“Our first film together was ‘Prisoners,’ which was his first Hollywood film … The experience was a very good one, a very satisfying one creatively and personally, so we formed a bond,” said composer Johann Johannson about his relationship with director Denis Villeneuve, whom he’s worked with on three films: “Prisoners,” “Sicario” and now the sci-fi drama “Arrival,” which opens on November 11. Johannsson discussed the film and his creative process on Monday, October 24, at New York City’s Tavern on the Green.
“It became over the course of these three films a very satisfying and strong collaboration,” Johannsson added. While many films are already shot before a composer enters the process, “on all three films we started talking about the music well before we started shooting … when I received the [‘Arrival’] script we talked about the ideas, concepts and themes of the story.”
The film is about a linguist (Amy Adams) helping the US military communicate with alien visitors, and its themes greatly influenced Johannsson’s approach. “The film is very much about language and very much about communicating with a species for which we have no point of reference,” he explained, “so it was obvious to me that vocals had to feature prominently in the score.”
It’s not a traditional orchestral score. “It has motifs, but it’s more about texture,” he said. “I’ve done very melodic scores and very traditional scores as well, but this is something I’m getting more and more interested in doing.” He earned his first ever Oscar nomination for one such traditional score — “The Theory of Everything” in 2014 — and he was nominated again for “Sicario” in 2015.
So it looks like Johannsson may be on a roll with Oscar voters, and he and Villeneuve show no signs of slowing down. They’re working together again on next year’s long-awaited sequel “Blade Runner 2049.” He teased his upcoming music for that film, revealing that he “spent the summer recording mainly percussion … The main reasons is that I suspect there will be chases.” He may just be right about that.
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