Is it any wonder that Danny Elfman, Mark Mothersbaugh and Trent Reznor, three of today’s most revered film composers, all started their music careers as members of rock bands? Clearly there’s something to be said for the patience and nimbleness scoring demands, but rock stars also make strong composers because they understand the dynamics of working with a team of other creatives, and seeing a
sonic vision through.

These are all things we learned during Music for Screens’ Rock-to-Score Stars panel, which gathered Este Haim (one-third of beloved sister band Haim) and her composing partner Christopher Stracey, Dev Hynes (aka Blood Orange), Ian Chang of Son Lux, Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Finneas, whose work with sister Billie Eilish has made him an in-demand producer and songwriter.

All are relatively new to scoring, but that’s proven to be an asset when it comes to putting music
to picture. Finneas, for instance, saw his first credit as a composer for “The Fallout,” a movie about a high school shooting and the trauma it inflicts on its students, directed by Megan Park. Finneas says he considered “where music would be inappropriate.”

Take the scene involving the three girls hiding out in a bathroom. “The more I scored it, the more I thought the scene should have no music,” he says. “It was really beautifully directed — the
shooting all takes place outside so you don’t see anything, you just hear gunshots and kids screaming — so to have thumpy horror movie-esque music felt too on the nose and disrespectful to the whole subject matter.”

For “Passing,” one of Hynes’ screen credits alongside “Queen & Slim,” “In Treatment” and “Rap
Shit,” less also sometimes proved to be more. “Rebecca Hall, who directed it, initially didn’t want any music; she didn’t want a score,” he says. “So it was tricky but fun for me because it became more about sound design and emphasizing space through tonal, droning-type sounds which interspersed with the piano you hear throughout the film.”

As a team, Haim and Stracey approach composing more as a band. For Apple+’s “Cha Cha Real
Smooth,” their second collaboration after “Maid,” they spent three months together “really
burning the midnight oil,” says Haim. “For us, it was more about learning on the job how to elicit a
feeling without being too obtrusive and supporting what was on the screen. It was a lot of trial and error, but luckily we had a really great collaborator in Cooper Raiff, the writer-director-star.” Adds Stracey: “Cooper shared playlists and we imagined that we were a band in that time and in that world. So the music that we were making wasn’t out of place from a lot of the needle drops.”

Karen O’s poignant accompaniment to “Where Is Anne Frank” follows a previous Oscar nomination in the original song category — for “The Moon Song” from “Her.” O’s hushed vocals lent the melody for what would become the musical theme to the film, directed by Ari Folman. “I probably write music like a like a 7- to 11-yearold,” she cracks. “It’s all anchored in humming. When trying to think of a melody that’s emotionally resonant, the easiest thing for me to do is just hum. It’s that median between singing the words that have meaning that people take from it, and this ineffable human connection that’s anchored in melody and emotion.”

Last but certainly not least is the incredibly ambitious work of Chang on “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert enlisted the band Son Lux “early on in the process,” Chang says. “It was 2019 and there was just a script; nothing was shot yet; it wasn’t even cast. So we started like we were working on our own albums.” The band would go on to create 100 cues. And even though they had an extra year to work on the music, due to COVID, it still came down to the wire. “The Daniels definitely pushed us to do a lot of things we didn’t know we could do.”