Composer Trevor Gureckis discusses scoring The Goldfinch and working with John Crowley

Trevor Gureckis is an award-winning composer who has worked on Blumhouse thriller Bloodline, HBO’s Vice: Raised by the System, and is currently scoring the Apple TV+ series Servant.

A graduate from the Yale School of Music, he takes his first steps into Hollywood with the Warner Bros and Amazon Studio adaptation of Donna Tartt’s popular novel, ‘The Goldfinch’.

We spoke with him about his experience scoring The Goldfinch and what it was like to work with John Crowley.

Photo by Jai Lennard – © All rights reserved

How have you been? This must all be very exciting?

Trevor: It’s great, for sure. We finished recording it in December so it’s a long, long waiting period. We’re finally getting it out and people have been responding well to the music part, at least. You never know what’s going to happen, how everything is going to come together, the response and all. When you’re so close to it, it can feel like a mystery, and it’s been very interesting. As my first major Hollywood film, it’s been interesting to see all of these moving parts put together and all the expectations about what the film was going to be, and what people had hoped it would be.

How did The Goldfinch differ from other projects you’ve done?

Trevor: The scale of The Goldfinch was pretty monumental, I mean I’ve done Indie films in the past. Aesthetically, Bloodline, whose soundtrack is coming out this week actually, is all synth gore and there are only a few chamber instruments, like flute, violin, and cello. Otherwise, it’s all analogue synths and all that kind of vibe. So there’s that world and then there’s Servant, which is also in the world of chamber music and more experimental classical music, where I’m doing a lot of extended techniques on the violin and hitting a lot of instruments, making weird noises and stuff. 

It’s not like we didn’t do that with The Goldfinch, it’s just that in a lot of ways it’s more about melody and a sense of sweeping ideas and bigger concepts that present themselves in more traditional ways and then the piece itself had a full fifty-piece orchestra. So that itself is a whole other universe to play with.

Courtesy of IMDb

There were moments I found really fascinating in The Goldfinch where there wasn’t much dialogue. In these scenes, you very much set the tone and create the atmosphere.

Trevor: Yeah, I think we realised that the music was going to play a bigger and bigger role…There were a number of elements I wanted to bring that I felt connected with Donna Tartt’s narrative. When I was seeing early cuts from The Goldfinch, seeing Roger Deakins work, what John was talking about, I wanted to bring colour and the electronic being. To bring the vividness as well, to add energy. Because Donna is so detailed in her writing, and it’s like how do you capture that? Not that I’m trying to translate her work through my music. That’s not what I’m necessarily doing, I’m just thinking about how to find different points of reference.

…I wanted to have a theme, which was important, and that comes back multiple times and then just come up with a colour that felt somewhat unsettling or just not quite clear. But also, as you said, it could provide a lot of guidance- but not heavy-handed! Over the course, we never wanted to be channeling the audience too much because that’s the worst kind of scoring, but it’s a nice pairing. It’s the work that Roger Deakins did, it’s incredible, so it’s like how do you not overwhelm his cinematography and just do enough?

 … The music in this film definitely has a strong character and I think that was something we started to realise the film really needed. The performances are often somewhat muted, on purpose, because adult Theo is kind of beaten down and drug-addicted. He’s not going to give a wildly active performance, that’s not the vibe that John wanted for him, so the music provides a lot of information. 

© 2004 IFC Films. All rights reserved.

So what was it like working with John?

Trevor: It was great! He has lots of thoughts about the book and the meaning of what we were doing and the ideas behind everything. Musically, he was very open to ideas that I had and I think some of that might come from his background in theatre, that somewhat collaborative point of view… That’s my theory, I didn’t actually talk to him about it, but I can imagine that must be what it’s like. Of course, there’s always that point when he’s like “oh I don’t like this” and you’re like, “yep, let’s throw it out and start something new”. I’m totally up for that all the time. 

He has a very open mind and the music editor Nancy Allen was really great at being a partner with him. Showing him the music with the dialogue, showing him the music without it, seeing how it worked both ways. So it was a really detailed experience with everything that I wrote…it wasn’t like quick gut reactions and then I hit it, which can sometimes happen.

…It’s good to take a second and he was really good about that, about being careful. When we talked about music it wasn’t like I need a violin here or we need a piano part, it was all just discussing the characters and discussing what was going on in their minds, what was going on in Las Vegas. That can be a bit scary I guess, to translate that into music, but for some reason I just kind of felt comfortable dealing with that. 

Courtesy of IMDb

Out of all the music you wrote for the film, was there a piece you particularly liked working on or you felt really worked in the film?

I do like this cue- I don’t know if people actually like it themselves- but it’s one of those things where I think it’s interesting. It’s a track called ‘Desolation’, and I like it because it’s one of the transition themes… it’s the first one where young Theo jumps into the water and adult Theo comes out of the bathtub… I think it’s a cool effect more than it’s necessarily an amazing composition, but it has a lot of cool sounds and electronics and stuff so that was interesting to put together. 

I also like the last cue a lot. I always feel very close to that one, called ‘Beautiful Things’, because I feel it has a lot of storytelling musically. There are all these instruments that turn and twist with the image. I was touching on each little thing where Theo’s mum is pointing to a picture and there would be some electronic thing that flutters up, woodwind that fly into the sky and when she’s walking it’s horn repetitively. There’s kind of hyper scoring, but that’s because it’s just image and music so it’s an amazing opportunity for a composer to have that chance to be paired with that theme. You get to be one of only two people there, it’s just you and the image. It’s not often the case, but when it is, it’s nice that you get to live up on your scoring opportunities. 

What was it like to work on a massive film?

Trevor: The expectations were definitely high, I mean, there was a lot of “ok, the studio wants to hear”. But the music supervisor, Sue Jacobs, she’s been an advocate of mine for a long time and she was very much someone who protected me from the… problems I didn’t want to know about. So I was able to mostly focus on what I needed to do and she kept me out of any problematic issues… It was all interesting because… there were just so many people around working on my music and I was like, this is insane! I can’t believe how many people are here doing stuff for my music. Usually I’m the one printing everything out, usually I’m staying up until 4 am, printing out parts and that kind of stuff so at least I got a bit of a view of the machine it can be. 

It was definitely an incredible experience. Everyone I worked with on it just had such great energy and excitement about it. The orchestra was great. I think everyone was proud of the score, and even though the critical reviews haven’t been great, the score has been mentioned often which has been nice to hear. 

The Goldfinch is released in the U.K on 27th September 2019.

This interview has been edited and condensed.