Nathan Johnson

Don Jon

When it comes to creating a score for a specific film, the music normally needs to stay within a specific genre to reflect the film’s mood and reinforce its emotional core. You can expect an action film to have  a driving sound that keeps pace with the momentum on screen, a drama will be full of soaring strings, and a horror film will build the tension and accent the inevitable scares. But lately, certain scores have been breaking the rules and incorporating multiple musical genres into a single film, and doing so with surprisingly successful results. Don Jon and The Counselor are two films that may not seem like they have much in common, but the scores for each featured different musical genres and proved these unusual combinations actually can work.

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Don Jon

Editor’s Note: This review originally ran during our coverage of Sundance and reruns now as the film hits theaters near you. Don Jon (Joesph Gordon-Levitt) is — as his name suggests — a modern-day “Don Juan.” He’s a ladies man the girls just can’t seem to say no to. Every weekend Jon stands in the middle of the club with his buddies, scans the room, sets his sights on whichever girl is closest to “dime” status, dances up on her, makes out with her, escorts her into a taxi, and then, well, you can imagine what happens next. At the beginning of Don Jon, Jon tells us there are only a handful of things that matter to him: his body, his pad, his car, his family, his boys, and his girls. But there is one thing that trumps them all: his porn. Jon explains that it’s something “all guys do,” and while he likes the real thing (and certainly has no trouble getting it), he always enjoys his porn more. After a while of running through the same routine, Jon finds himself bored and longing for something more. That “something more” seems to come in the dime sized package of Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), a curvaceous blonde who fits all of Jon’s stereotypical requirements. Barbara is different, Barbara is special, Barbara is making Jon wait. Barbara wants a real relationship and Jon obliges because Barbara is the “most beautiful thing he has ever seen.” But after finally sealing the deal […]

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Nathan Johnson

Out today, Looper tells the story of mafia hit-man Joe (Joesph Gordon-Levitt) who spends his days offing victims, but there’s a twist here: these victims are sent to him from the future. And when he comes face-to-face with his future self (Bruce Willis), things really start to unravel. Part sci-fi, part action, part drama, Looper flows between these different genres just as the story flows between different time periods and it is Nathan Johnson’s score that helps guide us from one place to the next. I spoke with Johnson about creating his completely original score, full of found sounds he then manipulated into actual instrumentation – no easy feat! But one that is fully achieved and gives this original story an equally original sound and feel, creating a new world that does not completely take us away from where we are now, but hints at where we may be going.

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Aural Fixation - Large

Unlike most films, Looper starts off with only ambient noise – the sound of the wind and the rustling of leaves fill the space, but as we look upon a stone faced man wielding a gun these every day sounds we rarely notice take on a new feeling and become almost as foreboding as the use of sorrowful strings or rumbling percussion. A single shot breaks this near silence and with it, Nathan Johnson’s futuristic and industrial score comes in. Johnson has been no stranger to giving audiences peeks at his process for creating Looper’s score and there is little question why – it’s pretty damn cool. Rather than simply turning to a full-bodied orchestra to expand on the various characters’ emotions and set the frenetic pace of the film, Johnson took found sounds (a car door slamming shut, an industrial fan, the vibration of a door stopper) and used these sounds as his instruments while still infusing and pairing them with more standard instrumentation, creating a score that is both familiar and inventive. He even went so far as to build new instruments by combining normal instruments (a marxophone) with unique sounding elements (an appropriately selected gat gun) making the score feel off-putting, but still grounded in the fabric of the narrative.

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Looper

Rian Johnson is perhaps as lucky as they come in the game of modern filmmaking. He gets to live in public, with a strong presence on Twitter and Tumblr, connecting with fans via social media. But he’s also been able to make his latest film, Looper, under the radar for the most part. We’ve seen little in the way of set photos or  rumors throughout the production. It’s the sweet spot in the era in social media. And that lack of distraction can, in many cases, allow you to slowly roll things out in a creative way. It isn’t so much about controlling the information that ends up online, but being able to mold the pre-release material into a narrative all its own. Such is the case with this five-minute preview of the Looper score, courtesy of Rian’s brother Nathan, the film’s composer. He walks us through the process of gathering sounds and inspiration on the way toward creating a unique score for the Joseph Gordon Levitt, Bruce Willis-led time travel actioner. It’s a short but substantial peek behind the curtain.

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