Between now and the Oscar nominations on Jan. 24, EW will speak to numerous contenders in below-the-line categories about their work and craft. Today, composer Dave Porter and music supervisor Gabe Hilfer explain the music of The Disaster Artist.
James Franco’s The Disaster Artist has earned high marks (and hi, Marks) from critics and awards voters alike this month — placing the A24 release into the thick of the Oscars race, especially for Franco’s starring performance as The Room impresario Tommy Wiseau. If Franco is to score a best actor nod for the role — perhaps his greatest onscreen creation this side of Spring Breakers — he’d be the first actor to do so while simultaneously Rickrolling the audience. Seriously: During an early scene, Franco-as-Wiseau sings along to Rick Astley’s oft-mocked single “Never Gonna Give You Up,” just one of the many musical choices reframed and turned on its head by music supervisor Gabe Hilfer and composer Dave Porter. Combined, the two men give The Disaster Artist its unlikely soundtrack and heavily influence the film’s underlying emotion through song and score. Ahead, Hilfer and Porter discuss some of their key Disaster Artist contributions.
“Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley
As Tommy and his best friend, Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) drive away from visiting the spot where James Dean died, they discuss their big Hollywood dreams and turn up the radio to listen to Astley’s 1987 hit (which has since become one of the most famous online memes, a.k.a. Rickrolling). Not that Hilfer was worried about that connotation…
GABE HILFER: “I kind of feel like it works well with the characters. They’re in the car and he’s singing along. We added that later — the singing came later. We added that in post-production because it was that much funnier. The thing about a movie with this kind of subject matter is any of the baggage that other movies might not be interested in taking on, this movie didn’t really care. No one in this movie was trying to be cool. It was about illustrating the right time period and the right mentality and trying to dig into their heads and put yourself in their perspective. We were like, ‘What would Tommy listen to on the radio where he’d go, I love this song?’ ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ was definitely on the list.”
“Rhythm of the Night” by Corona
During a celebratory night out after Greg lands representation, Tommy is simply overjoyed — to the point of singing and dancing alone — when this 1993 dancehall classic by Italian band Corona comes on at the club.
GABE HILFER: “That was one of the few songs we needed to land on in pre-production because he was always scripted to sing along to it a little bit. The movie takes place around 1999 and we had sent some ideas that were more specifically of that time. We kept landing on the idea it should be something Tommy would love. It would be more of a fun thing. We got to explore a rarely chosen early EDM world. As soon as that one came on, I got a note from James that was like, ‘That’s the one I want.'”
“Can’t Get You Out of My Head” by Kylie Minogue
As Tommy auditions actresses to play Lisa in The Room, Minogue’s 2001 hit acts as a backdrop to the absurd montage — which ends with the introduction of Ari Graynor’s Juliette Danielle.
GABE HILFER: “The initial montage was once a little bit longer and the part got cut down. When that song came up, it was the one where we turned to everybody where we were like, ‘Oh my God.’ I had never had experience trying to clear a Kylie Minogue song, but we didn’t have any trouble. That’s probably my favorite use in the movie. I might steal that idea later on for myself for another thing.”
“Epic” by Faith No More
As production on The Room begins, Tommy and Greg walk onto the set in slow motion, accompanied by the 1989 Faith No More headbanger.
GABE HILFER: “We tried a lot of stuff there. The one that just stuck was ‘Epic.’ It looked so good in the slow-motion. It didn’t always look like that — and I think there might have been another song in the script — but we had to do it. There were some fun hip-hop songs, where you could make them a little bit tougher, but it’s like a puzzle piece. Once we have the right song in there, everybody sees it and they’re like, ‘That’s the one.’ The beauty of my job is I get to present options that I think could be fun in different ways.”
According to Hilfer, some of the tracks tried during the sequence included “Boombastic” by Shaggy, “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross,” and “Hollywood Swingin'” by Kool and the Gang.
GABE HILFER: “It was like, ‘How much do we want to play into the lyrics? How much do we want to play into the tone and vibe of the song?’ The thing about ‘Epic’ is the subject matter is fun, the song itself is fun, and it’s so sincere. It just played with the sincerity and the truth with which Tommy presented himself. The coolest part of the story is Tommy never thinks he’s making anything but a masterpiece. The song is pump-up music for the first day of making the greatest movie of all time.”
Mixed in with the eclectic needle-drops is Dave Porter’s emotional score, which leans heavily into the film’s message of the power of dreams (as well as the strength of Tommy and Greg’s friendship). Porter, who worked with Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg on Preacher and also writes music for Better Call Saul used a full orchestra to create the score — and his music plays off the pathos Franco helps create with his towering performance.
DAVE PORTER: “I made a very conscious decision not to be purposefully influenced or consider the score from the original at all. For me, this was a very different project and a completely different movie than the original. For me, the bible for the whole thing was Greg’s book. I think that really spoke to me — and he, in a lot of ways, to me, feels like the moral center of the story. When it came down to what to do with the music, to be honest, we tried a lot of different things. It was tricky because music can have a big influence on tone. The tone of this movie was a really narrow line to walk. Obviously, the movie is funny, but the humor is in some ways incidental — in the same way that Tommy Wiseau didn’t intend the original movie to be funny, it’s just there. The heart of the story, to me, is their friendship and their aspirations. That they have those aspirations so many of us have. That, although it may have come in an ass-backward way, they succeeded. That was the role of the score to play and reinforce. There is no more Hollywood story than this one. So, for me, there was no other choice — at least at its heart — than to have this big, swelling orchestral score. I wanted it to feel a little naively optimistic in a way you’d find Hollywood scores from decades ago. It’s overly optimistic. It’s also a tiny bit wink-wink, nudge-nudge that this is all glorious and inspirational but of course it’s not exactly what it seems.”
The Disaster Artist is out now; Dave Porter’s score is available now and streaming on Spotify. Listen to a curated playlist of Disaster Artist music below.