INTERVIEW: Composer Christian Davis Puts the Sonic Frights Into Horror Film ‘Behind You’

Christian Davis scores the fantasy-comedy Dwight in Shining Armor, but in Behind You, the composer crawls under the viewer’s skin to make the haunted house horror film come to creepy life.

Behind You stars Addy Miller (Secret Life of Bees) as Olivia and Elizabeth Birkner (The Outpost) as her younger sister Claire. The siblings are staying with their estranged aunt in her old home. As the sisters explore the house, they find all the mirrors are covered up. When one of the sisters uncovers a particular mirror, she unknowingly unleashes a demon that terrorizes everyone in the home.

PopAxiom talked with Christian Davis about his road to making music in the film and television industry, Dwight in Shining Armor, and the way he used his own house to make Behind You that much scarier.

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Almost A Dentist

Christians’ musical connection began with guitar lessons. “Music came into my life when I was young. I played in some grunge rock bands in high school, I sang in a school choir. It was fun.”

About Christian’s grunge rock sound, he says, “We were kinda like grunge punk, Nirvana and Green Day type stuff. A little Blink 182.”

However, trying to become the next Nirvana was mostly a hobby. “In college, I was pre-dental and hated it. I discovered they had this media music major with a scoring emphasis, and I thought ‘that sounds cool.’ It’s two things I’m passionate about music and movies. I hadn’t thought about it as a career until then. I switched majors then shipped off to LA after I graduated.”

In Los Angeles, Christian found work as an assistant.” That’s the thing you do as you’re starting. You’re an assistant to established composers. Doing anything from fixing computers to writing music.”

From his time as an assistant, Christian points to two people as vital to his growth as a composer. “My two mentors Rupert Gregson-Williams (Wonder Woman, Aquaman), I worked with him for four years … Kevin Kiner (Star Wars: Rebels, Star Wars: The Clone Wars).

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Bagpipes & Punk Rock

Christian’s days as an assistant are now a thing of the past as we talk about his own show Dwight in Shining Armor. “It’s a really fun show. I think of it like The Princess Bride meets the Disney Channel. It’s geared towards a younger audience, but it makes me laugh. Parents will enjoy it too.”

In his words, Christian explains the show. “Dwight is this geeky kid who kisses awake a sleeping princess who is now in charge to keep her safe from all her enemies. It’s middle-earth meets middle-America. It’s comedy, action, adventure, it’s sentimental.”

In regards to creating the music, Christian says, “It’s a fun show to write. I used bagpipes, some Celtic punk rock, and epic orchestra.”

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About Behind You

Behind You features a small cast in a confined space. The music is this subtle pressure that builds for the runtime. The film is directed by duo and first-time directors and writers Andrew Mecham and Matthew Whedon. How did Christian connect with them for the gig? “It was a cold email. I saw some friends of mine that were working on it. They were posting these cool set pictures on Facebook. I found the director’s email and said I’d love to demo for this. So I sent him some music, we had some meetings, and I got the gig.”

Cold calls and emails are common but don’t have a high chance of success. However, you miss 100 percent of shots you don’t take. “It was a shot in the dark. And you usually don’t get anything. But in this case, I was lucky.”

Christian shares a bit of the process from meetings to music. “Andrew and Matthew didn’t really have too much of a super-clear vision, which is great. Sometimes you go into a movie, and an editor has cut in some other things soundtrack like Stranger Things … then the filmmakers want things to sound like that, and you’re stuck trying to make them happy but also make something original.”

On Behind You, things were different. “They didn’t have much of that. I came in and watched the movie and said they had a very traditional ‘haunted house’ scary movie. I didn’t think they should go too contemporary like an orchestra or anything too modern. We tried stuff. They said the one thing they wanted to do in the score was making the house a character in the movie. They said ‘Is there a way you can create and give the house its own sound?’”

In Behind You, Christian succeeds in making the house come to life. But how? “What I did was went around my house and recorded different sounds. I have things like dropped silverware sounds, tea kettles instead of violins … more organic sounds from around my own house. So, it’s a bit of the traditional orchestra mixed with house sounds.”

For every project, Christian has his process, which is simple and low-tech. “I definitely have a notepad next to me because ideas are going to come. You don’t have time to execute all the ideas, but I don’t say no to any ideas. I watched the rough cut with my notepad thinking ‘what about this or what about that’”

The composer puts a lot of stock in that first viewing. “I think those first gut reactions, your instincts, are usually the best ones and the right ones. The first time you watch a movie and the way you react to it, you’re only going to get that once. I only get that opportunity once also, so I try to write down all the thoughts and reactions I have to the movie.”

Wrapping Up

Christian reveals his ever-shifting sources of inspiration. “I always go through phases. Some new movie comes out, and I’m like ‘whoa, that score is so cool!’ The most recent one was from Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow (Ex-Machina, Annihilation) and the show Devs on FX. They did the most exciting stuff with synths and sound design. I listen to all their stuff lately. But, two months from now, it might be someone else.”

Christian is an 80s/90s kid, and there are a lot of movies from that era coming back to the big or small screen. What would the composer love to score if it were remade? “I’m going to go with Dumb and Dumber. There are so many great ones. Jurassic Park, Titanic, The Matrix, but Dumb and Dumber I never stop quoting.”

Behind You is VOD, and the soundtrack album is available on iTunes. So, what’s next? “I’m working on Dwight, season three is airing right now with new episodes airing every Sunday. Another horror movie I did comes out in May, it’s called The Voices.”

Will you be watching Behind You?

Thanks to Christian Davis and Impact24 PR
for making this interview possible.

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Ruben Diaz
Ruben Diaz
Writer, film-fanatic, geek, gamer, info junkie & consummate Devil's advocate who has been fascinated by Earth since 1976. Classically trained in the ways of the future.