Monday, January 22, 2018
  • Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016
Abel Korzeniowski Scores "Nocturnal Animals"
Abel Korzeniowski
Composer reflects on his collaborative relationship with writer/director Tom Ford

Composer Abel Korzeniowski earned a Golden Globe Award nomination and World Soundtrack and International Film Music Critics Awards, among other honors, for A Single Man, the auspicious feature debut of director/writer Tom Ford.  A Single Man garnered critical acclaim on other fronts as well, including Independent Spirit Award nominations in 2010 for Best First Feature and Best First Screenplay, and a Golden Lion nom and a Queer Lion win at the 2009 Venice Film Festival.

Fast forward to today and Korzeniowski composed the score for the soon-to-be widely released Nocturnal Animals (Focus Features), Ford’s second feature which earlier this year garnered the Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Fest. 

Nocturnal Animals stars Amy Adams as Susan Morrow and Jake Gyllenhaal as her ex-husband Edward Sheffield. Morrow is now married to Hutton Morrow (Armie Hammer) from whom she is drifting apart. Out of the blue, after nearly 20 years of no contact, she receives a manuscript titled “Nocturnal Animals,” penned by Sheffield and dedicated to her. Reading the novel dredges up the past for Susan. We flash back to her story and relationship with Edward--juxtaposed with the novel’s suspenseful crime narrative about Tony Hastings (also portrayed by Gyllenhaal) whose wife and daughter are kidnapped and murdered. The criminal justice system doesn’t bring the perpetrators to justice so a lawman (Michael Shannon) takes the matter into his own hands, working in concert with Hastings. As Susan’s relationship with her ex-spouse and the “fiction” written by Sheffield unfold on screen, the stories seem somehow connected--as if one explains the other.

Collaborative bond
Korzeniowski feels fortunate to have a collaborative relationship with an auteur like Ford. But before he became an auteur, Ford held the initial distinction of being a wildly successful fashion designer. It was back then that the aspiring filmmaker, with principal photography completed on A Single Man, first met Korzeniowski. Their coming together was sparked by Tatiana S. Riegel whose editing credits include Pu-239, a Scott Z. Burns-directed HBO feature which Korzeniowski scored. Riegel, a friend of Ford, turned him onto Korzeniowski. “She gave him my reel and he found something in my music that appealed to him,” said Korzeniowski. “We got together and he wound up hiring me for A Single Man. He showed me the movie--an early but finished cut. He was sitting beside me while I was watching. From my facial reactions, he thought that I hated the movie. But my nature is not to give much away. He was wrong. It struck me as a story with great dialogue that also had a meaningful visual side. I thought his work was inspiring and captivating.”

Korzeniowski fashioned a successful score for Ford, the testament to that fact being the director/writer’s decision to return to the composer for Nocturnal Animals. But unlike A Single Man for which Korzeniowski and Ford communicated mostly on the phone, Nocturnal Animals had the twosome in close physical quarters. Ford wanted Korzeniowski to come join him in London to work. This necessitated the L.A.-based Korzeniowski moving his studio in London, setting up shop in Soho Square. “Tom visited me practically every other day, making for a close collaboration,” said Korzeniowski. They teamed on what the composer described as “balancing how much music can say so it doesn’t go too far and doesn’t become something separate from the film. But at the same time the goal of the music was for it to be really meaningful anytime we hear it in the movie.”

Adding to that balancing act was the dynamic of telling two stories--the gruesome crime story in the novel, and the internal psychological drama based on the recollections and inner psyche of the character portrayed by Adams. “We wound up writing the score in reverse so that the crime story in West Texas is written as a kind of internal fairytale while the internal emotional journey is scored like a Hitchcock movie,” related Korzeniowski. “We see Susan coming back to her house. We don’t objectively see any danger surrounding her but we try with the music to try to set up a thriller, the feeling that something is not right, that something is happening.”

Writing in reverse was “not a conscious decision,” noted Korzeniowski. “It’s where the film led us. It’s what felt appropriate. I never believe in theoretical assumption. Something may be good and interesting on paper but once you do it, it really doesn’t work. We didn’t conceptualize this in advance. It was something we developed during our collaborating on the movie, after seeing what was working and what wasn’t.”

Korzeniowski’s lauded work extends beyond his shared filmography with Ford. Two years after his Golden Globe nomination for A Single Man, the composer landed another Golden Globe nod for the Madonna-directed W.E. Additionally “Evgeni’s Waltz,” a piano piece from the W.E. score, became the basis of a new version of Madonna’s classic “Like a Virgin,” performed during her 2012 MDNA world tour. And on the television front, Korzeniowski thus far has three primetime Emmy nominations for episodes of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful in 2014, 2015 and this year. Korzeniowski also won a BAFTA Award for Penny Dreadful.

Born in Krawkow, Poland, Korzeniowski studied classical composition under the renowned composer Krzysztof Penderecki. Korzeniowski moved to Los Angeles in 2006. His other notable original film scores include Randy Moore’s Escape from Tomorrow and Carlo Carlei’s Romeo & Juliet starring Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth. The latter won Film Score of the Year, Film Composer of the Year, and Best Original Score for a Drama Film at the International Film Music Critics Awards in 2014.

Korzeniowski has also been active in shorter form fare, creating musical identities for leading brands including BMWi Electric Vehicles and Tiffany & Co.

This is the fourth in a multi-part series with future installments of The Road To Oscar slated to run in the weekly SHOOT>e.dition, The SHOOT Dailies and on, with select installments also in print issues. The series will appear weekly through the Academy Awards. The Oscars will be held on Sunday, February 26, 2017, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, and will be televised live by the ABC Television Network. The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide.

Credits for ScreenWork: 

Tom Ford, director/writer; Abel Korzeniowski, composer.