By Nick Spacek
Composer Dara Taylor‘s work can be found in films as diverse as the madcap comedy Barb & Star Go to Vista del Mar and the dramatic The Tender Bar, along with director Jessica M. Thompson’s modern vampire tale, The Invitation. Her score for the new NSFW animal comedy, Strays sees her working in both comedy and action, resulting in “a score that speaks to the heart of the film and its characters, which is finding your support and chosen family.” We spoke with the composer about her work for this new film.
STARBURST: What attracted you to Strays? The idea sounds like a kid’s movie, but then you see that first trailer, and it’s very much apparent this is not a kid’s movie.
Dara Taylor: No. No children allowed. I read the script, and it was hilarious. I had also worked with the director, Josh Greenbaum, before on Barb & Star Go to Vista del Mar, so I already knew his work and his directing style, and I know he makes things that are peak ridiculous and just so funny. This was just hilarious from start to finish.
What’s the process of getting started on this? The process of a movie with animals like this and how they make the film is a little bit different than the usual filmmaking process.
Yeah. And especially with four dogs almost all the time, they had to hit their marks, and they had to hit them together. It was fun to watch the different layers of VFX removing things over time or adding things. I think for the longest time, for most of my process, the mouths weren’t fully finished yet, so so I had just gotten used to hearing it as narration.
Other than that, though, it is like working on any other film or any other comedy. I started working while I think they were in production, and I started coming up with some thematic ideas and trying a few things out and sending those over and fine-tuning those until we were ready to start really getting into it.
Strays has this action-comedy vibe, which really demonstrates that, with each new project you work on, you add a new thing to your repertoire.
Yeah. Action comedy has definitely got a fine line that you have to walk between funny and rousing. A lot of it is taking the situation as seriously as the dogs take the situation but also not overplaying your hands, so it feels like a spoof. It’s definitely a fine line, and comedy, in general, is a fine line. I mean, I love comedy in general. If I’m watching something, it’s usually a comedy.
You’ve been able to work with the director twice – what does that allow you to do, in terms of your process, when you already have an idea of how they work, even though it might not be what they want for this film?
I think the best thing is being able to kind of refer back to both old music and old processes and old spotting things. Even old notes from the previous film were like, “Okay, remember how we fine-tuned this? Let’s do something like this timing-wise that we did before.” There was a scene in Barb & Star that had a lot of starts and stops for comedy, and there was a similar scene here. We referred back to that to see if we should play it like we played it then or play it slightly differently.
You came up with different themes for the four different dogs that are in this movie. How did you approach each of those?
There’s a main theme for Reggie, and that kind of became the main theme of the movie and for the journey. Then there’s a theme for Bug, and there’s a melody that refers to the two other characters in certain moments. I’m trying not to give spoilers as we talk about it. [laughs] But yeah, I mean, we didn’t go too Peter and the Wolf with it: “Okay, this person’s on screen, so let’s do their theme,” but some things felt recognisable throughout, and I really hung my hat mostly on Reggie’s theme ’cause that really became the melody of the movie and of the journey.
This film is out now, but we’re curious as to how what you do as a composer has been affected by the strikes that are going on.
I’m grateful to be working at the moment, but there is a time when I’m like, “Okay, I don’t know what the next thing is,” and it’s hard to find the next job because so many things are just paused. So yeah – not sending out nearly as many reels and submissions as I was before all these strikes happened!
The thing about the strikes is that, sure, the first one started in May, but it’s been looming since February, so there was trepidation even then. It’s been a very odd year overall, and we’re just all hoping that a fair resolution can be reached.
Strays is out now in UK and US cinemas.