A lot has happened since we last talked to composer Steven Price. This little movie he scored called “Gravity” took off with critics, audiences and the Academy and he walked away with an Oscar for his troubles. Now he's on David Ayer's bold WWII film “Fury,” and once again, he's bringing a non-traditional touch to genre.
The story on “Gravity” was the notion of sound design as score, and there's some of that at play in “Fury,” too. Some like the concept, others don't, but whatever you think of the final product, Price is one of those guys really pushing the concept of what film music can be. He's trying to express different shades, and that should be welcome in a profession so consistently given to lazy status quo.
Read through the back and forth below as we catch up with him post-Oscar and talk about rendering a musical identity for a very different war film.
“Fury” hits theaters tomorrow.
HitFix: Plenty has happened to you since the last time we talked, Steven.
Steven Price: Yeah, it was about this time of year, wasn't ,it as well? I think it was early October that we spoke.
Yeah. Congratulations on the Oscar!
Thank you very much indeed. Thank you.
Where did you put it?
It's actually at my mum and dad's at the moment. It's living with him for a while. I have two little kids so you're kind of always a little bit wary about things getting a face drawn on them and stuff, so I thought it was safer.
I don't know, that would be kind of cool, actually.
I don't know too many people who would have a smiley face drawn on their Oscar.
Yeah I can imagine It would divide people, I think. [Laughs]
I saw “Fury” recently and I liked it a lot. It was more violent than I was expecting, however.
It's sort of brutal, isn't it? He [David Ayer] didn't hold back. I mean the amazing thing with him is, a lot of that stuff, he's really gone back to photography and stuff. I mean his research was crazy.
Well obviously you guys came up with something unconventional for the music here. What was the directive? What did he want out of the music?
All we talked about was the emotion of it, really. I went to visit him on the set a couple of times and, you know, he's a man of few words in lots of ways. He would just kind of say, “I want them to feel. I want people to feel.” And there was obviously no kind of romanticizing of anything going on in the way he was shooting the film. It was very sort of brutal, very authentic, very real and all that. So for me it was a matter of finding out what was going to play. We talked a lot about instrumentation and we decided not to limit ourselves to anything kind of period. Because I think for David and for myself it was definitely, as much as it's about World War II, it's really about this family idea as well and what the war has done to them. So it's kind of playing the psychology of a lot of the characters. I had to find a way to portray hell, really. And so that was the thinking going on ahead and this idea of the mechanization of the war and the fact that they were kind of trapped within these tin boxes, and the sort of heavy treading, kind of forward motion, but also very emotional stuff within it. So that was the plan.
Well, you've just given me my headline. “How to Portray Hell With Film Music.” That's an interesting concept. Where do you go with that?
It always felt like it basically was a portrayal of post-traumatic stress. I mean they're all kind of sitting there having gone through four years of unimaginable horror, and yet it just keeps going and it keeps going and every day is, like, go to the next town and face the next horror. So it did feel like they're exhausted and we had to somehow express this exhaustion. It was a tricky balance to get it.
You said you went on the set. So you were involved from very early on.
Yeah, it was about this time last year actually I went on the set. So we kind of started talking about it October/November last year and I went a couple of times. Every time David would show me what they'd shot and all this.
That's kind of unique for a composer. You guys are so often brought in at the end.
Yeah. Now I seem to be making a habit of it, it seems.
[Laughs] Very true. Now that you mention it I feel like I asked this same question last year about “Gravity.”
Yeah, I kind of seem to be keen. I mean the thing is as soon as you start talking about it you're in it. And it was fascinating seeing what he was doing as well. The first time I went on set it was like entering a battleground. They were shooting long shots of – you know the Beat Field battle that's like 25, 30 minutes into the film?
I was just seeing those long shots. It was very close to where I live. It was kind of 40 minutes in the car or whatever, so it was kind of worth going and seeing it. It was kind of a grim, cold time, but it was well worth doing it and just getting a few words from David here and there about what he was thinking about and that kind of thing. It was really helpful for me just to go away and start scratching my head.
Something that really was striking to me was just the soundscape of the movie. Not unlike “Gravity,” it's so robust and detailed. It's full of all of these kind of ricochet whizzes and just this cacophony of, not a wall of noise, but it's very detailed noise. There's just a lot going on on the soundtrack. With “Gravity,” you were sort of working through the idea of sound effects and sound design as score. Did you play with that at all in this?
There are elements of it, I think. My starting point for this one was much more of a theme. The first thing I did in this was go away and do the sort of away-from-the-studio, playing lots of instruments and trying to get to grips with the themes. Because of the journey to the characters, it felt like it was a more thematic kind of thing. And the relationship between the characters meant I could play with the way the theme sort of merged together and all that sort of stuff. But when I started working to picture, which was this year in kind of March – I kind of like this thing where the sound of the music is very influenced and almost comes out of the visuals. So I kind of think like that anyway and I kind of like the textual feel that that gives you. So when they were shooting I asked one of the sound guys to just give me anything that they could of these loose recordings. Because they had the authentic tanks and all that sort of stuff that they've already talked about. So I got recordings of all the hatches closing or the gearshift levers and all this sort of stuff, but then I sort of stretched them rather than using a synth or something for an ambience. I might use a stretched kind of dog tag jingle, a bag full of dog tags with your hand in it, and sort of make a texture out of that. That's the first sound in the film. But it's just those things to kind of get me going and get it feeling. Somehow there's a quality in those sort of sounds, which felt appropriate and felt like it was entwined with what David was doing visually. And that got me into the sort of mood of it in a lot of ways.
What do you have coming up next?
I don't know at the moment. I'm having my first little break since the “Gravity” thing sort of came up. I did that TV series for Alfonso [Cuarón] and J.J. Abrams, the “Believe” thing, and then went straight onto “Fury.” I'm going on vacation next week for the first time in a couple of years!
Awesome. Well soak it up.
Yeah. Thanks very much. And I'm a very avid reader of your stuff. It's a fine old site.
Thanks for saying that! And again, congratulations on the Oscar. It's awesome to catch up with you again.
Take care. Bye bye.