SALT LAKE CITY — Before signing on to musically score the soundtrack for “Unbroken: Path to Redemption,” a follow-up to the 2014 drama “Unbroken,” Brandon Roberts admitted he was somewhat naive regarding the intensity of Louis Zamperini's harrowing World War ll experience.
“I hadn’t known much about (Louis’) story until I saw the Angelina Jolie film and I had no idea what he had endured. I was a little taken aback at the time that any human being could withstand that, so that was inspiring,” Roberts said in an interview with the Deseret News.
“Then in the second film, I identified with the fact that (Louis) then had an internal struggle after he got home and tried to find some degree of normalcy afterwards,” he continued. “At about the same time, my son was born and so it was also kind of poignant when (Louis) had his family … it was inspiring to see someone pick themselves up and do right by their family when they’re going through all that.”
Roberts grew up in the Monterey area of California and became involved with jazz very early in his life, due in large part to Monterey’s rich jazz history and the annual Monterey Jazz Festival, which is one of the world’s longest running jazz festivals. As a result, Roberts began playing guitar in jazz clubs but eventually segued into film composition once he attended the University of Southern California.
“From that point on, I never looked back,” Roberts said. “I fell in love with it completely. I scored every student film I could and I put up little fliers where you can tear your number off if you want to score a film.”
He has been fortunate enough to work with noted composers such as Bear McCreary ("The Walking Dead") and Oscar-nominated composer Marco Beltrami ("3:10 to Yuma," "The Hurt Locker"). But Roberts has acquired his own list of accolades — he has assisted in composing music for "A Quiet Place," "Logan," "The Shallows," "Woman in Black" and "World War Z," to name a few.
When tasked with composing the music for “Unbroken: Path to Redemption,” Roberts didn’t struggle with emotionally connecting to Louis’ story, but instead paid careful attention to transforming that emotional journey into equally moving music.
“It was really an issue trying to do justice to Louis through the music. So it made me kind of push harder … so I did,” he said. “I gave it everything I had in terms of finding the right thematic ideas for him. Especially going back to the PTSD and alcoholism, I really tried to find something unique musically that would identify with his internal struggles.”
That “something unique” resulted in Roberts going innovative: He implemented actual Japanese artillery shells from World War ll into a sound pallet that aimed to capture Louis’ subconscious battle.
So what exactly is the process of scoring a film? Roberts explained that generally, he’ll sit down with the director and producers and talk about what a particular film needs — in this case, Roberts wanted to keep a similar sound and style to the first “Unbroken” film.Comment on this story
“And then we go through and decide every single theme where if any, there is going to be music and what the vibe and the style of it should be, what the emotions are that are trying to be conveyed,” he explained. “I’ll go back and come up with an idea that has a new theme in it, use some of the experimental sound and then I lay it for (the director and producers) and hope they like the general direction. After that, I zero in on each one of those themes, it’s called spotting the film.”
Among one of the biggest challenges scoring this particular film was nailing Louis’ internal struggle, Roberts said. “It’s very easy to tip over into melodrama musically, and so we had to find that right balance between his internal struggle, but we're not hitting you over the head as a listener with melodrama. There was a delicate tightrope that you have to maneuver.”