Flickering Myth - Exclusive Interview
Composer Patrick Kirst on Breaking Surface and The Kissing Booth
November 29, 2020 by Amie Cranswick
Joachim Hedén’s survival thriller, Breaking Surface was released earlier this year in Sweden and is now coming to digital platforms in the U.S. December 15th. In case you aren’t familiar with the film, the official synopsis reads: During a winter dive on a remote part of the coast in Northern Norway, two sisters’ lives fall into danger; when a rockfall traps one of the sisters on the ocean floor, a battle against time begins in the middle of the wilderness. Breaking Surfacestars Moa Gammel, Madeleine Martin and Trine Wiggen. Adding to the wild ride, or in this case wild dive, is the score by composer Patrick Kirst, which he describes as “visceral and raw”. Some of Kirst’s other credits include Netflix’sThe Kissing Booth and The Kissing Booth 2, Lionsgate’s Inherit the Viper and CBSN’s recent documentary Welcome to Pine Lake. Ahead of the U.S. release, we spoke exclusively with Kirst about everything from his favorite scene in Breaking Surface to his dream director to work with.
When did you first hear about Breaking Surface? What were your initial thoughts after reading the script?
I heard about Breaking Surface through a Facebook post by director Joachim Hedén who included some incredible pictures from the shoot. I contacted him right away since we had worked together on two other movies prior to Breaking Surface. But it was unclear at the time if I would be the composer due to financing regulations that required the composer to be of Swedish nationality. Hence, I didn’t read the script and wasn’t involved in any discussions until I visited Joachim on my summer vacation in Northern Europe. I just wanted to say hello, but it was a good opportunity to at least watch the rough cut, so I could tell him my thoughts. I was stunned by the photography and drawn to the high concept story and the characters. [Even though I didn’t understand one word of the Swedish dialogue because of the missing subtitles]. In the end we found a way to get me onboard and I started composing right away.
Were there specific challenges with Breaking Surface? If so, what were they?
This was my first genre film that has many action and nail-biting thriller moments in it. I needed to find my own personal way to this genre and find a way to give the picture a lot of visceral and raw energy as well as an interesting sound design. I do like to corner myself and set the bar really high, which usually squeezes out something interesting out of me.
Some composers discuss using found objects in their scores, did you do anything like this with the Breaking Surface score?
What probably makes the score special is its processing of acoustic instruments. We recorded a string orchestra and a big low-brass ensemble. I then processed many of the string passages to make them more eerie and icy cold, often slightly out of tune. I also filtered the ultra-aggressive brass section to give it that mysterious and dark underwater feel, as if the recording took place on the ocean floor.
Breaking Surface was released in Sweden earlier this year. Have you seen any comments from critics or moviegoers that have surprised you?
Some critics found the movie to be the best Swedish thriller in decades. That was a very positive surprise for me. I think that is mainly thanks to its simplicity. Two strong female protagonists fighting against the unforgiving forces of nature. The acting is great and believable, the Norwegian mountain backdrop is stunning, so there is no need for any CGI sharks to carry the tension. The entire plot is one long big battle for survival. That’s it!
Congrats on your recent score release for the film. What can you tell audiences about the score ahead of them listening to it?
The score is about capturing a sinister, icy mood and a race against time. The film music buff might notice the sisters’ Cello theme in many different developments throughout the score, which gives the score its emotional core. Some critical listeners might also notice the ever so slight gradual speed increase from track to track. Enjoy!
Is there a scene in Breaking Surface that you are most proud of, musically?
I am particularly fond of the last track, Ida Unconscious. [SPOILER ALERT] It encapsulates a big relief in the most intimate and silent way possible. Fragments of the emotional Cello Leitmotif mentioned earlier connects the sisters in a soft and meaningful way. It is reflective but positive.
Breaking Surface is a lot different from your other films, The Kissing Booth and The Kissing Booth 2, which are romantic comedies. Which genre do you feel most natural with?
The genre I am the most comfortable in is drama, hands down. I just love movies with a twist or a dark, conflicted side in general. [I am German after all.] A dark comedy also falls into that category. The Kissing Booth franchise is quite the opposite of dark, agreed. It was a big challenge for me. Comedy is probably the hardest genre to score for most film composers. It is all about the minute details and finding the right tone and the right energy in every moment. But I also do like a good challenge and working with director extraordinaire Vince Marcello has taught me a lot of things and become a better storyteller.
What has been your favorite part of working on The Kissing Booth films?
It is the collaborative part mentioned above: finessing the details of the details with the director, recording and collaborating with the band which adds so much to the score and brings it to life – especially in a pop/rock influenced comedy score. And of course, meeting at the dub stage with my dear colleagues from sound post and watching the magic unfold and making a great movie together.
Is there a specific director or showrunner that you would like to work with? What has drawn you to their work?
There are quite a few to enlist: directors like David Fincher, David Lynch, and Ridley Scott, for example, since they are so good with dark and twisted stories. It would be a dream to work with them. But also, Alejandro González Innaritú, Alfonso Cuarón, and Guillermo del Toro are super interesting. I just love the emotional core in their films. The list goes on and on…
What are you working on next?
The Kissing Booth 3 is about to start and will keep me busy until spring 2021. I am also working on a documentary on five CNN camerawomen working in crisis regions around the globe. And hopefully, I will be able to finish my book on film music composition in the first half of next year. Busy times ahead!!!
You can learn more about Patrick Kirst at https://www.patrickkirst.com/.
The score for Breaking Surface is now available on all digital sites.