Last week I chatted with Paul Leonard-Morgan about working on Dredd, and how he became a composer for film scores, geek culture and his first videogame project. Below are excerpts from the interview, which you can listen to in full on episode 62 of the Nerds Assemble podcast.
Emily: We’re you composing while the Dredd film was being filmed and put into post or was it all done during post? Just Dredd in particular.
Paul: For Dredd in particular… it was all shot in South Africa, it was all shot by the time I came on board. But then we were in post-production, and they were editing down in London, and they were showing me various rough cuts, so much special effects were like going on it.
So for example, where you’ve got Peach Trees, the actual tower block itself, for the first viewing I had of it there were three levels of it. And then every time they sent me a another cut there would be like another two levels and it kept on getting higher and higher and higher and higher and higher. It was really weird seeing it like that.
The only actual shooting they had to do, they re-did a couple of bits, there was a new kind of ending and there were a couple of bits in the film that they did reshooting for. In general it was all shot by the time I came on board.
Emily: Do you find yourself going towards SF, science fiction films, perhaps a little bit more than any other genre or is it just you’ve happened to have worked on Limitless and Dredd?
Paul: Do you know what? I was talking to someone else about this the other day – I’m not a total fan boy, I’m not a total geek, but I did use to get all my comics and Dredds and stuff, but I was never this humungous serious stalker fan. But having worked on Dredd, I suddenly really gotten into it again.
You know, you do sort of visit various sites, but it’s more than that when you discuss it you realise that so many other people are into it. I think it use to be quite a British phenomenon, the kind of comic books. And now with America it’s totally taken off and that’s where obviously 90% of the big films are at the moment with The Avengers and everything else, but it’s just interesting how mainstream it’s all become.
I’ll tell you what’s really weird, is that some of these directors that you meet in L.A., they are, they seem, totally – in inverted commas – “normal”. Comic Con comes along and they all just go up there, get dressed-up, go up for a week and they live for many the Comic Con dream. But I never realised what a big deal it was until about three or four years ago when I went to L.A. and suddenly like how massive a deal Comic Con is.
And people just getting dressed-up as part of it all and it’s just – it’s the whole experience. It’s gotten commercial now and again it’s all become mainstream.
Emily: Going back to Dredd for a moment – what was it about the footage you being shown with Dredd and all the rushes and everything, that made you go really “bassy” with it. It’s like the bass on it is so lovely, and I’m not sure if you realised that you Tweeted at me once about it…
Paul: Need more bass. Do you know what it is? It’s we went through, me and Alex Garland, we went through various kind of stages of, “How do we want this film to be?” Because obviously, y’know I was brought on quite early on in the edits, and we were trying to work out what kind of sound to have, and the first thing I thought when I saw it is, “This isn’t a glossy, Hollywood film.” Y’know it had a fairly healthy budget for a British film, but it wasn’t a big, glossy Hollywood film, it didn’t suit big orchestras, big this, big that, it felt just really gritty and really urban to me.
Y’know, and I was chatting away to Alex, and I think to begin with I said I pictured it really guitar kind of led. So we did a version of the score, which was pretty guitarey, and then like, “Yeah that’s good,” but then I started mucking around with these old analogue synths. And it was when I was working on some of the slow-mo stuff, that I really started getting into – god knows how many kind of analogue synths around – and I just started getting into it.
The soundtrack was pretty much finished by then and I was like, “You know what? This sounds really cool, let’s try putting this in.” And then suddenly it was the -what was it – Mama Clan, Rise of the Mama Clan, and it had this kind of really throbbing [starts mimicking part of score] and then got some kind of old school drums over it and it just totally changed the way that I was suddenly looking at the soundtrack. And I just went back and revisited the entire thing, and said, “Look, put the dub back by another month, I wanna go back and revisit.”
And I suddenly just started mucking around with kind of syne basses, synth basses, distorted basses, fuzz basses – it just had this real energy to it without doing too much. And Alex was the one who said, “That bass riff you’ve got going in there that is Dredd’s theme.” And a couple of the producers were like, “That’s not a theme.” And we were like, “No, no, no believe me that’s a theme. This is the musical theme.” And yeah, which we just started getting into the basses. And it just felt that the throbbingness of it, the poundingness of it was as natural a raw sound you could get and for some reason it just seemed to fit really well with this kind of raw, dirty, cinemascape that you’ve got in front of you.
Want the rest? Go check out episode 62 of the Nerds Assemble podcast, starting from 58:10.