For composer Marcelo Zarvos, working on “Dark Waters” with Todd Haynes was “the highlight of my career.” He describes the director as “an incredible artist” who “is absolutely unafraid of music, and very aware of the potential and power of music.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Zarvos above.
The Focus Features release is a docudrama about a corporate defense attorney (Mark Ruffalo) who uncovers a long history of environmental pollution by the DuPont Chemical Corporation. In its style, the film shares a lot in common with investigative dramas like “All the President’s Men” (1976), “The China Syndrome” (1979) and “The Insider” (1999). That’s a change of pace for Haynes, who’s best known for his romantic period dramas “Far From Heaven” (2002) and “Carol” (2015). So the filmmaker “was looking for something quite different” from Zarvos’s score too.
What he wanted was “an electronic score” featuring elements of piano and strings as well. Haynes pushed the composer to try risky things, including a nine minute piano solo that played over a climactic scene that would usually call for a much grander cue. As Ruffalo’s attorney is explaining DuPont’s decades-long history of poisoning the public, it’s “the equivalent of somebody speaking very quietly to you, and you have to pay attention to what they’re saying. The score is working in that way. By withholding sound, you have to lean forward as a viewer and your ears have to really concentrate on what’s going on.”
The composer often worked on the music with the director one-on-one, particularly on that cue. Because Haynes wanted it to have “a very improvisatory feel,” Zarvos “did many different takes,” stretching out certain elements when needed. “After a while the piece was completely memorized so I would just be trying things out.” He equates it to “being an actor with a director directing your performance.”
Zarvos is best known for his work on films including “The Door in the Floor” (2004), “Fences” (2016) and “Wonder” (2017). He’s also got an extensive television resume, including credits on “Ray Donovan” and “The Affair.” He earned Emmy nominations for the TV movies “Taking Chance” (2009) and “You Don’t Know Jack” (2010).
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