Tag Archives: holly amber church




Talented and inventive composer Holly Amber Church talks about being on  lockdown for COVID 19. 

I am guessing you are on a lockdown or at least part lockdown, how has this been for you and are you managing to write any new music at all?

I am in a lockdown situation in Los Angeles currently. It’s strange how quickly things turned and how this feels like the new “normal” now, but I am grateful to have a roof over my head, food to eat and healthy loved ones. I have still been writing some new music during all of this but I will admit that my productivity is not what it normally is as I am so distracted by the news or trying to order groceries online now (and mostly spending hours searching for Lysol or some other disinfectant online too).

What music have you been turning to mostly during the Pandemic and the lockdown?
I have mostly been turning to music right now that makes me happy or peaceful, so a lot of Disney music or Hawaiian music (and I also love some good vintage “tiki” music like Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman).

Have you been watching what we refer to as classic movies ,or are you taking this time to check out more recent releases and maybe looking at shows or films that normally you would not?

It’s interesting because I have been mostly turning to classic films that I love or have seen before right now because they make me happy and there’s a sense of comfort to them. Again, a lot of Disney and Muppets. I do have some more recent films that I would like to check out during this time though too.



Whats the food and supplies situation been like for you?
Getting food and supplies around LA has been interesting but not impossible. We’ve mostly been ordering groceries through delivery services or via Amazon but as many know that can be interesting and a lot of the time you get half of what you placed in your order because they were out of stock. I am just grateful to have whatever we can get.



As well as audio and visual entertainment have you been reading anything at all?
I did finish a book last week that I really enjoyed called “The Science of Monsters” by Kelly Florence and Meg Hafdahl.

Do you think that after this Virus has been beaten that the world and the people in it might be a little different in their behaviour towards each other and also the planet and animals?

holly a church 3
I hope that some good can come out of this virus in that we don’t take things or people for granted ever again. I think we’re also seeing the effect that people staying home more has had on the environment around the globe and I hope that people will take that to heart and we can think about our impact and what we can do in the future to be kinder to each other, the animals and the environment.





One of the recent releases from the Screamworks division of Movie Score Media is the soundtrack from the horror movie THE TOYBOX. The music is by talented composer Holly Amber Church who has created a work that contains more than its fair share of jumps, frights and jolts. The score is a fusion of symphonic textures and synthetic colours and sounds. The composer combines both superbly to fashion a soundtrack that is not only superbly atmospheric but also has to it an alluring and in a kind of strange way attractive style and sound. I first heard the music of Holly Amber Church when her score for THE WORRY DOLLS was released. THE TOYBOX is a deliciously dark and brooding work and one that relies upon low and shadowy sounds that are combined with harsh and jagged stabs alongside what I would call driving and foreboding passages that literally make the listener feel uneasy and sends chills up and down their spine. I was impressed at the composers use of vintage sounding synths, in fact these could have come straight out of the 1980.s, they have to them an almost awkward sound, but when combined with the other effects and conventional instrumentation they work wonderfully and create a mood that is filled with tension and suspense. The score does have some quieter interludes, which the composer does so well, utilising piano and strings.



The score is an inventive one and the composer also introduces some strange sounding effects to bolster the work, this I think comes across to the full in the cue STEVE’S NIGHTMARE which is an unnerving listening experience but is also a brilliant piece of innovative and highly creative writing. It is also score filled to the brim with, visceral and sinewy sounding strings, effective and dark percussive elements and half heard sounds and fragments of melodies that tantalise and invade the listeners mind. Certainly, one for the collection a sinister and virulent score that will delight, perplex, haunt and excite.



I understand that your fascination with film music started at an early age and it was the music of James Horner that was the main reason that you began to become interested in the film score and also the orchestra?

holly amber church

Yes. It was James Horner’s score for “An American Tail” that first caught my interest in film music. I loved the movie as a child and my dad used to come home with records sometimes (often film soundtracks) and I was so excited the day he brought home the soundtrack album for “An American Tail”. I listened to it over and over and I remember one day having a sort of epiphany in realizing that all those beautiful sounds I was hearing was a conglomerate of a bunch of individuals playing together in an orchestra. It kind of blew my mind. Not long after “An American Tail” came “The Land Before Time” which was equally wonderful and then James Horner was officially my hero. I’m pretty sure I bought almost every single album of his growing up. He was it for me.

an american tail

Were any of your family musical in any way?

Not really actually now that I think about it. My grandmother on my father’s side was always very encouraging of the arts though. When we would go to visit her and my grandpa, she always had sketchbooks and markers for us and I remember her giving us tapes that told the history of classical composers and introduced some of their work.

You wrote your first orchestral piece at the age of sixteen which was performed by an orchestra was it at this time that you decided that you wanted to become a composer of film music?

I’m not one hundred percent sure when the desire to be a film composer actually struck. I know I loved film music from an early age. I found a little booklet that I had filled out the first day of school in I think the second grade and it asked what my favorite kind of music was and I wrote “movie background music,” so in a way I feel like that dream was there for a very long time whether I fully realized it or not. Definitely though, hearing my first orchestral work played live at the age of 16 was a major turning point. You just can’t beat working really hard on something and then hearing it played live.


What musical education did you receive and was there any particular instrument or area of music that you focused upon during your studies?

My mom started my sister and I in piano lessons probably when we were about 7 or 8 years old (I have a twin sister) so the piano is and was always my main instrument of study. We had a few different piano teachers growing up and I continued to take piano lessons when I attended Pepperdine University for my undergraduate degree. My focus there shifted to music theory and composition though and I quickly realized how much time composing can take up so my piano studies became less and less as I became more immersed in composing. I then went on to USC for their Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television program, which was really amazing.

You have worked on a number of Horror movies, do you think it is harder to write for this genre as opposed to say romance or comedy?


I absolutely love working on horror movies. Horror and sci-fi are probably my two favorite genres to write for because they are a ton of fun! We’re suspending reality in those types of films which can make for a much vaster musical palette and the opportunity to do all kinds of strange things, which I really enjoy. Plus you get to write some great drama, action and suspense in a horror or sci-fi film. Comedies can be really fun as well. Romances are probably the toughest for me as I’ve never really been into those types of movies. I’m definitely more of a horror girl.

One of your first scoring assignments was for BILL THE INTERN which was produced by Will Hess, this was in 2003. How did you become involved on this project?


BILL THE INTERN was actually the first feature film I scored so it’s a historical one. I was working on a short film while at USC and we were recording the score on what was then called the Spielberg Scoring Stage there. In the middle of recording, some guy walks in wearing camoflauge cargo pants, a fishing vest and a tool belt. He stands there listening for a while and then during a break he approaches me and tells me he’s making a feature film and would I want to write the music for it. As odd as his outfit was, I said sure! This was my first introduction to Will Hess. I am so glad I said yes to his film because we are still really close friends after all these years and have worked on many films together with many more to come! He’s practically like family to me at this point and he even introduced me to my husband. That’s one thing about this business that I think we take for granted sometimes is the people that we meet. I’ve been so lucky to work with so many talented film makers over the years who have truly become great friends.

One of most recent assignments is for the Padraig Reynolds horror movie WORRY DOLLS, you worked together before on RITES OF SPRING, does the film maker have set ideas when it comes to the music or are you given free rein to create the score?


Padraig is one of my absolute favorite directors to work with because he always has such a clear vision on what he wants for the score. We normally start our conversations early on as he will send me the script to read and even music ideas he is thinking of during the process. Once we get to the spotting session he knows exactly what he wants in the film and I write notes as fast as I can! We work really well together as we are always on the same page musically. We bounce ideas off each other throughout the process and he will come over to the studio to listen and sometimes we end up workshopping one cue for hours to really hone in and get it right. His vision and his musical sensibilities are fantastic. I’ve had times where I’m stuck on a scene and not sure what to do and so I’ll give him a call and get ideas from him.

The soundtrack to WORRY DOLLS has just been released on Movie Score Media, it is an exceptional score, it has many sides to it contemporary and also has a feel of the old style Horror soundtrack was this something that you set out to do when you began to work on the movie?

Thank you so much. That is very kind of you to say. I think that mix of contemporary and old style horror kind of happened with what we both like musically, Padraig is a big fan of the horror films from the 70s and 80s so he always likes a bit of a throwback feel.

What size orchestra did you use for the score and how much time were you given to write and record the music?


We had a 31 piece string section for this and they were 31 strong! They made a huge difference on this score and really brought it to life. The AFM musicians here in Los Angeles are just amazing! I feel like I had somewhere between 6-8 weeks to write and record everything.

Staying with WORRY DOLLS how much music did you write for the movie and did most of the score make it onto the MSM release and were you involved in the compilation of the cues for the release?

I feel like I wrote somewhere around 80 minutes of music for the movie and I feel like most of our score did make it onto the MSM release. I was involved in the compilation of the cues a little bit but most of that work was done by Mikael Carlsson of Movie Score Media who produced the soundtrack album. He really has a great ear for putting cues together and coming up with an album flow.

You utilised a childlike voice on the score for WORRY DOLLS which is certainly chilling, who was the vocalist?

That vocalist was actually my niece, Emma May. Padraig said he wanted a little girl to sing the song at the beginning of the film (Padraig wrote that tune by the way – he used to be in a band called The Nukes for those of you that don’t know) and I immediately thought of my niece. I had seen her earlier that year and she sang some songs that she had written to me so that was how I knew she could sing and she was about the right age of voice for this too. She was really excited to record the vocals for this. She even practiced singing to the creepiest doll she had.


You conduct as well as compose, do you conduct all of your scores for film or do you at times pass the baton to someone else so you can monitor the scoring process?

To date I have conducted all of my own scores, but I definitely wouldn’t mind passing the baton off to someone else one of these days so I can sit in the booth and really listen.


James Horner was a big influence upon you, are there any other composers of film music or indeed any type of music that you would say influenced you in the way you write or indeed in the way that you place the music in a movie?

James Horner was hands down the biggest influence on me and the way I write to picture. Obviously, as I got older I began discovering so many of the other great composers out there so I am sure they have all had their influence on me as well. I’m also a huge musical theater fan so in addition to film scores, I grew up listening to a lot of musicals. Les Miserables and Miss Saigon were listened to a lot as well as all the great music from the Disney films during that time. Musicals may not be film scores, but they are still a way of telling a story through music and there is just nothing more powerful than that.


I understand that you are at the moment working on RED ARMY RISING which is directed by Will Hess who you have collaborated with many times, at what stage of the proceedings do you like to become involved on a project, do you at times like to see a script or is it better for you if you come in at the rough cut stage so that you can spot the movie with the director or producer?

RED ARMY RISING is still in pre-production at the moment but we have had a few conversations (and laughs) about it so far. My next project with Will Hess will be his documentary about mardis gras called KING CAKE: A BIG EASY STORY, which he is currently editing. I tend to like to get involved in the project as early as possible. I usually like to read the script so I can start thinking about things. I may not even write a note until after the picture is locked and we’ve had a spotting session, but knowing the story early on let’s that creative thought process begin.

You have worked on a number of shorts, ie: THE LOST SOUL which has a running time of 11 minutes, THEY WATCH which has a duration of 13 minutes etc. Is it difficult for a composer to develop a score and establish themes on movies with such short running times as opposed to working on a full length feature film ?


I do feel like I can definitely get into a feature more as we spend so much more time on them and there is so much more screen time to really develop themes and the sound of that film. I can for sure develop themes and ideas for shorts though if they will lend themselves to that sort of thing. We have some strong themes in THEY WATCH and although it does have a short running time, it does a great job of telling its story and exploring a few of its central themes.

Do you favour any recording studio or orchestra when you are recording your film scores and when writing do you have in mind any particular soloists?

I love working in Los Angeles with the AFM musicians. It’s hard to beat that although recording at Abbey Road with the amazing musicians in London would be a dream one day. As far as studios go, I was really impressed with The Bridge Recording Studio when we recorded WORRY DOLLS there. I also love the Newman Stage at Fox and the Eastwood Stage at Warner Bros.


Do you have a set way of working or a routine that you like to keep to, by this I mean when writing for a film do you start with the main theme and work through to the end titles or maybe work on smaller cues first and then start to develop the central themes?

Yes – I normally like to spend time writing the main themes I know I will need for the film first. I spend time developing those and finding the themes that are just right for each film. Once I have those established and have sort of come up with the sound and musical palette for the film, then I actually like to just start writing chronologically (maybe not the opening titles though until I’ve gone through the whole film). I feel like I keep discovering new things in the music as the film develops in its story.


Do you work on all your orchestrations for your film scores, or at times is this just not possible?

So far I have done all of my own orchestrations for my scores. I do think it would be great to collaborate with another orchestrator one day though.

Have you a particular favourite score of your own or by another composer?

If I had to pick my absolute favorite score of all time, it would probably be “E.T.” by John Williams. One of my other top favorites is “Field of Dreams” by James Horner.

In 2012 you worked on NINAHS DOWRY this was a collaboration between yourself and two other composers, Julia Newman and Cody Westheimer how did you become involved on the project?

I have known Cody and Julia since my days at USC. We met there and have been really close friends ever since. NINAH’S DOWRY was Cody’s film and he brought in Julia and I to work with him. The three of us work great together and had a really fun time collaborating on this film.


You have also written the music for animated shorts, does the scoring process differ at all when working on animated films?

I think most composers would probably tell you that animation is one of the toughest things to score and I agree with them. There’s a lot of nuances and little fast changing moments to hit in animation, but boy is it fun! I really enjoy working on animated films. I feel that despite different styles in films, the one thing they all have in common is that you are there to help tell their story through your music – no matter what the genre is.

What is next for you?

I am currently working on two feature films (an action thriller and a horror) as well as a TV pilot. I’m also writing a stage musical (a comedy) with my sister. I am definitely keeping myself busy with lots of different projects these days but it keeps things interesting!







There have been a number of soundtracks to horror movies released of late, now the score for the horror movie or the horror genre in general was up until a few years ago a taboo subject or at least the release of music from horror movies was, unless of course it was by the likes of Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams and a handful of other A lister composers. It is recording labels such as Movie Score Media and its sister company Scream works that we collectors have to thank for dipping into the rich supply of horror scores that are written for film. It is down to these lovely people and other labels such as Howling Wolf etc that we can reap the benefits and add to our collections scores that probably ordinarily would not have seen the light of day. WORRY DOLLS is one such soundtrack, available on Scream Works this is a highly atmospheric and mysterious sounding work, that has the ability to send shudders up any listeners spine when played during the daylight hours let alone when it is aired at night. Composer Holly Amber Church has been working steadily scoring shorts, commercials and feature films creating a highly polished and deliciously attractive musical canon. Her music has added much to the productions that she has worked upon and one of her latest creations the score for WORRY DOLLS is no exception, this is a soundtrack that contains a plethora of sounds both electronic and symphonic, the composer fusing the two mediums seamlessly into a work that oozes not only foreboding and apprehension but is filled with sophisticated and distorted yet harmonious passages that not only work within the context of the movie but are entertaining in a perverse sort of way when played away from the images. This is one of those scores that although predominantly atonal or un-melodic can at the same time be deemed as an enjoyable and interesting listening experience. In fact there are a number of moments albeit short lived that do contain some haunting thematic material and the composers use of a childlike vocal within the score has a duel effect as in it seems safe because it is a child’s voice we hear but there is an underlying atmosphere that is devilish or impish or maybe just down right evil and disconcerting. The work contains driving strings at certain points that bring to the work a vigorous and forceful persona these are at times supported and punctuated by somewhat chaotic percussive elements and these too are further enhanced by the use of sinewy string stabs and growling brass effects, then there are a number of interludes that are occupied by a lilting almost faraway sounding piano performance which seems to echo or twinkle in the distance which is given an even more icy effect when combined with cello and strings that act as a background giving it an uneasy richness.

holly amber church

Strings come into their own on track number nine, THE INTERROGATION which is a bittersweet adagio of sorts laced with intricate sounding piano and ends with dark low strings creeping into the equation. The composer also pulls out the scare the hell out of stops in track number ten, WHERE IS SHE, again strings melded with electronics are combined to create a fear filled and taught sounding piece that certainly gets the attention of the listener. This can also be said for track number twelve LAWNMOWER LACERATIONS, which is filled with strings being plucked struck and played. Track number thirteen SOMETHINGS WRONG WITH TODD is a creepy and unsettling piece strings again take centre stage but this time are overpowered in the first portion of the cue by electronic sounds that I have to say certainly grate on ones nerves and have the affect of alerting you to something malevolent and spiteful, driving strings are also present which push this composition along at a fairly brisk pace giving it more power and impact. Yes this is a horror score, yes it is atonal and contains synthetic sounds but it also contains some interesting and quite stunning thematic material. Maybe it is wrong to say that Holly Amber Church employs a style similar to etc etc, but in my opinion she does have a style and achieves a sound somewhat in the same vein as composer, musician and synthesist Ed Tomney when he scored movies such as DRACULA RISING back in 1993 and WHERE EVIL LIES in 1995. There is a virulent and potent ambience to this soundtrack and it is one that is alluring in a strange sort of way. It is a modern horror movie which has a score that is contemporary and contains elements and musical affiliations to the horrors of bygone days. I am confident it will become a talking point amongst collectors of movie scores in the coming weeks.