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First-Time Feature Composer Ryan Amon Scores Neill Blomkamp's Sci-Fi Thriller 'Elysium'

Photo of Jacob Combs By Jacob Combs | Thompson on Hollywood August 5, 2013 at 6:29AM

The email was unexpected and short--a single sentence: "Is this you?"--with a YouTube link and a signature from a name Ryan Amon didn't recognize: Neill Blomkamp. "It's a little bit embarrassing," Amon says of his first reaction to the message: "I had to Google his name!" When he did so, of course, he found the up-and-coming South African-born director who had catapulted to international acclaim with his 2009 film "District 9."
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Ryan Amon, the first-time composer who scored Neill Blomkamp's "Elysium," at Abbey Road Studios in London during the film's recording session.
Costa Communications Ryan Amon, the first-time composer who scored Neill Blomkamp's "Elysium," at Abbey Road Studios in London during the film's recording session.

The email was unexpected and short--a single sentence: "Is this you?"--with a YouTube link and a signature from a name Ryan Amon didn't recognize: Neill Blomkamp.  "It's a little bit embarrassing," Amon says of his first reaction to the message: "I had to Google his name!"  When he did so, of course, he found the up-and-coming South African-born director who had catapulted to international acclaim with his 2009 film "District 9."  (Our "Elysium" review and roundup here.)

Amon was sure it was a joke. "I didn't have any experience in film scoring or any connections in that world," he says.  But it wasn't a prank, and on a Skype interview with the director soon after, Amon quickly realized Blomkamp hadn't reached out about just another commercial, the director was calling about "Elysium," his sci-fi actioner set in a 22nd century Earth of haves and have nots.

Matt Damon in "Elysium"
EW Matt Damon in "Elysium"

A classically-trained pianist who went to college for biology and art but dropped out to pursue a 2-year program at a St. Paul music school in composition and songwriting, Amon cut his teeth in Los Angeles as an assistant, ghostwriting for reality TV composers and learning to write music at hyper speed--something like 2-3 tracks a day.

Amon gravitated to trailer music, as he puts it, "to do something a little more epic and orchestral," later marrying and moving to Santa Cruz, Bolivia, where his wife--a Bolivian native--practices law.  He was in Santa Cruz when he received Blomkamp's email, complete with a YouTube link to a fan-made trailer featuring a percussive action piece Amon had composed but which never made it into a trailer.

What followed was a decidedly unusual scoring experience for a major Hollywood film, one based on mutual admiration and a healthy dose of trust.  As expected, the process was very secretive--at first, Amon wasn't even given a copy of the script--and the composer began writing without any footage, armed only with the premise of the film and some location stills.

This article is related to: Elysium, Neill Blomkamp, Neill Blomkamp, Matt Damon, Sound and Score


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.