5 Helpful Tips from ‘Elysium’ Composer Ryan Amon

By  · Published on August 15th, 2013

Elysium features some impressive technology that not only includes improved health care (who doesn’t want to lay down in one of those “fix everything” beds?), but also features extraordinary Bluetooth range (allowing you to easily make calls from space to earth) plus weapons, shields, and exoskeletons not to be trifled with. But perhaps the most remarkable form of technology related to Elysium happened through YouTube and Skype.

Composer Ryan Amon created the score for Elysium which features a captivating mixture of found sounds and instrumentation, but more notable is the fact that this was Amon’s first time composing for a feature film. Hailing from the world of film trailers, Amon was certainly familiar with the film world, but it was actually one of these trailer tracks (as posted on YouTube) that caught director Neill Blomkamp’s eye (and ear) and caused him to reach out to Amon.

The Society of Composers and Lyricists hosted a preview screening of Elysium last week which featured a post-screening Q&A with Amon where he revealed a bit more insight into his unique hiring process and provided advice on working within a tight budget without compromising creative vision. Naturally, we jotted them down.

1. Never Ignore Your Emails, Even if One Might Seem Like a Joke

As reported last week by Wired.com, Blomkamp reached out to Amon based on one of the trailer tracks on YouTube. Blomkamp sent the link to Amon to confirm it was his and even though Amon first thought the email was a joke being played on him by one of his friends (and almost ignored it), his gut told him to respond.

Soon after, Amon found himself in a Skype meeting with Blomkamp which led to Blomkamp hiring Amon’s to score Elysium (which also happens to be the first film Amon ever scored ‐ no biggie). 2013’s tools paving the way for 2154.

2. Embrace Creative Freedom and Experimentation

Blomkamp was still filming when he brought Amon on because he wanted Amon to start composing from his own imagination. Blomkamp laid out the basic concept of the film for Amon, who recounted the conversation as: “A space station, and Earth is hell on earth.” Amon used those basic visuals to inspire his work while still taking advantage of the creative freedom of working without a script or a spotting session.

3. But Know What Your Director Wants

Blomkamp may have allowed Amon a good deal of creative freedom, but Amon noted that Blomkamp has an insatiable need for new music from orchestral to synth to combinations of the two and Amon would use the “colors” Blomkamp gravitated toward as his musical palate when working on the score. Amon said he welcomed the collaboration because Blomkamp had lived in this world much longer than he had (seeing as Blomkamp was the film’s director and writer).

Amon noted a few times when Blomkamp would have an idea (such as the female vocals and monkey chatter that cued up when encountering Kruger [Sharlto Copley]) that he would then allow Amon to run with. When it came to the monkey chatter, Amon turned to pre-recorded colobus and baboon chatter and then changed the pitch to make the sounds less identifiable, resulting in a solution both Blomkamp and Amon were happy with.

4. Samples Can Be Inexpensive Without Sounding Cheap

Considering the booming percussion featured throughout Elyisum’s score, it was surprising to find out Amon did not record live drums; he used samples. Amon said he made this choice because he was working within a tight budget and found this to be a good way to save money. He felt comfortable with this decision because the samples available now are such high quality, but more so because he had used it in his temp tracks. Blomkamp had already fallen in love with the sound so he figured there was no reason to spend money on something new when the director was already happy.

5. Communicating Through Tech Is Great, But Nothing Beats Working In Person

Amon and Blomkamp’s first meeting was via Skype (with Amon living in Bolivia and Blomkamp in Vancouver), but even after he was hired, Amon said he worked with Blomkamp primarily through email. Amon did eventually go up to Vancouver to work with Blomkamp in person, but that was not until the last few months of post-production.

Current technology certainly allows people located all over the world to work together, but it rarely recreates the magic of working in person, and Amon noted that their time together when he was working with Blomkamp face-to-face was the moment the score, and the film’s over all vision, really started to come together.

What did you think of the music in Elysium?