Awards Daily’s Megan McLachlan talks with Leaving Neverland composer Chad Hobson about the process of creating the stunning score and why director Dan Reed’s filmmaking is so effective: ‘He’s very clear, but open at the same time, for you to really make the choice.’
One of the most exciting things a musician can experience is fan-demand for the release of music. Not so for Chad Hobson, music composer for HBO’s Leaving Neverland, the documentary that follows the years of alleged child sexual abuse at the hands of Michael Jackson. Fans urged Hobson to release the music from the Leaving Neverland soundtrack, but he was reluctant to do so.
“Do you want to be the guy that brought down Michael Jackson?” says Hobson. “But I was completely bombarded by people who wanted the music. I don’t think anyone realized how it would hit the #MeToo movement; I didn’t realize how empowering this would be for victims. When I realized that, I knew I had to put [the music] out. Just because you’re famous doesn’t mean you’re above it.”
For the soundtrack to be memorable in one of the most-talked-about documentaries of the year is a true testament to the music adding to the narrative. It sounds like something out of a fairy tale.
“I’ve truly been overwhelmed by the reaction of the music. I really didn’t think that would register in people’s minds, other than the duty of the music to tell the story. It was a difficult process. My father died the weekend that I started work on it. I was in this really strange situation. And I felt the healing of that was to throw myself into what I loved most, which was music.”
The Composing Process
Before he even started working on the score, Hobson was called in by director and frequent collaborator Dan Reed to see a top-secret edit the film; the composer was left awestruck by what he viewed.
“They showed me the first twenty minutes, I didn’t utter a word. My jaw hit the floor. I thought, ‘All right. Okay. Here we go.’ Until I’d seen the rest of the edit, I thought, ‘How is this going to be four hours?’ Then you watch the first two hours, and you’re dying to find out what the next part is.”
After seeing the cut, Hobson set out to depict the idea through music of what it would be like to meet the King of Pop.
“You needed to feel the excitement and incredible coincidence of meeting this enormous star, and the magic and the joy—before we could get into the rest of the story, you really needed to feel that amazement. Michael Jackson is standing right in front of me. The magical element of the orchestra was all about the complete craziness of meeting this guy who was at the height of his powers.”
Hobson describes the process of composing the music as “properly bonkers,” especially when the movie grew from a two-hour film into a two-night, four-hour HBO event. He wrote, recorded, and delivered 132 cues in just two months, often having to work with orchestrations in different time zones from LA to Ecuador.
‘I’m a Happy-Go-Lucky Guy!’
This isn’t the first time Hobson and Reed worked together, as Hobson is often Reed’s go-to guy for music composition, on films with dark, tragic themes.
“I’ve worked with Dan many times and his filmmaking is always on the edge, with very difficult subject matter. Totally brilliant, and I love the challenge of trying to elevate myself to the standards that he has. He’s way up there, multi-award winning and all that and a great guy.”
Topics of Reed’s documentaries have included children dying of cancer and the Charlie Hebdo attacks, among others. But Hobson describes himself as a “happy-go-lucky” guy despite working on a lot of somber projects.
“I am a bit of a crazy person,” says Hobson. “I like difficulty. All of these despicable acts [on film] have their challenges of how to engage people in the story. As a composer, I always think it’s my duty to help tell the story. Why else would you want to do a job unless it’s challenging? If you’re going to stretch yourself artistically, you have to challenge yourself.”
Thoughts on Michael Jackson
When it comes to Hobson’s opinion on the Michael Jackson allegations in the film, he says he was in disbelief like much of the rest of the world, making the same assumptions people have for years—that it’s just Michael Jackson, he’s eccentric; that some people might just be trying to get money out of him. Wade Robson and Jimmy Safechuck’s stories in the film are too loud to ignore.
“At the premiere in the UK, the last time I heard an audience react like that was Schindler’s List. Nobody moved. Nobody said a word. The credits went up and you could hear a pin drop. Dan’s filmmaking is like that. He’s very clear, but open at the same time, for you to really make the choice—here’s the stuff, you make your decision. I think he’s always been very fair with that. In other words, if the boys were lying, you would have seen them for what they were, and if they’re telling the truth, then you see that.”
Hobson just wanted to support Reed with music that honored the story.
“Whether he’s guilty or not guilty, I wanted to tell the story the best I could with music, and hopefully I managed to do that. That was my job.”
As a musician himself, he understands why listening to MJ’s music might make people uncomfortable now, since some of the lyrical content has a different frame to be viewed through [“P.Y.T (Pretty Young Thing)” comes to mind]. He doesn’t find himself listening to Michael Jackson for an entirely different reason.
“It’s such a difficult one. The man or the music? I grew up with Michael Jackson. While I wasn’t a massive, crazy fan, I was a fan. Not sure how much playing of Michael Jackson I do these days, not so much because of all this, just because there’s loads of music to play. No need to play 30-year-old music.”
Megan McLachlan is a freelance writer that lives in Pittsburgh, PA. Her work has appeared in Buzzfeed, Cosmopolitan, The Cut, Paste, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Thrillist, and The Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @heydudemeg.