Oh the Horror: Andy Grush ’00 on Composing for Doctor Sleep
As a film composer, Andy Grush ’00 doesn’t find many opportunities to stretch out. Like many of his peers, Grush tends to pen a lot of pieces that can be counted in seconds, not minutes. But recently Grush and his writing partner Taylor Newton Stewart, collectively known as the Newton Brothers, created a six-minute composition that was set to play an important role at the end of new film Doctor Sleep, a big-budget adaptation of the Stephen King novel, out this month.
“We loved it, [director] Mike Flanagan loved it, the producers loved it, the studio loved it,” Grush said from Los Angeles. “Then two days before the final print of the film, Mike said, ‘What happens if we mute that music? You guys are going to murder me, but let’s try it.’ And so we tried it, and it did something good for the film.”
Grush thought the piece of music was perfect, and he knew it wasn’t perfect for the film. This hard-fought slice of wisdom has helped the composer understand his job in creating a film score.
“We are not making an album; if we want to write an album we need to do that,” he said. “It’s important to be collaborative and know [that] when you need to pivot with the director, you can.”
"It can be a little harder to score something funny or romantic. [With] horror you have a lot of room. I really like ballads, whether they come from a band or in classical music, so I feel at home in horror. Setting a mood is so important and music is always a key element in doing that."
-Andy Grush ’00
Over the past decade, the Newton Brothers have become an in-demand team, scoring feature films and television series for USA, Hulu, and Netflix. But Grush almost missed his chance at Hollywood success. As a teenager, he spent hours playing music (he was a self-described classical nerd). But somehow, in the late '90s, he found himself in a finance job he didn’t love and slipping into his mid-20s. For fun, he scored student films, not taking it too seriously. Then a friend and fellow composer, seeing Grush’s skills, told him he needed to quit the office life and get serious about music.
“I was 25 or 26 and applying to Berklee with all these people, young students, who were really talented,” he said. “I had some experience, but I had so much to learn. I needed to take a deep dive into the technology and everything else the school had to offer.”
Oddly enough, Grush’s first credit came writing music on 2003 film Pauly Shore Is Dead. Looking at his current resume or his student work, he couldn’t be further away from Pauly Shore humor (or that suit-and-tie finance job)—for one Berklee assignment, Grush found himself scoring a surf video with ominous music that might make viewers assume the wave shredder was about to be shredded himself by some Freddie Krueger of the deep. But in 2006, when he met Stewart, who was working for Hans Zimmer at the time, he found a collaborator who understood his dark leanings.
The Newton Brothers have become Flanagan’s go-to team to score his horror masterpieces—the pair worked with the director from his breakthrough, 2013’s Oculus, through current Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House, as well as Doctor Sleep. With the duo also finding assignments scoring features about monster sharks, malicious spirits, serial killers, and other things that go bump in the night, they have become experts in the genre.
“It can be a little harder to score something funny or romantic,” he said. “[With] horror you have a lot of room. I really like ballads, whether they come from a band or in classical music, so I feel at home in horror. Setting a mood is so important and music is always a key element in doing that.”