'Insurgent' Composer Tells Us About Scoring Fear Landscapes -- And 'Straight Outta Compton'

Joseph Trapanese fills us in on "Insurgent"... and N.W.A.!

In the 2014 film "Divergent," moviegoers watched Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) navigate a dystopian Chicago universe as the music of Ellie Goulding, Zedd, Skrillex and more pumped on in the background. So when those same moviegoers shell out their allowance money to check out its sequel, "Insurgent," they might be more than a little surprised to hear moody, orchestral, and decidedly non-lyrical composed pieces.

MTV News hopped on the phone to chat with "Insurgent"'s composer, Joseph Trapanese, about the major changes you'll see (and hear) in the film -- and (surprise!) he also revealed to MTV exclusively that his next film will be "Straight Outta Compton."

MTV: The score is a noticeable departure from "Divergent." What were some of the main changes, going in, that you wanted to make?

Joseph Trapanese: The focus in "Divergent" seemed to be a lot of songs -- a lot of songs spliced into the film, which gave it a very youthful feel, in my opinion. For this one, talking with our new director Robert Schwentke, it became very clear that it was a very different Tris. She’s grown up, she’s dealing with a lot of different issues.


In the first movie she’s dealing with growing up, and all of those growing pains, but in the second movie she’s become an adult, and she has to deal with all of these new problems and these new issues. The score had to take on a very different approach, in terms of dealing with that. Rather than rely on a lot of songs, the music for this relies on a lot of score.

MTV: There are some collaborations on the soundtrack, though. How did those come to pass?

Trapanese: There’s a song in the film called "Holes in the Sky" by M83 that has a great impact on the film. The rest of the songs on the soundtrack are inspired by our story, and take their impetus from the storyline of the film... When it came time to talk about including a song in the film, I was talking a lot with Randy Poster, our music supervisor, who is incredible and has amazing nuance when dealing with story, and being able to find the right artist to work with a story. Between my personal connection with M83 and Randy knowing M83 from “Divergent,” we thought he’d be a great choice to bring in for this collaboration.

One of the other very interesting collaborations that happened -- and this was all things to Randy -- was working with SOHN, who I have had a great love and respect for ever since I was told to listen to his music by a friend of mine. So the chance to get to work with him on this film was something we all jumped at. I’ve had this quote unquote love theme bouncing around for Tris and Four for quite a while, and we sent that over to SOHN, and he created a new song based on that theme, and that is one of the songs on the soundtrack.

MTV: What can you tell me about the creation of that love theme? Tris and Four get more "up close and personal" this time around...


Trapanese: I definitely approached their scenes very delicately. The acting is so great, the acting is so moving, that the last thing I wanted to do was try to over-enhance this emotion that we’re feeling. I wanted to make sure that we could stay distant enough. Also, there’s a lot of hesitation between Tris and Four, because there’s a war going on. There’s a flower blossoming in a really desolate landscape. I didn’t want to pour a bunch of syrup over it and say, "Oh, wow, what a beautiful love theme." I wanted to be a little bit more precious with it. So the music between Tris and Four, while being somewhat warm and definitely emotive in that way, they’re also very sparse and very simple.

MTV: What about the fear landscapes? Is there a way to tell we're in one, via the music?

Trapanese: One of the most interesting things about our approach to fear landscapes... the music actually gets more orchestral and less electronic in these fear landscapes; in these simulations. It’s interesting how one might expect it to get the opposite -- somehow more futuristic, electro, computer-oriented.

But in order to provide a counterpoint to the film, to the grand fantasy land we’re seeing in these fear landscapes, we almost had to do the exact opposite of that, which is provide something very acoustic and very emotional. Something that’s very warm, and that provides something much more subjective to Tris in terms of what she’s experiencing emotionally, rather than just playing the crazy stuff we’re seeing on screen. The music in those simulations has less to do with what we’re seeing, and more to do with what Tris is feeling.

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MTV: On a totally different note... what can you tell me about the strategy for "Straight Outta Compton?"

Trapanese: We’re just starting on the music, so I can’t speak too specifically about it. For me, because I have such a love of hip-hop -- it was really the first music I fell in love with as a kid -- my goal for the score is to create something that’s both aware and respectful of the music of N.W.A. I’m not trying to create something that can match N.W.A., at all.

I’m also not trying to create something that is completely unaware; just sort of generic film music. The scoring needs to be aware of the landscape its in; it becomes all the more important when that landscape is one of the seminal acts of hip-hop. It’s funny, because with a biopic you’re not doing as much heavy lifting as with a sci-fi action movie like “Insurgent,” but I think the task is just as hard, because I have to show a lot more restraint and nuance with a film like "Straight Outta Compton."

MTV: So besides N.W.A., who are you looking to in terms of influence?

Trapanese: I’ve spent a lot of time reading about Dre, and reading about his production -- forget about reading about his production, I’ve spent a lot of time listening to his production, all my life. All the more so now, with an ear towards what his sensibilities are. This is not a hip-hop score, there’s such great hip-hop music in the film, but the idea of me being aware of Dre’s sensibility while working is something that is very important to me... Let’s just say I’m very excited about the possibilities.

"The Divergent Series: Insurgent" hits theaters on March 20.