Antoine Le’s Followed has definitely found its target audience since the film was released on June 19th, thanks to drive-in theaters across the U.S. The horror flick was at the top of box office charts for many weeks and continues to garner positive feedback from critics who praise the picture for its social commentary on Millennials and social media. In case you aren’t familiar, the film follows DropTheMike (Matthew Solomon), a controversial vlogger and social media celebrity, who is haunted by strange forces when he takes his weekly vlog to a reputedly cursed hotel to gain more subscribers. Adding to the unnerving tale is the score by composer Jason Soudah. Soudah is no stranger to the horror genre, he has contributed music to Truth or Dare, Rings, and Into the Dark: Down to name a few. Below Soudah gives an inside glimpse at his process for creating the score.
Wicked Horror: How did you initially get connected to the film?
Jason Soudah: I was initially connected to the film by Todd Klick (Writer). Todd and I met around 10 years ago, and both being creative transplants to LA pursuing careers in Entertainment, we hit it off right away and have been friends ever since. Todd very kindly used to come to shows of mine at Hotel Café in Hollywood back when I was primarily a singer/songwriter, and when I was working as a technical assistant to a composer at Hans Zimmer’s studios, I was able to give him an unofficial guided tour of where I was working. Todd tells me that I was the first to come to mind when they started thinking about hiring a composer for Followed. Thank you so much Todd!
Wicked Horror: You are releasing the film’s score. Do you have a favorite track on the album?
Jason Soudah: My current favorite instrumental piece on the album is “LA Over”, which underscores night-time drone shots over LA. I also massively enjoyed working with Kingidiom on “Feast or Famine” and “Problems” – my favorite of those hip-hop tracks would be “Problems” since it ties in the main musical themes as well as having a beat and drum sound I am particularly proud of!
Wicked Horror: When the team is getting the initial drone footage, this scene feels very ominous, like something bad hasn’t happened yet, but it will. Was that the goal for the music here?
Jason Soudah: So for this moment, while they are trying to explore the basement under the hotel which has a lot of stories of hauntings about it, the goal of the music was to give the basement an atmosphere of extreme uneasiness, whilst keeping the intensity under some control so we have somewhere to build to later, apart from the jump scares of course!
Wicked Horror: What instrument did you find made the most eerie sound in Followed?
Jason Soudah: I would say the most eerie sound in Followed’s music is a package of mid-range wiry/scratchy sounds I made (which I called Gravel for some reason), and the slow pitch-bending of them. I used a lot of sounds that went in and out of tune with each other, such that a cluster chord could be held and evolve over time, through bending the tuning as well as opening them up, making them more aggressive in places
Wicked Horror: How do you decide how loud you want the score to be? For instance, when Mike is first doing the elevator challenge the score is very silent in the background and then gets louder and louder based on the intensity of the scene.
Jason Soudah: The loudness of the music is partly something that I work on as I am writing and arranging the music. I often find that silence, or near silence, can build a lot of tension, or at least having the music react to what is onscreen, often a little behind so that events sink in, rather than be ahead or exactly in synch with the images. Also, once the music is mixed and sent to the re-recording engineers (and in our case, the re-recording engineers were also our sound designers) Pyata G. Penedo and his right-hand man Christopher J. Thomas of figure8sound, they ultimately control the volume of the music relative to the sound effects and dialogue. I am really happy with how everything turned out in the movie, both visually and sonically! It is really immersive. Antoine wanted the music to be physically felt as well as heard (and sometimes more felt than heard) and I was completely onboard with that for this project – anyone who knows my work knows I love my deep low-end!!
Wicked Horror: How did your experience with Followed differ from other horror films you have worked on?
Jason Soudah: For other horror films I have worked on – Rings, for example, firstly I was part of the music team (additional music), and secondly, we already had amazing thematic material to base our cues off of (Hans Zimmer, Martin Tillman from The Ring and The Ring 2). Also, in my role on that project, and other horrors I have been involved with, I was not in direct communication with the filmmakers themselves, only the lead composer/s.
For Followed, it was really exciting to work alongside the filmmakers (Antoine Le, Director and Matthew Ryan Brewbaker, Producer/Editor) directly, to present my ideas to them and vice versa, to create something from the ground up, using my own thematic material and sound worlds, and being able to fully trust my gut, without then interpreting what I was feeling through the lens of “is this coherent with the lead composer’s material and style?”. After countless hours of training and mentorship from amazing composers and music producers/engineers I have worked with such as Matthew Margeson, Al Clay, Henry Jackman, John Jennings Boyd, to name a few, who have each taken a lot of time to help me develop the skills I would need to tackle feature films on my own, I was determined to do well in this role as the composer on my first feature movie (I have scored a feature-length documentary, and several short films on my own, but Followed was a big step up!).
Wicked Horror: There is an element of hip hop in some of the scenes. Whose idea was this?
Jason Soudah: I think that was Antoine’s and Matthew’s idea, as they had a lot of hip hop in their temp music. The scenes where hip hop music featured were primarily the more archival vlog-esque scenes – and this film being set in Los Angeles, a home (not THE home, but certainly A home…) of hip hop, I think that was a great call. It helped set a vibe for the scenes of the movie when we weren’t in the super dark, creepy moments.
Wicked Horror: Did you use any non-instrumental “found objects” in the score for Followed? For instance, when Mike is in the bathroom contemplating whether to go down in the basement and then picks up the key?
Jason Soudah: I have used found objects in other scores – another movie I am currently writing music for, in fact. But actually, for Followed, the sounds were all either existing instruments, or synthesized ones I made or manipulated the hell out of! That would have been a great element to the score though – maybe for the sequel!!
Wicked Horror: Towards the end of the film, there is underscore for over 10 minutes. Was it difficult creating this much consecutive music? How long did that basement sequence take?
Jason Soudah: I was really fortunate on this project to have enough time to write all the music in chronological order – well, most of it. I wrote the chase sequence (where the guy in the Tengu mask appears out of nowhere and follows our gang relentlessly into the hotel) earlier on in the project, but apart from that, I wrote the scenes in order. This gave me the luxury of being able to keep things building and falling, like a rollercoaster, which was the intention of the filmmakers, in an organic way that was connected with what is happening on screen. For the end of the film, the basement sequence, I remember strapping myself in and riding along with Mike and co. as they are terrorized.
I probably spent a few of days on these 10 minutes, trying to saturate myself with the panic and confusion, and infuse those overwhelming feelings into the music as much as I could bear (and beyond!). I probably broke up the sequence into a few shorter sections which overlapped, so it would feel continuous, but by breaking it up, I was able to keep things manageable.
Thank you so much for these awesome questions, and I am so glad you enjoyed the movie and its music!
Jason Soudah’s Followed score is available now digitally.