Reeva Ann Proctor discusses Gatlopp, music, and horror films with composer Kenny Wood.
Recently, Reeva Ann Proctor sat down with composer Kenny Wood. He's created scores for horror films such as Ready Or Not (2019) and Scream (2022). His latest project, dark comedy Gatlopp from XYZ Films has him again thrilling audiences with unsettling, eerie, and comedic tones. In this interview, we discuss Wood’s favorite horror scores, the creative process behind creating unforgettable music, and his approach to creating a memorable viewing experience through sound.
Alberto Belli’s feature debut Gatlopp is a comedic thriller, best described as Jumanji (1995) meets The Hangover (2009) with a supernatural twist. Written by Jim Mahoney, who also stars alongside Emmy Raver-Lampman, Jon Bass, and Sarunas J. Jackson, the film holds you on the edge of your seat as audiences join four friends for a drinking game. The film takes viewers on an emotional, thrilling ride filled with heartwarming and laughable moments, along with a few carefully planned jumpscares.
Gatlopp's synopsis reads: A group of old friends reunites for a nostalgic evening of fun and games after a decade apart. After one too many, they decide to play a drinking game, but it's quickly revealed that this game comes with supernatural stakes. Mischief leads to mayhem, and the group realizes that if they can't come together to win the game by sunrise, they will be forced to play for eternity - in hell.
Gatlopp was released on digital on-demand on all streaming services on June 23, 2022. Listen to the film's score on Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music.
Reeva Ann Proctor: Before creating and arranging scores for horror comedies like Gatlopp, Ready Or Not, and Scream, would you have considered yourself a horror fan?
Wood: Oh gosh. That's a great question. So, yes, I am a horror fan. Specifically for the challenge of going to see if I can outsmart all the scares and the gruesome tactics that these filmmakers use, because you know there are a lot of common themes in horror and it's amazing that for as long as the genre has been around people are still flocking to theaters and they're coming up with new ways to make all the same classic moves and, I am really just a fan like everyone else.
Reeva Ann Proctor: What is your favorite horror movie? Is there a particular horror movie score that stands out to you?
Wood: It's a classic thing to go back as a composer to go back to Psycho, which has that iconic Bernard Herman score with the high strings and everything. You could argue that it's one of the first genre-defining horror movies and certainly a classic as far as the music goes.
Going a little more into today's stuff, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, including the remakes, those, those are good. There was definitely a good jump scare that made me leap about three feet in the air off my couch. I also really liked What Lies Beneath, the one starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer. That’s another favorite of mine.
Reeva Ann Proctor: In your opinion, what makes or breaks a horror film score?
Wood: I can sort of bridge this into my process of doing horror. Like I was talking about before, it's a genre that's been around for decades and decades, and there are common things that come up like the jump scare, gross-out moments, and times of serious discomfort. To be effective in the genre, you have to come up with ways of doing those exact things in a way that no one else has thought of before or look at it from an angle that no one else has seen before. To me, the recipe for success is coming up with not only ways to do that but are effective and playing well to audiences.
Another thing that I think is a key element to a horror score is the contrast between the really beautiful things. Chris Young, a great horror composer and one of my teachers when I was studying film, is a master at not only doing the horrific stuff but just writing these beautiful themes that could exist on their own without any horror elements surrounding it. That's something I really took to heart, finding the beauty in these films and putting themes together that creates the contrast between all the horrific stuff and capture the essence of the characters and make it so that we actually care about them.
I think what would break a horror score is certainly recycling things that have been done in the same way. Not only are you kind of being sort of unoriginal in that regard, but you're also being predictable, and you can smell things coming if it's being done in the same way.
One of the best items, in my opinion, to collect as a horror fan are records of the horror score, and I’ve noticed that this has become more popular these days. I also see a lot of scores available on streaming services. As a composer, that must be such an accomplishment.
In fact, making movie soundtracks, in general, is an art form in itself. You know, you're servicing the film, and you have to do your part to tell the story, but there is another degree entirely when taking the picture away and leaving the music alone. It still has to work as just a listening experience. I don't think there's any better time than right now for composers to take advantage of that, with all the digital distribution and getting your music on Spotify, Apple, and such.
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Reeva Ann Proctor: How did the opportunity to work on Gatlopp come about?
Wood: Gatlopp is Alberto Belli’s directorial debut, who's a longtime friend of mine. We used to work on student films together, and when he started his directing career, where he made commercials, shorts, and viral videos, I was right there alongside him. So it was really awesome when he called me up and said, “Hey, I've got this feature film, and I want you to work on it!” I said, “Let's go. Let's do it!”
Reeva Ann Proctor: I’d love to dive into your creative process for Gatlopp. What was it like composing a score for a movie that blends horror and comedy?
Wood: This was also one of the reasons I was like really excited about this film because Alberto's so good at doing these things. It's actually not the first kind of horror comedy thing he's done. He's had some viral videos out there that blend the two genres, so he's gotten really good at it. It's also a good intersection between him and me because we both really love all the same movies from the eighties and nineties, all the classic stuff like The Goonies, ET, and stuff like that.
We first have to set the tone. So, we have this really cool title sequence at the beginning where I was able to write this cool unaccompanied piece where we created this fun, fantasy, and macabre atmosphere, and it paved the way for the rest of the film to follow. If you take all the music away and just watch the film, it's still fun and enjoyable, but there could be a lot of head-scratching moments. Like, are we supposed to laugh at this? Oh, maybe that gross thing is something I should feel. The music helps you kind of steer where you're supposed to be and what you're supposed to be feeling. When I watched it for the first time, the first thought I had in my head was, I don't know if in the next scene I'm going to be putting my head under my sheets or laughing out loud. That was sort of how I wanted the audience to feel and how I wanted t score to go.
Reeva Ann Proctor: Do you believe it’s important to keep continuity with a score throughout an entire film?
Wood: Oh, yeah! I think you absolutely need it. Like I said about serving the story earlier, you're making decisions that are just going to help the director and the writer tell the story they want to tell. So, ultimately as a composer, you're at the mercy of what's happening there. Back to your point, there needs to be continuity with the sound. There needs to be continuity with your instruments, the temps, and the pacing. We could be a high limit or a low limit of like where you're gonna go emotionally and, and we try to adhere to that. So part of my process that helps with that is I'll go to the kind of extreme scenes first, like the highest emotional points, the lowest emotional points, and I'll write those, and I'll just really go for it, then when it's time to do the rest, everything's just gonna fall in between, and I can make bridges to each scene from there.
Reeva Ann Proctor: I am sure you have thousand of sounds in your mind at all times—how do you choose a particular sound to convey the emotion that you want to evoke from audiences?
Wood: Rather than a thousand sounds, I have a lifetime of experience just watching movies and knowing what composers did in other films that worked and, or what didn't work. So you take your whole entertainment viewing experience, which applies to all this stuff. What happens is I'll watch the picture and then just something in my head starts to sing a little bit and kind of clue me into just the beginning, tiny little thread or tiny little fuse that ignites the way for the rest of the things.
I'll put that little idea down and then I'll just start building on top of it, and I'll say, okay, does this work along with that? No, throw it away. I'll put something else. And then finally we. A huge, uh, mosaic type sculpture that, that, um, It becomes the final sound of what, of what everything is. It’s a lot of experimenting and a lot of trial and error, but it eventually gets there and works.
Reeva Ann Proctor: Is there an instrument or sound you most enjoyed using in Gatlopp?
Wood: Gatlopp is about four friends who come together and end up playing a drinking game after being estranged for about eight years. They have shot glasses and beer bottles, and what have you. So what we did was we took those production elements of the shot glasses and the beer bottles, and we turned them into like flutes and percussion instruments. There's all this kind of alcohol-related, sonic design going on. That's sort of the glue that holds everything together. Other than that, it's really just a traditional orchestra behind it.
Reeva Ann Proctor: Did you use a lot of live-recorded instruments in your compositions?
Wood: Whenever I'm writing a score, whether I'm going to record live musicians or not, I'm always writing in such a way as if we do have the live players. Unfortunately, the budget wasn't high enough that we could record anything, so a computer just did everything you hear from the score.
Reeva Ann Proctor: I read you that in addition to films, you worked in the gaming industry. Do you feel your game knowledge helped you in composing Gatlopp's score?
Wood: For sure. So, one thing I always say about games, horror, animation, and maybe a few other genres is that you're going for very clear emotions. In the case of those genres, including Gatlopp, you're very clearly going for the fun element and using your imagination and just going for it.
That's opposed to certain kinds of dramas where you're confined to a certain emotional space so that you're not drawing too much attention to the music and taking away from the actor's performances. Still, in this kind of setting, similar to video games, you're just going for it pedal to the metal.
You can be as loud as you want at given times, which totally helps with writing these things. It gives me the green light to be as imaginative as I want to be, and I couldn't ask for a better composing experience.
Reeva Ann Proctor: What upcoming projects can you share details about that you’re working on?
Wood: Well, there is a big video game update I'm working on, unfortunately, I can't share the title right now, but it will be plastered all over social media soon enough. One thing I am excited about is that the Gatlopp soundtrack is now available. So audiences can enjoy it on Spotify, Amazon Music or any streaming services. I would love for everyone to hear it.