As a music composer for films, Ronen Landa has made people scream, laugh and cry, all thanks to the sounds he creates. The 34-year-old Potomac native has scored a number of films of varying genres – including the romantic drama Divergence, the coming-of-age international drama Festival of Lights and, most recently, the supernatural horror flick At the Devil’s Door.
The Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School alum received an M.A. in music composition and film scoring from New York University and three years ago moved to Los Angeles, where he resides with his wife and daughter. A guitarist at heart, Landa has also put his talents to use outside the realm of film, contributing music for Comedy Central’s Colbert Report and the Facebook videogame “Hooked.” Landa spoke to Washington Jewish Week about the film-scoring process, his recent foray into making horror music and his favorite film score.
What inspired you to become a composer?
Growing up, I was very influenced by popular music like a lot of kids. Eventually I started to explore more and more, and started getting into jazz and getting into classical music. What I realized was that film scoring was an opportunity to bring a lot of different skills together, because I love all these different types of music so much. And I get to explore all of them in the world of film.
Tell me about the first film you ever scored.
It was a student project in college. I think early on in everyone’s journey, they do a lot of those kinds of projects that are really good exercises and give you good experience. As you grow you can slowly start to make your way onto a bigger stage.
What actually goes into composing a film score? What I think of is that you watch a certain scene without the music and then write it based on what’s happening in the scene. Is it more complicated than that?
Yeah, it’s more collaborative than that. When you’re writing music for a film, sometimes the filmmakers have already included reference music for a sense of what they’re thinking and what they’d like to hear in a scene. And your job is to find a way to bring an original voice while keeping in mind some of what they’re looking for. Ultimately you sit down and have the picture with no music, and you sit down and you write. It usually goes to the filmmakers and there are conversations. It’s a collaborative process and that’s the thing that I really love about it.
Recently you scored a couple of horror and suspense films, including The Pact and At the Devil’s Door. Is scoring a horror flick a whole different animal than say, a drama or a documentary?
Musically, the answer is yes. But in terms of the process, the answer is no. Every film ultimately boils down to this very unique relationship between the composer and the director. That’s at the heart of every project I do, regardless of the genre. Musically, the horror films are an opportunity to be really experimental and really push the limits of the music that you can convince people to listen to. You know, this isn’t the kind of stuff people usually want to pop on their radio on the way to work. Although there are some fans out there, and I’m actually one of them. And sometimes when you’re working on a drama, documentary or a comedy, there’s an opportunity to work in idioms that are a little bit more widely loved musically. But with horror music, I love that opportunity to really explore the boundaries of sound.
When watching a horror film, the music can be just as effective in scaring the audience as what’s happening in the scene.
It’s a really integral part of the experience. And it’s everything to these kinds of films. It’s how the shots are structured, it’s the pacing of the dialogue. A good horror director understands just how completely composed every scene has to be, from the visuals to the sounds and music. That’s what makes for an effective experience for the audience.
Is there a genre you haven’t tackled yet that you would like to?
I would say that at some point in my career, I’ve written music for almost any genre you can think of. I love them all. They all pose their own unique challenges. Scoring a comedy, sometimes the music is simple but it’s incredibly hard to get it right. What makes a scoring project the best is the people you work with. And that’s what makes it exciting and challenging. That’s really why I got into it. I keep on getting to compose different kinds of music all the time, and I love that.
Aside from your music, what film or TV scores are you listening to?
Well right now I’m not listening to anything because I’m writing and spending 15 hours a day listening to my music. But I tend to be a big fan of the classic [film] composers like [Ennio] Morricone and Bernard Herrmann. Composers with that kind of sensibility are always high on my list. We live in a great era because there’s so much music being made for film, for television, for video games. To see so much artistic output and all these people contributing is exciting.
What’s your favorite film score of all time?
It’s a really, really tough call. But if I have to go with my all-time favorite, I’m going to go with The Mission, with Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons. It’s like a B+ or an A- film, not like an amazing film, but the score is unbelievable.
What films are you working on now?
The film I’m currently working on, I guess you would call it a psychological, horror-thriller film. I don’t know exactly what genre it’s in. I’m also working on an independent romantic drama. So I’ve got these two features, plus some smaller projects. I keep busy all the time; it’s always a joy to be able to work on all these different kinds of films.
Find out more about Landa and hear samples of his music at ronenlanda.com. At the Devil’s Door is available on various Video on Demand services, and will be released in theaters Sept. 12.