Sundance 2011 Interview: HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN composer Russ Howard III

Allison Loring

by: Allison Loring
February 8th, 2011

After the screenings of HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN that took place during this year's Sundance Film Festival (read our review), I heard many reactions ranging from "awesome" to "badass" to simply "HOBOS!," but when GATWer Brian Kelley came back from the screening, he was raving about the music. The score for HOBO was actually created by three composers - Russ Howard III, Darius Holbert, and Adam Burke.

I was able to chat with Russ about the process of helping create the music for a grindhouse genre film, what is was like working on such a collaborative effort, and what made him want to throw a metaphorical bindlestick over his shoulder to join (and help design) the HOBO world. Find out what he had to say after the break!

How did you begin composing for film and television?

I grew up studying classical piano and violin. I was obsessed! I used to practice hours and hours a day until my mid teens. I developed some repetitive motion injuries from playing too much and had to cut back. That is what got me into composing. It was a way for me to still be close to music without having to spend the hours at the piano. I studied Film Scoring and Music Production & Engineering at Berklee College of Music and then came to LA. My first gigs were usually as an engineer - recording other peoples scores and mixing them and on the side I kept scoring every thing that came my way.

How did you get involved with HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN?
A couple years ago, I scored a small independent feature film, SOUTH OF HEAVEN, that played at Fantastic Fest the same year as Jason's [Eisener, HOBO's director] short film, TREEVENGE. He became friends with one of the producers for SOUTH OF HEAVEN, Brian Udovich, and they stayed in touch. As the post process wrapped up on HOBO, Jason called Brian asking him to recommend a composer for a few key scenes in HOBO and Brian gave him my name. I demoed a scene or two and then I had the job!

What made you want to work on this project?
Rutger Hauer! He was one of the first movie stars I remember as a kid - LADYHAWKE was in regular rotation on the VCR in my house. That and the chance to write something big, bad, and fun.

Were you a fan of grindhouse films prior to working on HOBO?
I'm a fan of genre films but my knowledge of grindhouse came only recently.

You were one of three composers on the film – did you know the other two composers? Had you worked together before? How did you decide who would compose what components of the film?
I hadn't had the pleasure yet of meeting the other composers when I started writing. I hope we get to work together again, though! The process of splitting up the cues was all done by the director.

What was the process for creating the music for the film? Did you begin creating prior to seeing it or did you compose along with the film itself?
I get a cut delivered to me on QuickTime and I load that into my main sequencing program, Logic. I sit and watch it on one of my screens and will either play piano or sing along with the picture- then I start the process of orchestrating out those melodic ideas. After the music is written and approved, I hand it all off to a copyist who prepares all the individual parts for the musicians. That is a huge job in itself and I was glad to have help with that. Then the big day, recording with the musicians- one of my favorite things in the world!

What influenced you in creating this score (other films, styles of music, etc.)?
I think the biggest influences on me, for this score, were Bartok (for the atonal melodies), Holst (for the 5/4 meters), and then some of my favorite film composers, Howard Shore and John Barry. I don't think I was deliberately trying to sound like any of those guys during the process, just that in listening after the fact, I hear some of their influences.

How long was the composing process (a week, a few months)?
For this project, I had a week - I started Christmas Eve and handed in the score the day after New Years - it was insane. Fortunately I only had to handle about twenty minutes of the score. The cues I gave you for review are actually one long cue from the end of the film. I chopped it up where it felt natural to make it more easily digestible than one super long cue. :)

What do you have coming up next?
For the next couple months, I'm thankfully busy! I'll be scoring three features - two comedies and a dance competition film - after that, I just hope the ball keeps rolling!

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