Interview: composer Emoi of Willy’s Wonderland

Willy's Wonderland. Image courtesy Screen Media
Willy's Wonderland. Image courtesy Screen Media /

Nicolas Cage’s new film, Willy’s Wonderland, has released an action-packed trailer, and it looks to be a wild, crazy horror film about animatronics gone bad. It also looks to be a wild, crazy performance by Cage, who is becoming well known for portraying unhinged characters.

Emoi was picked to write the score for Willy’s Wonderland, and 1428 Elm had the chance to talk to the very enthusiastic up-and-coming composer about his experience on the film.

1428 Elm: I looked at your bio online, and it looks like you have scored a lot of short films, is Willy’s Wonderland your first full-length feature?

Emoi: Yes, it is.

1428 Elm: And with Willy’s Wonderland, you lucked into a Nicolas Cage film right out of the gate!

Emoi: Yeah, that’s pretty awesome.

1428 Elm: I have watched the trailer for Willy’s Wonderland, and we are going to make sure that, when people read this interview, they will be able to view it on our website as well. Can you tell our readers what the film is about?

Emoi: One of the earliest conversations I had with Kevin Lewis, the director, was what is Willy’s Wonderland really, at the heart of it all? One of the things he said that I really loved was that at the heart of it all, it’s a punk rock western.

And one of the things that’s really cool about that is you’ve got Nicolas Cage’s character, who – he’s a drifter, who ends up in this town, the town’s got a big problem, and he ends up getting kind of conned into spending the night at Willy’s Wonderland, and while he’s there, they realize they’ve messed with the wrong guy. They put the wrong guy in there, and he kind of cleans things up and what have you, so there is almost this Clint Eastwood-like vibe to the whole thing. And that’s basically what the premise is, he ends up there and it’s haunted. The animatronics come back  to life and he has to fight his way out.

Willy's Wonderland
Willy’s Wonderland. Image courtesy Screen Media /

1428 Elm: And Willy’s Wonderland looks like a Nicolas Cage signature performance, kind of violent and over-the-top, which is always a lot of fun to watch.

Emoi: (Laughs) Yes, he’s completely unhinged, but it’s a lot of fun.

1428 Elm: Tell me how you go about creating the score for a film, what is that process like?

Emoi: Well, it was very unique in 2020 because of the pandemic for me, so I was brought on by Grant Cramer, who’s the producer for Willy’s Wonderland, who also starred in Killer Klowns from Outer Space. He’s a good friend of mine, and he’s the perfect producer for this genre, right?

He sent me the script, he’s been kind of a fan of mine musically for a long time, and we had always talked about me scoring films. I was like, “No, it’s got to be the right film.” So he goes, “Hey, I think I’ve got the right film for you.” Because he knew what a cult horror fan I was, he sent me the script. That was in November 2019, and I read it, and I immediately got back to him and said, “I don’t want to score this movie, ok? I HAVE to score this movie!” I loved the script so much because it just reminded me so much of my childhood, which was Evil Dead 2, Return of the Living Dead, all of the movies that I loved growing up.

Plus, I grew up right next to the original Chuck E Cheese, so every birthday I ever had, every birthday every friend of mine ever had, was at Chuck E Cheese. Any kid who grew up with Chuck E Cheese as part of their life knows that…they’re spooky. Those places, even though they’re fun, it’s true that they all malfunction constantly. You constantly feel like they’re all looking at you, so I feel like there was this genre that was meant to be born from all this, and I’m so surprised that nobody has ever done anything with this genre.

I just fell in love with the script so deeply. Because I hadn’t scored a film before, they were – I wouldn’t say they were nervous, but scoring a film is a very big undertaking, and you want to make sure the person you’re hiring can actually deliver.

So, I just said, “Hey, let me take a stab at this real quick.” So, in the script, Willy sings a song that goes, “It’s your birthday, and we want you to have fun, it’s your birthday, and let’s party everyone.” It was in the script, so I took those lyrics and I created a whole song out of them, a whole jingle.

And I added lyrics to it, added a Willy voice to it, added all kinds of stuff to it and sent it to them, and they were all like, “It’s amazing!” They all had it stuck in their heads so hard that they had to just basically give me the job.

And so I came on, and I started writing the character songs so they could use them while filming, because they started filming Willy’s Wonderland in January of 2020, and I officially signed on in 2020.

Willy's Wonderland
Willy’s Wonderland composer and star Émoi. Image courtesy Émoi /

1428 Elm: So, do you watch the whole film when you’re scoring it, or do you just watch scenes? What’s the process?

Emoi: I think typically what they do is what they call a spot session, where the composer meets up with the director and maybe a couple of producers, and they’ll watch the film together, sometimes with temp music and sometimes without. They’ll decide which parts need music, what they’re trying to convey, all that kind of stuff. Then the composer will go to work on it.

In this case, I came on pretty early, and because they knew I was gonna be doing it, they were sending me the dailies every day. So I got to see the footage every day. It wasn’t cut or edited, or anything like that, but I was able to get the vibe of what it would be. I kept in constant communication with them, sending them ideas and things. But then the pandemic hit, and everything changed, all the plans we had to get together? That was no longer going to happen.

So, I’ve looked at the footage, I’ve taken all the notes. On the piano, I just wrote a big, long suite, going through all the different cues that I had been coming up with, I recorded vocals and all that kind of stuff, and I sent it to them. They all reacted positively to it, and that kind of got me in the right direction.

But I could never have anybody with me, and I couldn’t have any other musicians with me, I couldn’t have a music editor with me, I had to everything completely by myself. That was the challenging part, but it was also a lot of fun, because normally when you’re working on a film, you don’t get that much freedom. I’ve worked on over 200 commercials, and the people stand behind you, they want to come into the studio every day, they want to check in on what you’re doing every day. This gave me larger blocks to not have to show them stuff, and gave me a lot more freedom to come up with new ideas and flush them out, and then send them back, and usually, they were responding very positively.

1428 Elm: So, you not only scored Willy’s Wonderland, you also provided the voice for Willy himself, correct?

Emoi: That’s correct, yeah, which was pretty cool!

1428 Elm: Did you provide just the singing voice, or did you have spoken lines as well?

Emoi: In the script, Willy did not talk. But, when I wrote the songs, I started talking for him, I figured the song really deserves an introduction by Willy, right? So, right before we go into the birthday song, I added, “Hey kids, do you know what time it is? It’s birthday time!” And, they loved it, and then I had Willy in the background saying, “OK now, kids, I want you to clap your hands like there’s no tomorrow!” Just adding in all these darkly satirical improvs for Willy. I just kept doing that stuff for him, and I always thought it would be replaced later, I was just having fun with it.

Of course, I wanted to do a good job because I wanted to sell the song, I wanted them to hear the song and be able to imagine what it’s going to be like when the real actor’s on there. When it came down to it, they were just like, “Nope. We don’t want anybody else. You killed it, you nailed it.”

1428 Elm: Well, that worked out great for you.

Emoi: Yeah, they said, “Would that be ok?” And I was like, “Oh my gosh, would that be ok? That’s just a super honor!”

1428 Elm: And now you can add a voice acting credit to your resume! What projects are you working on next, do you have anything else coming up soon?

Emoi: I just finished a spot for Tencent, for their 2020 summit that was in December, but I don’t have any films lined up per se, because we’re still in the pandemic and there aren’t a lot of films happening right now. But I’m definitely hoping to work with the same team again with whatever comes next.

1428 Elm: Yeah, I am really hoping for everyone in the entertainment industry, that things will start moving in an upwards direction soon, so I will keep my fingers crossed for you. And maybe when this movie comes out, you’ll all of a sudden be a hot commodity!

Thank you so much for your time, it was great talking with you.

Emoi: Nice to talk with you too, thank you.

Willy’s Wonderland will be available to watch in theaters and on-demand starting on Feb. 12.

Next. A Nightmare Wakes: Interview with cinematographer Oren Soffer. dark

Are you a fan of Nicolas Cage’s unhinged performances, and will you be watching Willy’s Wonderland? Let us know what you think in the comments section.