Interview: Too Late composer Mikel Hurwitz on balancing giggles and gore

Too Late. Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures
Too Late. Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures /
2 of 3
Too Late
Mikel Hurwitz. Credit is Sage Etters /

1428 Elm: Well, look, I’m a total horror movie nerd, but I LOVE Hallmark Christmas movies!

Mikel: They’re fun, you know. I had this realization while chatting with my wife, who loves them. At the end of the day, these films make a lot of people really happy, and that brings a lot of joy to me in the work that I do.

1428 Elm: Well, they’re always going to have a happy ending, you know what you’re getting, you know. I seriously love the Hallmark Christmas movies.

Mikel: They are fun.

1428 Elm: So, tell me about working with Danny Elfman.

Mikel: It was great. We’re still in touch, but basically I was sort of his first assistant for the better part of five years. It was a really neat gig, I just kind of decided that I had to do my own thing, it was sort of bittersweet, but I’m really happy that I did. I think at my core, I am an artistic composer, as opposed to someone who just wants to exist for someone else’s art.

1428 Elm: Let’s talk about Too Late. As I said, it’s a horror comedy film, and it’s set in the world of stand-up comedians in LA. Those are two things that normally don’t go hand-in-hand, but for some reason, it really works in this case. It fluctuates from moments of comedy to some pretty strong gore, what are the challenges that arise from such different tones in the same film, as far as scoring the film is concerned?

Mikel: Well, that IS the challenge, to figure out how to blend those two, right? Because in horror scoring, there’s almost such an established language for music. Not necessarily the actual tones that we hear, but a lot of the language comes from building tension, how tension is built and released, and how anticipation is built, those moments of payoff, moments of sheer terror. How does music help us get to those moments for those payoffs? That’s this whole sort of dialect in scoring.

And there’s the comedy thing, which is almost like a separate dialect in terms of timing as well. And I really found the biggest challenge, aside from figuring out what instrumentation was going to work in the moments of horror, versus the moments of comedy, is figuring out how to blend those two different dialects of timing. Figuring out what to hit, how to hit it with music, and how to make a horror moment scarier, if that’s what it’s calling for, and how to make a comedic moment funnier.

There’s a little bit of magic and intuition to it, but I think the film ultimately dictates what those moments are. That was definitely at the front of my brain: Is this a moment of comedy? Are we trying to accentuate a joke? You can’t step on the joke with music, or else that kind of kills the joke.

There’s that kind of language, versus, ok, is there gore here? So, do we want to build tension in more of a horror-type way? That’s the timing part of it, but in terms of the instrumentation…the main character, Bob Devore, he’s funny, you know? He’s kind of timeless, he’s a bit of a vampire-like figure. We don’t really know what era he’s from, so we talked a great deal, the director, the producer and myself, we chatted about his back story. We don’t really know in the film per se, we just kind of get these little snippets of it.