Tag Archives: Stuffed

The Music of Snow Hollow: Talking with Composer Ben Lovett about ‘The Wolf of Snow Hollow’ (2020)

After getting to check out the soundtrack for The Wolf of Snow Hollow, I knew I had to speak with composer Ben Lovett about his work on this soundtrack. Fortunately for me, the moment came and I took it! It was so exciting to get to ask Ben Lovett about his work on this score and I can’t thank him enough for taking the time to answer my questions about the music for The Wolf of Snow Hollow.

Ben Lovett is an American recording artist, songwriter and composer known for crafting unconventional scores to a diverse range of films including the Netflix original The Ritual, Independent Spirit Award nominee The Signal, the Duplass Brothers’ survival thriller Black Rock, Amy Seimetz’s award-winning noir Sun Don’t Shine, Emma Tammi’s avant-garde western The Wind, and the time travel sci-fi noir Synchronicity which earned Ben a nomination for “Discovery of the Year” at the prestigious World Soundtrack Awards. Lovett’s latest work includes scores for the Hulu series Into the Dark, the colorful taxidermy documentary Stuffed, Orion Pictures tragicomedy The Wolf of Snow Hollow from director Jim Cummings, and a new collaboration with Ritual director David Bruckner on the Searchlight Pictures thriller, The Night House.

How did you get started with being a film composer?

I was tricked.  Someone convinced me I could do it even though I tried to argue otherwise.  Or more specifically, they convinced me I had no good reason not to try, and of course they were right.  That was in college at the University of Georgia in the late 90’s and I’ve been doing it ever since.

How did you get connected with The Wolf of Snow Hollow?

The producers at Vanishing Angle reached out early in post production. I scored “American Folk” for them a few years back and had a good rapport there. Jim is part of a great community of filmmakers that all share an orbit with Vanishing Angle and he was familiar with some of the scores I’d done. I watched “Thunder Road” and absolutely loved it. I knew after about the first 10 minutes that I had to be part of whatever he was doing next.

I saw in the PR announcing the release of the soundtrack, that you said that you and the director talked together and some big names came up, like Herrmann and Prokofiev, in regards to the music. How big an influence did they play in the film’s score? What other names came up in the discussion that ended up having an influence on the score?

When I came onboard Jim sent me a YouTube clip of a 75 piece orchestra performing Prokofiev’s “Romeo & Juliet” and said “The score needs to be like this!” The budget was very modest and there wasn’t a lot of time so as reference points go that one was exciting and hilarious and terrifying all at once. Jim was super enthusiastic about the score though and I could tell he wasn’t afraid to swing big. He referenced Jon Brion’s score to “Magnolia”, and the Jerry Goldsmith score for “The Burbs” as spiritual reference points as well. So I dove in with this sort of Mt Rushmore of influences in the background and tried to just channel the spirit of all that into some kind of hybrid, low budget, horror comedy appropriate, musical jambalaya.

More specifically, how big an influence did Bernard Herrmann’s music have? I swear I can hear parts resembling Psycho (1960), especially in “Third Crime Scene.” Are there direct musical homages in there? If so, was that a thing decided on from the beginning or did it just evolve as the scoring process continued?

That evolved along the way. It was more a sense of feeling like that was a common language where all those other references crossed paths. There weren’t direct homages or specific Herrmann scores I was referencing, it was more channelling the spirit of his style as a general point of inspiration. There’s something very signature in the way his scores operate melodically, and some intangible quality about the nature of their relationship to the picture and how his music informs the overall aesthetic of those films.

“Third Crime Scene” is kind of a thought experiment of me going, “What if Bernard Herrmann had scored “Peter & the Wolf’? I was never afraid of landing anywhere in the vicinity of his talent so it felt like a safe exercise to swing for something with a similar mentality, or whatever I’d interpreted that to mean. I didn’t get too academic about it, it just seemed like a fun sandbox to play in and one that seemed appropriate for this film.

How did you approach scoring The Wolf of Snow Hollow? Did you have a lot of time to work on the music?

Definitely not. I’m not sure I’d know what to do with a lot of time, does that exist? It was a small window from start to finish, very much your classic race the clock, down to the write, 11th hour, head first slide into home plate kind of finish. But that’s also the job, honestly, so I’m no stranger to that.

In terms of the approach, I knew I would have a limited number of crayons to draw with so I made a decision to just pick just the boldest flavor of each color that I needed. I guess that’s where the Herrmann thing comes in – I wasn’t going to have a lot of instruments so I needed to make sure the parts could carry a lot of water for us. It was figuring out how to pack big ideas into small packages, in that sense. How to deliver on the ambition of the director within the logistical limitations of the schedule and budget. I felt like the film had the capacity to hold something pretty audacious, it’s just something in how Jim directs movies. The score needed a distinct musical personality that could address the horrible reality of the things going on in this town, but specifically in how they’re related to this manic central character trying to put a stop to them – to find both the comedy and humanity in his struggle, because that’s really where the movie takes place thematically.

On a related note, are there leitmotifs in the score or did you approach it another way?

There are certainly some thematic, recurring melodies and variations in there that map out the arc of the main character, but we weren’t too dogmatic about those always accompanying specific situations or thematic moments. You routinely have characters in the film that are introduced then promptly killed off, so it became more about the recurrence of certain instruments and sounds than melodies, and what those sounds might represent to the viewer. Because I was working to locked picture with a new director and very much doing both at full sprint, sometimes the process influences decisions as much as any sort of creative intention. You’re trying to do your best to help make the movie as good as you can, while you can, with what you have.

Do you have a favorite track in the score?

Nah. Once they’re done you love em all, because you no longer have to feed them and change their diaper and they’re not keeping you up all night. I don’t have kids so I don’t know if that analogy works but, it’s sorta like that I imagine. Once they’re grown and leave home you forgive them for all they put you through. Maybe that’s where the analogy breaks down, I don’t know. More to your point, I think I’m more likely to listen back to ones that either took an unexpected turn along the way or endured some interesting metamorphosis by way of film scoring being a naturally collaborative process. Generally the ones that are the hardest to nail are usually my favorites in the end. I think the progression of the three crime scenes is a pretty fun journey. If you play those in a row you really get a sense of the variety of ground we needed to cover. “Detectives” and “Returning Evidence” maybe best capture the overall spirit and intention of the score, and are both thematic pieces that contain recurring elements.

What do you hope listeners notice when they listen to this music?

Well I always hope the album provides the means to re-experience the story in a way that reveals another level to what you might have enjoyed or experienced in the film. I feel like there are elements of any story that only music can describe, or that it best describes, in some strange innate way that we experience things as humans. Once you have a reference point for the characters and the story, my hope is that people can throw on the album and revisit Snow Hollow and uncover some new clues about what was going on there the whole time.

Again, I’d like to thank Ben Lovett for taking the time to speak with me about his work on The Wolf of Snow Hollow. Please check this film and soundtrack out if you haven’t already.

See also:

Soundtrack Review: The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020)

Composer Interviews

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My Thoughts on: Stuffed (2019)

On the heels of listening to the beautiful soundtrack for the 2019 documentary Stuffed, I subsequently got to watch the film itself. Having almost no knowledge of taxidermy going into the experience, I wasn’t sure what to expect, though the unusually bright soundtrack had alerted me to expect the unexpected.

 

What I saw…was something beautiful.

I had no idea there was no much I didn’t know about taxidermy! Anything you’ve ever wanted to know about the process is featured in this documentary. While profiling various taxidermists around the world, Stuffed takes the time to explain all the steps that go into the taxidermy process. If you’re like me and you love learning how certain things work, you will love this part as they don’t spare any of the details (including one or two minor “ewwww” moments when a carcass is skinned). And along the way we’re treated to some gorgeous shots of stuffed animals posed in all kinds of ways, from natural poses in a museum to…what I can only describe as “practically-living art.” I had no idea taxidermy could look so beautiful.

The people you meet in Stuffed are quite interesting in their own right as well. As with many subcultures, these people come from all walks of life from all over the world. But the one thing that binds them is their love of taxidermy and it shows throughout. Everyone owns their love of taxidermy and they do not care if this makes them “odd” or “black sheep.” It’s inspiring to see people who are so content with who they are that they will happily pursue their interest no matter what.

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You know what else was really awesome? Hearing Ben Lovett’s soundtrack in context with the documentary. Now I can see that a lot of that music was meant to highlight the various taxidermy displays that we’re treated to and make them more amazing then they already were. Lovett’s music really is perfect for this feature because it blends in so seamlessly with the various displays that you don’t really notice it (which is the idea, you’re not supposed to).

Another thing I learned after watching Stuffed is that the art of taxidermy is alive and well among the younger (relatively speaking) millennial generation. You have to understand that going in I assumed taxidermy was a slowly dying art, but this documentary proves the opposite. If anything, Stuffed appears to indicate that taxidermy is heading for something of a renaissance, which sounds very exciting, as I never want to see any skill go extinct. Furthermore, everyone interviewed makes it clear that taxidermy does have its practical uses, so its a skill that deserves to survive well into the future.

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The point I’m trying to make is that Stuffed opens a window into a fascinating world that up until this evening I had no idea even existed. The next time I visit a museum with a taxidermy display I will definitely spend a bit more time admiring the work that I now know went in to making them possible. Stuffed also proves that you should never judge a documentary by its subject material, because this is one of the most interesting things I’ve watched all year and I’m so glad I got the opportunity to check it out.

Stuffed is currently available on Vudu, Amazon Prime, and iTunes and I highly recommend checking it out at the earliest opportunity.

Let me know what you think about Stuffed in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Soundtrack Review: Stuffed (2019)

Film Reviews

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook

Soundtrack Review: Stuffed (2019)

Lakeshore Records has made available Ben Lovett’s original motion picture soundtrack for Stuffed, a film directed by Erin Derham. Stuffed is a documentary feature film about the surprising and unique world of taxidermy.  Told through the eyes and hands of a passionate and diverse group of renowned artists from around the world, the film explores the lives and perspectives of an extraordinary subculture that exists at the intersection of art and science.  With a keen eye on conservation and the natural world, Stuffed also explores the important and unexpected relationship that exists between taxidermy and the human effort to preserve the beauty of nature.

Ben Lovett is an American songwriter and composer best known for crafting unconventional scores to a diverse range of films and documentaries including the Netflix cult favorite The Ritual, Amy Seimetz’s award-winning noir Sun Don’t ShineIndependent Spirit Award nominee The Signal, the Duplass Brothers’ survival thriller Black Rock, Emma Tammi’s avant-garde western The Wind, and the time travel sci-fi noir Synchronicity which earned Ben a nomination for “Discovery of the Year” at the prestigious World Soundtrack Awards. Lovett’s most recent work debuted at Sundance 2020, a reunion with director and longtime collaborator David Bruckner for the upcoming Searchlight thriller The Night House.

Speaking on their close collaboration throughout the making of the film, Derham explained:

“The process was very unique in that Ben started writing and recording the score while I was filming. I knew I wanted Stuffed to feel beautiful and romantic like a Jane Austen novel but giving it that distinct Lovett edge. I’m Ben’s biggest fan. All of his movie scores blow me away, but when I first heard the ‘Stuffed Waltz’ suite it felt like he’d written a song about my heart. It represented the humbling journey that took place as I filmed wildly different people around the world for nearly three years and had all my preconceived judgements about taxidermy challenged.”

Lovett described his score as a collection of “musical dioramas” that aim to capture a glimpse into the minds and hearts of a variety of uncommon personalities. Lovett explained:

“I was inspired by the characters in the film who all come from very different political, social, and economic backgrounds and often disagree on most things, but ultimately populate a distinct subculture that’s bound by a deep and genuine love for nature. I wanted to capture that unmistakable childlike wonder they all have when they talk about animals. For taxidermists the work they do is not at all about Death, it’s about Life.”

The soundtrack for Stuffed was nothing like what I expected, though honestly I’m not sure what I should expect for a documentary about taxidermy. The music is beautiful and delightfully quirky in many places, especially in the opening tracks like “Encyclopedia” and “Life.” If the music is meant to reflect the personalities of the people working on these creations and the creations themselves, then Lovett definitely succeeded.

The instruments come together to create something bright and vibrant, and now that I think about it that could be what surprised me. When *I* think about taxidermy the big thing I remember is that these animals are dead, but Stuffed appears to be taking the opposite approach (and Lovett says as much above): don’t think about them as dead, think about how they simulate Life! And that’s why the music is so vibrant and alive, because that’s the work these taxidermists are doing.

If you listen to nothing else on this soundtrack, you need to listen to “Stuffed Waltz No. 2” and “Stuffed Waltz No. 3.” These are two beautiful pieces that take a moment away from the hustle and bustle of the regular soundtrack and seem to be created to give you time to think about what you’ve seen thus far. And for the record, they are in fact true waltzes, I can hear the 3/4 time clear as a bell (I wasn’t sure at first if the “waltz” in the cue title was literal or figurative).

Listening to soundtracks like this is giving me a renewed appreciation for documentaries and everything that goes into making them. Sometimes, I hate to admit it, these works can get overlooked because they’re all factual and can be mistakenly perceived as “boring.” But works like Stuffed are actually working really hard to tell a good story and the music has to work just as hard as any action film score to help tell the audience what they need to know.

I really liked the soundtrack to Stuffed and you should definitely check it out if you get the chance. Let me know what you think about Stuffed in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Film Soundtracks A-W

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Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

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