
Right? And often juggling multiple projects at the same time. Like, you’ll have three or four things going on that are completely different. So you have to take off one hat and say, “Ok. What am I doing right now?” [Laughs] But that’s cool too! Because then you can be like, “Oh man. I’m so tired of working on dinosaurs. Let’s go work on a surf documentary for an hour.” So I kind of dig the differences between the projects.
You touched on this idea that, as a composer, you wear a lot of hats and there are various things that a good film score needs to do. So, what is it about this career and the process of film scoring that you personally love the most?
Awesome question. There are a lot of hats and there are different phases of the job. When you’re first starting, it’s obviously mostly getting on board with everyone’s vision. And then I go away and I just kind of sit in a dark room by myself all day. Probably the bulk of my job is sitting in a dark room by myself. But, I enjoy that process. And when I’ve finished something, I’m the first person on planet Earth who has seen it, you know? And sometimes you go, “Man. Where did that come from?”
It’s like, I almost don’t remember doing it. Like maybe I was really tired or it came quickly or whatever. But it’s just that moment of feeling like you’re – without getting too mystical – almost like a caretaker, you know? This thing sort of springs out and comes to life and you go, “Man, that’s really cool.” And not even from a place of ego. It’s more just a place of, “Wow. There’s a cue and it’s working this way with the picture and I’m so enjoying that I’m alone with this right now.” I get to watch it happen.
It’s that creation process. It’s also when I’m going to hear the music the loudest where there’s no dialogue to fight with. It’s not going to get turned down to go underneath the submarine. It’s sort of a perfect moment. Being on the scoring stage is another big moment where that would occur. Even the creation side, being in your studio, by yourself, you’ve just finished something and you’re looking at it going, “Man. This might be pretty good.”
It’s kind of romantic. You have this intimate moment with the movie that no one else has.
It kind of feels that way to me! It does feel intimate because you spend so much time with it. You want everyone to love it as much as you do, but that’s not always going to happen. So you have to take that moment and kind of savor it and go, “Here’s my child. This is the best it’s ever going to look.” And, you really just have to dig on that.
HIDE AND SEEK is now available in select theaters and on VOD from Saban Films.