Q&A: ‘Divergent’ Music Supervisor, Randall Poster Talks About The Influence of ‘Yeezus’ & Ellie Goulding On Film’s Soundtrack
By Courtney E. Smith
The film that promises to be the next cultural zeitgeist, Divergent, hits theaters today (March 21) and features a soundtrack that gives both Twilight and The Hunger Games a run for their money.
The Divergent soundtrack is packed chock-full of brand new songs from A$AP Rocky, Pia Mia and Ellie Goulding, who is the “musical voice” of the protagonist, Tris Prior, played by Shailene Woodley. And because it’s for the YA crowd, the album also packs a distinct EDM flavor with tracks featuring Zedd, Pretty Lights and Skrillex.
Radio.com spoke with Randall Poster, the film’s music supervisor, whose work you’ve heard in movies including The Hangover, Spring Breakers, Skyfall and pretty much all of Wes Anderson’s oeuvre, about the Divergent team’s musical vision of a dystopian future, creating a Yeezus-esque atmosphere with an Ellie Goulding conscience and getting Snow Patrol and M83 to compose unique, original soundtrack moments.
Radio.com: What soundscape were you trying to create with the Divergent soundtrack?
Randall Poster: The challenge with a movie like this is that it’s set in the future, so you’re faced immediately with the questions, where does music come from? What does it sound like? Also a challenge was that we were looking at a future as depicted in the film that wasn’t a George Jetson perfected future. It was more like a future that had been degrading from the present; things were falling apart. We were faced with that kind of visual and psychological landscape so we tried to figure out a way to find music that felt forward, but also had some relationship to the music we would be hearing currently as a touchstone.
Where did the idea of using contemporary electronic music in the film come from?
One of the things that [director] Neil Burger gave us as an inspiration was that he wanted, especially in the world of Dauntless [ed: the one of the five factions in the world of Divergent that the main character Beatrice "Tris" Prior, played by Shailene Woodley, belongs to], the music should feel tribal, dangerous, sexy. That was a musical component we searched for. In terms of the contemporary sound, we were listening to a lot of things and it dawned on us that the music of Kanye West’s Yeezus felt right. Obviously the lyrical component would have been a distraction, but we landed there in thinking, this is a musical world that seems to be appropriate for our Divergent reality.
There’s a huge juxtaposition, to me, between the A$AP Rocky track, which is Yeezus-esque, and someone like Ellie Goulding, who is meant to be the “musical voice” of the main character. How did you merge those different sounds?
The music works on a couple of different levels. On the one hand, there’s music that plays environmentally. Where we landed on Ellie and a couple of other pieces is that they play more to the psychology of the character. When you see the film, Ellie’s pieces speak to Tris, the Shailene Woodley character, to her subconscious and point of view. Things like the A$AP Rocky track plays more in terms of texture and the environment of the scenario. There are songs that play over the movie, that are the more psychological and personal element, and then there are the other pieces that play towards the larger world that we see our character moving in.
It sounds like you’re using script writing terminology to describe what a music critic would call a conversation about lyrics versus music.
Yeah, what the music supervisor and screenwriter share in purpose is that we’re both trying to help tell a story. These are the elements and devices that I have in hand to help render the story, both on the surface and then beneath the surface.
What stuck out to me on the soundtrack was the song by Snow Patrol. It’s so different from everything else, where did that fit into this world?
I’m a huge fan of Snow Patrol and they were actually out here in L.A. when we were working on the movie. That’s a track that plays at the end of the movie and it speaks to some of the overriding themes of the film. That’s a song that I think helps frame the movie rather than doing anything else. It’s a broader statement about some of the issues and emotions that play out in the movie and serves both as an introduction and an epilogue to our story.
And you brought M83 into the mix on this soundtrack.
The sequence his [Anthony Gonzalez of M83] song plays in is a big turning point for our lead character. That’s a moment, to complicate this conversation further, where the environmental and psychological come together. We had been playing with the sequence and using some other pieces of M83 music temporarily. We decided to take the leap and asked if Anthony would be willing to do an original piece for the sequence and thankfully he was. Really, in terms of prescription, it plays in this big, active moment in the film. But I think Anthony took an artistic approach to it and put it in more of a dreamy tempo that elevated the whole sequence.
How do you switch between these two different ways, environmentally and thematically, of thinking about music?
In talking about it, it all sounds purely intellectual. But the reality of it is, there is a movie I get to play with. The film itself demands a variety of musical approaches.
You have quite a few original compositions on the soundtrack. That’s unusual, even for a big franchise film. Whose idea was that?
I think that one of the reasons why I was invited to work on this movie was, I generally work with songs trying to integrate them into the film and not creating soundtracks as companions to the film. When I got involved, it was with the notion that we would try to be proactive with trying to integrate as much of the song music into the film as possible. So I say that we had this inspiration and then for the five months or whatever it was in post-production we worked hard trying to get it all together.