INTERVIEW: Composer Matthew Janszen And The Sonic Dualities Of Fatal Affair

Fatal Affair stars multi-award nominated actors Nia Long (Empire, Boyz N Da Hood) and Omar Epps (Higher Learning, ER) in a psychological thriller throwback that is every bit terrifying. Composer Matthew Janszen adds the sonic layer that enhances the sentimental scenes and takes the terror to the next level.

Fatal Affair is a spiritual return to old-school late-80s, early-90s psychological thrillers like Fatal Attraction or Basic Instinct. In the film, Nia Long’s Ellie Warren is a married woman, and one mistake, motivated by irrational passion, leads to a string of terror from an obsessed David Hammond played by Omar Epps. Fatal Affair is a psychological thriller that’s filling a niche of genre storytelling that once dominated the box office.

PopAxiom discusses Fatal Affair, ThunderCats Roar, and more with composer Matthew Janszen.

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Gradual Transition

Long before Fatal Affair, Matt started playing piano “… at five. I continued piano lessons all through high school.” Music came into his life early on, but, he says, “I was a pretty late-bloomer to composing.”

Matt loved making music but, “I knew after high school that music performance isn’t really what I wanted to do. I get a lot of anxiety when I perform in front of people.”

Composing still wasn’t an idea Matt thought of pursuing. “I was good at math and science, so I went into engineering.” Matt went to Purdue and gradually transitioned to “… writing music for the theatre department. I was getting intrigued by how music and drama work together. That’s when I realized that film scoring was something that I wanted to pursue.”

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About Fatal Affair

Fatal Affair director Peter Sullivan and Matt go back a long way. “I’ve worked with Peter on probably over 20 films now. He’s such a joy to work with. He’s so collaborative. He reached out to me to discuss the film.”

Discussions about Fatal Affair happened before any completed cut of the film. “Peter gave me some general ideas and initial thoughts about the movie, and I started fooling around with concepts. About two months later, he gave me a cut to work from, and that’s when we dove in.”

Like any good cinematic journey, Ellie’s life in Fatal Affair is going great, but then it goes haywire. “The idea of these two worlds. What Ellie’s life was to this dangerous path that it starts to go down that unravels into this psychological thriller. We wanted to represent those two ideas as the film progressed.”

Gifts & Gore

Matt’s filmography is a trip through duality. One minute you see credits for horror films like The Sandman or thrillers like Ominous or Fatal Affair. Between those entries a lot of Christmas movies like Wrapped Up In Christmas or A Perfect Christmas. “I used to joke that there was no gray area for me. It was either completely happy Christmas time or completely dark. There was no middle ground.”

Creating music for Christmas or terror is surprisingly not much different. “The approach no matter what you’re doing … it’s to support and tell the story. So, regardless of whether it’s a Christmas film about joy or a dark supernatural thriller, the general approach is the same.”

What changes from one kind of project to the other? “The sonic pallet is probably the biggest thing that changes between projects. Christmas movies tend to flow around the orchestral realm a lot. So they have a more acoustic, traditional sound. The supernatural elements sort of unleashes composers. You have an opportunity to try a lot of new sounds to create that world. The sky’s the limit.”

Matt continues, On a horror movie, I spend a lot more time figuring out what the palette is. In The Sandman, I used no orchestra. It was a lot of created sounds, pulled sounds, or synthetic sounds to create that world.”

Matt dives deeper into making music for horror and happiness. “The way I would describe it … when it comes to music you’re obviously dealing with the music itself; notes, themes, harmony. Then you’re dealing with what’s going to play those sounds. In Christmas movies, the creativity comes more from the music itself. Coming up with a strong theme that somebody can hum. It’s something that works well for the characters.”

On a horror film, Matt says, “You’re not as focused on a theme but a mood and tone that’s more rooted in sound design. It may not be something that people can hum, but it evokes a certain sense …”


Sci-Fi Cats

Matt’s currently sitting on 47 credits on IMDB. One of those includes creating the sounds for ThunderCats Roar, the return of the animated 80s classic. “It was a unique project for me. Most of the time, I come in, and it’s a blank slate. The creators … were adamant we use the original themes from the 1985 series. I was immediately drawn into that.”

Matt says that creator “… Victor Courtright is a massive ThunderCats fan, and he loves the music that Bernard Hoffer wrote.”

About Hoffer’s theme, Matt adds, “It’s timeless. It’s part of animation history. I was stoked to use those themes. There was a lot to learn there, and the ability to utilize them within the score was exciting.”

Fans of ThunderCats will love hearing the classic theme alive and well in Matt’s hands. He adds, “Not only did I painstakingly re-create a lot of those themes to be used in the new series, but we were also adamant that it sounded very close to the tone of the 80s show. So, I ran it through a lot of tape emulators and saturation plug-ins to give it a warmer feel so that it’s tapping into some of that nostalgia.”

ThunderCats Roar expands the lore with new settings and characters. “Then, of course, there are all the new themes to tie it all together. There are quite a few new characters in ThunderCats Roar who I got to create new themes for. It was exciting to add to the Thundercats universe.”

ThunderCats Roar episodes sometimes feature a more traditional song with vocals. “About a third of the episodes have songs that are sometimes sung by the cast, sometimes by an off-screen singer. So, it’s really exciting to come up with these songs. There’s a song called ‘Mandora’ and what she does as an intergalactic space force.” A bit of joy escapes from Matt in the form of laughter.

Wrapping Up

The topic of influential composers comes up. Matt says he “… could spend all day adding names to that list. I think you can’t NOT mention John Williams. He is on a level all his own.”

As a fan of horror, Matt’s next mention goes to “… Bernard Hermann … his style of writing is so unique and so amazing to study.”

One last composer of note, perhaps another that cannot be excluded from any list. “Hans Zimmer … conceptually he comes up with some of the most amazing concepts that you would never associate with whatever story he tells. Now, we associate that [concept] with the story. In Sherlock, the way he used Eastern European instruments and now we associate that with Sherlock. The organ and bass in Interstellar.”

Outside of film scoring, Matt says, “A lot of my pop sensibilities come from being a huge fan of Dave Matthews Band. All of the albums from that band are a go-to for me.”

Working on Fatal Affair proved fun for Matt who grew up on the thrillers from which the film draws inspiration. Does Matt have any sort of dream project? “Any remake of Star Trek I’d want to go into. I’m such a big fan of Bernard Hermann, and now after doing so many horror movies and thrillers, I think any Hitchcock remake. I would love to be a part of that. It would be exhilarating and extremely daunting!”

Fatal Affair is out on Netflix. So, what’s next from Matt? “HBO Max is doing an Aquaman animated mini-series [Aquaman: King of Atlantis], so I’m going to be scoring that. It’s exciting to dip my toes into the DC universe. What I’m most excited about is that we’re tapping into some retro ideas.”

Is Fatal Affair on your Netflix queue?

Thanks to Matthew Janszen 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.