Charlie Clouser is the composer for Syfy’s recent smash hit mini-series ‘Childhood’s End’. He’s been in the business for years having worked on such films as ‘Resident Evil: Extinction’, Fox’s ‘Wayward Pines’, and the ‘Saw’ franchise. He was also an original member of a small band which you may have heard of called Nine Inch Nails.
ScienceFiction (SF): You recently did some amazing work on Syfy’s ‘Childhood’s End’ and am curious as to what inspired you on the score?
Charlie Clouser (CC): Obviously I have a long history of being an Arthur C. Clarke fan and a fan of other adaptations of his work such as 2001: A Space Odyssey. I drew a little bit of inspiration from the classical music that Stanley Kubrick used in his version of a 2001, for instance the atonal like choir pieces done by the composer Gyorgy Ligeti. So I did give a nod to some of those pieces in my own amateurish fashion. There is a couple of moments where I try to evoke that sense of wonder and terror at the same time when mankind first sees what the Alien Overlord looks like and a couple other heavy moments when Karellen reveals deep things to various characters. The story as presented in this adaption is a lot of dealing with the individual characters and it’s not some globe spanning epic, drama. There is a lot of time spent showing how individual characters’ lives and thoughts are affected by the Overlords arrival. Kind of like two parallel things happening at once, there was dealing with this epic global phenomenon but also dealing with the smaller more intimate and personal story lines with Ricky’s character and the death of religion
SF: Being based off of a classic novel did you in anyway reference it’s pacing for creating this or go strictly off the script and creative team behind the series?
CC: Well I did have a few musical thematic elements that were longer in scope and spanned the whole six hour story. So there were some melodic elements that were introduced at the very beginning and then some that were slowly revealed. At the end of the story the musical themes were realized in full and had been hinted at with little bits and pieces. I did try to have some large triangle that was the shape of the entire show on a timeline that was ever increasing and ever growing, so some of those musical themes were only fully revealed at the end of the story. Yet they provided some fuel for musical framework earlier in the story before they were completely revealed.
SF: With the mini-series being very clearly segmented into three parts did you separate the score in the same way? If so what was your motivation for each of the segments?
CC: I did. The first of the three parts there was a lot more of impending doom as the Overlords arrive and some almost action movie style stuff as humanity is scrambling to come to grips. The second was more about the religious themes and the crumbling of organized religion. The third night was really about Milo’s journey to Karellen’s home world and his initiation into the secrets of the cosmos. There was definitely a different approach for each of the three nights while still using the same melodic ideas that spanned all three nights, so they had some common ground.
SF: What did the producers want to feel from your work and do you feel that evolved as the score came together?
CC: They definitely wanted me not to do “epic alien invasion music” all the time because their version of the story focused on the individual characters and how they were affected by this momentous shift in history. Obviously there were moments of epic fear and splendor but they also wanted to make sure I didn’t gloss over the more personal elements of the story line. I was glad at that because it wasn’t six hours of epic mayhem. That would have been too much.
SF: Did anything you bring to the table surprise the producers?
CC: There were a few epic moments in the first couple of nights when the Overlord spaceship first appears that I thought would be one-off moments. At the producers request we did end up revisiting some of those musical ideas and other spots in the story that I wouldn’t have used them there for. They would say, “Hey let’s bring back some elements of the ship landing in this part of the story.” They also had some interesting insights on how to reinterpret some of the musical ideas in completely different contexts. In the fake hotel room scenes where Ricky’s character is seeing his deceased wife, there were a lot of musical elements in those scenes that at the producers suggestions were also used in the scenes with his real wife. So there was a lot of good directions from them once they heard a few cues.
SF: You’ve worked quite a bit on both film and television now. Which would you say is your preferred media to bring to life with your music?
CC: It’s usually whichever one I’m working on at the moment. I love the luxury of working on film where you have more time to develop ideas in terms of production schedule. There is something great that happens when working in television where you can slowly develop musical ideas and have them revealed later in the story line. In Childhood’s End case which was six hours, that’s the equivalent of three movies worth. When working on film you have to make your point and then it’s done. With television I appreciate the opportunity to develop things over a longer timeline. I switch back and forth. I could never pick just over the other.
SF: Having worked on both science fiction and horror, which do you prefer and do you tackle the two types of projects the same way or differently?
CC: I’m much more of a sci-fi buff then a horror buff but as a sound sculptor and sound designer, a lot of the types of things I create in the studio are suited more for horror. In other words, I’m good with scary, dark sounds. I’ve had a lot of great opportunities in the horror genre that work well with my background in sound design, although my reading and film buff background is much more well versed in the sci-fi genre. But in the sci-fi genre it can be more musically challenging because you can’t just rely on shock and awe in the same way you can with horror. I kind of prefer to read and watch sci-fi but my natural abilities at sound design and sound creation are more suited to horror. I could never walk away from either genre though. I have my strengths in both areas. Although I think sci-fi is generally more challenging to find the right approach, for me at least.
SF: Syfy is clearly returning to the genre that made it a great network in the first place. Do you feel that your success with ‘Childhood’s End’ will bring you back to working with them in the future?
CC: I would love that. Syfy has really been raising the level of quality, time, effort, and money they have been putting behind their projects lately. I would love to continue working on projects for the network because they are really making an investment in time and energy to be a purveyor of quality sci-fi and they really have a big head start. It’s very smart on their part to capitalize on their position in the market place. I certainly hope there are more opportunities for me to work with them because they are really stepping up to the plate.
SF: Can you share with us what you’re currently working on and what you’ve got lined up to score next?
CC: Wayward Pines will be coming back for another run. I don’t know how many episodes yet, but the story in the first series ended with a big cliff hanger and a hook that suggested how the story might continue and that will probably be starting up in a couple of months. I’ll be returning for that. I’ll also be working on a series for Chad Hodge, one of the creators of Wayward Pines, he’s got another series coming this summer on TNT. They are actually beginning production momentarily and I’m looking forward to that as well.
SF: Is there anything that you’d like to share with our readers?
CC: I have to say the past few years have been fantastic for science fiction both film and television. I am pleased and a little surprised at the level of mainstream acceptance of science fiction movies and technology along with the quality. From projects like Edge of Tomorrow which I thought was really interesting and great adaption of a weird concept to one of my favorite movies from the past few years District 9. I never would have expected in the dark years of the 80s in science fiction that we would see such fantastic story and film adaption. It’s like living in the new golden age of sci-fi and I couldn’t be happier.