EXCLUSIVE: Inside writing music for The Haunting of Hill House with composers The Newton Brothers
The Haunting of Hill House is a top-rated Netflix show receiving widespread critical acclaim the world over for its horrifying, mysterious and astounding story, told between flashbacks of the past and present, about a family who grew up in a haunted house being forced to relive the ghosts of their past. Here Mandy News chats with the composer duo behind The Haunting of Hill House's sensational score, the Newton Brothers, about how they started out in the industry, ended up working on the show and more.
How did you get into music, and how did you take this artistry into film and television?
I (Andy), started piano lessons when I was four because of an uncle who played piano really well and picked up the guitar when I was 10. That was then followed by the sax and drums in high school in addition to singing in the church choir from age 13 until my junior year of college. I was in bands and theatre productions and was also very into production when I first bought my Fostex 4-track recorder in high school. It opened the world to multi-tracking. At some point, I jumped into one of the very early Cubase systems and from there, I spent almost all of my free time composing and producing. During this process, I hustled a lot of student films for about a year of my life and eventually just kept doing more and more films and then TV.
Taylor’s mom is a professionally trained opera singer and so he grew up with an awesome exposure to that world. His dad was on tour with Johnny Cash playing guitar and Taylor started writing, recording and producing music on his own. He was also in bands and training on the piano, guitar and cello while also falling deeply in love with analog synths. Taylor worked for David Kahn for about two years and then worked for Hans Zimmer at Remote Control. We met somewhere in the midst of the pre-David Kahn days.
Amazing! How did you get involved with The Haunting of Hill House?
Our first project with Mike Flanagan was Oculus. We’ve been very grateful to have worked on everything Mike has directed since then. The Haunting of Hill House was something he brought to us and as always, his vision of the story and execution was brilliant.
What was the process like working on the show? The composing side of things vs. time restraints?
While Mike was in Atlanta shooting, Taylor and I spent a lot of time playing with ideas based on some conversations with Mike about the general idea. That, in combination with reading the scripts and having read the original novel, was our starting point. We went back and forth via email with Mike.
I flew to Atlanta at one point, just to sit with him and Michael Fimognari and watch episode one and discuss ideas we had been working on and Mike made it a point to talk about the absence of sound/music being just as important as the actual sound/music. About two weeks after returning home, Taylor and I sent Mike a link to a batch of cues we thought might get us fired. Prior to that, we had sent cues that had a lot going on and we had spent a lot of time crafting ideas with lots of production and development, but it was not necessary or right for the show. What it needed was simple, gentle and deliberate melodies, harmonies, noises and sounds. We built everything up, only to tear it all down and strip things down to their most basic elements. From there everything began to evolve.
We had a lot of time at the front, but as we got into actual episodes, the time constraint became very real. The show had been shot and written and directed and acted so beautifully, that Taylor and I couldn’t let cues just be re-hashed. I’d say almost every cue was unique. Even if an earlier episode's cue had been temped in an episode, we would almost always re-track it to be very specific to that scene.
How do you feel you best compliment each other's work? What makes your partnership work so well?
Taylor and I have worked together on around 60 projects now and I think we both recognise the beauty that comes from the chaos of scoring. Deadlines can be insane and working together helps us both to balance that chaos with the foundation of a partnership of trust where we know that at all times the other person is also working as hard and coming up with brilliant ideas.
Film Scoring cannot be about ego. We are here to serve the filmmakers through the craft of music and what we do. We compliment each other in creativity and sometimes emotionally support each other.
What is next for you both? What are you currently working on?
We’ve got a really great project we’re working on, but we can’t mention it just yet.
What advice do you have for up and coming composers?
Get out there and get working on anything you can. I spent many nights driving to USC and LMU to post on the boards about scoring student films. I still have relationships with a handful of the those directors/producers. The more you’re doing what you want to do, the more you’re learning.
I would also recommend an apprenticeship with an established composer, but on that front, it’s important to keep in mind that you’ll want to bring specific skills to that composer and to really identify what you’re good at and what you can help an established composer with. Of course, the goal is always to go on and do your own composing, but through that apprenticeship, I think a lot of people find they really excel in areas they didn’t even realise. Music Editors, Arrangers, Orchestrators, Players, Score Mixers etc…The scoring process if very involved and very reliant on a team.
Just get out there and start doing it and see how it feels. My other advice would be that if you love sleeping in and going on vacations and lounging, this job is not for you.
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