Chris Ridenhour is an LA-based film and television composer, whose melodic works can be sighted in an eclectic assortment of digital productions, some of which include the SyFy cult series, Sharknado (2, 3, 4, and soon to be 5). I recently had the opportunity to speak with Chris and gain perspective on his fascinating career. It’s the off-camera contributions that we tend to easily look past, but without these people, a film’s story could not be effectively told.
When writing for a typical hour and a half – two-hour long movie, how many different pieces are you composing?
It’s a lot; I mean it can be up to 50 or 60 different pieces depending on the film.
That’s wild! That is a ton of content that you have to produce. Is that ever daunting when beginning a new project?
Yeah it’s pretty crazy, it’s a little overwhelming to think about at first. But if I just look at it as one scene at a time, and I get up in the morning and say “ok I’m going to tackle these three scenes today”, and I do that consistently, then within two weeks the whole movie is done. Usually it starts with a sketch, it could be something very simple. I have basic instruments like string pads and piano that I use for sketching purposes. It’s like scaffolding on a building, you know, just kind of to put the structure together, and once everything is there compositionally, the fun part is orchestrating; you’re just kind of coloring. And there are other elements involved too depending on the budget or style of the music, for example with Sharknado, I worked with a live orchestra, so not only are you writing the music, but you’re creating the orchestral score and individual parts for the musicians.
How many people were in the orchestra for the most recent Sharknado movie?
That orchestra I believe was 55.
Do you enjoy working with a live band?
I do, there’s something very special about hearing real players performing your music.
In the final scene of Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No, Finn’s wife April saws out of a shark’s stomach with her mechanical saw hand, passing her husband their son that she birthed while inside of the shark. How do you even begin to write a song that will accompany a scene as ridiculous (and also incredible) as this?
(Laughs) The trick to the whole thing is to take it as serious as possible, as if you were scoring a really serious movie. So that’s the key, and it’s more fun that way because you have this crazy thing going on, like this scene for example you have choirs going on and an orchestra and big giant melodies and emotions, and it’s just hilarious. It’s so surreal for me, I’m just thinking, man how is this happening in my life? I can’t even imagine that I came out here to be scoring a baby coming out of a shark (laughs). But for me it’s great, because I really enjoy wacky and funny things. And you always think they’ll never be able to out do this and make anything seem even more insane, but they always do.
Is there any one scene from a particular movie that stands out as the proudest moment of your compositional career?
Probably the baby coming out of the shark…just kidding (laughs). For me, there’s always a moment now and then that I’ll get goose bumps or get a little teared up. There was this one movie they did about Moby Dick, it was sort of a modern retelling of it, and it was right around the time my grandfather passed away. He was in the navy, and the movie takes place on a submarine, so the introduction had little scenes from WWII navy sailors, and when I wrote the music for that scene I was thinking about my grandfather a lot. So that was probably one of my favorite moments, anything that kind of reignites on a personal level.
Movies would be lifeless without music. As somebody who contributes something so essential, is it ever frustrating to not receive an equal amount of recognition as those who work in front of the camera?
The thing about movies is that you don’t want people to pay too much attention to the music; you want them to be completely immersed in the scene. One of my favorite composers, Jerry Goldsmith, famously told the story of a time he wrote a score that he worked really hard on and was really proud of, and after the movie nobody said anything about it and he didn’t understand why. But then he realized that it’s when people don’t say anything that you know you did a good job; you connected them to that scene, you didn’t take them out of it.