Composer Sam Ewing has slowly but steadily made a name for himself over the last few years, thanks to his work with the massive talent that is composer Bear McCreary on shows like The Walking Dead and films like the Happy Death Day series. However, Ewing has also started doing work on his own, and the composer's first solo score, for director Frank Sabatella's vampiric horror, The Shed, was just released on vinyl from the folks at Enjoy the Ride Records. We spoke with the composer about his career.
STARBURST: How did you come to be connected with the Enjoy the Ride folks?
Sam Ewing: All through Bear. I don't know how much you know about my background – I will assume you and readers know nothing. I started working with Bear McCreary, who's a well-established film composer, back in 2014, and I was his intern turned assistant. I just kind of got in at a really good time with him. Fast forward like five or six years five years and Adam Green had approached Bear to score his movie, Victor Crowley, which was his surprise release of this movie that he made in total secret.
Bear said, “I can't do it, but my guys Sam and Jason can,” so I co-scored this movie with Jason Akers, who was also in a similar position as me with Bear. Since then, we've kind of been doing our own things. The producer from Victor Crowley, Corey Neal basically approached Bear again and said, “Hey man, I've got this movie called The Shed. Do you want to do a similar arrangement?” Bear basically hooked me up. It's all Bear. That's how it happened. It was a fun ride.
Is the fact that you do a lot of horror/other genre type stuff: is that because you are involved with Bear or is that also something that appeals to you as a composer and musician?
It's kind of like chicken or the egg, you know? I think I've always had an interest in horror music. So, this is actually going back a little bit further – it's pretty funny. I was at school at Berklee College of Music Writing. Even back then, I was kind of writing horror music and doing mock-ups and little orchestral recording sessions for Aleatoric music, which is really modern and scary-sounding and whatnot.
My professor at the time, Michael Sweet – I ran into him at a burger joint and he was like, “You should work for Bear McCreary. I feel like you guys would have a good musical connection,” so he recommended me to the person who was hiring interns at the time. It all started with that. So, honestly, I think I had that sort of interest to begin with, but it's also one of those things that once you start doing something – pigeonholed is a strong word and I would never use that for my situation or Bear's situation – but just one of those things you do a lot and I think people recognize you for that.
I co-scored The Walking Dead season 10 with Bear and it's just another thing that kind of perpetuates the kind of guy that you are. Fortunately, I really like that kind of music. I think Bear does, too. Like, Bernard Herrman's Psycho is one of my favorite scores of all time, so there you go.
One of the things I've noticed about your work is that a lot of the horror stuff that you work on has a very humorous or playful element to it and it seems like that lets your music do the same thing. Is that just the work that comes to you? Is that something that you appreciate? Because it does seem like it lets you be a little lighter. I'm thinking specifically of stuff like the Happy Death Day movies or Hulu's Into the Dark – Pooka!, specifically.
That was so much fun. Pooka!, yeah – let me talk about that. First of all, the appreciation part of it: I so appreciate some lightness in all the horror. I also just think that's a modern way of making horror films. I think Blumhouse is a really good example of that. Jordan Peele, I think he's just setting the tone for Hollywood horror films.
You watch these movies and it's like this ride: you get this thrill, but there are these buoys of lightness and humor that that make it a really fun ride. I just totally appreciate as a viewer – having having some lightness and some humor in the movies, so Happy Death Day and Pooka! were so fun. They're just so fun and musically, I think there are two ways to look at it.
I think, on one hand, you wanna be careful as the composer and as the filmmaker, because when the music gets too comedic, then it kind of underplays the dark stuff and then somehow it's not as funny. I've imagined test screenings of a comedy beat in a horror film where in one version, you've got funny music and in another, you've got really scary music. I think somehow the one that's playing scary is always going to be funnier.
That's all to say that I never like to step on the funny stuff and bring it out too much because underneath, there's usually a guy with a knife who's trying to kill our main character or something, so I think playing that and having the score really, functionally be attached to that is the most important thing, bottom line, always.
There's something about these movies – and maybe it's just the filmmakers. They bring this energy with them. On Happy Death Day, for example, we did stuff that was more traditional orchestration so there were these flavors of Alan Silvestri and Bernard Herrmann that are just so fun and I think, for a movie that might take itself too seriously, you might not get to go there, so it's just a win-win. It's all super fun.
What, for you as a composer is the difference between doing film and television? I guess Pooka! counts as a made-for-TV movie kind of thing, but you've also done these series where, in the case of Walking Dead, it's been running forever. You've also done Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which is very hardcore tied into a cinematic property, while also doing Fantasy Island, which is a movie based on a TV show. You have all of this very interesting cross-platform stuff.
That's really true. It's tough to draw the line anywhere other than simply the deadlines. I hate to like go there, but with a movie, you spend months making a score for 60 minutes of music. On TV, you'll crank out 60 minutes of music in two weeks, easily, so that creates differences in the music.
With TV, usually you need some help. Things are usually more broad strokes. You create some themes for the entire season and then you reuse them and develop them. Bottom line, I think that, no matter what – this goes for TV or movies, and especially with Bear, and this is something I have always appreciated about him – is we just like to keep everything cinematic, no matter what.
You're watching and scoring into a vacuum and you ask yourself, “How can we make this as awesome as possible?”, whether it's getting an orchestra or doing synths. You figure out the logistics later. S.H.I.E.L.D., for example: that show had seven seasons of almost 22 episodes for every season and we had an orchestra on every single one of them, but we made it work, so it sounds cinematic and awesome. I think, ultimately, it's like the lines are really starting to blur and especially today, where people say we're in the golden age of TV.
I think that's true. I think TV is incredible right now. Tthe bar just keeps going higher and higher. The budgets become higher and the music gets carried along with that so they should all be treated the same, no matter what.
The Shed is getting a vinyl release from Enjoy the Ride. Are you a vinyl person?
I would be lying if I said I was a vinyl person. I've always appreciated vinyl and in my house, my dad had vinyl and an amp and crazy-good speakers growing up, and he would play The B-52's and classic rock albums and stuff like that, but beyond that, it's simply, for me – and maybe this is just an age thing, but I grew up in the '90. I see vinyl as this really cool collector's item that is more significant as a thing you hold in your hand than a listening experience. That's just me. Maybe I'm just showing my age here, but that's what it is to me: it's this thing that you hold and it's beautiful and in a way, it's a relic of where music has come from and the fact that we can still make these things is like just so cool.
Will this be the first time you've had a physical release of any of your music?
It sure is. I've worked on a a bunch of things with Bear, of course, but my name is not on there as a sole composer, so this is absolutely the first physical release I've ever had. I'm so stoked. Huge shout out, by the way, to Frank Sabatella, who's the director of The Shed. He was just pushing for this and pushing for vinyl, specifically. I was just kind of like, “Okay, yeah. We'll see,” but he pushed me and pushed Bear and we made it happen and Joe Augustine helped coordinate everything so I'm so stoked.
The Shed can be ordered from Enjoy the Ride Records on either Vampire Sunrise (limited to 150 copies) or Shotgun Brain Blast (350 copies) vinyl. Each copy also includes a free 14 day trial to Shudder, a horror, thriller & supernatural Video On Demand service from AMC Networks.