What would you do if you learned you were soon going to become deaf? That’s the question raised in Hulu’s newly released original film, The Ultimate Playlist of Noise. Directed by Bennett Lasseter, the film follows Marcus (Keean Johnson), an audio obsessed high school senior who learns he must undergo brain surgery that will render him deaf. He decides to seize control of his fate by recording the “Ultimate Playlist of Noise” – a bucket list of all his favorite sounds. Once he sets out, he meets Wendy (Madeline Brewer), a wildly charming, struggling musician who is trying to escape to New York for her chance at a life-changing opportunity. Together they check off his list as they make their way across the country, until painful revelations force Marcus to face reality and his future without sound. Adding to the heartwarming tale is the original score by composer Erick Schroder. Schroder previously collaborated with Lasseter on the family drama Son of a Barman. We spoke with Erick below about everything from how he got involved with the film to what he is currently binge watching.
How did you become involved with The Ultimate Playlist of Noise?
I had worked with Bennett on a project a few years back, happened to see this come up, and read the synopsis. Absolutely loved it and messaged him to share my enthusiasm, which kickstarted a conversation about my involvement. From there I put together a reel and Rob Lowry, the music supervisor, reached out to demo a scene.
What initially attracted you to the script?
There was a big nostalgia component here for me. The storyline took me back to my own playlist days, making my own mixtapes, total 80-90’s kid, so I loved that.
Did you give any of the characters specific themes? If so, can you talk about those?
We didn’t create specific character themes in the film. It was an early consideration and discussion, but rather than establishing and sticking to specific themes, we wanted to create an overall tone and wanted more creative space to do that. We decided to use motivic ideas over the course of the film to create cohesion. The tone and emotion really shift over the course of the film, so these motifs helped ground the film in a sense.
Music is at the center of the film’s premise. Because of this was there an extra pressure added onto your job? Knowing that people might be paying more attention to your work?
With any score there is a sense of pressure. In general, I keep my own bar set really high. Like many, I am my own worst critic. I overanalyze and nitpick constantly. I keep that pressure on myself pretty good. This is my passion, my work, and I always want the score to be the absolute best it can be. I wouldn’t say there was additional pressure related to the content of the film; more just my typical pressure of wanting to ensure this score was everything it needed to be for the film.
Did the pandemic have any effect on your scoring process for this film? Or was it already completed before?
Yes, the pandemic delayed the film quite a bit actually. We started work back in March, but needed to do a few pickups. With the pandemic raging in New York, we weren’t able to get the remaining shots until the fall. The nice thing about it though is that it gave us plenty of time to really craft the score. So often composers end up rushing at the end, but with the extra time it gave us time to experiment and really dial in the sound we were looking for without feeling rushed.
It was recently announced that Saban acquired the Northern America and U.K. rights to one of your other films Under the Stadium Lights. Can you talk about your work on this movie?
Under the Stadium Lights stars Laurence Fishburne and tells the story of the 2009 West Abilene High School football team, who, against all odds, win their state championship. The creative team was really looking for a thematic score reminiscent of some of the football classics. I’ve long wanted to score a football film. So often these films call for that triumphant, thematic score and that is just a fun style to write, so I enjoyed that opportunity.
The Ultimate Playlist of Noise and Under the Stadium Lights are obviously two very different films. Which one of the two was more challenging for you to score? Why?
One exciting aspect of composing is that every project is uniquely different from another. With The Ultimate Playlist of Noise, subtlety was key. The film does such a great job of going through a rollercoaster of emotions, so the challenge came from making sure the score never overpowered the performances.
What shows are you currently binge watching right now?
The Mandalorian! Although between three kids and work, I wonder if I’ll ever get caught up, hah!
Is there a director that you would like to work with that you haven’t yet?
I’d love an opportunity to work with Anthony Mandler. He directed the Sundance drama Monster and has an upcoming western called Surrounded that sounds fantastic.
Many thanks to Erick Schroder for taking the time for this interview.