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IndieWire FYC Brunch: ‘Knives Out’ Composer Says Rian Johnson First Pitched Film 10 Years Ago

The director's composer, his cousin Nathan Johnson, first developed a musical theme for the movie six years ago.

Knives Out Composer Says Rian Johnson Pitched Film 10 Years Ago

Director Rian Johnson has made no secret of his love for Agatha Christie. But he’s been planning his Christie homage, the highly acclaimed “Knives Out,” even before he directed his breakout hit “Looper” in 2012.

At the Below the Line panel at IndieWire’s FYC Awards Brunch at Liaison Hollywood, the director’s cousin and composer, Nathan Johnson, said Rian first presented the idea for “Knives Out” a decade ago. “It was 10 years ago, and Rian pitched the complete first scene of the movie,” Johnson said to moderator and IndieWire Toolkit Editor Chris O’Falt

For his part as composer, Nathan said, “I started work on the first theme for the movie six years ago,” noting that his cousin’s love of classic Hollywood film informed his approach. “We looked at a lot of melodramatic, highly orchestral scores from the ‘50s,” he said.

Johnson used the Hungarian scale and bent notes to give both a sense of uncertainty to Daniel Craig’s detective character, and to embellish the character played by Christopher Plummer, whose death sparks the entire whodunit plot. Plummer has built an elaborate Gothic mansion “which reflects the sense he has of himself” and Johnson tried to find a score to match.

That a highly stylized aesthetic with roots in film history was Johnson’s preferred approach makes sense, given the director’s love of classic Hollywood. He’s waxed rhapsodic about the 1978 version of Christie’s “Death on the Nile” — a movie that easily features the most shocking Angela Lansbury scene ever — and the other Poirot adaptations starring Peter Ustinov.

Johnson also took inspiration for the font used on the poster for “Knives Out” from the font on the cover of the paperback edition of “Curtain” published in the early 1980s with Albert Finney on the cover. “Creepiest cover of all time,” he tweeted in 2018.

Nathan Johnson joined a panel of Below the Line all-stars comprised of “Marriage Story” production designer Jade Healy, “Missing Link” costume designer Deborah Cook, and “The Irishman” costume designers Sandy Powell and Christopher Peterson.

IndieWire’s FYC Brunch took place at Liaison Hollywood on Las Palmas November 5. The event is presented by Amazon Studios, Apple Originals, Netflix, Disney, NatGeo, and United Artists Releasing.

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