The Music of Fear: Chatting With Anna Drubich About Her Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Score

Our resident film musicologist had the opportunity to talk with film composer Anna Drubich about her work on the upcoming film Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, directed by André Øvredal and releasing in theaters next month.

It was great fun getting to talk to Anna Drubich about her work on Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and during the interview I got the chance to learn about how her work in the film industry began. As it turns out, her roots in the film industry go pretty far back, as her father was a famous film director in Russia, while her mother was an actress. Her career in film music unexpectedly began around the age of 16, when her father heard her playing a piano piece she had composed and asked her to come to the studio and improvise a few bars for a film he was working on.

That got her into the world of composing for films, but it wasn’t until some time later that she first met her co-composer Marco Beltrami. Having listened to several of Beltrami’s soundtracks, Drubich felt very connected to his style of composition. And after meeting Beltrami in a workshop for composition students in her second week of classes at USC, this happened:

[After assigning a class project]…Basically, somehow, my work stood out, he noticed me from the group and said he liked what I did. Literally two years afterward, I ran into him in a parking lot, and because I kind of knew him I said hello, and he said “I remember you, are you busy?”…and he said “You know what, I’d like you to work with me.”

Drubich, believing Beltrami was only being polite, thought nothing of it until just after the holidays when she was back home in Russia for a visit:

A couple of months later, I was in Moscow to spend the New Year, and I received an email that went “Hey, where are you?” And I was like “Oh my god!” So I grabbed the first ticket to L.A. the next day.

As for Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Drubich and fellow composer Marco Beltrami took a rather interesting approach to scoring the film:

So when I first heard about this project from Marco [Beltrami]…I hadn’t read the books, so I just opened the book, the Scary Stories book, and started to read them. I was not familiar with them, so I was very curious about how, like, the different stories and different characters combine into one narrative, and one big story.

So when I read it…it was very scary and kind of intense…You have a story that connects the whole picture, but it still has the sequences of horror with different characters…It was clear that this movie needs one big theme to hold it together. We [also] had an idea to create for each horror sequence a different sound center.

For example, Harold would be like raw-sounding guitars, and a broken banjo, and that kind of stuff. For “Hurdy Gurdy,” or “Jangly Man,” we imagined more percussive sounds. For “Big Toe” it was brass centered. For “Pale Lady”…it was a woodwind sound.

We had this concept, I’m sure nobody from the audience will really notice it, but I think it really plays together in the score, and it’s a cool concept…Maybe the audience will notice it…Each story has its own melody and motives, it’s kind of a traditional orchestral score, but each horror sequence has a very specific sound in it, that’s different from the whole score.

And as for the actual scoring sessions themselves, Drubich and Beltrami were given a healthy amount of time to get the score written, as they viewed the first cut of the film in early February. Interestingly, this meant some imagination had to be used when creating the score as re-shoots were in still in progress and much of the VFX for the monsters was missing. The recording sessions themselves began in June, and the scoring process took around four months to complete from beginning to end, resulting in 80 minutes of music in the finished score.

As someone who studies film scores, I’m very interested in hearing how this idea of different musical themes for each monster plays out in the final film and the soundtrack itself.

It was very exciting getting to hear about the score of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and I’m very thankful that Anna Drubich took the time to speak with me about her latest work.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark premieres on August 9, 2019.