Tyler also discusses his upcoming work on such films as Halloween, Day Of the Dead and Resident Evil: Extinction
Tyler Bates is cool.
Why do I say that? Well aside from being real fun to chat with during our interview this guy has done scores for some of the best horror films in recent memory. With titles like Dawn Of The Dead, The Devil's Rejects and Slither on his resume, this is certainly a man who knows how to put the mood in horror films. Which is what makes his work on Zack Snyder's highly anticipated 300 such an interesting movie for him to put his musical voice on.
300 is an adaptation of Frank Miller's epic graphic novel. Using hyper-real renderings similar to Miller's own graphically stylized illustrations, the film tells the true story of 300 elite Spartan warriors led by their fearless king Leonidas (Butler), who thwart the charge of Xerxes and his massive Persian army at the battle of Thermopylae. Facing insurmountable odds, their valor and sacrifice inspire all of Greece to unite against their Persian foe, leading to the origins of democracy.
Bates recently sat down to discuss this film as well some of the other projects he has been working on.
What attracted you to working on 300?
Tyler Bates: Having a job. (Laughs) I'm teasing. I'd worked with Zack Snyder on Dawn Of The Dead and we had a great experience. Initially, he came to me a couple of months after we finished asking if I wanted to contribute to a presentation he was making about 300 to make this into a film. He was gonna take it around to studios to see if he could get support for it. And we got into it and I found it to be really incredible. It was something that was going to offer a tremendous amount of possibilities. That was by far the majority of the allure of doing it, let alone working with Zack which is always a great experience.
Did you use the graphic novel a lot as an inspiration? Or, did you utilize the screenplay? How did that work?
Tyler Bates: When I really got into it it was the script and the film's footage, but as we were putting together the initial presentation... Zack filmed the comic book itself, the actual pages. They did some some animation to the pages, kind of creating an animatic, and throughout that process I did music to that. Then we actually had Scott Glenn the actor come into my studio and he did a voice over, basically, outlining the story. It was really cool that by the time I got through that experience, I was so wrapped in 300 I was ready to go. It was a long time between then and principal photography. There was a lot of ground that we covered between that, in preparation for the film, so it was something that just grew and grew over time. By the time I got the chance to really dig into writing the score I was really ready to go with it.
Is it super important, in your opinion, that a film like 300 have a different score for all the main characters?
Tyler Bates: To be honest with you that's not really the direction I like to go with scoring so much. When somebody comes on the screen and you hear their theme all the time, it's just not my sensibility. The one thing I will say about the Spartans is that they were a collective group. Yes, Leonidas was the King, and he's their leader, but the Spartans were one singular unit. So, to break themes out for each individual would have been contradictory to the overall message of the film, in my opinion. What I wanted to do was create certain motifs that supported a mindset, or an emotion, or a circumstance that we're experiencing dramatically for the film.
What was the process like of creating the score for 300 like?
Tyler Bates: Basically, Zack called me, told me about it, and he and Kurt Johnstad, who was the co-author of the screenplay with him, they laid out the idea of the film to me, you know? Basically, Zack said, "We're gonna do this presentation it's looking like we're wanting to do this animatic that's 2-3 minutes long. We're gonna cover these beats." We looked at the comic book together and talked about it. I took the comic book home with their words in my head and just created something. Zack didn't play any music as a reference for me. He didn't say anything as a reference. He just said, "Yeah, just do what you do, you know?"
I thought of some of the traditional elements that we might have heard back in that time and in that region would be cool to emulate, but that led me to contemporize it in a way that the graphic novel is contemporized. I don't think that it's meant for a literal interpretation.
Did you do a lot of research into that time period to help you put together this score?
Tyler Bates: I definitely researched a lot of choral work and it's very difficult to find any reference to anything before the 5th Century. It's like from back then, all the way to around the 9th Century there were principles that seemed to be pretty consistent with vocals. That factored into what I was thinking about as far as how the voice would be used. I knew that I wanted voice to be a part of it, but it's just my nature to probably always do something that is a hybrid of sorts. I have as much respect for a garbage can lid as I do for the orchestra. Both of them can be entirely useful and important in the scope of a movie, if you look at them the right way.
I knew I would go rather deep into the sounds of the film, and experimenting, while also employing a lot of traditional elements that we're used to hearing; probably skewed in the way that I relate to music.
Can you talk at all about the scores you're working on for Halloween, Day of the Dead and Resident Evil: Extinction?
Tyler Bates: Well, I will comment on Halloween. Obviously, I've worked on The Devil's Rejects with Rob Zombie. As you know, he's doing the Halloween film. Like what Zack did with 300... he was asked if he would be interested... in making a Halloween film and of course Rob is not going to make a sequel to anybody's franchise. He's gonna do a Rob Zombie movie. He wanted to, with respect to John Carpenter, do a rethinking of the original. Both of us are huge fans of the original and the original scene.
So I had the opportunity back in February to recreate the John Carpenter theme in a Rob Zombie aesthetic. Something that is based on the principals that we created with The Devil's Rejects, although it's a different movie. It's a different sound. It's still has a filthy underbelly. Stemming from that, I've had a lot of time to talk to Rob about things. He's shared thoughts on where he wants to take the story, he's given me the script in advance. He began shooting last week so they're going to begin sharing the dailies with me in the next week or two. With that, I have an idea of where I want to go with it. I've already created a palate of sound for it. It's pretty disturbing.
Our main goal is really to get into the psychology of the film. That's how he's written it. It's very psychological. This is one film you actually know Michael Myers as a child. You know his experience and what led him to become the being that he becomes, and what warrants that kind of action from somebody. It's pretty interesting, man. I think people are going to be knocked out by it. It really knocked me out when I read Rob's script. I'm very excited. I can't tell you, it's almost like this childhood fantasy come to life; in a very perverted way.
I'm also having a lot of fun. I'm in the finishing stages of Day of the Dead. That's with Steve Miner who actually did Halloween: H20 and a couple of Friday The 13th movies. I will tell you, I'm looking forward to the Watchmen, because at that point I will be happy not to be ensconced in horror films. Again, they're a fantastic opportunity creatively but I really enjoy working on strong dramatic material.
What about Resident Evil: Extinction?
Tyler Bates: That one should be really interesting. They're a few parallels between that and Dawn Of The Dead. From what I've seen it's easily gonna be the best movie of that series. I think they're definitely looking to get back to what the first movie was about, but to do it in a new way. The first one was rather exciting, it was pretty edgy and scary, and that's where we're going with this. It's not gonna be an orchestral score, it's probably going to be a little more obtuse musically, but I imagine it to press the psychological buttons that we aim for on these films. I'm sure it will be 90 minutes of discomfort.
Tyler Bates can be reached via his website www.tylerbates.com.
300 comes to theaters March 9 from Warner Bros.