Talking to composer Andrew Scott Bell about scoring Winnie the Pooh-Blood and Honey. And creating a unique sound for this very different adventure in 10 Acre Wood.
Your most recent assignment is for the horror movie Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey, which is causing a bit of a stir already and it’s not even released yet. How did you get onboard with the project?
Yes! The response to this movie has been massive; at times even overwhelming!
I came onboard this movie in an interesting way. I had heard about the movie from a friend and saw some people talking about it on Twitter. I found Rhys Frake-Waterfield, the director, on Instagram where he had posted a screen-shot of a comment from someone saying something to the effect of “you’re ruining my childhood.” Rhys’ reply was something along the lines of “that’s what I’m trying to do, ruin childhood memories.”
I replied to that post with “I’d love to help you ruin some of those memories 🎼🎻”
It turned out I had a friend on the project, Vince Knight the Director of Photography. From there, Rhys and I started talking about some musical ideas almost immediately and had a really wonderful conversation about the movie.
It wasn’t completely clear that I had gotten the gig though until a few weeks later. My wife and I were literally walking out the door for a vacation when I received an invitation to a WhatsApp group thread titled “Pooh Post Production.” I said to her as we were walking to the car, “I think I got that Winnie-the-Pooh movie.”
Your scores for Psycho Storm Chaser and Witness Infection sound really grand, have you used the same type of orchestration on Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey and how many players were involved on the recording?
Thank you! Yes I’m using a similar orchestration I’ve used in the past for those scores. I’m such a fan of that big, lush sound I grew up listening to in scores by James Horner, Alan Silvestri, John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, and so many more. All those composers from the 80’s and 90’s have been instrumental (pun intended) influences in my music and my taste in general. I think that carries through us as artists in what we create.
As was the case with both Witness Infection and Psycho Storm Chaser, the music budget was too low to hire a full orchestra. So I lean on all the instruments I play to add life and texture to the MIDI orchestral samples I write with on the computer.
For example, I have a trumpet, a clarinet, a trombone, multiple violins, a cello, a slew of random instruments including the inside frame of an upright piano that I use to play some glissando and plucked prepared piano parts, as well as a few custom instruments made for me by experimental luthier Tyler Thackray (known on Instagram as @violintorture) including a violin that has a beehive inside of it; more on that later!
I play all those instruments in the score and layer them into my computer sounds to create real, tangible textures in the music for the listener to grab onto. I’ve found that adding even just a few live instruments helps trick the ears into accepting the rest of the computer generated sounds as real.
As an example: the moment the audience first sees Pooh, who is a massive and brooding figure in the movie, I recorded myself playing cello 24 times; which is roughly three times the normal size of a cello section in a traditional symphony orchestra. It’s a massive wall of sound and you really feel that full, organic scope.
When you first went to see the movie, did the producers or director have any specific instructions or preferences regarding the sound or style of the music?
Not really in this case, though sometimes they do. Rhys and I mostly just talked about wanting to play the movie as seriously as possible and how we could pull humor out of that seriousness. Winnie-the-Pooh as a slasher is already ridiculous. The best way to make the movie fun and humorous is to treat it as if it were Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers on the screen.
There’s a bit of a folk horror element to the movie as well as most of it takes place in the woods. So steering away from any synthesizers and going for as much of an organic sound as possible was something we discussed.
I really love some of James Horner’s early scores for Roger Corman pictures; Battle Beyond the Stars, for example. There’s a richness but also a crisp bite in Horner’s early scores that I think I’m really leaning into for Blood and Honey. Look forward to big, bold brass lines and sharp, stinging string ostinatos.
There seems to be lots of differing reactions about the film. Some think it’s a cool concept but other people are saying it’s a film that should not have been made because it will ruin the memories they have of Pooh all’a Disney. It even made the national news here in the UK. Are you concerned at all about this, or is it a case of there’s no such thing as bad publicity?
It’s been wild! The responses to the trailer range from “I can’t wait to see this” all the way to “I hope whoever worked on this movie goes straight to hell” (that last one is from an actual tweet).
The director, Rhys Frake-Waterfield, has even received death threats, which is just insane to me. It’s just a movie. I think if it bothers you that much, you can just not watch it.
Ultimately though, it doesn’t really concern me. I’m just glad people are talking about the movie and it’s fun to engage with the people who are genuinely excited to see it. It reminds me of what I’ve read about the backlash to Silent Night, Deadly Night.
At the time that movie was announced and the poster was released, the famous image of a man dressed as Santa coming out of a chimney with a bloody axe, people were outraged and tried to shut down the movie’s theatrical release. They were mostly successful in the US but that only fueled the fire of people wanting to see it and drove the movie to become an instant cult classic. Silent Night, Deadly Night now has yearly sold out screenings at Hollywood’s New Beverly theatre and is adored by horror fans worldwide.
I don’t expect Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey will receive that level of instant cult classic fame, but I truly do think it will find its following and be adored for years to come. It’s a fun movie! In spite of not having a big, Hollywood sized budget, every single member of the cast and crew are pouring our passion, hard work, and dedication into this movie and having a complete blast working on it. I think that kind of joy and exuberance can’t help but flow out from the screen when you watch it. I hope audiences enjoy it as much as we’ve enjoyed working on it.
You use a really inventive sound in the score which is a violin but with a difference. Can you tell us about this? I know it was developed by someone else but you must have come up with the sound in the first place?
Yes! You’re talking about what we call the “beehiveolin.” So a few years ago, I met Tyler Thackray online. Tyler is an experimental luthier – a luthier is someone who designs and builds string instruments like guitars and violins etc. I connected with him on Instagram and commissioned him to design a new, custom-made instrument for a different horror feature I was slated to score. I ultimately didn’t end up scoring that picture, but Tyler and I stayed in touch.
When I signed on to score Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey, I remembered a video Tyler posted in which he’d put an old violin inside a beehive as an experiment. I reached out to Tyler to see if it was still there in the hive and if I could possibly play it on the film score. To my delight, he said yes! So I drove up to San Francisco with my manager, Mike Rosen, to film a short documentary of us removing the violin and putting it back together. When we pulled it out of the hive, it had been there for nearly 2 years. The bees had not only built comb around the edges of the instrument, but inside the resonating chamber as well.
I highly recommend watching the full video. It’s 24 minutes but it really turned out to be educational and insightful. Winnie the Pooh: Blood, Honey, and Violins
It’s a crazy instrument! It doesn’t even sound like a violin anymore. It has a grainy, almost buzzy sound that is really unsettling. I’m thrilled to not only know Tyler but to get to collaborate with him on creating new and interesting instruments is a complete dream.
I also now have that instrument he had designed and built for me for the other movie and I’m using it on the score as well. We’re tentatively calling it “The Bear Head.” It’s a cigar box body with a bass ukulele neck and built in spring reverb inside the resonating body. It’s a wild and feral sounding instrument; the musical equivalent of a growling bear!
Will there be a soundtrack release on CD or on digital platforms?
There should be a soundtrack release. The details of that are still being ironed out but of course it’s something I’m planning for. I hope the soundtrack has a physical release in addition to digital online streaming.
I think mp3’s and now music streaming apps almost encourage a passive listening experience. Because of the nature of how portable it is, we often throw on some music in our pockets while we do other things. Physical media, on the other hand, kind of facilitates a more active engagement with the music. It becomes more of an event.
I fondly remember putting in a soundtrack CD and sitting beside my stereo. I’d pour over the booklet of liner notes for interesting information about the music or any nugget of wisdom from the composers. I treasure those memories in my childhood bedroom glued to my stereo, completely captivated by every single note.
How much music did you compose for the movie, and how long did you have to write and record the score?
I’m still writing the original score. I’m about halfway finished with the movie. There’s just over an hour of original music in the film. I think it’s musically some of my best work to date. I’m thankful that Rhys is allowing me to go big and bold with the musical choices and I’m very excited to share our vision with audiences.
Were you tempted to include something a little Disney-fied in the music at any point like a parody or just something that maybe the audience could latch onto in a slightly sinister way that was connected to Pooh as in the animated bear?
I was never even a little bit tempted to include anything from Disney. It never crossed my mind. This movie is nowhere at all even remotely connected to Disney’s version of the characters. Every part of this production and every member of this team is laser focused on creating something wholly original with the character.
Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey is based solely on the first book by A. A. Milne, and even goes so far as to change the characters’ origin story in new and exciting ways – which I won’t dare spoil here!
Audiences can expect to meet a Winnie-the-Pooh the likes of which they’ve never seen on screen before. It’s been a joy working with Rhys Frake-Waterfield to bring that new character to life through some truly horrific music.
Many thanks to Andrew Scott Bell for his time and patience.
Here are some examples of the composer’s wonderful film scores.