Interview with Resident Evil: Apocalypse Composer Jeff Danna

Composer Jeff Danna

Jeff Danna was born in Burlington, Ontario, Canada. He began training musically on the piano and the guitar at age 8. His professional career in performance and composition began in his early teens. A hand injury ended his intended performance career. After composing for various TV series, he then turned his attention to composing films and moved to Los Angeles.

He recently proved his diversity by scoring the critically acclaimed epic film, “The Gospel of John.”

Danna also scored “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” the acclaimed biopic of legendary Paramount producer Robert Evans. He went on to Miramax film “O” directed by Tim Blake Nelson and starring Josh Hartnett and Julia Stiles. The score gained both critical acclaim and international attention.

Jeff re-teamed with “O” director Tim Blake Nelson for the Lions Gate’s World War II piece “The Grey Zone” and co-composed the Bui brothers film, “Green Dragon,” with his brother, Mychael Danna. He also worked with Roger Spottiswoode on the “The Matthew Shepard Story” and “Spinning Boris.” Other film score credits include “The Boondock Saints” and Mira Nair’s “My Own Country.”

Danna is also an independent recording artist. His collaborative Orchestral Celtic albums with brother Mychael have enjoyed worldwide success.

Jeff Danna’s score for Resident Evil: Apocalypse is his first for the science fiction genre.

M&C: You’ve said in the past that you wanted to do an action film score and that you had an interest in alternate reality and fairy tales. Was Resident Evil, in a way, your dream project?

JD: Well, I (don’t) know if it was my “dream project,” but it was definitely heading towards the genre…that sort of musical world that I like which is something where there’s not as many boundaries and restrictions on the music, which is why I sorta like fantasy or sci-fi or that kinda thing, because, really there’s a lot less rules…or no rules…as to where the music can go, and that’s always exciting for the composer.

M&C: How did you get involved in the Resident Evil Project?

Milla Jovovich Stars in Resident Evil: Apocalypse

JD: Well, there was somebody who was one of the producers on the film… I’d done another film with him, and so when they began to talk about different people to bring in on the interview process, he mentioned me, because, ya know, we’d done this thing together, and that was the beginning of it…and then that started the selection process, and then, after a while, eventually…fortunately…for me…they weeded it down to me.

M&C: To help you get on board the Resident Evil: Apocalypse project, you wrote some music for the producers to show them your ideas for the film. Did any of that music make it to the final version of the score?

JD: Yeah…some of the ideas did, yes…nothing verbatim, so to speak, but, there was some of the ideas…the “Nemesis” theme in particular…the genesis of that idea was in the first stuff I wrote for them to show them the kind of thing I was talking about, and that idea made it into the developed form into the film.

M&C: Your score for Resident Evil: Apocalypse is a large step away from your other scores. Was your approach to Resident Evil different from your past projects? What kind of research did you do?

JD: Well, the approach isn’t…in one way, the approach is the same because you’re still scoring a film, and there’s a lot of pre-steps and parameters in film scoring that apply to any film you’re working on. Musically, obviously it was sound than I’d done before, so I was going and renting some of the classics…ya know…”The Omen,”  “Alien,” and that kinda thing, and just getting myself more familiar with that sound, and just messing around here on my own, sorta getting warmed up to do something different.

M&C: Creating the spooky sound!

JD: Exactly!

M&C: Was it a fun process, trying to come up with new ideas of making the score sound scary?

JD: Yeah, I mean…any time you’re doing something that’s new, it’s a bit of a double-edge sword…it’s exciting and it’s fresh, but it’s also, ya know…hehe…a headache, because it’s new territory. It’s a lot more work, so it’s a double-edge sword, but, yea…it was a good experience to be ploughing fresh ground, so to speak.

M&C: How much freedom were you given to create the score? Were there any restrictions? Were there any major ideas you had which you had to abort?

JD: Ahhh…well…going from the beginning…when you’re working on a film, the composer’s not working in a vacuum, he’s working for other people, so there was a creative team of 4 or 5 other people that I was working with on this film, and everything was sorta filtered through them…that’s just the way the film process works. The director, the music supervisor, the producers, and the editors…that kind of thing…everybody’s involved, but, having said that…they were quite open to hearing new things, which is one of the things that attracted me to the project in the first place, because they weren’t sure, when they hired me, what exactly the music should be, and they were saying to me “Well…what do you think?” and “Why don’t you try some things?” which is nice…I mean, it might sound strange, but that’s actually not they way it usually works.

The film has a dark brooding atmosphere

Usually, before the composer is even hired, the filmmakers have decided what the score’s going to sound like, and they go about finding someone who’s music that has already been written for the films sounds like what they’ve decided the music for the film is gonna sound like, and what was refreshing about these guys was that they were like, “Ya know…we’re not positive what it should sound like.” Now, they did go so far as to say, “We like the first score for the first film, but we don’t want this to sound like that, because we want this to be much bigger and to have a more epic feeling, because now the virus has broken out across the city as opposed to being just in the hive, like it was film one.”

M&C: Right…you’ve got that apocalypse thing going.

JD: Exactly! So we want to add an orchestral element to this and give it some of an epic feeling, but, besides that, they were quite open, so there (was) a fair bit of freedom, all things considered. Now, as far as aborting ideas…well, that happens all the time when you’re writing, ya know…you start things, or you submit ideas, and they say, “Ahhh…no. Try something else.” It happens, it’s part of it. This one wasn’t particularly bad for that, but it happens…it happens all the time…it’s part of the gig.

M&C: You joined the Resident Evil: Apocalypse project quite early on. How different was the evolutionary process of this score compared with your past work?

JD: Well, it was longer in post than any time I had done before is true. I didn’t come on any earlier than I normally come on, but it was just…I was just on it longer…so, I was on it, like, 5 or 6 months…which is a fairly long go for the music, but the film had a lot of visual effects…there was a lot of cutting to do with the edit, and it just kept going on and on, so I stayed on with it.

M&C: Did you have to make a lot of changes to the score as the film itself changed during postproduction?

JD: Oh yes, yes…that’s part of the gig too…yep…I would be writing stuff and they would be changing the reels and moving scenes around, and I would have to re-conform the music…it’s just part of the whole thing.

M&C: Resident Evil: Apocalypse is a dark film. How did you reflect that nature in your score? Was it difficult to balance the horror and action aspects of the film?

The film jumps from creepy scenes to all out action

JD: The initial concept of the score was for it to be an electronic/orchestral mix, and when it came to the action versus scary part of it, whatever scene I was working on would dictate what that ratio would be. If it was a fight sequence, you would have more action than horror. 

If it’s where Valentine is sneaking through the school looking for Angie, then it’s gonna have a lot more creepiness to it, so the picture would always dictate which of those things I was emphasising, and then I would use both the elements, the electronic and orchestral elements, to do both those sounds, so, in other words, there were times when I used the electronic stuff to do the action and there were times when I used the electronic stuff to do the horror, and same thing with the orchestra, so I was able to kinda mix it up a bit, because there were those two main elements in the score.

M&C: And that enabled you to reflect the darkness that they were looking for here?

JD: Well…exactly…well, most of the film is dark. Of course…it’s Resident Evil…so, obviously, the score is very darkly tinged, and how I would go about getting that darkness…I guess, is what I’m saying here…would vary…sometimes I would use the orchestra and sometimes I would use some of these electronic things…sounds, and sometimes I would use a combination of the two. When I was creating the electronic sounds for the film, one of the things that I did was to record a lot of different acoustic sounds, unusual instruments, or noises, and then electronically manipulate them to make them bizarre, or weird, or scary, and so a lot of the electronic stuff in the film has an acoustic basis.

M&C: In your score, you successfully manage to merge electronic and orchestral elements. How difficult was it to achieve the right balance?

JD: Ummmm, well…it took a little bit to make them work together…they’re not the most comfortable bedfellows…but, it’s something you hear more in film scoring now…these two sounds coming together…and sometimes it just takes a little bit of time working out how the electronics will fit in with the orchestra. Sometimes, you’re changing the electronic element of it after the orchestra has done their thing, because then you have a better idea exactly of what the orchestra sounds like than when you’re just in the “mock up” mode, where you’re just using samples to mock up the orchestra.

M&C: Could you discuss a little about how you developed the theme for the character “Nemesis?”

JD: Well, I just sorta looked at his motions, his physical presence…I mean, he was big and lumbering, and he didn’t move particularly fast, obviously, but he was unstoppable…that made me think of this kind of circular pattern…this relentless pattern…and that’s what you hear in the Nemesis theme in the film, just an unstoppable, fixed-note pattern that just kinda goes around and around with this very kind of disturbing electronic noise that kinda grinds away with it, like a big gear turning or something…that was how I approached him, so, initially, just from a visual point of view, I took the clues.

Afterlife the sequel is already planned, will Danna score that too?

M&C: What were the most unusual instruments you used for the Resident Evil: Apocalypse score?

JD: Well, when I was in that stage of having people come in to get sounds for the electronic part of the score, bringing in whatever they had that make an interesting sound, I had a guy from Cirque du Soleil come in and he a lot of strange African instruments, and just really bizarre instruments from all over the world, and some that he’d made, and we got some pretty interesting sounds out of that…his little catalogue…that stuff was pretty unique!

M&C: What did you think of the Resident Evil games?

JD: The first time I saw the game was when I was working on this film, and I got a copy sent over, and I had a lot of fun with it. I can see how with those games…it’s like a whole world in there…you can get completely drawn in. Generally, in my life, I don’t have a ton of time for video games…film scoring is a pretty a life-devouring occupation, time-wise…but yeah, I enjoyed that game…which was one of the few that I’ve actually had time to play!

M&C: Looking over your filmography, you can see you’ve had a wide variety of projects, and now, with Resident Evil: Apocalypse. you’ve explored the realm of science fiction. Are there any other film genres you would particularly like to work with?

JD: Yeah, I’m game for whatever is good and interesting. You know…the only genre that I haven’t spent any time in, and that I’m not that interested in, is a straight-up romantic comedy…just because, musically, it’s a pretty conservative approach, for the most part…now, if you’re talking about a black comedy or a Combe Brothers thing, that’s a whole other thing, and, musically, you can get very adventurous, and you see that in the work of guys like John Bryant, that kinda thing…but I’m pretty much game for everything else.

M&C: And, finally, do you have any new projects lined up for the future?

JD: Ahhh…well…there’s one I hope to sign on to, but I haven’t signed yet, so we probably shouldn’t mention it.

M&C: Well great, Jeff, thank you for your time!

JD: My pleasure! Thank you for having me!

Details on the score for Resident Evil: Apocalypse can be found here.

Thanks to Jeff Danna for his time.

Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.