If you’re a fan of hit television shows like FX’s Legion or Fargo you’ve definitely heard the sweeping orchestrations of composer Jeff Russo. Very recently however, Russo made his first foray into video game music after he composed the score for the haunting indie game, What Remains of Edith Finch. Paste Magazine caught up with Russo to talk to him about how his work on Edith Finch, what drew him to the project, and whether shifting gears from TV to videogames was a challenge. How different is composing for a videogame and composing for TV or a movie, really? Read on.
Russo: Originally, it was brought to my attention and I was brought in for a meeting with the people at Sony because it was originally a game that was being published by Sony [Santa Monica Studios]. And then at some point along the process, it was acquired by Annapurna [Interactive]. But originally I was just asked by Sony’s music person if I was interested in doing videogames and I said, “yeah I guess, depending on the type of videogame.” Because I’m not really a gamer but I do love a good story, and I do love a good narrative. I was told that this particular game (Edith Finch) would be really great so I had a meeting with them and it did turn out that this game had a really interesting story, and a really interesting way to tell a story, and a really interesting way for a game to tell a story.
Russo: Yes, this is my first try at a video game.
Russo: Yeah, I think that, you know, they asked me to make a score in a very narrative way so I really did go about scoring Edith Finch the same way I would a movie. Or the same way I would a cinematic television show. So that was one of the things that really attracted me to the game was its narrative style and how it was going to convey that style.
Russo: Well you know I had to think about ways to make pieces of music loop without it being apparent. Because that’s how he videogames work. You know, if you have a three minute piece of music but a person who is playing a videogame doesn’t leave the certain area for more than 3 minutes, music can’t just stop. So, it has to be able to play along with the game so that kind of music implementation into the game, and how to write music around that idea was definitely a shift in process for me. That was basically the only shift in process, that and how long I had to write pieces which was a lot longer lead time.
Russo: Well, my idea was to bring a very sort of emotional storytelling feeling and cinematic feel to the score. And [Giant Sparrow] was very receptive to that idea. So from the original conversation that we had, that sort of ideal never really shifted. Once we talked about it in that way, that was really what we stuck with.
Russo: Well what they would do is they would send me quicktimes of gameplay to work to and you know, it would happen in sections. Like, first we did- the very first thing I wrote was the main title and Edith’s theme. Then as I worked through the game they would send me different sequences, like the house and exploring the house. Then there was milton’s kite, then there was the finale. So we sort of went through it all step-by-step and it would be section-by-section I would be working on.
Russo: Well it wasn’t surprising. The thing itself wasn’t surprising but I guess my interest and love for what I was doing on the game was sort of surprising. I didn’t know what to expect about how I was going to feel working on a video game. I didn’t know if it was going to be hard, or easy, or boring. The more I got into it, the more fascinated I became with everything in the project and the more into I got into creating the music for this game that people were going to interact with. That surprised me.
Russo: You know, people have tweeted at me about it and posted on Facebook about it and stuff but I try to not look at feedback, or reviews or anything. I think music in games and narrative is all so subjective. So I know that I was really happy with it, and I know that people involved are really happy with it. Although it’s really fantastic, I try not to look sideways too much with that. Like yeah it’s fantastic to have people tweet at me that they really like the score or the game, but I’ll say that I don’t actively go looking for that.
Russo: Absolutely! Absolutely. It has become something that I really enjoy doing. Especially because you are definitely afforded more time to flesh things out in terms of how the sound and the score will turn out. That makes a big difference in terms of the quality of the music. You get a lot more time to think about it, to ruminate about themes and think about orchestration.
Russo: Yeah, well film and TV the schedules are a lot more accelerated. You have less time to think about it. Both of those things have their positives and negatives. The more time you have, the more time you have to mess it up.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Matthew Kim is a San Francisco-based entertainment reporter who covers all things geek and pop-culture. You can contact him through his Twitter @LawofTD or check out his bylines at Inverse, Waypoint, Polygon, and elsewhere.