Found footage films have always had an interesting relationship with film scores. Due to their inherent nature, it often makes narrative sense to have a very minimal score or in some cases, no score at all. Followed is not one of those found footage films. In the new film from director Antoine Le, Followed not only embraces the use of a proper film score, it works it into the structural framework of the story. By integrating the score in with the narrative, it truly strengthens the film and highlights the sub-genres incredible ability to reflect the technological world that surrounds it.
Due to the film’s slightly unconventional and very modern approach to the score, it required someone who was flexible, skilled and a little unconventional themselves. This is where composer Jason Soudah enters into the frame. A lifelong lover and creator of music, Jason’s abilities lie not just in the composing world, but the world of songwriting, producing and performing as well. With his deep passion and unique understanding of melody, structure and process, it makes perfect sense that Jason’s talents would eventually find a home in L.A.
Through his various work on pictures like Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Rings, Into The Dark: Down and Braking for Whales, Jason has quickly become a composer with a wide variety of skills and experiences to pull from. Marking his first, solo feature film composing credit, Followed is a killer piece of work that exhibits Jason’s unique voice and solidifies him as a composer to watch. I recently had the privilege of speaking with Jason and we talked all about Followed, his varied experiences in the film world, and how one chance meeting changed his entire career trajectory.
“Due to the film’s slightly unconventional and very modern approach to the score, it required someone who was flexible, skilled and a little unconventional themselves.”
Rachel Reeves for Nightmare on Film Street: I’m always fascinated to hear how composers got in to the film score world. Tell me a little bit about your journey.
Jason Soudah: I’ve been playing music since a young age and my first creative role was writing songs. I did that through college and helped out a little bit with the college drama productions, plays, musicals and such. But it really all started when I moved to L.A. in 2009. A friend of mine from London who I knew from the music circuit was in town and he invited me out for a beer. So, we went out for a drink and another friend of his from London joined us. She was asking, ‘Oh, what do you do?’ And I told her how I was singer/songwriter, but I really wanted to do film music and how that was my ultimate goal. So, she started asking me rather specific questions about film music and what I had done so far. So I asked her, ‘How do you happen to know so much about film music?’ And she replied, ‘Oh, my dad is a composer.’
So, later that evening she invited us to see her dad’s studio. At this point I had no idea who she was or who her dad was and I was just expecting some garage studio. Then we get there and she points to like, 4 or 5 buildings. And there’s armed security guards. And when we go in, there’s all these blockbuster movie posters everywhere. So we walk down this huge intimidating corridor and sit in a giant studio room at the end of the hall and I finally ask, ‘So, who’s your dad?’ And then she says, ‘Hans Zimmer.’ [laughs]
Obviously I was blown away. A few months later, she kindly forwarded my resume to the studio manager at the time, Czarina Russell, who I met with and they hired me for a 5 week unpaid intern program. Both her and Zoe Zimmer (his daughter) were telling me a lot about what it would be like, how I’ll be working all the time, how I’ll barely see my wife and was I sure I wanted to do it. Because at that point I was 29 and everyone else in my position would likely be in college or fresh out of college. But I was like, this is such a crazy Hollywood story opportunity. Of course I’m going to jump in with both feet.
My second day, I was told to go into Matthew Margeson’s studio and I just expected to get him coffee or something, but he had my resume in his hand and he was looking for an assistant. And apparently, I had made a good impression on people because he had been asking around. So I was really lucky and got hired on a trial basis to work with him for a couple months while also interning with Hans in the studio. It was amazing. Then, Matt ended up getting a TV show with Brian Tyler which allowed him to take me on full time. It was a long thing of just gradually getting to know everyone and more and more opportunities came.
“[…] this is such a crazy Hollywood story opportunity. Of course I’m going to jump in with both feet.”
NOFS: Followed is a found footage film and typically that sub-genre has really interesting relationships with film scores. At what point did you get involved with the film? And what were the early conversations like with director Antoine Le like regarding the score direction?
JS: That’s a great question. I got involved a few months before they finished the festival cut. And I got introduced to Antoine and Matthew Brewbaker (the lead producer) through Todd Klick the writer. So we met and we actually did talk about that specific thing. Especially how we were going to start the movie, whether it was going to be cinematic or not. My initial instinct was to do something cinematic at the beginning. But then we were talking about, how would we justify that seeing as it is a found footage film? But Antoine was like, ‘Well, it’s a found footage film, but it was found by a team of producers.’ So the logic is the producers hired an editor and a composer and they got it to be a bit more posh, a bit more polished. We also talked about the older vlogs that you see in the film. Those were primarily music that the vlogger would have found online for free. We kept most of those scenes unscored or the obvious that the music was from cheaper sources.
NOFS: In all films, but I think particularly in horror, the relationship between score and sound design is crucial. Did you work with the sound designer at all on this film?
JS: I think you’re right that it’s important in any film, but particularly in a horror film for sure. The sound design isn’t just foley for when people are running on gravel. There’s a lot of stuff that is in between music and what’s happening in the room. The sound designers weren’t involved as early as I was, but as soon as they were, we did talk a lot. There was one scene in particular where there’s a big chase scene and the music that I’d written for that had already been approved by Antoine and Matt. But as soon as we got the sound design team and they started doing what they were doing, they suggested that I write something else because it wasn’t quite working. So I spent quite a while talking to them about what they envisioned and I did a whole different version. And it was a lot better.
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NOFS: In Followed, there are physical scares of course, but emotional ones as well which are scored very differently. When approaching these different scenarios, how do they sonically differ?
JS: One of the first things that I would do was setting a layer of low frequencies. And something that Antoine really liked as well was feeling the music physically as well. Obviously you can feel all music in some degree, but to really feel it resonate in your belly. Those sub-bass frequencies. Sometimes you might not hear a certain melody, but just feel like there’s something there. I would just play the scene over and over and evolve those sounds along with the dialogue and how it made you feel. And I used a felt piano, just a couple sprinkles of that. Which would trickle back to the children element, but I don’t remember consciously thinking that.
It was exciting for me to have this be my feature film where I could just do what my gut was telling me. And obviously get feedback from Antoine and Matthew, but it was liberating to do what felt right to me. And to remember what I felt when I watched the film initially. And not always do you get the opportunity to write a film score in order. But I did pretty much everything in order except the chase scene. That was one of the first things that I did because I knew there would be a lot of back and forth. So, by doing them in order I knew, ‘Ok, I haven’t heard this vibe in a while.’ Or, ‘Last time I did this kind of music it was like this, so next time I can make it bigger.’ I also just kept pushing the boundaries of how intense it could get. And honestly, I was genuinely freaked out by a lot of it as well. I’m pretty easily scared so I was trying to freak myself out.
“One of the first things that I would do was setting a layer of low frequencies. […] Sometimes you might not hear a certain melody, but just feel like there’s something there.”
NOFS: The main character Mike seemed to have his own theme and sound. Talk a bit about scoring his character and some of the choices you made with instrumentation.
JS: To start with, a lot of his music was quite cheeky and like him. Overconfident and these break-beats as he trying to get people to follow him. And then he gets more freaked out as time goes on. As he got more reflective and as things started falling apart, he got really lost. He was determined to stay on his mission even though it was getting more and more clear that he should abort. I think it might have been a suggestion of Matt or Antoine, but there was really sparse electric guitar used. Recorded in a gigantic hall so it was really reverberating.
I was lucky I had quite a bit of time to do this score. So with a lot of these scenes, I would just watch them over and over. Quite often when you’re scoring a scene you might have already decided what the tempos are going to be or when you’re going to change tempo. Where as those scenes with the guitar, I didn’t have any of that. I just watched it and had the dialogue and the effects playing. I was just improvising until things felt right.
NOFS: From what I understand, the main theme has an interesting origin as well. Can you talk a bit about that?
JS: The first main theme that I wrote was actually part of my initial pitch to Antoine and Matthew. One of the things that really disturbed me was this thing in the movie called the Korean Elevator Ritual. I started Googling it and realized, oh my god, this is a real thing. So, I wanted to find a way to incorporate that into the music. I ended up writing a melody based on the sequence of the floors that you have to go to. I know that’s not the most original idea in the world, but I assigned each number a note. So when you go to the fifth floor, I’d play whatever note that was. And so on. That’s how I came up with the main melody which is usually heard on a cello.
NOFS: You’ve worked on very large studio productions in various capacities and smaller, more indie productions as well. What are some of the perks you’ve learned from working on both ends of the spectrum?
JS: The bigger films that I worked on I was more in the background, but really got to learn about the production process. The post-production production line and how to manage a project. That really helped me when I was doing these projects myself because I didn’t have an assistant or anything so I was able to stay really organized. There’s so much more to being a composer than just the music itself. That’s proved to be a great asset that I’ve learned from doing these big projects. Looking ahead several steps and not being afraid to ask questions. As well as getting to witness bigger composers talking with directors and filmmakers. How to deal with notes and remembering that this is a service industry. The goal is to make the film as good as it can be, not necessarily just to make your music what you think it should be. I don’t think I would have learned any of that if I had just started doing indie films without seeing how these bigger films are made.
For the smaller films, I think a lot of what I’ve learned is that the music style usually has to be different. On a lot of the smaller films, it wouldn’t really work if you had a big Hollywood sounding score. That was really fun for me because I’m from a band background really. Getting to really use those skills. But really knowing the composing side of things was really helpful on these smaller projects. And just being on a team. While on the bigger projects I was part of the music team, on the smaller projects I felt like much more a part of the filmmaking team. There’s only a few of us involved in getting the thing across the finish line. I feel like I’m good friends now with Antoine, Matt and Todd. Because of getting the film done together and having more fluid roles. Obviously my main role was the music, but they were open to my suggestions about a couple of edits and nobody would take anything personally.We all wanted the film to be as good as we could make it.
“The goal is to make the film as good as it can be, not necessarily just to make your music what you think it should be.”
Followed is now playing at select drive-ins across the country with a VOD release coming later this summer. Make sure to also check out Jason’s awesome score for the film! Available now on Spotify. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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