PopHorror jumped at the chance to interview Composer Jason Soudah. In addition to creating the score to Antoine Le’s found-footage horror, Followed, Soudah has also worked in the music department on films such as Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Scouts’ Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Wreck-It Ralph, and X-Men: First Class.
PopHorror: How do you prepare for different genres? Obviously, scoring for a horror movie would be different from a comedy.
Jason Soudah: Usually, the first thing I do before starting to write music for a project, whether it is a horror movie or a comedy, would be to watch it and make notes of any feelings and musical ideas that come to mind … my first reactions and gut instincts. Then, I will talk to the director, editor, producers, and any other creatives on the project that will be involved in making decisions about the music and pick their brains about what they are into musically, and what they have in mind for their project. I will then go away and write a suite, which is a longer piece of music, where I experiment with thematic material—melodies as well as sounds and vibes—and perhaps do a few different suites for different emotions or characters.
Next, I present these to the creative team and go from there, getting their reactions before scoring actual scenes. In the process of writing and possibly presenting the suites, I will usually try that music with a few different scenes and see if it works conceptually for different scenes to see if I am on the right track. I am sure there are differences in preparation depending on genre, but a lot of my process is pretty similar.
I think I get more engrossed and deeper into more emotional movies—whether that be horror or thriller or romantic— rather than straight-up comedies, as the comedies probably take less of a toll on my heart! Also, with comedy, I feel like I want to stay out of the way of the actors and just provide a little pep in the background if directed to, whereas, with horror or thriller, I want the music to put the audience into the movie and feel engulfed by it.
PopHorror: Musically, is there a difference between conveying suffering and horror?
Jason Soudah: I would say that for me, horror is a form of suffering, whether it is in the fear of what might happen or the terror of what is happening, and also, dealing with the pain all of this causes. If you are talking about suffering in terms of physical pain, like if your arm is being shredded by a rotary saw-armed monster, then I would probably score that kind of incident differently than a scene where a room is creepy, or someone sees a ghost.
I am not sure specifically what I would do differently. I guess horror might be about leading the audience into a situation, without giving away too much before it happens, whereas suffering, I might have an element of hope that the suffering ends, or it might just be relentless music. It depends on the story, of course, and how much sympathy we have for the characters involved, and if we want the character to suffer or to escape suffering.
PopHorror: Followed is largely about a haunted hotel. Were there any unique ideas inspired by this setting?
Jason Soudah: So, for this setting in particular, one idea that was unique for me was to use the Korean Elevator Ritual—which is featured in this movie, and is a real game—as a guide to inform what my main melodic theme would be. I assigned each floor number in the ritual to a note in the scale, and then played the notes in the same order as the floors in the ritual have to be. I really enjoyed being able to use a concept like this, and thankfully, the melody I ended up with was pretty unusual but still recognizable as a tune.
PopHorror: DropTheMike [PopHorror writer Matthew Solomon] is a laugh riot sometimes. At the same time, the character does seem to have hidden anger, and some people might accuse him of having an asshole attitude. Did you feel deceived by that character at all?
Jason Soudah: I guess the way I responded to him was often from the perspective of his partner, Jess [Kelsey Griswold], whom I really feel for as a character. She longs for him to be safe and come home. I also found that oftentimes, he is pretty mean to his friends as well, and manipulates them and makes fun of them, and yet they all need him because they are committed to the project and need the finances, as does he … without giving too much away!
However, I do feel that, as the story unfolds, maybe he is losing this shell and opening up to being less self-centered, but that could be me giving him the benefit of the doubt too much! It’s up to you, the viewer, to decide when you see the movie. I could be persuaded either way about him … maybe I WAS deceived by him!
PopHorror: What’s your philosophy on the paranormal, or even your theories on things like Bigfoot?
Jason Soudah: I haven’t a theory on Bigfoot itself or any other such creatures, but I can say for sure if paranormal activities are real or not. I know from my own experience that I saw something once when I woke up in the middle of the night that looked so very real, like a man with camo paint on his face and demonic eyes, and I was freaked out! I was around 23-years-old at the time. I remember telling my brother about this when he came to help me move out of that place, and when I told him, he lost color in his face and sat down immediately, looking faint. He looked up at me and said, “You’ve seen him, too?” That freaked me out almost more than my own sighting! I looked up online about this, and apparently, this kind of hallucination is pretty common along with sleep paralysis—which I had at that time—so maybe it was just a hallucination ….
Many people report seeing someone or feeling that there is someone in the room with them when they have sleep paralysis … who knows! Anyway, I am thankful that only happened once! Was terrifying! I think it was probably just the fact that I woke up suddenly and my brain was still dreaming. That’s a theory I read somewhere, that when you wake like this, your brain is still in a dream state as well as awakening, so the lines between reality and fantasy are indistinguishable!
PopHorror: What are your favorite pieces of music and composers?
Jason Soudah: A score that I really love is that of Amelie (Yann Tiersen). It really jumped out at me and works perfectly with this special movie. Inception by Hans Zimmer has a special place for me as well, as this was the first score that I was an intern for at his studio for, so it was extra special to be around while that was happening! I love the sound of it, as well as the concept behind some of the thematic material. Love the use of Johnny Marr’s clean-ish electric guitar in it as well!
PopHorror: What are your favorite horror and non-horror movies/TV shows?
Jason Soudah: My favorite horror movies are probably The Ring, The Ring Two, and Rings – they just really freak me out! I tried to watch The Nightmare on Elm Street and so on movies, but I was way too young and Freddie haunts my subconscious to this day! One of my favorite non-horror movies that has stuck with me for years is Memento. I just think it was so original, how it was structured and how the audience doesn’t know who to trust either ….
I also loved The Usual Suspects back in the day! Non-horror TV shows I love include The Wire, The Sopranos, Mad Men, The Office—UK original and now finally getting into the US version— Extras, Black Mirror, Gavin & Stacey, Hinterland, Would I Lie To You? and Escape To The Country to name a few!
PopHorror: You’ve worked in the music departments of some Marvel superhero movies. Do you have a favorite superhero?
Jason Soudah: The first one that jumps to mind is Superman! I loved him as a kid, and I remember trying to jump from the stairs after watching it for the first time. Don’t try that at home! I love the music as well—what an uplifting spirit! I also loved Batman mainly because I love all the gadgets and cars!
PopHorror: What new projects are you working on? How much has corona virus really slowed things down?
Jason Soudah: I am currently starting in on a movie called The Dougherty Gang, directed by Sean McEwen, whom I worked with on Braking For Whales, which is in post-production. It is a tense movie based on a true story, and I am really excited about it! It’s been a blank canvas for me to do a deep exploration music-wise, as was Followed.
I will also be scoring the next movie by Antoine Le and Matthew Ryan Brewbaker [Followed], which we are in the early stages of developing musical ideas for right now. Super excited about this one, too! They are also planning a sequel of Followed, so watch this space!
PopHorror would like to thank Jason Soudah for answering our questions!