Directed by James Kapner and starring Eliza Coupe, Greg Finley, Chris Baker, Heather Matarazzo, and Eric Roberts, The Estate is a fun, deadly blend of dark comedy, rich a-holes, and murderous thrills. Something that makes the film stand out is its score, composed by Dan Dombrowsky. What went into the process of making the music for The Estate? Read on and get a few ideas!
PopHorror: What’s it like writing an entire score for a movie?
Dan Dombrowsky: It’s pretty amazing! First off, you get to hop into a project that hundreds of people have put intense love and effort into. You become part of this huge, amazing team. Then you have an hour and a half to two hours of story that you get to develop and create the sound for. But at the same time, it’s pretty daunting for all of those same reasons. For me, the biggest difference between scoring a movie and other projects that I’ve been involved with is the scope of it all. The logistics of keeping everything in order when it comes to writing the music, recording the music, working with your team, and hitting all of the deadlines for the director and producer is a lot of work.
PopHorror: What’s the best way to ensure job security in that line of work?
Dan Dombrowsky: That really all depends on the project, but based on my experience, I’d say being a team player. Listen to input, listen to feedback, and try to help the filmmakers tell their story the best they can. The movie, TV show, video game, etc. is not about you. It’s not about the music. It’s about what helps make this movie the best movie it can be.
PopHorror: How were you approached about composing the score for The Estate?
Dan Dombrowsky: I grew up in Miami, and when I first moved to Los Angeles, I found a group of people from Miami. We decided to start having monthly dinners for us to catch up, reminisce about back home, talk sports, and eat lots of food. That’s where I met James [Kapner, the director of The Estate]. At one of these dinners, he mentioned that he was getting ready to shoot a movie. So, I went home that night and started writing a few pieces based on the broad strokes idea he told me about the movie. I sent it his way, and here we are today.
PopHorror: There are horror elements in the film, but it’s more obviously a thriller with definite comedic touches. Were you tempted at all to make the score sillier or zanier than it ultimately is?
Dan Dombrowsky: The movie totally has comedic elements which I kind of played to, but I didn’t want to push it too far in the comedic or zany direction. I feel it would have taken away from the tone of the movie in general. If we were to jump into super silly music, it would’ve pulled the viewer out of what was happening on screen. I don’t want the music to take anyone out of the movie. I feel a big part of working as a composer is you want to do something that complements what’s happening on-screen or in the story without drawing so much attention to the music that the viewer loses focus. Plus, a lot of the serious or dramatic pieces of music in this movie are delivered with tongue firmly in cheek.
Embracing the Darkness
PopHorror: I appreciate the dark tone of the score–which is exactly what I often end up doing with music. What is it about darker sounds that appeal to you?
Dan Dombrowsky: I honestly don’t know, but dark seems to be what I do a lot of nowadays. In general, I’m trying to build some type of emotional connection with the listener/viewer, and for some reason, that’s always been easier for me to accomplish with darker sounding stuff. I don’t consider myself a dark guy, but I just feel that that’s the direction my music tends to go.
PopHorror: I imagine a composer might get fired if they’d say, “Let me do my version of the score, which I think is better for the movie.” What are the best ways to compromise?
Dan Dombrowsky: Probably. But at the same time, as a composer—or anyone brought in to work on a movie—you’re hired to bring your voice to that project. Ultimately, it is the filmmaker‘s story and vision that gets told, but they bring in certain people because of the contribution that their voice can bring to executing that vision. So, in some ways, you are hired to do your own version of the score. That said, it is their story. Honestly, the best way I’ve found to compromise is to listen to what the director has to say about what they want and why they want it. If for some reason I’m just completely opposed to what they want and feel in my gut the music should head in a different direction, I will do a few different versions of the music, including what the filmmakers want, and give them some different looks at what direction we can head. It is all a conversation.
Favorite Horror Films and Shows?
PopHorror: What are some of your favorite horror films and/or TV shows?
Dan Dombrowsky: Oh. This one’s hard, because I get so easily terrified. I was the kid in my family with horrible nightmares. If I watched something even slightly scary, I’d keep my parents up all night. So, honestly, I tend to stay away from a lot of horror stuff. I’m just way too easily freaked out. If I had to pick some stuff… I don’t know if this counts as horror, but 28 Days Later and Hereditary scared the crap out of me. Also, I totally have a guilty pleasure of watching ghost hunting shows. I’m not going to lie. I love hearing Zak Bagans yelling at ghosts.
PopHorror: What tricks/techniques do you recommend to composers and musicians?
Dan Dombrowsky: I don’t know about tricks and techniques specifically, but one thing I do is try to keep learning and growing as much as I can. Whenever I have any downtime, I’ll take classes, study scores, online courses… anything I can get ahold of. I also try to listen to as much different music as much as I can. Sometimes, when the music I’m trying to write just isn’t happening, I find that listening will help open me up to new options and directions.
Everyone a Villain
PopHorror: Pretty much every character in The Estate is a villain. Did that make the music simpler or more complex?
Dan Dombrowsky: Oh yeah, they’re a bunch of pretty bad people. I don’t know that it necessarily made it simpler or more complex, but it definitely made it more fun! It gave us a lot of runways to play around and try some fun stuff with the music.
PopHorror: What sort of projects are you currently working on?
Dan Dombrowsky: Right now I’m working on Chapter 5 of a video game called Dark Deception. The first 4 chapters are available on STEAM. I’m getting ready to work on a remake of the Evil Nun video game called Evil Nun: The Broken Mask. I’m working on a new series for the A&E Network, and in the next few months, I am going to start up on a documentary with James Kapner.
We’d like to thank Daniel Dombrowsky for sharing his insights with us. The Estate is currently available for rent or purchase on Google Play.