Exclusive Interview – Composer Alexander Arntzen discusses his score for Saban Films’ Initiation

The teen slasher is back with Saban Films’ new film, Initiation. Out this Friday, the official synopsis reads: “During a university’s pledge week, the carefree partying turns deadly serious when a star athlete is found impaled in his dorm. The murder ignites a spree of sinister social-media messages, sweeping the students and police into a race against time to uncover the truth behind the school’s dark secrets… and the horrifying meaning of a recurring symbol: a single exclamation mark”.

Directed by John Berardo, the film stars Lochlyn Munro (The Predator, Riverdale), Isabella Gomez (One Day at a Time), Jon Huertas (This is Us), Froy Gutierrez (Teen Wolf), Bart Johnson (High School Musical), and Yancy Butler (Kick-Ass, Drop Zone). Adding to the intensity of the film is the haunting score by composer Alexander Arntzen. Some of Arntzen’s other credits include Beyond the Woods, Wally Got Wasted and A New York Christmas Wedding. Since the music in horror films plays such an interictal role, we spoke to Arntzen more in depth about his Initiation score and why he describes it as a visceral, dark, and frightening sonic experience.

How did you get connected with Initiation? What attracted you to the script?

I got connected with Initiation through John Berardo directly. I have been scoring his projects for over ten years. Very excited to be able to score his first feature. It’s been an incredible collaborative relationship we’ve built together.

How would you describe the Initiation score?

The score for Initiation would be best described as a visceral, dark, and frightening sonic experience. It vacillates between floating unnerving pads and atmospheres to jolting electronic stabs that come out of nowhere. It should lull you into a false sense of security, just to tear that all away at a moment’s notice.

How involved was the film’s director, John Berardo, with the scoring process? Did he have a specific sound/tone he was looking for or were you able to experiment a little more?

Due to the fact that we have collaborated so many times before, we have such a musical short hand. I had already been developing sounds during the development of the project, so by the time we got to scoring it, so much of it was executing what we had already been talking about. That did open us up to being able to have those cool additions that some scores don’t always have since we already had such a clear direction. John very much lets me “do my thing” and then comes in and guides it here and there to make sure everything is lining up to the final vision.

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It was recently announced that you are releasing the Initiation score, congrats! Do you have a favorite track from the album? Why does it stand out to you?

Thank you! I would say Track 11, “Reveal”, is my favorite. That one encapsulates the main theme for the film in the most cohesive and cathartic way. I had actually had this theme ready for the film for a number of years before scoring it. So it was to my amazement when after scoring the film the theme still worked perfectly for the film, which is not always the case. Also, this track is during the big reveal of the film, so it brings the gravitas that you need for such a pivotal moment which was awesome to create.

The killer’s weapon of choice in Initiation is a drill and we heard you incorporated that into your score. Can you tell us a little more about this?

I love adding “found sound” in my scores whenever possible. It was first brought to my mind in the score for Atonement with using a typewriter. So it just made since to try to utilize the very sound of terror in the movie as an element in the score. As the killer gets closer, the sound get louder!

Initiation is based off of a short film titled Dembanger, which was also directed by John Berardo and you scored. Did you keep any of the same motifs in Initiation that were used in Dembanger? How are the two scores different?

The score for Dembanger was totally different. There isn’t really the time to develop anything too musically complicated in a short film generally. Also, the plot lines and circumstances have totally changed from one to the other. As I mentioned earlier, I did develop a theme and ideas for the feature before it was properly score through some of the promo materials to secure funding for the feature. But, I started from scratch when it came to the short vs. the feature. Sometimes, I think that is for the best. Sometimes you can get too comfortable sticking with the same thing. It’s more exciting to keep creating new ideas as the ideas evolve over time.

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When you were first starting out in the business, you interned for Danny Elfman, assisting with transcribing scores for his concert, “Danny Elfman’s Music from the Films of Tim Burton”. When working with such a force as Danny Elfman, what is one thing you learned from him?

I think the main thing I learned working on that project for Danny was to be as meticulous as possible. The details matter. The little things add up over time to make the bigger picture. So you want to make sure every step of the way that you are creating something that is as musically sound as possible so later on you aren’t struggling to fix something that you could have made right from the beginning.

According to your IMDB, you have also worked on a lot of Christmas movies. What are the major differences between scoring a holiday film and a horror film?

Yes I have! Certainly, very different genres. I think the key thing to always remember is what emotions are you trying to invoke in people through the film and in my case the music. So with horror, similar to comedy in many way, you have a very clear goal: scare people. Everything else is secondary. With Christmas movies, generally the main feeling you want to give people is that heartwarming comfortable holiday cheer. Both genres have a lot of traditions to fall back on. Ideally, you take those traditions and try to flip them on their heads wherever possible! Find new ways to say the same thing in a way that connects with the audience, but doesn’t feel like they’ve already heard it somewhere else before.

Is there a director or showrunner that you haven’t gotten to work with yet, that you would like to?

To be honest, I am far more about building relationships with filmmakers from the ground up. Very much like my collaboration with John Berardo, the reward of starting and building your career alongside with someone is an amazing thing to watch and be a part of over the years. Certainly, as a cinephile, I am a huge fan of many directors and show runners, but nothing beats being there day one with your own filmmakers and watching our creative careers grow together in tandem!

You can learn more about Alexander Arntzen here: www.alexanderarntzen.com

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