One of the most iconic aspects of 80's science fiction films is the orchestral score. Even when Stevie's Aliens was in the script stage, the team knew that it would be imperative for the film to have a big score. Composer Aaron Daniel Jacob joined the team shortly after the film was shot, and worked for months on creating a theme for the movie and using it in the score, which is available to stream for free on SoundCloud.
1. How did you first get involved with this project?
Austin and I clicked instantly because of our shared interest in knowing way too much about film music. Many days were spent trying to guess scores from different films, and unfortunately we were always right on the money because we're big fat nerds. From there, we worked together on several film projects, finally leading to an awesome alien movie collaboration called PARALYSIS that Austin wrote and I directed. The subject seemed to have stuck because here we are again making a movie about aliens with a traditionally orchestrated soundtrack. I suppose Austin wanted me to score STEVIE'S ALIENS because we already had a shorthand about film music we developed over nearly four years of knowing each other.
2. What references were you pulling in this score? Why go orchestral instead of synth?
The film itself is presented as an homage to the Spielberg pictures of the 70s and 80s, leaning into that wide-eyed optimism in the face of the awe-inspiring supernatural. So naturally, Austin asked me to use John William's scores like CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and ET as a base (which, truth be told, is probably the most terrifying thing to be ask of as a composer who's flying by the seam of his pants). Williams has a masterful command of the overall soundscape of a symphony, always making sure that there's never a dull moment between his infectiously memorable themes. Similarly, we looked to Michael Giacchino and Jerry Goldsmith for their weirder use of the same symphonic sound. We choice symphonic over synth in order to adhere to that homage we were trying to capture. The orchestra has a distinctly humanistic quality to it, and anything that sounds more human is going to resonate more with an audience. It's like how a cello and a clarinet are two of the most pleasing instruments to listen to because they play in a similar frequency to the human voice (and why those two instruments are everywhere in the score).
3. What was the process of scoring the film?
We initially sat down to discuss the simple questions of music: where, when and why? Where in the movie should there be music, when in those moments should it play out, and why is it there in the first place. After that, I went into my music hole and composed sketch pieces to see if I could capture the essence of that conversation and to develop what would be the main theme of the movie. It was so important to get that theme right because it would anchor the piece under a unifying melodic signature (and if it could get stuck in people's heads, that would be the icing on the cake for partially sadistic reasons). Eight sketch pieces later, we landed on using the second. Go figure. After that, we squeezed out four-ish passes of the score, tweaking things over the course of a few months to make sure every piece was doing exactly what it was supposed to do either as a compliment to the picture or a contrast to it. Then presto chango, we've got a tasty soundtrack for an even tastier movie.
4. Walk us through the score — what themes and motifs are there, and what do they represent?
We find Greg in a place in his life where he feels incomplete. He feels so close to happiness and success, but always finds himself one or two steps behind. So all the different recurring motifs reflect that: they're all incomplete. None of them really have a concrete ending, which hopefully gives the audience a subliminal sense of longing for something more. The main theme (which also serves as the Starlight Symphony piece) captures that awe-inspiring wonder that Greg seeks, but again, leaves the ending just out of sight in the horizon. There's a second half to the main theme that speaks to Greg's personal life, and typically plays whenever Julia is in the picture, or whenever Greg thinks about his past. It's softer and sadder. There's also something in there that we called "The Summoning Theme," that plays when Stevie and Greg are trying to make the aliens appear. We also throw it in when Greg's finger cut is healed and when Greg pulls his stories out of the garbage. At those points, it morphs into a "healing" theme. Each of these tiny motifs serve as audio cues for the audience to understand what's happening on a deeper, subconscious level. At least that's what its supposed to do, and if we didn't succeed… that'd be awkward.
5. What was your favorite scene to score?
When Greg and Stevie summon the aliens in the bedroom. I've never scored a scene that required such massive music with that many shifts and changes. It was genuinely just so much fun to play in that sandbox.
6. What was the most difficult scene to score?
Same answer as before for the exact same reasons.