Interview with composer Sam Benjafield
From each Dark Temple Motion Pictures production to another, we've created a sort of 'film family', from the many returning actors, to our frequently used cinematographer Michael Lloyd... Another frequent collaborator who lends so much to our particular style and brand of indie horror, is composer Sam Benjafield.
He's composed the scores for our films Escape From Cannibal Farm, The House of Violent Desire, The Barge People and our upcoming 70s-set Grindhouse-style revenge thriller Death Ranch, along with 2 early shorts, our first micro-budget feature Labyrinthia and provided extra music for the climactic final shootout of Winterskin.
Charlie Steeds: Hey Sam! Let's start by describing your style as a composer. What makes it a Sam Benjafield score?
Sam Benjafield: I want to get the Director's dream achieved first, then I can go about twisting and slightly re-working it to my personal taste. The hope is that I can provide what they want (and hopefully more) as well as signing off on a project knowing that my own sonic identity is branded into the music and is therefore undoubtedly my own work and not just another piece of library music. The comments I get regarding my work is that it's usually described as 'out there', 'ethereal', 'adrenaline fuelled', 'fresh', 'atmospheric' etc... which is rather nice eh!? CS: 'Adrenaline fuelled' is a good description for a lot of your music. I would say that, more than any other composer I've worked with, you're really able to deliver on action scenes, and epic emotional scenes. Your music elevates the big scenes, where other soundtracks/composers can drag a big scene down... Something that's been tricky for me, finding composers over the years, is I do a lot of action scenes, and the speed of the visuals is hard to match with an equally intense soundtrack... but you've pulled it off many times!
SB: Generally speaking I like to add a little more enhancement than the average scoring soldier. For example when it's a piece for an action scene, the aim of the game is high adrenaline levels. If it's a tension scene for a horror, I want the music to genuninely make a listener feel like the last thing they would want to do is listen to it alone in the dark.
CS: Let’s talk about possibly my favourite score you've done for me, The Barge People. As a whole, you just totally nailed what I wanted.
SB: The Barge People was a particularly interesting project for me to work on, as it really got me working more along the lines of classic horror music from the 70s and 80s - with a modern-ish flavour.
CS: At the start of each project I send you a big list of tracks from other movie soundtracks which I ask you to draw inspiration from. In this case it was from old VHS-era horror flicks like Scalps and The Boogeyman, along with stuff like Creepshow 2 and The Hills Have Eyes.
SB: There were a lot of iconic horror examples to emulate, including the Carrie theme.
CS: One of my favourite movie soundtracks, by Italian composer Pino Donaggio...
SB: The reason I mention this piece in particular is because when it came to writing that one all I could think of when I focused solely on the chord progression in the first half of the track was 'Zadok the Priest'. If you think I'm talking bollocks, have a listen to the first half of the Carrie theme, then listen to Zadok (the whole section loaded with strings before any choirs appear) and see how similar the chords are. As a result I kept coming up with regal and triumphant almost imperialistic coronation piece sounding ideas - which was totally counter productive, but provided me with a good laugh.
CS: So aside from wasting time doing that, what was your process when creating the music?
SB: When it comes to a strict(ish) temp score brief (with similar but very different sounding tracks - such as this one) I will usually treat it as such, and will create corresponding sessions. For example, if there are 10 tracks in the temp score I will number them 1-10 and create 10 sessions numbered correspondingly 1-10, then work on each one indivdually. When a draft of each is in place, I will normally go through each one, adding elements and sounds from the others to help the score blend together and sound more like a fluid score.
CS: Also, since The House of Violent Desire, you've composed the entire score without seeing the movie. You're just going off these breakdowns and examples I give you, along with descriptions of scenes and their runtime. Then I'll edit the scenes to fit your score. We almost always end up with a fair bit of music that isn't used, tracks that don't make it to the film. And sometimes a track that was intended to be one thing, perhaps the opening titles music, ends up being used for something else entirely, which is interesting! What film composers and soundtracks inspire you?
SB: I believe composers should leave no stone un-turned and there's no reason to stop hunting out new material to inspire you. This can be totally unrelated to audio and music, which I find provides a certain freedom when it comes to relaxing the mind and allowing clarity of thought. But! When it comes to the question of inspiration from composers and soundtracks, I find that half the time those two elements come into play a lot less than you or I might think when it comes to inspiration. If, for example, you asked me what gave me the inspiration and ideas for a certain track some of the time a large majority of the sonic influences would not come from anything to do with film music. Let's take the dancer segment from Erotic Green...
CS: A 25 minute short film of mine, the 2nd score you did for me I think.
SB: ...The musical and atmospheric influences from that are: Bjork/Deftones/This Will Destroy You. However in The House of Violent Desire score, 'Cordetta's Theme' is a mix of a few different things from the film score world. I can't remember what the original temp score track was, but I remember using influences from 'Pagan Poetry' by Bjork and 'Bathing Beauty' by David Arnold from the Die Another Day soundtrack amongst others.
CS: That's news to me! I think the example track I sent you was from the Stephen King Mini-series Rose Red. I can't remember how much 'Cordetta's Theme' got used in the film, but the 'The Manor Theme' (above) unexpectedly became the main theme for the film. That's one of my favourite tracks you've composed for me, absolutely stunning and with beautiful vocals by actress Esme Sears, who plays Cordetta in the fim. Do you have a favourite soundtrack you’ve done for me?
SB: Tricky question! I love elements from different ones but if I had to go for my favourite as a whole combined collection, it would undoubtedly be... Labyrinthia. That whole score was definitely the hardest single project I've ever worked on in my life.
CS: Me too!
SB: But I'm extremely proud of the result - especially seeing as it was my first feature length soundtrack. In hindsight, I think that huge pressure I put on myself to make the first one sound incredible was what made the end result something I will always be proud of. I had the luxury and pleasure of being able to score everything to the cut of the film, which meant I could customise every single element, little nuance and section process around the subtleties of each scene and every action. The attention to detail in terms of timing was absolute, and the methodology and techniques I taught myself whilst working on it helped me a lot and still do! I still look back at it today and think 'wow, how the fuck did I manage to do that while studying and working at uni, working nights as a freelance photographer, working on other projects and somehow managing to keep a social life all at the same time?'.
CS: Yeah exactly, we were younger... I don't know how any of us did it. Its a brilliant soundtrack, the final track, where the tunnels burn, really blew my mind when I first heard it, totally and utterly epic. Is there a specific track you think is your finest, from my films?
SB: Honestly, I don't think I can pick one! That being said though, I can name a few from different scores I am incredibly proud of. 'Fate' from Labyrinthia - I managed to get an organist and a church to get the organ parts played and recorded for this one and worked incredibly hard on it. It was incredibly rewarding to hear the fully finished version (listen in the clip below).
SB: 'The Hansens' and 'Kill' from Escape From Cannibal Farm too. I can't begin to tell you how many
hours, days, months, aeons I spent fine tuning the writing on 'The Hansens', because I honestly have no idea. I probably have some facial ageing becuase of it.
CS: I'm sure that making these films is why some of my hair has turned white...
SB: 'Kill' is the complete opposite - essentially it's the adrenaline-fulled musical/audio equivalent of an image of 'nightmarish terror incarnate is sprinting towards you, and there is nothing you can do about it'. Fight or flight sonic assault to the primal senses. Designed to be listened to at high volume!
CS: I have to agree that the climax of Labyrinthia, that you mentioned, is one of your best pieces. I also love The Manor theme from The House of Violent Desire, along with the end finale piece, pretty epic. And from The Barge People, the track above, 'Abandoned', sums up the whole tone of the movie for me. Well thanks Sam, let's end by taking a listen 'Kill' from Cannibal Farm... at high volume!
You can find more of Sam's work via the links below: 2019 Showreel: https://youtu.be/x-X_I-3WubM Temp Portfolio Site: sambenjafieldcomposer.my-free.website Composer Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/sambenjafieldcomposer/sets
Photo of Sam Benjafield By Ed Marsh