Exclusive Interview – Composer Timothy Stuart Jones on Saban Films’ Hide and Seek and NBC’s Chuck

Saban Films’ psychological horror/thriller Hide and Seek is now available in select theaters and VOD/digital platforms. Based on the 2013 Korean film by writer/director Huh Jung, it was scripted and helmed by Joel David Moore (Hatchet) and stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Jacinda Barrett, Sue Jean Kim, Mustafa Shakir and Joe Pantoliano. The official synopsis reads: “After the death of his wealthy father, Noah [Rhys Meyers] seeks his outcast brother to make amends and share the family fortune. But the family harbors a dark secret and a series of cryptic clues will lead Noah on a terrifying trail to the truth that threatens to tear him apart from the ones he loves the most.” Adding to the intensity of the film is the score by composer Timothy Stuart Jones, which he describes as straight vicious at times. In the below exclusive interview, we spoke to Timothy about everything from the specific Hide and Seek character themes to his days on Chuck.

What initially attracted you to the Hide and Seek script?

I loved the Korean film this was based on. Joel David Moore, the director, did some cool updates on the script and set it in modern day New York. It had a really gritty urban feel and touched on the effects of the gentrification that has been happening in NYC for some time.

How would you describe the Hide and Seek score?

It is pretty vicious in spots. The director really wanted hard edges and a sense of impending doom as Jonathan Rhys Meyers goes deeper down the rabbit hole looking for his brother. I used a lot of bowed instruments and musical sound design to match the David Fincheresque ‘Se7en’ era visuals. The building downtown looked like it pretty much had ALL the diseases you could want. Hep A-Z. It was fun to find a musical equivalent to that.

What did pre-production look like for you on this film? Did you begin scoring after it was already fully complete?

The film was 85% done when I started. I did take some time to write a delicate lullaby melody that starts the film and comes back in key story moments. It had kind of a creepy doll or clown vibe. Definitely a bit tilted.

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Did you create specific themes for the different characters? If so, can you talk a little about those?

That lullaby I just mentioned was written on this slightly detuned piano / celeste kind of sound. I programmed the sound so that I was able to bring the elements of the piano more or less out of tune as required. It plays as a theme for a mother and young daughter who live in the building. It goes through some different iterations and ends up in key moments. I also had this falling brass / low synth sound for the antagonist who spends most of the movie in a black motorcycle helmet and black riding clothes. We called him Moto. I wanted the sound to feel like your stomach dropping out on a roller coaster. You hear the sound and you know he’s lurking. Jaws is probably the best example I can think of for the technique. It’s a standard tool in the scoring toolbox. It can be very effective. The composer is giving screen time to a character that isn’t even on the screen. All of that said, it isn’t a slasher film. The score really needed to help with the atmosphere and motivations of the characters. And jump scares. I’m always up for a good, involuntary popcorn spill from the viewer.

Some composers are known for using found objects to create unique sounds for their scores. Did you do anything like this for Hide and Seek?

I used an instrument called a hammered dulcimer. It’s not a found thing, but I did use it in a different way. I put contact mics on the wooden body. I then ran that signal through a looper that turns the sound into a repeating drone that allows you to stack layers of sound. Using a small violin bow, I was able to bow the strings while bending them with my other hand to create some interesting textures. I was able to use those in various places in the film. That acoustic element can’t be overstated. It has so much life compared to a sample. It’s alive and completely unique because I couldn’t play it the same way if I tried. I think of them as sand paintings. Once I record them, they can never to be repeated exactly. It’s the nature of working that way and I love it. I also used a couple of French, ribbon synths called the Persephone. You run your finger left and right on a capacitive strip to get the pitch. I love using them because the notes are always ‘in the cracks’. By that, I mean they fall in between the keys on a piano and are slightly out of pitch usually. Because I have two of them running through things like an Eventide pedal and a real tape delay you can get some very unsettling things. By using two fingers on one ribbon, you can also get some beautiful things. Intervals that are in tune with themselves based on the overtone series. You don’t get those kinds of intervals on a standard piano and it’s very pleasing to the ear when you hear them.

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You also scored NBC’s hit series, Chuck. Looking back on that show, what did you like most about working on it?

I enjoyed the referential nature of the show. It was so much fun to incorporate different pop culture elements into the score. A good example was the series finale. I was able to do a rerecording/arrangement of Take On Me by A-ha. That was fun in itself, but I then scored over the top of it hitting all the things the scene needed dramatically. It was a big music puzzle and a blast to do.

Musically, do you have a favorite episode of Chuck?

I think I accidentally answered that in the last question! There were so many episodes… I enjoyed the one where Sarah went to Thailand and ended up in a fighting pit. Yvonne Strahovski is so amazing. The fun part, was the music in the bar that Chuck walks into when he’s looking for Sarah. The producers asked for a Thai version of the Cantina Band. I mean come on. Whether or not you think I succeeded, that was a lot of fun. Jeffster doing CCR’s Fortunate Son. My friend Johnny Lee Schell used to play with John Fogarty. One recording take on that guitar part and we had it. And, it was awesome. I could do this all day. Haha!

There have been reboots of so many shows these days, if they rebooted Chuck or just made another season, would you be interested in scoring?

I would have exactly two questions. When do we start? And can you tell me temporally speaking when we might commence commencing. The show and the people were amazing. I’d be there in a heartbeat.

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Is there a director or showrunner that you haven’t gotten a chance to work with yet, that you would like to?

On the TV side, I’d love to work with Greg Daniels. His shows are so smart and have an emotional core that I love. I think Bryce Dallas Howard would be amazing to work with. She is doing excellent work. In addition to being a top flight actor she is just as skilled as a director. That would be super cool.

What are you working on next?

I just finished a film called Waterman which is coming out theatrically in the spring. Right now, it’s just Hawaii and California. I know it will end up in a streaming wide release eventually. It’s such a good movie, and so appropriate for the times we live in right now. The world needs more Aloha. Next, I’m doing a movie starring Mel Gibson directed by a friend of mine, James Cullen Bressack. I’m looking forward to that.

Thanks to Timothy Stuart James for taking the time for this interview. Learn more about him on his website, and preview two tracks from Hide and Seek here…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=videoseries

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Exclusive Interview – Composer Timothy Stuart Jones on Saban Films’ Hide and Seek and NBC’s Chuck