Composer Nima Fakhrara has had an eclectic career, which has seen him appear in film, television and multimedia projects on a global scale. In person, this genuinely gifted and unassuming musician enjoys breaking the rules of musical composition, subverting his classical training to create some truly memorable musical moments.
Nima brings his signature touch to an offbeat action movie lou, which premiered today on Netflix, putting Allison Janney front and center in the title role. Before the film’s release, she took some time to talk to We Got This Covered about her process, as well as what she did. lou such an interesting proposal.
How did you get involved with Lou?
I was lucky to be able to participate in this project quite late, everyone says it’s good to start early, but no, I was one of the last people to participate. I got along very well with director Anna Foerster. She likes crazy ideas and I had a lot of hers, so it was one of those things that we hit it off with. We started writing pretty quickly and I was at it for about two and a half months, so not too long.
What did Anna bring to the table from your point of view as the composer of this project?
One of the biggest dreams a composer can have is when someone tells you how they want the actual scene to feel compared to what they should do. With Anna and the whole team, both on Bad Robot and on Netflix, we wanted this to feel like this, or well, this isn’t exactly what we’re going for in this scene.
Musically and as a songwriter, it’s really amazing to hear that, as I can translate feelings much more easily than concrete ideas of what people want. Anna brought that focus and global experience, along with her incredible skills as a director and leader to this project.
The soundscape is very unique, it’s very atmospheric and very moody. To what instruments did you gravitate to transmit that sense and that feeling?
Much of the film takes place in the rain, so there were a lot of conversations with the sound designer and the sound team. Questions about how we make music material that doesn’t get drowned out by this constant sound of pouring rain. One of the first things I really gravitated toward was this guitar that’s always lying around, never out of tune, but always makes some interesting sounds.
I actually took a hammer and a dulcimer stick, and then played with that on top at one point. He created this pulsing woodsy sound, which is really hard to pin down, but another idea came from that. One of the first scenes I scored was the opening and you hear a lot of things coming together musically. From voices that are timeless, to TikTok samples and chants from the Middle East. There’s a lot of great stuff going on, and for me it became a playground of musical possibilities to explore.
Considering the time period of the film and where it takes place, what musical influences were you inspired by, be it cultural or musical?
musically lou it’s set in the 80’s, and I didn’t take any influence from that period. One of the things I wanted to do was make it more of a technical exercise than anything else. So the whole score was recorded on cassettes, before we re-recorded the vocals. That was one of the biggest challenges to my crazy mind, in terms of getting the number of blank cassettes needed to record this score. All of that was very exciting, and that was my ode to the time period.
As for the world Lou lives in, there are hints of that world elsewhere. A little Easter egg hidden inside the sheet music involved me singing something traditionally Persian, which people might want to look up. Beyond that, we wanted it to feel like a modern movie, but it also had to be interesting in terms of how this music relates to the timeline of the movie.
How much of musical composition is discovery as opposed to intention?
For me, I grew up playing Persian classical music, but I also grew up in a world of improvisers, which made me an improviser too. Everything for me is just improvisation until it sounds good. Philip Glass once asked where music comes from, it’s like this river and I have to listen to it. It’s the same concept for me, I’m just an improviser.
Where this music came from was just that sense of if this feels right: there was a lot of if this feels right and a lot of knowing that this is immediately wrong. It was one of those eye-opening experiences of being able to understand what’s right and what’s wrong in the movie, but having that epiphany much sooner, let’s say version two instead of version 12.
For me, this was one of those pleasurable experiences of understanding that everyone is on the same page and that we are just following this flow of creative ideas. I was in my country house here in Connecticut and we had the exact same weather during the time I was writing, it was just amazing. I was writing for basically two months and that’s what came out.
Lou is essentially about fractured relationships, how do you think your score relates to that central theme?
Everything is broken in this music and unconventionality is everything. I like to basically call myself a studious person who doesn’t care about studies at all. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to be a part of music academies and understand western music and orchestration and all that kind of stuff, but I’d rather break those rules. For me, one of the things is always how fast can I break these rules and how do I get away with it.
With this one it was more or less the same concept, where for me it was about choosing the right musician and the right players. The vocalist had to be absolutely right or it would ruin everything else. There had to be three players and the tonality had to be correct. I played a lot of quarter tones on this, so again these players had to be right.
We recorded a string trio, not a traditional string quartet or string trio at all, they were all lower string players, so basically imagine a string trio further down the musical scale. The same applied to a larger ensemble, where we would do weird numbers that just didn’t make sense and brought everything to the brink of musical incoherence, but somehow it worked. Even in the penultimate scene of the movie, instead of going big and throwing everything in there, we did the opposite, and it’s just a guitar doing a really beautiful melody on top of this really emotional scene. Once again, it is on the verge of breaking, and then snaps back together.
It was quite a challenge to go the opposite way instead of being more traditional – it is a Netflix movie, Bad Robot, after all. For me, we were able to create something that recognized the idea of what these movies should sound like, but still take it in another direction entirely. I guess that’s why you hired me, to do something completely out of character, and still bring the public back home.
When it comes to deciding on a project, is it the people involved or the story they tell that gets you involved?
It’s kind of both and it all depends on the moment. I’ve been lucky enough to work in all different genres, from comedies to big action movies. For me, it always comes down to what the story is doing and whether I can relate to it, especially since I’m going to spend a lot of time on it.
You can always become whoever you want with people, and the beauty of it is that you just have to be able to become a servant of the project in front of what’s going on. At the end of the day, I’m a composer and I’m going to literally write what’s in the movie. If the project feels like a good fit, just dive in and try to make it work, that’s the bottom line. I love writing music and I wake up every day and I do that, so I can’t ask for anything more.
Can you describe to me your perfect Sunday afternoon?
I am lucky to have created it already, I do it every day. I wake up and have some espresso, sit on the deck in the studio, listen to some music, and literally sit at the piano or go to the farm here, and that’s basically my life. It’s basically music and living here in the woods, that’s my Sunday afternoon every day.
Lou is now streaming on Netflix, and you can check out our review of the film here.