Q and A with Composer BC SMITH about new score "DJINN” released on Howlin' Wolf Records

Jeremy [Six Strings]: Can you tell us how you got involved on this project DJINN and how you approached this score musically?

BC Smith: I received a call from one of the producers asking me to demo a scene from the film for a music meeting the following day. The filmmakers were feeling that the movie wasn’t scary enough and wanted to see what a modern synth-based score might sound like. The meeting was in Abu Dhabi, so they actually needed it in a few hours. I was a fan of Tobe’s work, so I happily banged out music for the clip and sent it off.  I didn’t hear a word for months, until I was asked to fly to Abu Dhabi for a spotting session.

Though the movie takes place in the UAE, the filmmakers didn’t want to use any regional sounds beyond the Lullaby motif that occurs throughout the film.  Salama's themes needed to be beautiful, sad and resonate with all audiences. It was also very important that Um Al Duwais didn’t devolve into a horror villain caricature. The Djinn are a part of Islam and needed to be handled respectfully.  It’s a bit of a daunting task, if you think about it.  Luckily for me, the constraints and limitations of a project often fuel my creativity and I quite enjoyed the challenge.

As with most of my scores I created a sound pallet from scratch to give the movie its own vibe. Much of the tension in the film comes from Salama slowly losing her grip on reality.  The score has a dreamlike quality that turns harsh, as the story unfolds and Um Al Duwais's motivations becomes known.  To me, Salama's fear shouldn't sound like conventional orchestration or writing.  It needed to come from a much darker place, from the horrific secrets she carries.  With that in mind, I liked juxtaposing Salama’s tonal and beautiful themes with atonal and noise-based elements.  Salama is alone for much of the film, and I also used silence as a part of the composition to underscore that isolation.

It was a given that the music needed to raise the fear factor, but it was also equally important that the audience felt empathy for Salama. The audience really needs to stay on her side, despite the implications that she might have been complicit in the death of her child. This film is really about two mothers' grief. How that grief manifests brings about some scary consequences.

Jeremy [Six Strings]: How much interaction did you have with this project DJINN from director (Tobe Hooper) to the producers?

BC Smith: I came on DJINN very late in post. There were revisions with the edit, and lots of new special effects work were in the process of being completed.  I think it had been in and out of post for quite some time.

By this point in the process, I had missed the traditional composer-director collaboration, working in a "bubble" time-frame.  Given that producers were all based out of UAE, outside of our spotting session, all the contact and approvals were done by email. This is not an unusual scenario for me, given the way movies are made these days. I work on projects from around the world, so I’ve become quite adept at creating a workflow that makes everyone comfortable.

DJINN was a situation where the filmmakers thought things weren’t scary enough, and the plot wasn’t flowing.  Most everything I sent off was lifting the film to where they wanted to go, so approvals went very quickly.  To be honest, I had very little interaction with anyone. There really wasn’t a lot of back and forth.  It was mostly, "we like this..., or "give us more..."  Unfortunately, Tobe passed away before I had the opportunity to meet him in person. 

Jeremy [Six Strings]: Did you work with anyone on this project DJINN, and can you also share any stories good or bad or both?  

BC Smith: It was decided early on that it would be an electronic-based score. By nature, that cuts down the amount of musicians I bring on the project. I worked with my engineer Bob Demaa, who mixed and created some of the synths I used.  He had just broken up with his girlfriend, and was channeling some anger that really benefited the film. We’ve had a good laugh about it in hindsight.  I also worked remotely with the amazing vocalist Azam Ali. She truly captured both Salama's grief and Um Al Duwais’s fury. I’m recalling that she was in the middle of a burst water pipe  in her studio. Like Bob, it’s possible that outside stress contributed to her emotional vocal performance.  I’m really only speculating, as she is the consummate professional. Regardless, I was very grateful she was able to work the project into her schedule.  She is a phenomenal talent.  It’s such a pleasure to receive a remote track that exceeds what you hoped you could get.

Jeremy [Six Strings]: How did you decide that Howlin' Wolf Records was the place to release this project DJINN?

BC Smith: I had a few conversations with a friend about which label might be right for the project.  I reached out to directly to Wall from Howlin’ Wolf after the recommendation.  From our first conversation, I liked Wall’s thoughts on everything.  I didn’t need to look elsewhere.  The licensing agreement is complicated so it’s a very small, very limited release.  Some might think that makes it a release not worth pursuing, but I believe that Wall felt that the limited aspect is what makes it kind of special. That is certainly the approach I took, and I’m grateful to Wall and everyone at Howlin’ Wolf for their patience and tremendous support.  They also brought on Javier Burgos to design the CD packaging. He is brilliant and so easy to work with.  I loved everything he created.

Jeremy [Six Strings]: Can you share something about music, that is not covered in your bio, or a favorite composer and why?

BC Smith: I’ve played synths and keyboards on records for a bunch of bands including Good Charlotte, Hollywood Undead, Dashboard Confessional, John Doe, Bon Jovi, the Veronicas, and many more.  It’s mostly been a situation where a band wanted to add interesting synths and electronics to their songs, but I’ve also done some string arrangements,  I grew up playing in rock bands so it’s an enjoyable thing for me to do.  I’m proud of the work but not sure if it’s relevant to my film scoring career, so I leave it off my propaganda.  Also, not noted is that I’ve written a couple batches of cues for music libraries and that work has found its way into a huge amount of TV shows from around the world.  I’m surprised at how much it continues to get used.  It has to be in the hundreds of episodes across all manner of TV.

At heart though, I’m really a bespoke composer.  Every score of mine is different and crafted uniquely for the film.  That is what I like most, and what I do best.

Regarding a favorite composer of mine:  I’m a big fan of film music.  When done well, it's a bridge to empathy and connection with the characters and story. I love the scores of Goldsmith, Hermann, and many of the classic Hollywood composers.  That being said, film scores are an evolving art form and I also tend to gravitate toward those that continue to push the boundaries and defy convention.  Jóhann Jóhannsson was a favorite of mine.  I loved his versatility, working with both electronics, live players and orchestras. I also try to cultivate that same scope and diversity within my scoring projects.  

Jeremy [Six Strings]: What are you hoping the fans of this project DJINN, from film to score, will walk away with musically?

BC Smith: My job is to help tell the story of the film with music.  My hope is that from the very first sounds of malevolence, churning synths and Azam’s haunting voice, the audience is transported into the world of the film.  With Tobe’s death, the industry lost an icon of the horror genre.  DJINN holds a special place in Tobe’s legacy as the last project he completed. Pushing for a soundtrack release was my own personal way to honor that legacy.  This CD is such a small thing, but something tangible folks can hold onto. I hope the soundtrack resonates with his fans and the limited availability makes it something special.

- What will you personally take away from this project DJINN and how did this build to your next project?

BC Smith: One of the joys of my career has been the diversity of films I’ve scored.  It’s been quite a fun ride.  While composing for DJINN and another film, WEST OF REDEMPTION, I discovered that I really like scoring suspenseful films.  I’m always fascinated by the psychology of how and why music works in film, and within that genre there just seems to be an incredible amount of creative opportunity for music.   I probably approach things differently than a traditional genre composer and I’d really like to explore that world further.  Specifically, I’d love DJINN to build toward scoring more spooky films. 

Jeremy [Six Strings]: What do you hope you will see by the end of 2019; from your music, life or in the world?

BC Smith: In the world and particularly the US there is lot of divisiveness. Life is not a zero-sum game and it’s very unfortunate that our government is sowing such a fear-based, discordant mentality.  I’m troubled, but also motivated to action now.  We need a return to kindness and compassion. We need to take care of our planet.

I’m very happy work in an industry that provides a bit of escapism for folks. My musical goals are simply continuing to attract interesting films to score.  I also have a very exciting collaboration with Alessandro Cortini from NIN.  We’ve done some really great film and commercial work together, and have more on the horizon.  He’s just come off the road so we’re considering our next projects and hope to find a good sci-fi film to score together. 

More on BC SMITH:
Get "DJINN" on Cd:

BC SMITH: From his first film score, Chris Eyre and Sherman Alexie’s SMOKE SIGNALS (Sundance Film Festival’s Audience Award and Filmmaker Trophy winner), to horror master Tobe Hooper’s final film DJINN, to Steven Cantor’s Hulu documentary BALLET NOW, BC Smith is one of those rare composers firmly entrenched in a world of diverse and eclectic musical styles.

Whether working with modular synthesizers, multifarious ensembles, large orchestras, peyote singers, aleatorics or bespoke electronics, BC approaches every movie from its own unique perspective, creating an original sonic pallet and score that is truly born from the film's story and aesthetic.

Notable projects include Chris Eyre’s award-winning films, SKINS, EDGE OF AMERICA and the Robert Redford produced Tony Hillerman detective series (THIEF OF TIME, SKINWALKERS, COYOTE WAITS),  MGM’s MOD SQUAD, the John Cusack and Emma Roberts starred ADULT WORLD, AMANDA AND JACK GO GLAMPING staring Amy Acker and David Arquette, and Netflix’s Ryan Koo drama AMATEUR.

His love of pushing boundaries has led to his ongoing collaboration with Nine Inch Nails / How To Destroy Angels multi-instrumentalist Alessandro Cortini under the nom de guerre ACBC.  Winners of a bronze Clio and silver Eurobest Cannes Lion for their music, their international projects include Gus Van Sant and Martin Werner directed campaigns for BMW, the award- winning 8 part Woodkid directed films for Rihanna’s album ANTI and the firefighting documentary BURN, winner of the Tribeca Film Festival’s Audience Award.

Currently, he is delivering his score to the sci-fi film ALT starring SALEM'S Elise Eberle and Sloane Morgan Siegel, collaborating with Steven Cantor again for the documentary HOOD RIVER and attached to score the family autism drama LANGUAGE ARTS.

BC is also an accomplished amateur magician and member of the Academy of Magical Arts world famous Magic Castle.  He specializes in intimate curated evenings of close up magic, haunted artifacts and paranormal entertainment.

His wife is a commercial airline pilot and when he’s not scoring films, they travel globally with their five-year-old son.

I am everywhere: TWITTER, FACEBOOK, HWR: SIX STRINGS MAGAZINE and HBA [HORROR SITES]. Last visit MY T-SHIRTS STORE at NEATORAMA something always going on and it is one click away!

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