Trent Reznor took an instinctual, unstudied approach to creating his first film score, and it paid off – surprising even him. So said the Nine Inch Nails frontman last night at a screening in Hollywood of The Social Network, for which the score he co-created with Atticus Ross is nominated for an Oscar – and has already won a Golden Globe.
Reznor told how he initially turned down the job offer from director David Fincher – because he was fatigued from touring and wasn’t at all sure he could pull it off. Mulling it over some time later, he called back to apologize – and Fincher told him the film had been shot and the offer still stood.
With Ross, his longtime collaborator and record producer, Reznor met with Fincher and viewed the first 40 minutes of the Aaron Sorkin-scripted saga about drive, ingenuity and betrayal during the creation of the world’s most far-reaching social media phenomenon. After seeing the footage, he and Ross “felt panicked,” said Reznor. “It didn’t seem clear to us what role music could play in that film, which involved a lot of people talking. I felt the need to watch every film I could think of and really listen to the music and study how it was done.” But the time involved would have diluted the way the footage he’d just seen was impacting his emotions. “So, instead, we decided to just get to work, pulling from an impressionistic, gut instinct.”
Added Ross, “I think taking that decision to just be ourselves was the best one we could have made.”
“We spent about a day thinking about what the film seemed to be about, which was this flawed character in pursuit of something that he thought would define him.” Three weeks later, they delivered 17 tracks to Fincher and his film editors, Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter, who were also on hand for the post-screening Q & A. “I told him this was completely flexible, to just give us his impressions and we could go from there,” said Reznor.
Fincher told them it was the best first draft score he had ever been given. His editors got to work laying the music into the movie, beginning with “Hand Covers Bruise,” the track that starts over the title sequence and follows actor Jesse Eisenberg as he rushes across the Harvard campus in an emotional maelstrom after he’s told off by his girlfriend in the opening scene.
“We were surprised by how much the music resonated,” said Baxter. “It really changed our perception of the movie. It became darker and heavier, with a different emotional weight.”
When the scored sequence was shown to the composing team, Reznor said, “There was a real moment of ‘wow.’ We didn’t even write the piece for that specific place in the film, but when we saw it, it explained to us where he (Fincher) was willing to go with the music. We left there very excited.”
“After that,” he added. “Our role become more like traditional scorers, where we studied sequences and tried to fit things in.” But most often, he said, after rewriting music to suit a sequence, they would return to their original first draft, finding that it was more effective.
Both the editing team, which is also Oscar nominated, and the scoring team are now working with Fincher on his current project, the American adaptation of the literary phenomenon The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
Editors Baxter and Wall said one of their more enjoyable tasks on Social Network was editing the showy, jazzily constructed scene of the crewing race shot during an actual regatta in Henley-on-Thames, England. Fincher was on location, while they were in L.A., receiving footage electronically, and mostly left to their own devices to shape it. “It was the least structured scene were were given, and the last one we cut. It was like a flourish for us – it was a lot of fun,” said Baxter.
The editors also talked about working with split screen in the many scenes involving the Winklevoss twins, played by a single actor, Armie Hammer. “It actually gave you more options, more to play with, because each shot is composed of several elements and you could choose among those performances,” said Wall.
The editors said that the cutting between the law offices, where Zuckerman is being sued and the story action that came earlier hewed closely to what was set in the structure of Sorkin’s script.
Reznor also confirmed that Fincher has discussed with him the possibility of doing a stage musical based on his movie Fight Club, and has asked Reznor and Ross to consider doing the music. "It would be the exact opposite of Spider-Man," Reznor said quickly, referring to the beleaguered Broadway production scored by Bono. "And we'd be writing the music from scratch." He added that the project is still in the earlier stages of consideration.
The screening was hosted by Below the Line magazine.
[Graphic courtesy The Daily Beast]