As a producer, conductor and arranger for film, television, records and games, Ryan Shore’s many talents have allowed him to embrace a great diversity of musical projects. His ability to compose emotional and memorable music has been on display in his scores for such films as Prime (Meryl Streep, Uma Thurman), Scout’s Honor (Bill Murray, Alec Baldwin), Harvard Man (Adrian Grenier, Sarah Michelle Gellar), Numb (Matthew Perry, Mary Steenburgen) and many others.
Although he undoubtedly has inherited some family musical genes from his uncle, Academy Award-winning film composer Howard Shore, the younger Shore has had to pay his own dues on his own path. His efforts have earned him numerous honors, such as the Elmer Bernstein Scoring Award, the prestigious Clive Davis Award and several Film Festival Awards (Park City Film Music Festival, Rhode Island International Film Festival, the New York First Run Film Festival and others).
While his music has graced a variety of genres from comedy to drama, he has really made a name for himself scoring the music for horror films, such as Offspring, Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever, Headspace, Shadowplay, Cadaverous, as well as the 2011 film, The Shrine, for which he recently received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Score Soundtrack.
On the eve of the Grammys, Shore talked to Playback about what his score to The Shrine, what the Grammy nom means to him and where he hopes his career path takes him next.
How did you get so involved in scoring horror films?
I don’t pursue them anymore than any other type of project. I certainly enjoy writing for them, but I didn’t really grow up as a fan of horror movies. I really got into them because a good friend of mine – and producer – started making them, and I just started scoring them. As a result, I’ve grown to really love them. I’ve probably scored about eight or nine of them now. You know when you go to the film festivals, and you connect with the fans of the genre, you develop an appreciation for it, so now I love it as much as any other genre. So far in my career, I think about one-third of the movies I’ve done have been horror or thriller, and a third have been comedy or romantic comedy, and about a third have been drama or action. I love the variety of everything.
What are some of the tricks of the trade that you’ve learned, having to drive those tense scenes and mood, and that heavy foreboding feeling? Are there certain instruments or grouping of instruments that you go back to because you like what they create?
I try not to. I always try to approach each film as its own individual story. I tend to not think of a movie that I’m doing in terms of its genre. I tend not to think of it like, “Ok, I’m doing a horror movie, so now I’m using this horror bag.” With every film, I always treat it as, “This is this story,” and find a way to support that musically. I don’t really think in terms of, “I will do this or not do this because it’s in this genre.”
That being said, I certainly feel like I’m very familiar with films in this genre, so I think there are times where maybe consciously I will try to do something different, just because I want to find another way around it. One of the things that I really like about the genre is there seems to be a lot of room for creativity. You could tell these stories with an orchestra, or you could do it with ambient sound design, or you could do it with really experimental electronics, or you could do it with a choir, whatever it is.
I’m sure a film’s budget also determines certain things, such as how many extra musicians you can use, that sort of thing. For The Shrine, what did you do?
The Shrine was an interesting one. There were budgetary limitations. For this score, I composed and orchestrated and performed and even mixed everything myself. Literally no other hands touched this music except mine, which is pretty rare. Even when I’m not recording live, often times I’ll still bring my mixer in to do a mix. But in this case, there weren’t resources to do that. So on this one, it’s 100% entirely me.
I’ve run into you many years at Sundance and you seemed to have gotten a lot of attention and honors at the Park City Film Music Festival. What has the film festival circuit and the independent film world meant to you?
It’s an amazing circuit. To have the place to show films and to meet other filmmakers is so important. When I first got into scoring, I didn’t know what an independent movie was. I wasn’t following any of those films. I saw the movies that came out in the movie theaters on Friday, and that’s what I wanted to do. Then, as I started getting into the business, I started learning like, “Ok, this is an independent movie, this is independently financed, and the hopes for this movie are to go to Sundance, or to go to Toronto, or to the different film festivals.” There’s a great sense of community with the film festivals. That’s been my experience so I wouldn’t know any other way.
You seem to be fairly busy. Do you often work on several projects at once?
I try not to work on several projects at the same time, but schedules are so unpredictable, so it does happen quite often that there’s overlap. I’ve mostly scored movies, that’s always been my main focus, and over the years other projects came up, and I’ve started working on something for television or for a record or a commercial. So I’ve worked in other mediums. As of late, I have more of a concerted effort to be open to the other mediums from a creative standpoint. I learned about writing music for dramatic purposes, like for a movie, through movies, but that’s a skill set that can be applied to a lot of different things. So last year I scored my first play, a production of On Golden Pond, right now I’m scoring my first video game, and I just did original arrangements for Jackie Evancho’s album, which came out a few months ago. Evancho is the 11-year-old opera singer that was on America’s Got Talent. I’m loving it. I’m loving working in different mediums, and taking these skills and applying them in different ways.
So no matter what the medium, what is it about a project that inspires you creatively?
It’s a few different things. One is who I’m working with, because inevitably it’s always a collaboration. If I’m working with someone and it’s a fruitful relationship, there’s an exchange of ideas, and there’s a collaborative nature to it that can be so engaging. If I wanted to write music just on my own, I can always do that, but what I like about these types of projects is that there is a collaborative quality to it that may come up with something that you wouldn’t necessarily come up with if you were just by yourself. So the collaboration is a very attractive part when I’m looking at a project. Then the other thing that attracts me is the type of music that the project needs. If someone’s asking for something I haven’t done before, I love a challenge.
I’m sure getting the Grammy nomination is an honor itself, but if you are to get the Grammy, what would you hope to take away from that?
I would love to have it open doors for bigger projects, bigger opportunities. I have worked a lot in independent film, and sometimes you have to get very creative in finding ways to produce music, and I would love to work on projects that have more resources for producing the music.
You have worked with orchestras. Is working with one the creative pinnacle for a composer like you?
I don’t think it’s necessarily just about the orchestra, although, no doubt, I love writing for the orchestra. I’ve had that opportunity a number of times. I also conduct, so there’s nothing like that, but I think that it’s less about making the goal be the orchestra, and more just about the quality of the musicians. If I were going to do, let’s say, a comedy score and it’s going to be a multi-rhythm section base, what’s exciting to me is to work with some of the best rhythm section players in the world. So it doesn’t have to be about the size of the group, it’s more about just the quality of the production that I can do.