Finneas O’Connell interview: ‘The Fallout’ composer

Grammy- and Oscar-winning songwriter and producer Finneas O’Connell has several titles to his name — and thanks to “The Fallout,” film composer is now one of them. “Being a first-timer on this was just trying a million different things,” he tells Gold Derby in a new webchat (watch the exclusive video interview above). “To just do a good job, I did twice as much composing as ended up in the movie.”

The feature film debut for writer/director Megan Park, “The Fallout” premiered at the 2021 South by Southwest Film Festival and was released on HBO Max on January 27 of this year. The coming-of-age drama follows high schooler Vada Cavell (Jenna Ortega) as she navigates the devastating, emotional fallout from a deadly shooting at her school and the ripple effect the latter has on her relationships with friends and family. In the wake of the fatal shooting, Vada forges friendships with Mia (Maddie Ziegler), a social media-famous dancer, and Quinton (Niles Fitch), whose brother was among the victims. After hiding in a bathroom stall together during the shooting, the three bond over their shared trauma in the aftermath thereof.

When asked what his initial idea for the score was upon reading the film’s script, O’Connell highlights that he was particularly impressed by how well Park had captured everything about Gen Z culture. “When I read the script, I was struck by how authentic the dialogue and the relationships of these high schoolers were,” he says. “To support that, the thing that was really important to me was not to dramatize, not to have music that was super heavy-handed, and I wanted to be sort of minimalistic and gentle in the approach of it.”

However, committing to minimalism does not come without its set of challenges, the composer underlines. “[It’s] kind of a blessing and a curse because — I’m very interested in minimalism, kind of in all forms, but especially in music — you always think, ‘Oh, well, that’s kind of easy,'” he explains. “But the reality of it is that you have to pay such close attention to every layer because there’s nothing disguising anything. When I make a song with drums, guitars, bass, synth[esizers], piano [and] tons of vocals… I could be making mistakes left and right [and] no one would ever hear it because it’s woven into this fabric. [But] in a score like this, there is oftentimes an instrument or two. So, I didn’t really feel like there was room for mistakes.”

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Building thereon, O’Connell divulges that the main focus for him became finding texture, which is how the tempo, melodic and harmonic materials are combined in a musical composition. “I wanted to find textures for it that didn’t feel sort of inorganic or hyperorganic,” he details. Accentuating that he wrote the score while watching footage from the film, he continues, “I didn’t want to use a violin and a piano, but I [also] didn’t want to use trance synthesizer [or something in that vein]. I wanted it to feel like it would breathe as a person. So, I settled on this kind of wind approach, these synth parts that kind of breathe and wash in like a tide on a beach. And I felt like that was really effective.”

In our chat, O’Connell also reflects on getting to write the theme song for “No Time to Die” (2021) and winning the Best Original Song Oscar for it earlier this year alongside his sister and frequent collaborator Billie Eilish. “We wanted to do a James Bond theme song so bad,” exclaims the Oscar champ. “It’s crazy that we won an Oscar. I see that [statuette] in my living room and I am like, ‘No way!’ It’s really crazy, but I’m very honored… [In this] case, it was such an immense collaboration with so many people… [But] I wouldn’t have written that song if I hadn’t read the first 20 pages of the script, which is all we were given access to. So, I felt like so many people won because we won.”

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UPLOADED Jun 17, 2022 2:51 pm