In honor of the horror/thriller 1BR premiering at the Fantasia Film Festival recently, below is an exclusive interview with the film’s director, David Marmor and composer, Ronen Landa. They discuss everything from why David decided to make the movie to which scene was hardest to score.
Just to start off with some backstory, what made you decide to make this film? Was it something that had been in the works for a long time?
David Marmor: I had the seed of the idea when I first moved to LA in my early 20s. I was living in this tiny apartment in a big building, just feet away from all these people, and I didn’t know any of them. I just felt so isolated, lost in this huge, anonymous city, and longed for some sense of community. The journey from that feeling to the completed movie was very long and meandering and took years. It’s still kind of hard to believe it’s finally done!
Horror film scores are obviously very important because they tell the audience when something bad is about to happen or when to be scared. More so than films in other genres. How did you decide how “involved” you wanted the score to be for 1BR?
David Marmor: I tend to be pretty minimalist in my use of score, but in the case of 1BR I knew the score would be a major presence. It’s a deeply subjective movie, and I felt music would be a very important part of bringing us into Sarah’s world.
We were lucky enough to have Ronen involved quite early in the post-production process, sending me a huge trove of temporary music to draw from, and talking through the movie with me. So by the time he did start writing, we had a pretty good blueprint. He added a few cues where I’d left things dry, and we pared back or changed our approach in a number of places as we went, but the fact that we’d already been collaborating through the edit really helped focus the scoring process.
Did you have a clear vision of what you wanted the score to sound like before Ronen began? Or did you figure it out after the film was already shot?
David Marmor: When I was working on the script, I had the idea of music that was overtly sweet and melodic, but with something that would feel “off” about it. But that was about as far as I thought about music at that point. During writing and shooting, I actually try to think about music as little as possible. Things change so much between page and screen, and I always want to give the movie as much freedom as possible to be what it wants to be.
Once we started editing, the feel of the music began to coalesce in my mind. I knew it would be a difficult score, walking a fine line between traditional scares and more psychological horror. It would also need some very delicate moment of drama, and I still wanted that sense of off-kilter sweetness.
At that point, we were starting to look for composers, and for me there was never really another choice. Ronen has this incredible range. His horror scores are of course masterful in heightening the suspense and punctuating scares, but what’s so unique about them is the surprising choices he makes to bring out emotion in unexpected ways. Interestingly, though, it was his non-film music where I found that intangible feel I was looking for. He has all these beautiful, strange pieces that sound very sweet but somehow feel uneasy too. Hearing those, I knew we had to try to bring him onto the project.
What scene do you think was elevated most because of Ronen’s score?
David Marmor: That’s a very hard question! One of the great things about this score is that it works as a whole to give the movie a continuity and coherence of tone, which is so important in a movie like this one that has such an abrupt and massive tone shift in it. But if I had to choose a single scene, I’d point to this moment when (not to give too much away) something very bad is happening to Sarah. The first half of the scene is scored relatively traditionally, emphasizing the horror of it. But there’s a moment where Sarah is forced to make a tiny decision that resonates through the rest of the movie. It’s a subtle beat that could easily get lost, but Ronen’s music has this beautiful shift there, somehow gracefully changing tone and bringing us with Sarah as she makes this fateful choice.
We asked Ronen this too, but what would you say is the #1 most important thing the score should accomplish?
David Marmor: From my perspective, the most important thing the score should accomplish is to help us feel Sarah’s inner journey. Because of the nature of the story, she has very few chances to express herself, verbally or even non-verbally. So at many points in the movie, the score is the only tool we have to allow the audience a window into her psychological and emotional state. Of all the many, many things I love about Ronen’s score, I think my favorite is just how perfectly he brings us into Sarah’s mind.
Ronen, did you have an inspirations for the 1BR score?
Ronen Landa: I found Sarah’s experience in the film to be very relatable— the apprehension and excitement of moving to a new city to chase your dreams, trying to meet new people and trying to figure out whom you can trust. The score is an extension of Sarah’s frame of mind and I always drew inspiration from her character and David’s visual storytelling.
The musical language itself was inspired by the idea of a seemingly mundane apartment complex becoming something very different. The score is peppered with sonic motifs that I created by reinventing mundane musical ideas— a short phrase or a single note that I turned inside out in the studio.
What would you say the #1 most important thing the score should accomplish is?
Ronen Landa: It’s an interesting question because the specific function of the music can change from scene to scene; I might be trying to accentuate a scare, propel a montage or provide a window into a character’s state of mind. The common thread, in my mind, is that the score should help connect the audience emotionally to the story and the characters— if people are going to feel thrilled or frightened or sad they first have to care about what they are seeing, and great music is the secret sauce.
What was the process like for this film? Did you work alongside David and the producers to create the score?
Ronen Landa: David and I began exploring musical ideas as he was editing the film — listening to scores and trying different ideas out with the film as it took shape. Those experiments helped us establish a framework for our musical choices and also for our collaborative process.
When I started composing original music I would create demos that David and I could review together in the studio. David generally trusted me with the musical palette and the thematic material but we would often collaborate to dial-in the right intensity or to get certain timings just right.
I then recorded an amazing group of musicians to bring the score to life. These players are truly world class and brought so much humanity and passion to the score! It’s such a privilege to be able to work with instrumentalists of that caliber.
Did you have a scene in this film that was particularly hard to score? If so, what made it difficult and how did you overcome it?
Ronen Landa: David and I had a very organic collaboration throughout and I think we bonded as artists in the process, so even through any revisions and changes it never felt difficult on that level.
Because of its sheer length (nearly nine minutes) and importance, the film’s finale was definitely something of a marathon in and of itself. There were quite a few narrative beats that I had to successfully thread together with a single musical cue and a whole lot of action to hit. I was constantly gut-checking myself: what is the right intensity for this key moment compared to the last one? what is Sarah feeling here? There was also some important sound design that I had to make sure not to overwhelm with score. David and I, along with the musicians and everyone on my team who helped with the score, we all worked especially hard to make sure the cue would land perfectly for audiences— in the end I think we nailed it!