Whether he’s composing the score for HBO’s The Leftovers or creating a new concept album, Max Richter’s music is spellbinding. His attraction to projects that have political dimensions is well known, so it’s no surprise that he was quick to get on board with John Madden and compose the score for the scorching thriller, Miss Sloane.
The film stars Jessica Chastain as a Washington lobbyist who takes on a formidable opponent, the gun lobby. Miss Sloane is tense and utterly thrilling from start to finish. Richter and I recently spoke about how he used both electronic music and an orchestra to voice various elements and help propel the film. In Ricter’s hands, the blend of electronica and traditional orchestra feel uniquely suited to help the audience unravel the fierce Miss Sloane.
Read our conversation about scoring Miss Sloane below:
AD: How did you get involved with scoring Miss Sloane?
Max Richter: I was contacted by the filmmakers. I read the film and it really spoke very strongly to me. A lot of the projects that I get involved with have political or social dimensions and this fit the bill in that way.
I thought the script was very smart and very relevant politically right now. Knowing John Madden’s previous work and of course Jessica’s, it was a very easy call.
AD: Once you’re on board, what do you start with as a composer?
MR: In the case of Miss Sloane, everything radiates from Jessica’s character, and she’s really a force of nature in this role. The large part of the narrative is to do with unpicking, unraveling aspects of her motivations and her trajectory through this material and this lobbying world.
I spent a bit of time trying to figure out a musical language which would allow a continual subtle variation, and something that could retain its identity throughout those transformations.
AD: When they came to you, did they know the music they were looking for?
MR: I’m quite lucky because people come to me specifically for what I do, rather than a generic film score. Film scoring is part of my world, but the majority of my world is making records or writing ballets or operas. I take on film projects that excite me and certainly Miss Sloane is one of those. There actually wasn’t a huge amount about the sort of approach we wanted.
AD: How did this differ from your other projects?
MR: The music exists on a lot of different levels. There’s a strong electronic element, and synthesized sounds. There’s also a lot of orchestral material. The electronic music is about propulsion, driving us through this dense and very twisty forest of information and it helps with the architecture of the film. The orchestral material connects with the emotional aspect of the story. There are some good reveals in the film and the orchestra helps us with those. The orchestra is also the voice of the crowd in the movie, it’s about government and power that comes from there. That minute-to-minute and second-to-second of Jessica is something the electronic domain looks at.
There are also deep bass tones that are drawn out, it starts the movie and comes back often, and it gives you that feeling of something going on the whole time.
AD: The music is such a key part to all the twists and turns we see, and has you on the edge of your seat.
AD: How long did this take for you to score?
MR: It was very quickly. I think we spent about four or five weeks on it. It was fast. In a way that’s nice because you get a nice workflow and things bounce back and forth quickly. John is very easy to work with and he’s smart about music. It was a very enjoyable process.
AD: What was it like for you as the composer to see it all come together?
MR: Enjoyable. It was a great moment because working on a film is a lot about hopes and dreams going into the process, and sometimes things get lost along the way. In the case of Miss Sloane, everything just came together beautifully. I think it is a very powerful piece of work.
AD: Talk about how you got into composer because you have this fantastic body of work.
MR: I started composing before I even knew what composing was. As a kid, I would have music going around my head. I had piano lessons, and went to music school. I got involved in electronic music later, and that was based in East London. I was lighting all the time and did work as a pianist working in concert music. All these things floated together.
I did a record every few years and people would license that material into movies, and from there, people asked me to write them. It was purely accidental. [laughs].
The first time anyone really paid attention was in Waltz with Bashir. The score you hear in that is quite an important element. It’s a straightforward animated piece of work and that was an amazing piece to work on.
AD: You’ve also done TV, most notably The Leftovers. What can you tell us about that?
MR: That’s an interesting one. The show is Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta’s baby and they are two of the smartest guys you could ever meet, not just in storytelling and writing, but also in music. The music aspect of that has been a pure joy. The more creative, the more experimental and the more interesting you are, the more they like it.
There’s a huge space in that show for the music to play a part in the emotional storytelling. It’s a wonderful project to work on, and we’re in the middle of the next season.
Miss Sloane is playing in LA and NY. It opens wide this Friday