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escape room poster escape room composer john carey


Columbia Pictures is capitalizing on the massive popularity of escape rooms with their latest horror/thriller, Escape Room. The film, directed by Adam Robitel, follows six strangers who find themselves in circumstances beyond their control and must use their wits to find the clues or die. The movie stars Taylor Russell (Lost in Space, Before I Fall), Logan Miller (Love, The Walking Dead), Deborah Ann Woll (Daredevil, The Defenders), Jay Ellis (Insecure, Top Gun), Tyler Labine (Voltron, New Amsterdam), Nik Dodani (Atypical, Murphy Brown), and Yorick van Wageningen (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Papillon). Since a blood-tingling score is essential for a film in this genre, we decided to speak with one of the composers, John Carey, about his work on the project below. You can see Escape Room in theaters beginning January 4th.

Horror DNA: How did you get connected with or approached to compose for Escape Room? What was the initial appeal of the project?

John Carey: Brian [Tyler, co-composer] wanted to bring me on to work with him on the project in the early stages when the studio first reached out to him. At that point I had been working for him on many of his films as a music arranger, starting in 2013.

The concept for the movie was really compelling, and I also loved that [director] Adam [Robitel] wanted the music to play a big role. He wanted a score that would really hit hard. I also got really excited when I heard he wanted it to be a purely electronic score. I had been working on a lot of orchestral music up to then, so the change of pace was refreshing.

HDNA: Were there any specific challenges with scoring Escape Room and, if so, what were they?

JC: I’d say the biggest challenge was finding a way to give the music its own unique instrumentation and soundscape for the film. The score needed to adhere to the thriller/horror genres, but we wanted it to have something new. We thought it would be fun if the music reflected the different environments throughout the film. Almost like musical impressionism. We’d make the music mimic the mechanical and machine-like nature of the escape rooms by layering the score with sounds and noises that we would record and then process on the computer. They’d be things like clocks, power drills and metal objects being banged on. We had fun with how that challenged us to find interesting ways to use nonmusical sounds.

HDNA: When you began working on the film were you scoring to an already finished product or to story boards? If you began when it wasn’t fully complete was that hard?

JC: The film was very well put together by the time it was in our hands. They were still polishing a few things, but we had a huge advantage with working with a cut that was so far along in the process.

HDNA: You scored Escape Room alongside Brian Tyler. How did you divide up who would score what?

JC: We started by recording the sound design elements together at Brian’s studio, which was a blast. It was like play time. We freely recorded anything we wanted without judgement, sometimes without necessarily having a plan for how we’d use it later. And then when it came time to write the score, we’d sometimes each come up with ideas by ourselves that we would send back and forth to each other, or sometimes we’d sit down and work on something together.

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HDNA: Is there a scene or sequence in Escape Room that you composed and are most proud? Can you discuss and reveal why it resonated with you?

JC: I’d say it was working with Brian on the first escape room scene. It’s a 15 minute sequence that has a really slow buildup of tension going from slight mystery, to slight nervousness, then panic, then full blown frantic intensity. I loved how Adam developed the arc of that scene. The fun of working on such a long scene that builds like that is that you have to really plan out how to pace yourself and be intentional with how the music unfolds and creates an arc to give the right energy to each moment in the scene. The music can’t get too intense too quickly if you’re in the middle of the scene and there’s bigger excitement that will come moments later.

HDNA: Did Adam Robitel have a specific direction he wanted to go with the score or did he give you and Brian more freedom to decide?

JC: He had an overview of what he wanted the score to do for the film dramatically and had a few examples of music he liked, but he let us figure out how we’d musically reach the goals he had in mind. So the first thing we worked on was the main theme, with the intention of trying to create some sort of musical world of soundscapes along with it to establish the sound of the film. That’s when we created lots of the crazy distorted synth tones and mechanical sound effects that became a musical character for the entire score.

HDNA: What do you think the hardest part of scoring a horror film is?

Every genre of film has its own unique challenges with scoring. One that comes to my mind with horror is deciding what kind of music will be most effective for a scary scene to deliver on scaring the audience. How intense should the music get? You don’t always have to have the music try so hard to be scary, and in fact lots of times that can ruin or dampen the scare factor. Sometimes a more quiet, calm approach can make the scene feel more ambiguous, which will make the audience not know what might happen next. Withholding information from your audience is such an important element to horror!

Escape Room is released to US theaters from 4th January 2019 


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