'Scream' Composer Breaks Down The Show's Most Terrifying AF Musical Moments

Here's how Jeremy Zuckerman scored the sh-t out of "Scream."

Thanks to Randy Meeks, we're well aware that there are certain rules you have to abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie. But what about a horror TV show? The teenage residents of Lakewood are just going to have to figure that one out for themselves.

MTV's "Scream" isn't just paying homage to the classic film series that came before it, but rather, the entire horror genre. And that aforementioned genre would be nothing without two things: a terrifying af, nightmare-inducing antagonist and a killer score. In fact, music plays an integral part in scaring the sh-t out of people, as viewers found out during Tuesday night's chilling premiere of "Scream."

So, who's the master behind the spine-tingling score? MTV News chatted with the show's composer Jeremy Zuckerman ("Legend of Korra") about his string-heavy approach and why silence is the most terrifying horror score of them all.


Nina Patterson - Scream

"The showrunners, Jaime [Paglia] and Jill [Blotevogel], they were excited about the idea of a string score," Zuckerman said. "They liked the way strings can cover a wide emotional range, and I liked that too. Strings can be very beautiful and intimate and very sad. They sort of cover the gamut emotionally. They can also be exciting and they can be really, really scary and creepy and weird. I just felt like they were sort of the most efficient instrument ensemble to use."

"There's the emotional friends hanging out, friends drama, lovers drama, there's all that shipping stuff," he added. "Then there's the horror stuff, and then there's sort of this post-classical element. It seems to come up when the scene is self-referential, the way the movies were -- when the show is talking about itself or talking about the slasher genre."

When Noah (John Karna) delivers his meta diatribe to his classmates -- "Survivor movies burn bright and fast; TV needs to stretch things out." -- the score is predominantly strings but with that aforementioned post-classical twist.


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"There is some guitar in there," Zuckerman said. "There's definitely some percussion elements. There's a handful of exotic instruments that I'm using, these sort of strings, modern percussion. It’s a lot of metal, stuff like that."

One scene from the premiere that stood out to Zuckerman as being particularly inspiring was the scene in which Emma receives a call from the killer. The moment made our hearts pound -- not only because we heard the killer's voice for the very first time, but also because the music was so spectacularly intense.


EMMA - Scream

"That was kind of a breakthrough scene for me," he said. "That was the moment where I started to realize some important aspects of the aesthetics of the score. The thing about a score is that it takes a little while to figure it out. It's like a language that you're building. You sort of do something and it works really well and you start using it in other places and before you know it, you have a solid theme. I felt like that sort of happened with that scene."

"With horror music, thematic elements aren't necessarily melodies. They could be sounds," he added. "With that scene, there was this combination of instruments that I used that were simple but had a real visceral quality to them. One of them was the cymbal tree, it’s just a sort of mass of cymbals. It almost sounds like people yelling or screaming. So I started using that for the first time and a couple other elements. It felt very tense and very organic. It didn't feel like computers or syntheses, which is something I am trying to achieve in this score, using computers in a very transparent way, so it doesn’t feel technological, it feels visceral."

When creating the score for this modern teen reboot of a beloved classic, Zuckerman consulted the source material. He spent days watching Wes Craven's entire "Scream" franchise -- yes, even "Scream 3" -- and dissected composer Marco Beltrami's work.

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"I just tore into it for a couple days, watched them all again," he said. "Marco Beltrami's score was cool. He did some interesting things. I noticed in the first one he kind of divided the score into different sections. There were different styles for different situations. And I thought that was a really cool idea. It kind of helped me wrap my head around how to approach it, how to be efficient with it."

Perhaps the most important thing Zuckerman learned from Beltrami's approach was to keep the horror 100 percent serious.

"It was cool to see that I could just go for it, without holding back," he said. "What’s super fun, for me, is to build these really scary cues and these really weird textures that aren’t based in harmony and melody but are just more visceral. It almost reminds you of something crawling, creeping up behind you or bugs crawling on your skin. I like to think about music in different ways; not just melody, harmony and rhythm, but there are these different aspects of music that are less explored."

"In a horror score you can put the melody and the harmony and the rhythm in the background a little bit," he added. "They’re secondary at best. All these other elements of music that are usually ignored become more of the clay that you play with. So that’s been the most inspiring part of it for me so far."


But as horror aficionados know, the genre's most effective weapon is silence. And as a composer, it's your job to know when those breaks will be most effective.

"I try to find ways use silence if I can get away with it, just to make the music more intense," Zuckerman said. "And to make the tension more real. I think about the Japanese version of 'The Ring,' called 'The Ringu.' It’s so scary because there’s not a lot of production as far as effects and things, and musically, it's a lot simpler than the American version. It really scared me so much more because it felt like it was happening in my living room. So that's what I want to try and accomplish."

"Sometimes it's tough to sell silence," he added, "And it's kind of a bold move to use silence, but I always try to push it when I think it's right."

"Scream" airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on MTV.