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Exclusive interview: Composer Nima Fakhrara rewrites the musical rulebook for female antiheroes in ‘Lou’

The composer talks to WGTC about scoring Netflix's new bone-rattling action thriller.

via Netflix

Composer Nima Fakhrara has had an eclectic career, which has seen him feature in film, television, and multimedia projects on a global scale. In person, this genuinely gifted and self-effacing musician revels in bending the rules of musical composition, by subverting his classical training to create some truly memorable musical moments.

Nima brings his trademark touch to unconventional action flick Lou, which premiered on Netflix today, putting Allison Janney front and center in the title role. Prior to the film’s release, he took time out to talk with We Got This Covered about his process, as well as what made Lou such an interesting proposition.

via Netflix

How did you become involved with Lou?

I was fortunate to be able to get on this project pretty late, everyone says it’s good to get on early but no, I was one of the last people to be involved. I got on very well with the director Anna Foerster. She likes crazy ideas and I had plenty of them, so it was one of those things that we just hit it off. We started writing pretty quickly and I was on it for about two and a half months, so not too long at all.

What did Anna bring to the table from your point of view as the composer on this project?

One of the biggest dreams a composer can have is when someone tells you what they want the actual scene to feel like versus what it needs to do. With Anna and the entire team, both at Bad Robot and Netflix, it was a case of we want this to feel like that, or, hey this isn’t quite what we are after for this scene.

Musically and as a composer it’s really awesome to hear that, as I can translate feelings a lot easier than concrete ideas of what people want. Anna brought that approach and world experience, along with her amazing abilities as both a director and leader on this project.

The soundscape is very unique, it is very atmospheric and very moody. What instruments did you gravitate towards in conveying that sense and that feeling?

A lot of the movie takes place in the rain, so there were a lot of conversations with the sound designer and the sound team. Questions of how do we do musical stuff that doesn’t get drowned out by this constant sound of pouring rain. One of the first things that I actually gravitated towards was this guitar that’s always just laying around, it is not in tune ever, but it always produces some interesting sounds.

I actually took a hammer and dulcimer stick, then actually played with that on top of it at one point. It created this pulsing woodsy sound, which is really hard to identify, but from that another idea came about. One of the first scenes that I scored was the opening and you hear a lot of things all coming together musically. From vocals that are timeless, all the way through to TikTok samples and Middle Eastern chants. There is just a lot of cool stuff going on, and for me it became this playground of musical possibilities to explore.

via Netflix

Considering the time period of the film and where it was set, what musical influences did you draw on, whether cultural or musical?

Musically Lou is set in the 80s, and I didn’t take any one influence from that period. One of the things I wanted to do was turn it into more of a technical exercise than anything else. So the whole score was recorded onto cassettes,before we came back to get any vocals down. That was one of the biggest challenges that my crazy mind created, in terms of getting hold of the quantity of blank cassettes necessary to record this score. All of that stuff was very exciting, and that was my ode to the time period.

As far as the world that Lou lives in, there are hints of that world elsewhere. A little Easter Egg hidden away inside the score involved me singing something traditionally Persian, which people might want to go looking for. Beyond that, we wanted it to feel like a modern film, but also it had to feel interesting in terms of how this music ties into the movie timeline.

How much of music composition is discovery as opposed to intention?

For me, I grew up playing Persian classical music, but also grew up in a world of improvisers, which made me an improviser too. Everything to me is just improvisation until it sounds right.  Philip Glass once asked the question where does music come from, it’s like this river and I have got to listen to it. It’s the same concept for me, I am just an improviser.

Where this music came from was just that sense of does this feel right – there was a lot of does this feel right and a lot of knowing that is immediately wrong. It was one of those eye opening experiences of being able to understand what is right and what is wrong in the movie, but having that epiphany much earlier on in say version two as opposed to version 12.

For me, this was one of those pleasurable experiences of understanding that everybody is on the same page and we are just going with this flow of  creative ideas. I was in my farmhouse here in Connecticut and we had the same exact weather during the time i was writing, it was just incredible. I was writing for basically like two months and that is what came out.

Lou is essentially about fractured relationships, how do you think your score taps into that central theme?

Everything is broken in this music and the unconventionality of it is everything. I like to call myself basically a studious person that doesn’t care about studies at all. I have been lucky enough to be able to be part of musical academies and understand western music and orchestration and all that kind of stuff,  but I would rather be breaking those rules. For me, one of the things is always just how quickly can I break these rules and how do I get away with it.

With this one it was kind of the same concept, where for me it was about casting the right musician and the right players. The vocalist  had to be exactly right or it would throw off everything else. It had to be three players and the tonality had to be correct. I did play with a lot of quarter tones in this, so again these players had to be exactly right.

We recorded a trio of strings, not your traditional string quartet or string trio at all, it was all lower players, so basically just imagine a string trio lower down the musical scale. The same thing applied with a bigger ensemble, where we did odd numbers that just didn’t make sense and pushed everything to the verge of musical incoherence, but somehow it just kind of worked. Even in the penultimate scene of the film, instead of going bigger and throwing everything in there, we did the opposite, and it is just a guitar doing a very beautiful melody on top of this really emotional scene. Again, it’s just about to be broken and then comes back together.

It was a big challenge to go the opposite way rather than being more traditional – it is a Netflix, Bad Robot film after all. For me, we were able to create something which acknowledged the idea of what these movie’s should sound like, but still take it in another direction completely. I guess that’s why you hire me, to do something completely out of left field, yet still bring audiences back to home turf.

via Netflix

When it comes to deciding on a project, is it the people involved or the story they tell which gets you onboard?

It’s kind of both and it all depends on the timing. I have been lucky enough to work on all different genres, from comedies all the way to big action films. For me it always comes down to what is the story doing and can I relate to it, especially because I am going to spend so much time on it.

You can always become whoever you want with people, and the beauty of it is that you just have to be able to become a servant to the project versus what is being produced. At the end of the day, I am a composer, and I am going to literally write what is on the film. If the project feels like a good fit then you just dive in and try to make it work – that’s the bottom line. I love writing music and I get up every day and do that, so I can’t ask for anything else.

Can you describe for me your perfect Sunday afternoon?

I am blessed to have created it already, I do it every day. I wake up and grab a little espresso, I sit on the deck over here in the studio, I listen to some music and literally I am either sitting on the piano or we go to the farm here, and that’s basically my life. It’s basically music and living here among the woods, that’s my Sunday afternoon every day.

Lou is now streaming on Netflix, and you can check out our review of the movie here.

About the author

Martin Carr