We chat with composer Mikel Hurwitz about his score for the new horror-comedy Too Late…
The wait is finally over. After making its world premiere at the Seattle International Film Festival in April, Gravitas Ventures is now releasing Too Late in select theaters and digital platforms on June 25th. Directed by D.W. Thomas, the horror comedy set in the Los Angeles indie comedy scene features Violet Fields who works a thankless job as the assistant to Bob Devore, famed comedian and host of the live variety show, Too Late. But what only Violet knows is that Bob is a monster both literally and figuratively. Resigned to her fate, Violet is caught by surprise when she meets aspiring comedian Jimmy Rhodes and sparks fly. But as her feelings for Jimmy grow and Bob starts to doubt her loyalty, she and Jimmy could end up as Bob’s next meal.
The film stars Alyssa Limperis (Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House of Fun), Ron Lynch (Bob’s Burgers, Adventure Time), Will Weldon (Comedy Central’s This Isn’t Happening), Mary Lynn Rajskub (24, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), Fred Armisen (SNL, Portlandia), Jenny Zigrino (Bad Santa 2, 50 Shades of Black), Jack De Sena (Avatar: The Last Airbender) and Brooks Wheelan (SNL). Adding a little light to the dark tale, is the score by composer Mikel Hurwitz (It Was Always You, Up There). Hurwitz does a great job of heightening the story with genre-bending elements, using everything from a mangled accordion to textural string risers in his score. We wanted to learn more about the Too Late score, so we spoke exclusively with Hurwitz below.
How did you first get connected with Too Late? What attracted you to the script?
Believe it or not, Diana (the director, D.W. Thomas) wrote me on LinkedIn asking if I knew a composer that specialized in horror. Since I’d never scored a horror film before, I offered to connect her with friends of mine but also asked if I could send her some music, which she loved, and they hired me within the week!
I never actually read a script for Too Late because I was brought in after the final edit was pretty much finished. What I loved about the film though was its quirky-ness, its self-aware almost parody-like poke on the horror genre, but perhaps most of all its commentary on the sometimes (often?) exploitative ‘star-assistant’ relationships found in creative careers, especially in Los Angeles.
How would you describe your Too Late score?
The Too Late score is a blend of a lot of genre-bending elements: It has moments of more contemporary sound-design horror (textural string risers, big drums, found sounds), thriller-action (big drums, pulsating synths), but it also has this backdrop of mangled accordion and harpsichord to tell Bob’s story, a character that’s from a non-descript era in the past, possibly Victorian Europe or earlier (we never really get his back-story). There are moments of processed non-traditional orchestrations and a ton of different keyboard instruments: honky-tonk pianos, felt pianos, extended piano techniques (playing and sampling the strings inside the piano to build pads), but perhaps the most unique was a synth pulse that I built out of sampling a digeridoo (Bob’s brand of monster is loosely based on an Austrailian Aborignal zombie like monster myth called the “Yaramayhawho”)
Can you talk about working with director D.W. Thomas on Too Late. Did she have a very specific idea of what she wanted the score to sound like? Or were you able to experiment more?
Diana (DW) didn’t have a super specific idea of what the score would sound like but offered a handful of rich references to dig into, of which my favorites were: Witches of Eastwick & Tales from the Crypt. The coolest thing about the film is that there was no temp score, which really let me experiment and put my own flavor on it. So often (but not always) if a film’s locked edit is intricately edited with temp score (temporary music to be replaced by the composer) it can be restricting, but in this case, there was a ton of space to try things out. We started with the Main Title sequence (track 1 on the soundtrack) and they were in love with it from the 2nd version. From there, we kind of parsed out the score from the opening sequence.
Too Late is a horror/comedy. Horror films have very distinct scores that narrate the story, more so than other genres. When you mix in the comedy aspect, how did you find the right balance?
I think there are actually many genres that use score to narrate the story (cartoons, action, rom-coms, etc.), but I would agree there are typically very distinct scores in horror films and those scores often narrate the story in a very distinct way: through adrenaline. Horror scores often feel like going up the rollercoaster then down, and that feeling of anticipation and release is done with a combination of timing (‘hitting’ particular frames) and sonic texture.
In an odd way, comedy is very similar: you always want to make a joke funnier with music and not ‘step’ on it – sometimes this means going without music for a beat or two, and often you’re building the anticipation of a punch line then there being some kind of payoff.
Finding the right balance between the two genres is really just about letting the film dictate which timing scheme you’re going to use. More than timing though, instrumentation can really help; and for Too Late, I would often use the accordion or harpsichord to help tell the audience that we’re now in a joke, then switch back to synths and a more suspenseful sound when there were moments of horror.
You got your start making music for documentary films. Is there a big difference between scoring documentary films and scripted films?
There is and there isn’t. These days, documentary films are more like scripted films and scripted films sometime feel like documentaries, so I think in terms of the storytelling with music it really comes down to the characters, their stories, and the pacing of the edit. It can be very similar or wildly different in either genre.
You worked on Danny Elfman’s music department team for The Grinch, Dumbo and Justice League. What was one thing you learned from him?
I learned a lot from Danny but if I might say two things: the first would be a commitment to experimentation and that every score should explore something new and challenge your artistry in ways that breaks you out of your comfort zone. The second is workflow and how to work with a film making team: from sending multiple versions of music to choose from to more rudimentary things like file management and organization.
Not only are you a composer, but you are an album producer, engineer and studio musician & band-leader. Which of these titles is most challenging for you?
Every one of them has their own unique challenges but composing has the most to juggle at the same time – its film making superimposed on top of music.
Is there a director or showrunner that you haven’t worked with yet, that you would like to in the future?
My running list of dream showrunners/directors that I’d love to work with are: Ava DuVernay, Greg Daniels, Michael Schur, Kerry Ehrin, and Bill Lawrence, to name a few.
What are you working on next?
I’m currently writing a 20-minute orchestral suite to be recorded at the end of the year, a few films for Hallmark, and looking to get into the world of episodic TV more over the next year.
You can learn more about Mikel Hurwitz here: https://mikelhurwitz.com/
Mikel Hurwitz’s Too Late score is being digitally released by Soundtrack Mill June 25th.