INTERVIEW: Composer Ronen Landa Discusses the Sounds of Quibi’s All the Feels & Dark Sky Film’s 1BR
What does Quibi’s new digital series All the Feels, the medical documentary Do No Harm and Dark Sky Films’ latest horror flick 1BR all have in common? Composer Ronen Landa. From his haunting piano heavy tracks for 1BR, his emotional theme music for All the Feels or the touching original score for Do No Harm, there is no denying his versatility with this list of current projects. When discussing that versatility Landa says, “What really excites me is extremely original storytelling. It spans all genres, too. When the writing and directing is driven by bold choices I feel inspired to bring that same energy to the music.” Audiences will be able to hear what Landa is referring to this Friday when 1BR is officially released on VOD platforms. (The film’s score is also getting released by Lux/Eon Records April 29, 2020.) Below Landa goes into more detail about all of these projects, read the exclusive Q&A below.
How did you first hear about 1BR? What initially drew you to the film?
One of the producers is a good friend and he shared my earlier work from horror films like The Pact and At the Devil’s Door with the filmmaking team. I met with writer/director David Marmor and immediately knew that he’s the kind of director that I love working with— thoughtful, collaborative and deeply committed to telling great stories. It’s always exciting when a film has that kind of passion behind it, and I felt like we had a natural artistic connection.
When I saw an early cut of the film it was clear that Dave had really delivered on that promise. He put together a creepy but also intriguing story driven by some excellent performances— I couldn’t wait to start composing the score!
The festival run was incredible— it mostly played at horror and genre fests, and people really took to it. It picked up awards and great reviews everywhere. That was so gratifying for an independent project— it was like the little film that could!
The film travels down some interesting pathways and the score does the same, so I think wider audiences are going to love it too. I’m pretty thrilled to see the movie make its way into the world, and people who appreciate this kind of music will definitely enjoy the soundtrack too.
We saw that the film’s score is getting released by Lux/Eon Records. Do you have a favorite track on the album?
Great question— I love so much of this music, I might not be able to choose a single favorite! I like listening back to the piano-heavy tracks like “A Proven Path” and “The Four Foundations”, I think my writing for piano has been evolving these last couple years. The main theme really captures something essential about our main character Sarah too— I still play it on piano myself all the time. Among the horror-driven tracks, Dave and I are both big fans of “The Sooner You Give Up”, it’s just a very interesting exploration of different textures. And of course, I have to mention the finale “Asilo Del Mar”, at nearly 9 minutes long it was a major effort and I love how it came out.
Was there a scene in 1BR that was particularly difficult for you to score?
There is a scene that marks the first big turn in the script, and a bunch of very bad things happen to Sarah in quick succession— I don’t want to spoil any of it! Working out the pacing and intensity of each moment was a real challenge— it was the kind of sequence that leans heavily on the music not just to establish the emotional world, but also to help make the story beats clear to the audience. We had to get it right, and I think we did.
You recently created the theme music for Quibi’s All the Feels series, which is a show for animal lovers from The Dodo. Can you talk about your work on that project?
Kind of the opposite of horror, right? It’s fun to exercise these different musical muscles. The series got its title from the many ways our relationship with pets and other animals impact our lives. Every day has its own emotional theme, and while they are all about animals, they find these different angles.
For the main theme I wrote a little tune that brought all those feelings together, and then I arranged that tune five different ways to match each of the different daily emotions. We’ve got the upbeat dance version for Motivation Monday and a touch of melodrama for Ugly Cry Tuesday. In addition to the edgier projects I love working on, it’s nice to be a part of something a little more wholesome— people can always use an easy smile.
You also recently scored a documentary called Do No Harm about doctors suffering from burnout and distress as a result of the immense pressures they face. This topic couldn’t be more relevant right now. Do you know when viewers will get to see this film?
It’s so, so relevant! The bottom line is that doctors have been facing a mental health crisis since way before the pandemic— and obviously this situation just makes the stress so much more overwhelming. A lot of people don’t realize how difficult the situation is for medical students and residents especially, and people are losing their lives as a result. I’ve always loved scoring documentaries for this very reason, it’s a chance to be a part of something much bigger than me and hopefully helps inspire some real change in the world for the better.
I believe the film will eventually receive distribution through traditional channels, but in the meantime people should go to http://donoharmfilm.com — to replace the scheduled screenings at hospitals and medical schools we recently had a virtual screening (via zoom), and nearly 400 people attended. The response from the audience was overwhelming; there were so many comments from health care workers moved to tears because the film helped them finally feel seen. I think more virtual screenings are in the works so people can sign up there.
You have recently scored a short series, horror film and documentary. Are there different guidelines for scoring each of these projects? Is your approach different for each?
That’s not even all of it! Every project has its own specific requirements— the tone and musical style are going to be specific to each one. At the same time the process stays pretty consistent. At the end of the day you get together with the filmmakers and work closely with them to make sure their piece is conveying the right emotions, and that you’re telling the story effectively. So, it’s all about the collaboration, and really that’s my favorite part of the work.
What would be your dream project to score?
I know some composers are out there gunning for this or that big franchise— what really excites me is extremely original storytelling. It spans all genres, too. When the writing and directing is driven by bold choices I feel inspired to bring that same energy to the music.
A great large-scale example of that spirit is The Matrix (the first one at least), which layered science fiction, mythology and eastern philosophy on a version of the classic reluctant hero’s tale. Then they brought groundbreaking tech to the filmmaking and a phenomenally inventive score. They structured entire college courses around that film! And you’ll find the same spirit in plenty of smaller films too.
I’m also interested in projects outside of film and tv— I recently did a multimedia collaboration with visual artist Sheila Darcey that was very inspiring, and I’d love to keep make music alongside artists of all kinds.
You can learn more about Ronen Landa here: http://ronenlanda.com/.