‘The Bunker Game’ composer Umberto Smerilli talks about crafting his score

Umberto Smerilli explains how he created a postmodern spirit for the film.

Shudder continues to step up its original content game, with recent films such as The scary sixty-first and Seed first this month. Another new original film now available on the horror-focused streaming platform is the deadly role-playing tale, The bunker game.

Directed by Robert Zazzara, the official synopsis of the film is as follows:

After several mysterious mishaps, a live role-playing game is interrupted and players leave the bunker while staff remain behind to investigate the disappearance of Greg, the game’s mastermind.

The bunker game has a very arthouse feel to it, probably because the director of the film is also a cinematographer. But it is the score of Umberto Smerilli’s film that helps to accentuate this fact even more. After learning that Smerilli used everything from Tibetan bells to original instruments he built himself for the score, we discussed the creative process with him in more detail below. The bunker game sounds.

Umberto’s score for the film is also available digitally, with two new versions of the Italian classic, “Parlami d’amore Mariù” included, as well as a remix by Bewider. You can listen here:

Dread Central: How did you get involved in The bunker game?

Umberto Smerilli: The director, Roberto Zazzara, and I have been collaborating for years. As a result, we share a common language and a shared vision of cinema in general.

Not only do we work together, but we also have a lot of fun watching movies together, analyzing everything from photography, music and directing. So when The bunker game got the green light, he recommended me to the producers. After a thorough audition process, I was hired.

DC: How would you describe your score for the film?

WE: The bunker game score is inspired by a strong postmodern spirit. The film revolves around the theme of a past story that haunts the present. The soundtrack therefore reflects this concept. It is a fairly complex score insofar as very different elements coexist. There are references ranging from classic cinema and the style of Bernard Herrmann to opera, but also techno beats and electronics. The bunker is like a labyrinth of the present, in which you can find relics of the past coexisting in an overlay of states. It’s like we’re lost in some sort of quantum mechanics of consciousness. The soundtrack expresses this feeling.

DC: What did you do to prepare your work on The bunker game?

WE: My first step was to analyze the script. In general, my approach is always to look for implicit or hidden concepts and ideas in the story and try to unearth them. So my work is very conceptual at first. I then follow the flow and let the music go where it wants because music has its own needs.

When I start a new project, I always go straight to the piano. I’m very old fashioned that way, even though I find myself in a deep techno track full of rough and sour synths. And that was exactly the case with The bunker game. When I realized that the bunker was like a character in its own right, I wondered how to bring the setting to life. For this reason, I have researched the stamp extensively. I incorporated the sound of rubbing and rusting sheet metal into the score and requested unconventional techniques from the string orchestra. Nothing is acquired in the timbre of this score.

DC: Because you’re based in Rome, do you think your approach was different?

WE: I studied film music at the Italian National Film School. I had the opportunity to know Professor Federico Savina, who is an absolutely incredible sound engineer. He is the man who recorded immortal film scores of Italian cinema, working with directors like Fellini, Antonioni, Visconti, Leone and composers like Morricone and Rota. Savina’s “vision” of sound and music in film has profoundly influenced mine. He gave me little secrets for which I will always thank him. Through this passage of knowledge, I feel a strong link with the tradition of Italian cinema. My adventure in the film industry began and continues in Rome today, where I can still breathe that story in the air.

DC: Is there a scene in the movie that was particularly hard to score? Why?

WE: There is a large scene in which Laura, the protagonist “feels” the ghost’s past experience and embodies its deep pain. It’s a very dramatic moment, and we wanted to immerse ourselves in that drama with the protagonist. We leaned into traditional Italian opera for this, trying to give it an operatic twist. What we needed was simply the scope and scale of Puccini’s scores, and their ability to deal with emotions deeply rooted in our nature. So I borrowed some of those tools from him and reinvented them. The challenge was to make drama coexist with horror.

DC: Especially in the horror genre, we’ve heard of composers using found objects to create weird sounds for their scores. Did you do something like this?

WE: Yes of course! It was probably the most fun part of the job.

The score is full of all kinds of rubbed metal, ranging from large bronze plates to Tibetan bells and many more.

My greatest achievement in the realm of unconventional instruments was inventing and building the Smerillophone, a wind instrument that is basically a plastic tube connected to a saxophone mouthpiece. This is nothing particularly new. But, since I was a free jazz saxophonist, I have a large toolbox of unconventional techniques to apply to this instrument borrowed from the sax. The Smerillophone was an incredible tool for depicting the dark echoing tunnels of the bunker.

DC: Because you and the director, Robert Zazzara, have worked together before, did he allow you to have a bit more freedom with the score? Or did he have a specific vision in mind?

WE: Roberto and I really worked together to come up with ideas by experimenting and talking. He clearly had his own vision of what he needed before I started composing. But the result is the result of the process, not of the premises. It’s not even the sum of his vision plus mine, maybe the product.

DC: Your score for the film is coming out. Do you have a favorite track from the album?

WE: Probably my favorite piece is “Possession” because it’s a sort of sequel that expands the variety of the music by linking very different themes and timbres. I also love that this track isn’t a post-production edit, but that’s exactly what happens in the movie edit.

DC: What are some of your favorite horror movies?

WE: As a child, I couldn’t sleep for many years because of Deep Rosso by Dario Argento. I still really like this movie.

I really liked Hereditary by Ari Aster and The witch by Robert Egger. I was also very impressed with the scores for these films, so many thanks to Colin Stetson and Mark Korven for helping to influence The bunker game score.

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