Barbarian Composer Anna Drubich Talks About Scoring The Movie In Three Weeks [Exclusive Interview]

In the opening image, the rain falls and you hear these almost inhuman sounds which then turn to women screaming. What was the origin for that opening cue?

Well, this was kind of the toughest cue in the movie because director Zach Cregger, he had this idea of having a choral piece, but we didn’t have a choir to record. We tried to record a lot of stuff, like me singing, and a vocalist friend even recording some weird, very high pitched vocals. And then I came up with this idea for the opening. We tried to blend it together, so it sounds as creepy and unsettling as it could. But then I remembered that I had a recording of a choir improvising some shouts. I had a pre-recording of it, so I showed it to Zach and he said, “This is perfect. This is the direction we’re going.” So that’s how it all came together. The last version of the cue, I sent Zach on the very last day of the job. [We were] working until the very last minute.

You only had three weeks to score the movie, right?

Yes, yes. I had only three weeks. They reached out to me and said, “Well, the dub is in three weeks.” I was like, “What?” Obviously, it was a stressful three weeks. It’s not enough time, but also, somehow you don’t have time for overthinking stuff. Zach was sure of what he wanted in which scene, where the music starts, where it ends, what exact accent he wanted. We were very focused and trying to be on time, but also, somehow it was easier, because you don’t have all this time to overthink.

For example, Frank’s flashback, was the licensed music already there? Did Zach already know where he was going musically with that sequence?

The flashback was already licensed music, so all the supermarket music and the car radio was there. The whole movie is Zach’s baby. He wrote the script, and he found the production company. He even told me that at some point he wanted to sell his house to make a movie. He was so, in a good way, obsessed with the movie and with music especially. It was a very hands-on process because he would sit with me in my studio and we were moving around sound. He said, “This is a nice sound, but let’s move it two frames on the right, and this is a great sound, but let’s move it two seconds to the left.”

It was kind of insane for a composer to be so controlled. We didn’t have these long discussions where the music should start. He knew when exactly. He said, “Here the music starts.” Basically, because he comes from comedy, he has a very good sense of timing. He was telling me he thinks that comedy and horror come from the same kind of background. He knows exactly where to stop and where to start music, where to pause it to play better at the joke or to play better at this jump scare. So, it was a very, very good masterclass on timing.

Was this collaboration different for you? When I talk to composers, the directors usually don’t sound that intensely involved.

Yeah, it was new for me also, because this is a very scary phrase for a composer to hear, when the director says, “Yeah, I also write music.” Then it’s like, the worst. Zach didn’t tell me that he’s writing music, but apparently, he was writing something for his previous work. I mean, he really knew the program. He was very skilled in working with the picture and music.

I think the very special thing was the director’s hands on the music. So I have to say, when the first idea came up to release the soundtrack, I was so confused because he would still make so many changes on the dub stage. I was like, “My version was the latest version, or did he end everything at the dub stage?” Yeah, it was interesting.

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