Interview: East Hundred's Will Blair on scoring thrillers versus writing dance-pop - WXPN
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The camera pans across a rural wooded overgrowth in placid morning light, stopping at haunting dirt drive. A stone gate bears two words familiar to fans of the Philadelphia music scene: East Hundred.

This property, located just outside of Alexandria, Virginia, is where the recently-disbanded Philly indie rock five-piece borrowed its name. Will and Brooke Blair, the brothers a the core of the band, grew up not far from here, and the wooded grounds served as a source of inspiration for the moody tones and sounds they crafted in the early days of their group – and before.

The Blairs come from a creative family, and got their start in music by scoring student films and shorts that their older brother, Macon, worked on with his circle of collaborators. The footage of their old stomping grounds comes from screen tests for Blue Ruin, a thriller that their childhood friend, Brooklyn-based filmmaker Jeremy Sauinier, is currently working on. Saunier just launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund some of the picture’s production, Macon is on board in the lead role – and the younger Blair brothers are signed on to work on the score.

“I always said that if I didn’t head towards music, it would probably be towards film,” Will Blair said via phone this week. “It still could be. It always sort of co-existed with my music.”

Storyboard sketches from Blue Ruin.

The film’s story concerns a drifter from the eastern shore of Virginia who returns to his childhood home with plans of revenge that go horribly awry. It is the second feature-length production that he and Brooke have scored. The first was also a Saunier picture – a macabre comedy called Murder Party, which won an audience award at the 2007 Slamdance Festival. They’ve also been called on to work on the filmmaker’s other projects.

“Jeremy is a little older than Brooke and I, and we were always extras when he was shooting around the neighborhood,” Will says. “He’s always kept us front of line to score everything he’s done, pretty much – corporate commercials, instructional videos.”

The Blair brothers’ first experience scoring a feature, however, was drastically different from those smaller jobs. Since music and sound are the final pieces to be added to a movie before it’s finalized, timing is of the essence under normal circumstances. Murder Party had a festival deadline to meet on top of that, so it was an even harder crunch.

“What we thought would be two weeks of leisurely scoring each scene was crammed into four days, non-stop,” Will recalls. “Jeremy moved to Philly and slept on my couch, woke us up each morning at 8, and wouldn’t let us sleep until each scene got what it needed for the day.”

Exhausted after the whirlwind writing session, the brothers were even more crestfallen when they sat in on the final mix of the film and kept hearing their music turned further and further down, so sounds like car doors slamming and shots firing could be turned up. The brothers feared their hard work was going to get buried, but seeing the finished product, they better understood “the subconscious role the music plays” in film. It’s not present as it would be in a music video, its there more as mood-setting accompaniment.

This was something they began to understand in the writing process, when Saunier coaxed their first stabs at scoring – more informed perhaps by East Hundred’s dance pop music – into something more subtle and spacious.

“The whole thing was a crash course in how to write music for a film, how to mix music into a scene,” Blair recalls. “We feel better equipped to approach this one, having had that experience. But I still imagine we’ll be under the gun, working at the last minute.”

Which the opposite of how bands (usually) approach recording music – spending months perfecting a song in rehearsal and performance, “not getting into the studio until you feel great about it.”

Will says the Blue Ruin team is shooting to submit the film to Sundance, which means it has to be wrapped up by October. Shooting in Virginia is planned for late summer and early fall. He’s not sure yet if the East Hundred gate will make it into the final cut – the footage on the film’s Kickstarter is just a screen test from location scouting – “but if they could make that happen, that would be really special for Brooke and I.”

The Kickstarter campaign for Blue Ruin runs through Aug. 30; get more information and back the project here.

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