Jojo Scores! Talking With Composer Jojo Draven Owen Keehnen

Scoring horror flicks is no minor task. The music that makes us dread, jolt, shriek, and just basically creeps the shit out of us is a major undertaking and one of the most prominent and innovative in the up and coming horror-scorer world is JoJo Draven. So far she’s been the driving force for the music behind ‘Cryptz’, ‘Hell Asylum’, ‘Witches of the Caribbean’, ‘Ring of Darkness’, and ‘Darkwalker’ --- But in her own words “the best is yet to come”. She was also cool enough to give a few minutes of her time for an exclusive racksandrazors interview.


Owen: So I was curious about how you got into composing scores for horror films - I know you married filmmaker Danny Draven in July of 2002 - but did your interest or involvement in the genre predate that?

Jojo: Growing up, I was never really a fan of horror genre, mainly because I was a big chicken when it comes down to watching a horror flick- I would ponder on the story for days, have nightmares, and spook myself whenever I’m alone at night. I started taking interest in movie scoring when I became a musician and joined several rock bands. Rock music has always been associated with the horror genre. In 1999 I landed a job working as a runner at Full Moon Production Company, the master of the low budget horror films, where I met producer/director JR Bookwalter. He was the one that offered me my first scoring gig for a movie called “Hell Asylum” which was directed by Danny Draven, a mutual friend at the time. I wasn’t sure if I could do a score, considering I had never done it before. But I figured, why not to try it?

Owen: Well, to somewhat answer my own question --- You two met when you were working at Full Moon as a post-production coordinator --- I am all about teaching and learning about the business...what all did that job role entail?

Jojo: I started as a runner in the company and watched all my predecessors do their job. I sort of “fell” into the coordinator position when one of my supervisors left the company. In post, we picked up everything from after the last day of shoot all the way until the film is ready to be aired on TV or distributed in video stores and overseas. There are so many things involved in this department that we in post often joked that it’s where the real movie making is at. We fixed so many problems that occurred during shooting due to whatever circumstances- audio noise, digital noise or film scratches, boom mike in a shot, the list goes on. We were also responsible to do color correction, ADR and foley work, audio mixes, and the obvious cutting and editing the film.

Back to scoring - how exactly does that work - do you sort of do the score after getting a rough idea of what the film is about or do you score while
viewing the finished product or is it some combination of the two.  I'm sorry about my ignorance on the subject...again it's that curiosity.

I would get a rough idea of what the movie is about, and come up with a theme. I would then get the final cut of the movie and watch it a few times to get into it, and then start to develop the theme and score it to picture.

Some of the projects you have scored thusfar have been 'Hell Asylum (2002), 'Witches of the Caribbean' (2005), 'Ring of Darkness' (2004), 'Darkwalker' (2003) and 'Cryptz' (2002).  Do you see one of those as your best work as a film composer where you've realized you really nailed it?

My best work is yet to come. I still have a lot to learn and I’m not even half way there. So far, I think working on “Witches of the Caribbean” was the most challenging as I incorporated a lot of percussion element into the score. I am a big fan of tribal rhythms, and programming from scratch every single loop that you hear on this movie was a big challenge but I truly enjoyed it. The movie was directed by David DeCoteau and has a lot of interesting elements. “Ring of Darkness” was another fun movie to work on, I love the techno feel of it and the movie was fun with good casting, Adrienne Barbeau in particular.

Owen: How much variation do you try and give the films - what determines a lot of times the flavor that you add to each of the scores?  Is it the villain, the location, the violence, the cinematography and lighting, etc.?

Jojo: One thing about the horror genre is that I can make it as dark as I want it to sound. When it starts getting violent I’d like to put a brutal sounding guitar. If a movie involves a deep character development and involves a lot of sadness, I’d create a theme using piano. It’s easier to score a movie that has good lighting and beautiful cinematography because it really takes you to a place and you see the director’s vision and it makes it easier to come up with something. But as a composer it’s your job to help create the “place” and the mood.

Owen: So what instruments do you find yourself using the most - I know you are trained as a guitarist and pianist --- is there some other instrument you are dying to learn because it would enhance these scores even more?

Jojo: A lot of time I wish I had learned to play the drums because I’d love to record live drums for my score to achieve an organic drum sound. Another instrument I wish I could play is the violin. Sure, with my piano training I could do a lot of things on the keyboard with all the countless scoring software out there, but I try to record everything using live instruments as much as possible.
Owen: What's next for you?

Jojo: I am working out an offer to do an action film, which is a genre I want to get into. I would also love to do a score for drama one of these days. It probably won’t be as exciting as working out a violent scene using loud drums and guitar, but it sure would be challenging.