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‘That you’d be opposed to stricter gun laws is crazy’: Finneas on scoring a school shooting film

Ramon Ramirez
Special to the American-Statesman
Finneas arrives at the 63rd annual Grammy Awards at the Los Angeles Convention Center on March 14.

Finneas O'Connell — Billie Eilish’s 23-year-old producer brother and a recording artist in his own right — just soundtracked a movie about a school shooting. At South by Southwest's online event on Wednesday, O’Connell logged on to discuss his musical contributions to “The Fallout,” a buzzy film screening at the SXSW Film Festival.

The Grammy-winning producer didn’t shy away from its politics.

“The gun violence epidemic in American is in contrast to a lot of the other plights of this country, in that to me it feels easily solvable and there’s something kind of infuriating about that,” the Grammy-winning producer said. “... The idea that you’d be opposed to stricter gun laws is crazy.”

After being moved by the script, O’Connell was compelled to score “a film about essentially the aftermath of a school shooting at a high school” that tackles survivors’ trauma. As the “Fallout” panel wrapped, O’Connell returned to gun control: “It seems like people are a little set in their ways,” he said, so it’s “on the young generation to flip the percentages there.” He added that “young adults are gonna see this film” and think, “Obviously, this shouldn’t be happening."

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He said he knew the music supervisor, and “Fallout” director Megan Park previously directed Eilish’s video for “Watch.” Beyond the collegial connection, O’Connell said the script was “authentic to the experience of being a teenager.”

Technology changes so fast, he said, that “I usually read a script and the dialogue is so outdated.” He said he also was compelled by the script’s “levity,” because “humor makes tragedy more human and easier to connect with.”

Finneas performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park on Oct. 5, 2019.

Glowing early reviews have already praised O’Connell’s score. But how did a 23-year-old pop dude, who recently worked with the likes of Justin Bieber and Demo Lovato, adapt his moody productions for the big screen? “I approached it the way I imagine anyone with little to no experience” would," he said. “I was like: ‘Let me try some stuff.’”

Drawing inspiration from minimalist composers like Philip Glass, O’Connell wrote “sparse,” “intimate” soundscapes built around “textures” that likewise complemented the female voices of the movie’s protagonists. He saw little choice given the movie’s subject matter: “I don’t know if you’d put, like, ‘The Dark Knight’ score over this one.”

He said he wrote the score in MIDI, a digital interface for electronic instruments, and that made it “preposterously easy” to shift tempos based on suggestions he’d get from executives.

Jenna Ortega as Vada and Maddie Ziegler as Mia in SXSW Online 2021 film "The Fallout."

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O’Connell spoke about wanting to do more movie work because he loves the “malleability” of the medium. It’s not a surprise given his recent form: After helping fuel Eilish’s rise to stardom by co-writing bedroom anthems that capture teen angst with the hopelessness of grunge and the catharsis of a Rolling Stones lick, the brother-and-sister duo took on a James Bond title track with “No Time to Die” last year.

O’Connell said he wrote the Bond song on the road, on spec. Then the pandemic happened and, deprived of the “human experience” that comes with seeing loved ones, he played a bunch more video games than he would have otherwise preferred. (He added that his quarantine pod has been just him, his sister, their parents and his girlfriend.) Working on music became less collaborative and fun because of the “difficulty and unpleasantness on Zoom.”

It’s not just work meetings that are tedious on the video-conferencing platform, O’Connell said. On Zoom, he’s unable to really collaborate, where you’re “playing, humming over chords, singing melody.”

“I’m sure during the next pandemic, we will have worked all this out,” he said.

Whereas artists like Timabaland at SXSW spoke about the luxuries of at-home music, O’Connell is all too ready to get back to performing, “playing shows and never stopping again.”

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