Camp Cold Brook is a film with some genuine horror street cred. Every inch of the film’s production possesses familiar names and faces for seasoned horror fans. At the helm of the production is director Andy Palmer known for the 2015 cult classic, The Funhouse Massacre. The cast includes Chad Michael Murray (House of Wax, Riverdale), Danielle Harris (Halloween 4 & 5, Victor Crowley) and Courtney Gains (Children of the Corn). The iconic Joe Dante (Gremlins, The Howling) Executive Produced the film, and the release is coming courtesy of Shout! Studios/Scream Factory.
Along with this treasure trove of horror riches, Palmer brings back frequent collaborator Chad Rehmann for the score. Along with his work with Palmer, Rehmann has racked up an impressive list of film credits that includes horror, reality television, holiday films, documentaries, dramas and more. His diversity of work and versatility of style not only speak to his talent and creative mind, but to his passion and dedication to the craft of composing. For Camp Cold Brook, Rehmann creates a score that balances traditional style and inventive surprises with ease. I recently had the privilege of speaking with Rehmann and we chatted all about Camp Cold Brook, using his own children as talent, the importance of business basics and how he took a leap of faith to pursue his dream.
Rachel Prin for NOFS: Not surprisingly, a large portion of Camp Cold Brook takes place at the abandoned summer camp itself. How did the setting and the natural associated sounds influence your score?
Chad Rehmann: Something that we did on the onset of the film, Andy Palmer (the director) and I discussed this idea of creating two separate worlds. The one world is outside the camp and was a more traditional score. Strings and instruments used in kind of a traditional sense. And then once we got inside the camp, it was an entirely different score where we used a lot of objects and instruments that I created myself. We recorded twigs snapping, swing set chains, bugle calls, walkie talkies, anything you would associate with a summer camp. Halfway through the film, they leave the camp and there’s some scenes that happen outside. So, then we go back to the traditional score. I think it helps the audience orientate where they are, especially since there are some flashback scenes that happen.
Honestly, there was a difficulty in it. It was almost like I was scoring two films at the same time. Inside the camp and outside the camp. I told Andy my studio was covered in papers and writings all over the place just to kind of keep track. ‘Ok, where are we in the timeline? What location are we in?’ We did a lot of non-traditional things inside the camp. Which was fun! Andy is the kind of director who lets you experiment and just kind of lets you do your thing, which is why I love working with him. So when I came to him with this idea and he and I really started talking about it, it was nice because we were able to get started recording a lot of that stuff while production was taking place. It made it nice because then we weren’t under the post-production gun in terms of just trying to get shit done as fast as we could. We had some breathing room to really experiment before I even got a cut of the film.
“We recorded twigs snapping, swing set chains, bugle calls, walkie talkies, anything you would associate with a summer camp.”
NOFS: You’ve worked with director Andy Palmer multiple times now. How did you two get connected and how has your working relationship evolved over the years?
CR: Believe it or not, it was a cold call. You know, I’m a firm believer in cold calls and early on in my career I did a lot of it just trying to get my name out there. It was one of those ‘stars align’ moments because when I called him about his first film, Find Me, 6 or 7 years ago, he was just coming out of a production meeting where they were having a conversation surrounding, ‘How do we find a composer? Where do we look?’ And he just happened to be walking out of that meeting when I called. So he was like, ‘We were just talking about that. Send us a demo.’ It was one of those off-handed comments where I was like, ‘Ok. Sure.’ I’ve sent out hundreds of demos over the years. Is he really going to listen to it? And he did. I think it was the next day that he was like, ‘Do you wanna do it?’ And I was like, ‘Absolutely.’ And that’s kind of how our relationship started.
He gives a lot of creative control over to the people on his team. It’s great to start with not having any boundaries in place. He has reined me back in on times where he’s like, ‘We’re going too far in X or Y direction. Let’s focus back here.’ But, to be able to start out with this idea of nothing being off the table is a cool way to start a project. And it’s why I really love working with him. Then, we did Badlands of Kain a couple years later. And then The Funhouse Massacre was kind of the big one that started a bit of a cult following. That was a fun one.
So, when Camp Cold Brook came, this was our fourth film together. And we kind of have a bit of a shorthand because we’ve worked together so many times. We get on the same page a lot quicker in the process now. There’s a comfort level there too. You just get comfortable with each other and you get comfortable, to be frank, hanging out with each other. You spend a lot of time together and on the phone and in small dark rooms reviewing stuff. So it’s also just getting to this place where when he calls to do another film it’s not just ‘Hey, I got another job.’ But, ‘Cool! I get to hang out with Andy for another couple months.’
NOFS: At the end of the film, we get to hear the super fun ‘Camp Cold Brook Theme Song‘ sung by a group of kids. Talk a bit about creating this song and how it ties into the rest of the film.
CR: Sure! There was an original cut of the film and then the later cut. The later cut is obviously the one they’re releasing. The earlier cut, instead of the flashbacks, the entire first part of the film started with the camp sequence and what happened. It was way more linear in those terms. But, when they re-cut the film, you’re sort of given the story little by little as opposed to laying out the story in the beginning. And I think this new cut works way better. So, the film actually started with the ‘Camp Cold Brook Theme Song’ originally as we were introduced to the camp, some of the kids and the setting. My kids are in elementary school. I have 3 and when I first started working on the film I had 2 in grade school. So we went to a studio in the valley and they all called their friends, or we called their friends actually, and we had 15 or 20 of them in the studio. They had a blast! We fed them pizza, they got to be in the studio, and it was a good time for them.
That song itself, there are hints of it in the score every once and a while. Kind of varied in textures. But it was more for when we had the original cut to kind of establish a sense of, ‘We are in a camp. This is a camp song. This is the story.’ And then with the new cut, unfortunately, it just didn’t gel anywhere else. I’m glad they were still able to include it in the end credits. And it gives a spooky little quality. It was fun to write in that camp style. It was fun because I also got to research some of the trees and the rivers in Oklahoma (where it was filmed) and I referenced them to make it sound hopefully, a little more authentic. It was a fun little side project to do during the process.
NOFS: Setting up and executing scares is as much a visual skill as it is an auditory one. How do you approach these moments? Any go-to techniques or sounds?
CR: One of the things that I have become more deliberate about, especially when I work with sound designers, is trying to figure out what sounds are actually in the film already. And to work around those with the score. So for instance, if there’s a scare and someone falls and there’s a thud on screen, I’ll tend to not score anything really in the low end. Because the thud is already there. So if I add to that, it’s just going to kind of get buried in the mix, to be frank. And so I’ll use sounds that are higher in nature and higher in the spectrum so that those will cut along with the thud. And vice versa. If there’s a scare on screen where a female screams, then I’m gonna work more on the low end to support that. As opposed to throwing all these high strings in there because that high part of the spectrum already exists.
So for me, scares are a lot of trying to figure out what is the sound design person is going to do and working around that. For Camp Cold Brook especially, the sound designer (D. Francis Murray) and I had a lot of conversations about, ‘Ok. What are you doing here? I’ll do this. You do that.’ I think the other part with scares that I’m really trying to hone in on is, ‘Who is this scary for?’
“..as silly as it sounds, scares are a big part and you have to hit them just right or it can all fall flat. It’s a very delicate balance.”
For instance, we see a character coming towards the protagonist and we as an audience know it’s coming, but she might not. So in that sense, I would almost score her reaction. Because it’s really not scary for the audience. They know something’s gonna happen. It’s not necessarily a scare for us, but it’s playing the scare from her perspective. When does she see it happening? For the jump scares, the kind that come out of nowhere for the audience, I’ll hit those right on the money. It’s fascinating to me when Andy and I watch it back, sometimes pushing that music a couple frames before or after, it can make something that used to be scary, kind of corny. Or something just not scary anymore. So as silly as it sounds, scares are a big part and you have to hit them just right or it can all fall flat. It’s a very delicate balance.
NOFS: Your origin story is awesome. After college, your wife and you drove an old Saturn from Michigan to LA with $1000 in your pockets to pursue your dream. What is it about composing that you love so much and prompted you to take such a big leap?
CR: I started playing piano when I was 5. And then after about 3 or 4 years, I realized I didn’t want to play piano anymore. It just wasn’t really cool anymore. I think when you get to high school and girls think it’s cool that you can play an instrument, then it became cool again. And then you get to college and you’re in a band and playing and realize, ‘Oh I can get paid to do this?’ So, I always say I stuck in music for the wrong reasons, to get girls and make money.
But even in my early days when I’d play piano, I frustrated my piano teachers because I’d come and play the songs, but then I’d add my own things to them. It would bug the hell out of them. But for me, it wasn’t necessarily, ‘Oh, it’s no good. I’m going to do my own thing.’ I just always felt this need to create something. I never wanted to be a performer necessarily. I never really wanted to teach music. So composition kind of became that third thing that musicians can do. I didn’t even realize until high school that, ‘Oh! This is a job. People can actually do this.’
Up until then it was just me wanting to create and do my own little projects. I thought about college in LA, but I think at the age of 18 I personally wasn’t quite ready to make that move away from my hometown. But then as college continued and I realized this is what I really wanted to do, it was either New York or California. And I was from Michigan. So I’d already done the snow. California became the place to go.
When we went out there, the economy was very different. We felt pretty comfortable that we could get a job at a restaurant or whatever, but had we done that 5 or 10 years later, I’m not sure it would have been that comfortable. But back 15 or 20 years ago, it wasn’t that difficult to just appear and find a position. I worked at a restaurant. I bussed tables. It was kind of the quintessential industry job. My wife was there doing her Masters and when she got done she worked more so I could kind of follow this. We just supported each other for a few years until we got things figured out. Then you do your first student film for a couple bucks, and then you do the next one for $100 bucks and you think that’s the greatest thing in the world. Every project gets bigger and bigger.
NOFS: Your credits are extremely diverse and range from reality TV to Christmas films to dramas, etc. However, you do have a lot of horror films under your belt. What do you enjoy about composing horror scores and in your opinion, how is the genre unique?
CR: I love to experiment with sounds. And I love to experiment with traditional instruments and how we can use them in different ways. And while other genres do allow you the chance to be creative, I think horror films especially let you push the boundaries of what is sonically appropriate. What an audience will buy in terms of a soundtrack. If you do too much avant-garde stuff in comedy, animation, drama, it can be harder to get an audience to buy into that palette.
Especially with horror and psychological thrillers, directors and writers are almost creating this entire world from scratch. We don’t know what that world looks like, we don’t know what exists in that world, we don’t know what that world sounds like. I think animation is sort of the same way, right? Where we’re creating these worlds that don’t really exist, unlike a holiday film for instance. Which I’ve done a lot of. You know the world it’s put in. You know what the music is supposed to sound like. You know what the acts are going to look like.
“Especially with horror and psychological thrillers, directors and writers are almost creating this entire world from scratch.”
But for horror, it allows me to push the boundaries. It allows me to start with the idea that nothing is off the table. And for things like holiday films, there are a lot of things that are off the table. There are set parameters that you have to stay within. And there is some comfort in that, I won’t lie. The expectations are very clear in terms of what you need to deliver. Where as with horror films, there can be some fumbling around until you find what works.
NOFS: Considering your career diversity, is there a type of film you haven’t worked on yet but would like to?
CR: You know, it’s interesting, because my wife hates horror movies. And I have 3 small children. So, I’m living this life where no one in my family wants to watch what I do. (laughs) The irony is not lost on me. I do watch a lot of animation now that we have 3 small kids, so animation is something I’d love to dabble in a little. I always joke that I’ve done a ton of holiday movies and a ton of horror movies so doing one of those Christmas horror movies would be fun. Kind of a melding of both worlds I’ve been in. I’m really happy in the horror world. I love what Blumhouse does, taking these smaller indie horror projects and giving the director a lot of creative control. I would love to work on one of their projects someday.
NOFS: You work a lot with new college graduates and help them learn the in’s and out’s of the biz. How important are business skills to being a working composer? What advice would you give someone just starting out?
CR: That’s a great question. I think, when composers first start out, they have to understand that they are running a small business. From day one, it’s no different than a carpenter or a plumber. You need to track income, track expenses. You need to have 1, 3, 5 year goals. You need to understand what a W-2 and a 1099 are. There’s all these really basic things.
And the great thing about nowadays is that there’s a wealth of material online. Composers have to get out of this idea that, ‘I write good music. Someone is going to hire me. Everything is going to work out.’ Being able to network. I did a lot of cold calling early on, which now is cold emailing. That’s an art in and of itself. You’ve gotta put yourself out there. You have to meet people. But I think most importantly, you have to remember you’re running a small business. You are your own marketing and your own PR. Having a basic knowledge of branding, you know ‘Who are you? What is your voice? What do you have to offer that’s not already out there?’ And accounting. What’s coming in versus what’s going out. Remembering to set aside a third of everything for when the government wants their cut. Knowing these basic things can really go a long way in setting you up for success.
Camp Cold Brook hits select theaters and VOD Friday, February 14th. Chad’s score to the film is now available digitally on all major platforms. You can also pick up physical copies of the album from Chad directly at chadrehmann.com.