Interview – Raven’s Hollow Composer Robert Ellis-Geiger

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As Halloween quickly approaches, audiences are looking for spooky movies to fill their October with. There are the obvious choices of Paramount Pictures’ Smile, Universal Pictures’ Halloween Ends and Lionsgate Film’s Prey for the Devil all being released theatrically. Then the streaming choices, such as Hulu’s Hellraiser, Amazon Prime’s Run Sweetheart Run and Netflix’s Wendell & Wild. Another streamer to pay attention to is Shudder, which began their Halloween season early last month with the releases of Speak No Evil, Who Invited Them, Flux Gourmet and Raven’s Hollow. If you like Edgar Allan Poe stories, the latter being one you might enoy. Raven’s Hollow follows West Point military Cadet Edgar Allan Poe and four other cadets on a training exercise in upstate New York come upon a man eviscerated on a bizarre wooden rack. His dying words direct them to a forgotten community, which they believe is guarding sinister secrets. Enthralled by the Innkeeper’s beautiful and mysterious daughter Charlotte and fueled by the town resident’s refusal to speak to the murder, Poe determines to uncover the truth. Risking his life and more, Poe ultimately comes face to face with the terror that will haunt him forever.

Below we spoke to composer Robert Ellis-Geiger about his original score to the film.

-What was one of the first things you did when beginning work on the film?

Robert: Months before shooting took place, I started to build the master instrumental template for all virtual and real instruments. I developed an iterative process for curating virtual instrument and sound libraries, where I would preview potential instruments and at the same time, make a musical sketch, then send them to director Christopher Hatton for feedback. The feedback from Chris would then inform the score and master instrument temple. I made a Google sheet to keep track of the sketches, feedback from Chris and the various versions of the master temple. This was a game changer and well worth the 3-4 months of development.

-This film is a story about famed writer Edgar Allan Poe. How familiar were you with his work before Raven’s Hollow?

Robert: A little, I was aware that Poe’s short stories were a major influence on Bob Kane and Bill Finger, the creators of Batman and other movies such as The Crow (1994), Sherlock Holmes and the detective fiction genre.

-Did you go back and read any of his work when you knew you were going to be working on film? If so, which stories?

Robert: No, as I was too busy preparing for the movie, reading the close to locked script versions multiple times, making notes and building a custom supercomputer (256GB of RAM and six 4TB SSD external drives) to take on the new challenge of composing music and creating soundscape designs. The supercomputer had to be able to load all virtual instruments using Vienna Ensemble Pro (EV-Pro) and link VE-Pro to Cubase my DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) that would record audio and MIDI data from my keyboard.

-Tell us something we don’t know about the Raven’s Hollow score?

Robert: What I haven’t yet mentioned in other interviews is that flutist Michael Spicer formally from Australian folk band Redgum (1975-1990) played multiphonics and whistle tones for my score on Election 2 (2006) directed by Johnny To. I made a virtual instrument of Michael’s performances and used some of them in Raven’s Hollow as layers, particularly where the Raven is mentioned in the movie.

My son Sebastian Ellis-Geiger created eerie sounds by using a pickup microphone that records the vibration of materials that it is placed on. Sebastian recorded sounds from scraping chairs, rubbing on large glass sliding doors and vocal utterances that he edited, manipulated and placed into an audio sampler (Kontakt), which allowed these sounds to be performed as a virtual instrument, juxtaposed to moving image.

-What was the most challenging thing about crafting the score about Raven’s Hollow?

Robert: The opening of the movie was a huge challenge, from the opening titles to the first big climax at Mary Keene’s death that bursts into the title of movie. I spent weeks trying to figure out a way to open Chris’s movie, but I had to insist that I move onto the next scene – the scene where the cadets are on horseback entering the forest. It wasn’t until nearly the entire score was completed that I then went back to the opening, which turned out to be the right discussion. My experience in not being able to find the movie’s theme and or overture for the opening was very similar to when Jerry Goldsmith was around six weeks into working on Basic Instinct (1992) directed by Paul Verhoeven. Jerry called the director over to his home studio and suggested he find another composer as he couldn’t find the main theme for his movie. Paul sat down with Jerry at his DAW and had him play various musical sketches, then, suddenly Paul said, “that’s it!”, to Jerry’s surprise the director had found his movie’s main theme buried in Jerry’s DAW project. Well, this was a similar experience between me, and Raven’s Hollow director Christopher Hatton. Before working on Raven’s Hollow, I shared the Goldsmith, Verhoeven story with Chris and maybe I jinxed myself for the better, ha-ha…

-Do you have a favorite scene, musically, in the film?

Robert: In the movie, The Twilight Ride, on my soundtrack album it is track 22 – Into the Twilight. This was for Chris one of the most important moments in his movie, which is around 7-minutes from the end.

On Chris’s request, I composed a cosmic space piece of around 4mins in duration, a bit like Vangelis meets Hans Zimmer, but remained uniquely my own musical style. This piece stands on its own and is vastly difference to all other previous music cues but recalls some sonic threads and motifs from within the movie to give context for the scene. This is a very poetic scene with William Moseley’s beautiful delivery, so music had to support his performance, very much like the centuries-old tradition of European storytelling that is often accompanied with music. In 1996 I got to experience in Edinburgh the Scottish International Storytelling Festival. I was at this time a working musician in Edinburgh and immersed myself within the folk and Scottish traditional music scene, often playing with iconic musicians like George Duff (Scottish folk songsmith/guitarist) and Cathal McConnell (a founder-member of Boys of The Lough). Some of my music for Raven’s Hollow is composed in a Scottish/Irish folk style.

-Did scoring for the horror genre come naturally to you?

Robert: Yes and no, Director Christopher Hatton said he couldn’t afford horror composer, Christopher Young, so I had to do! Ha-ha, funny guy!

I really had to study how to build tension and release moments and especially how to create unique jump-scares. For me, my main reference (my choice) was Insidious (2010), which I dissected, in terms of how best to enter and exit a scene and how to trick the audience in preparation for those big scare moments.

There are multiple dynamic builds within the movie and each one had to be uniquely different, equally impactful (or better), but have treads of continuity from the previous one. I often used low woodwind, such as contra bassoon and bass clarinet paying contrasting counter rhythmic motifs in their lower range to create a sense of disturbing tension.

-Is there a genre you haven’t gotten to score for yet, that you would like to?

Robert: I would love to score a psychological thriller as well as a science fiction movie.

-What are some of your favorite horror film scores?

Robert: The Shining (1980), Poltergeist (1982), Delicatessen (1991), Wolf (1994), Hannibal (2001), Insidious (2010).

-What are you working on next?

Robert: I am about to start a feature length documentary and new concert piece for singers and dance. You can listen to Volume One of Robert’s Raven’s Hollow score here:

Written by
Ash Hamilton is not only the owner of, but also one of its major contributors. A long time horror movie enthusiast, Ash has lent his personality to radio and television and continues to support his favorite genre through his writing and art. He also loves beef jerky and puppies... and low-grade street-quality hallucinogens.

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