Gothika / 2003 Composed

Gothika / 2003
Suite from Gothika
# Title Duration
Prologue 2:06
Miranda's Theme 1:50
Remembering Rachael 2:23
Final Escape 6:20
Road Block / First Contact 2:33
An Affair 3:00
First Escape 4:32
One of Us / The Shower 4:41
Willow Creek 3:36
Recollections 3:14
The House / Dream 4:03
I'm the Mirror / Not Alone 2:20
Revelation 4:48
You're Next 2:41
I See Dead Kids 1:46

John's Thoughts

Ugh, a demo

It was mid August when out of the blue I get a call from Laura Engel (one of my agents) telling me there's this low budget horror film and that they won't hire a composer without a music demo scored to picture.  Demos are a drag!  The producer was sending a 15 minute sequence from the middle of the movie.  So I would have to imagine where my score would be at that point in the film, and I didn't even have a theme for the main character to build from.  They sent a script which really engrossed me; and I immediately started to hear some isms of Miranda's theme as I read.  Then the VHS tape came.  It was the scene where Miranda (Berry) returns home to witness what happened at her house.  The sequence continued all the way through the basement of the barn at a place called Willow Creek.  I was transfixed by it.  But for over 15 minutes there was no dialog, and I knew it would have to be completely score-driven, especially considering where it was in the story. Oh, the other thing: the music had to be Fed-Ex'd to Montreal (where they were shooting). in 2 days.  UGH!  I got so excited about it being right up my alley that I immediately became stressed that I wouldn't be able to do it justice in such a short time.  I'd have to write 15 minutes of fully sequenced score in a weekend??  Impossible!  It will be shit!  They told me just to do as much as I could, but I really wanted to tell a 15 minute story musically, so I set out to break my record in the amount of music written in 2 days. 

I locked myself away for the weekend and dove in.  There were so many directions to go with the score, but I decided to do what I believed would be the most tasteful, character-driven approach to get across the ideas, and not hit them over the head with typical horror music.  At the same time, the music had to be cognoscente of pushing the right scary buttons surreptitiously.  Character-wise this was a cathartic area in the story, and the music had to reflect that.  I also got word that the director (Mathieu Kassovitz) was one with a more artistic vision of things, and that a minimalist approach would be welcomed.  This was a relief, as I really didn't want to overplay the horror in the music, as there was so much psychology involved.  With such a long sequence, the music had to have somewhere to go; otherwise the music could make the sequence monotonous. Before I dug it, I quickly sketched out what I generally heard Miranda's theme to be, albeit rough, and then integrated it in the scene at the right moments.

So I sent the music off, hoping that when they placed it in the Avid it would be synced correctly - that could be a disaster!  -- To make a long story short, I got a call a few days later, and found out I got the job.  Thank God I didn't do all of that for nothing!  - The score would have to be recorded in less than 4 weeks.    (At that time the film was to be released on October 24th.) 

Chasing the Edit

The film's schedule was so accelerated that there was no time to temp it with any music.   After watching the demo work with the picture, Mathieu didn't want to show any cut of a scene to the studio until it was scored with my synth mock-ups.  We never even had a spotting session to decide the ins and outs of the music.  It was sort of left to me.  So as he and the editor finalized the first cuts of a reel, they would send it to me to spot and score, knowing the studio was waiting to see the cut.  Pressure!  I would write like a maniac, drive the music to the editing room, edit it into the Avid and do a sound mix between dialog and music.  Only then would the cut be shown to the studio for comments.  This was scary, in that the comments would not only be about the cut of the film, but the score as well.  The good part about such an exposure is that the score was essentially being previewed and approved by the powers that be (Joel Silver and Mathieu) along the way.  This kept me in a perpetual state of fear, but once a concept was embraced, it gave me greater fuel to continue on with the score.  By the time the score was completed, we were at a pretty good comfort level that when we went to record, there would be very few surprises.  (It's funny that some of the synth mock-ups of the score actually ended up on the Gothika website.)

More! More!

The main comment from Joel was that he wanted more and more score to cover the film.  This safeguards against taking cues from other scenes in the final dub should a non-scored scene need music.  In the end we all hoped and agreed that the film needed to breath, with score having peaks, valleys and empty spots.  But Joel was concerned that the film be covered in every area if need be during the final dub.  So he called me and Mathieu in his office and told me, "When you see the Warner Brothers logo, your baton rises.  When the end credits are finished, you set it down."  Gulp.  So I modified the score in such a way that areas Mathieu and I ultimately wanted to be quiet could be dipped out without sounding artificial.  Nevertheless it meant writing a shit-load of music - some of which I knew would never be in the film, but it had to work well just in case it was used.  The score also had to be designed to accommodate anticipated picture changes since we were recording the score well ahead of picture lock.  I had to have in my head how to ultimately edit the music to the final picture without sounding edited.

The Major Themes

Miranda's theme is the centerpiece of the score that needed to do three things, usually simultaneously:  1.) reflect the tragedy that becomes her life, 2.) offer us hope, and 3.) suggest some insanity may or may not be going on.  As a bed, the theme is supported by a confident but longing piano motif.  Overlaying this is a string and choir-driven melody offering the meat and hope of her theme.  On top of this I incorporated a periodic 3-note woodwind/choir motif suggesting things are a little out of kilter, which I hoped would keep the audience on its toes. -- Sort of the red herring in the score.  It would also simply serve as an intriguing sinew for the film, and a way to keep Miranda's presence alive throughout.  The last cue of the film (I See Dead Kids) is a very simple resolved version of Miranda's theme where the 3-note motif takes on a friendlier bent, and became one of my favorite cues. 

Rachael's (the ghost) theme is one of sadness and longing, as she attempts to have Miranda discover how she was murdered. Rather than go sinister every time we feel Rachael, I wanted the score to reflect the tortured history behind her character, and that she was reaching out for help. I subtly wove in a sad moaning girl's voice, as if trying to communicate.  The more an audience is pulled into a character, even a ghost, the more they'll be engaged in the film - and ultimately scared more organically. 

The Prison theme is often used in scenes involving Chloe (Penelope Cruz) and her fellow prisoners.  There's a sort of suppressing feeling to it.  It usually begins with a dark, depressing cello line reflecting the plight of the prisoners, swelling into a large choral moment, which became another of my favorite themes of the score.  Again, I wanted the music to reflect a general empathy for the women in the prison, as well as Chloe, but at the same time have a darkness appropriate for the film.

The last major motif in the score is a sort of "wirey" or twangy evil sound which reflects the killer, and the devil.  It also served to keep the idea of the killer present in the film and subliminally keep the audience focused on this aspect of the story as well.