When University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Professor of Music Jeff Herriott met S. Craig Zahler nearly 30 years ago, they were partners on their junior high debate team in Miami, Florida. Neither dreamed they would one day collaborate on a movie that would star Kurt Russell, already a leading actor at the time.
"Bone Tomahawk," an American horror western written and directed by Zahler and featuring a score co-composed by Herriott and Zahler, premiered Oct. 1 at the Fantastic Fest film festival in Austin, Texas. It is set for a limited release by AMC on Oct. 23. The film is the culmination of a long-held wish to work on a film together.
After high school, Zahler went to film school and Herriott studied music, but the friends remained close, working together on various musical projects over the years. Of the many scripts Zahler has written, this one held the most promise for collaboration.
"We both knew we wanted to work together on the music for the film," said Herriott. "We just didn't know when it would happen or even if — as a first-time director — he would be allowed to choose the music."
The movie was shot in California in October 2014. By January, with a rough cut of the movie in hand, the two were writing the music, with Zahler actively involved with thematic ideas and Herriott translating the ideas into notes. The resulting 20-minute soundtrack was recorded at Audio for the Arts in Madison in February and March.
"If it had been a typical feature-length soundtrack for a two-hour movie, I wouldn't have been able to do it," said Herriott, who recruited UW-Whitewater faculty and students to record the music. "But Craig didn't want a lot of music in the movie — he wants the audience to feel the impact of the film without the emotional underpinning that music often provides."
Colleagues in the Department of Music performed on the soundtrack, including Frank Hanson, trumpet, Leanne League, violin, Brian Leeper, voice, Brad Townsend, upright bass, and Benjamin Whitcomb, cello. Herriott himself played percussion, piano and acoustic guitar.
In addition, senior Grant Blaschka played upright bass and junior Haley-Marie Asher, senior Kelly Jarvis, and sophomore Elizabeth Marvitz contributed vocals. The students, all music majors, had a behind-the-scenes glimpse at recording a movie soundtrack. So did the composer.
"I teach a film music class," said Herriott. "It was really interesting to see it all from the other side. As academics we do a lot of analysis and criticism, so it was neat to see what producers and directors are actually saying they want their music to do."