Dan Romer Q&A: ‘Beasts of No Nation’ composer
"We kind of wanted to make the score sonically fairly ambiguous," says composer Dan Romer about his work on "Beasts of No Nation." Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, the film tells the story of Agu (Abraham Attah), a young boy who becomes a child soldier fighting a civil war in an unnamed African country. In our exclusive video interview, Romer explains, "We didn't want to hammer you over the head with emotions that we wanted you to feel. We wanted to, as much as we could, let the action and the storytelling take over."
He adds, "We tried out moments that were very big and emotional, and it seemed a little dishonest to try and push that. So we wanted to create a score that was emotionally ambiguous and sonically ambiguous, where all of our sounds are not from the instruments you'd expect to be making those sounds." This involved the use of several strange, non-musical devices throughout the score, such as submarine sonars substituting for bells.
Despite its grim and violent subject matter, the film has a poetic nature that extends to its musical composition. "I had a very difficult time," Romer admits. "I cried pretty much every day while scoring the film. There's always a moment that I would be working on music and I would just lose it and kind of break down."
One moment in particular — when Agu realizes that his best friend, Strika (Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye), has died — never failed to move Romer to tears, even during our interview. When it came to scoring that powerful moment, he says, "That piece of music is set up early in the film," during a previous scene in which Strika is comforting Agu. "You don't hear that music again until Agu finds out that he's dead, and he's been carrying him. That piece of music is signifying care that the boys have for each other, and so when you come back, I think it reminds you of that scene when it originally happened, when that boy was comforting Agu. It's very difficult to think about now."
Romer last received Oscar buzz for the film "Beasts of the Southern Wild" (2012), for which he won the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award. Check out our full interview below to learn more about his work on "Beasts of No Nation."