Dumb Money composer Will Bates discusses joining Craig Gillespie’s film Dumb Money, his unique instrumentation, and his upcoming projects.
- Dumb Money is a sharp and funny film that tells the GameStop short squeeze story, skillfully balancing stock market knowledge and class warfare themes.
- Composer Will Bates created a unique electronic score for the film using innovative techniques and instrumentation that complemented the director’s vision and editing style.
- Bates discusses his involvement in the project, his approach to the score, and his use of specific thematic elements and equipment, including the Suiko ST-10, in creating the music for Dumb Money.
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Dumb Money is a sharp and funny telling of the infamous 2021 GameStop short squeeze story. The film does a fantastic job of doling out just enough about the ins and outs of the stock market to be informative, but never loses sight of the class warfare at the heart of its story. The film was directed by Craig Gillespie, written by Lauren Shuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo, and boasts a standout cast which includes Paul Dano, Pete Davidson, America Ferrera, and Seth Rogen. Dumb Money reviews were also highly positive, with the film sitting certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.
Dumb Money features an engaging score by composer Will Bates, who is known in part for his work on Class of ’09, Another Earth, and The Voyeurs. Bates crafted an electronic score using novel techniques and instrumentation, making the soundscape of Dumb Money a unique one that fits perfectly with Gillespie’s vision and Kirk Baxter’s snappy editing. Bates is also the founder of Fall On Your Sword, a post-production studio, experiential art house, and more.
Related: Who Ryan Cohen Is & Why Dumb Money Leaves Him Out
Will Bates spoke with Screen Rant about how he found his way to the project, his most interesting pieces of gear, and how Dumb Money compares to his work on documentaries like Going Clear: Scientology & the Prison of Belief. Note: This interview was conducted during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, and the film covered here would not exist without the labor of the writers and actors in both unions. This interview has also been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Will Bates On Dumb Money
Screen Rant: How did you find your way to this project? Did you know Craig Gillespie, the director, already?
Will Bates: Of course, I’ve been a huge fan of his, but we had never met before this project. I was introduced to him by the music supervisor Sue Jacobs. Sue and I had just finished working on a show for FX called Class of ‘09. It’s an intersecting timeline show, so there was some futuristic stuff, some present-day stuff, and a lot of electronics. I think because of that score, she was like, “I’m working on this other thing with Craig Gillespie, and he’s looking for someone who could do an electronic score. Maybe you guys might hit it off.” And we sure did. So she basically introduced me to him, and I watched the cut. I just kind of started writing immediately and wrote a bunch of sketches. He came over to my studio with his editor, Kirk Baxter, and I played some stuff, and he was like, “You found Kitty’s theme, so let’s go.” It was a pretty fast, instantaneous process, in a way.
He wanted an electronic score, but was there a lot of very specific direction? Or was it just kind of that those were the guidelines, and you went with your gut?
Will Bates: Those were kind of the guidelines. He wanted something that had this tension in it, but also something that would stay out of the way. I’ve got to say, finding the tone of some of those longer sequences–there’s a lot of back and forth with these long montages–and having to keep up that tension in the same way that Kirk’s editing does whilst not being too distracting and still motivating the story… that was really the big challenge.
I think the beginning, the first moment that we met where I found that melody, was really kind of his main thing. He wanted to make sure that there was something that could really connect the audience emotionally. I think that was why we hit it off so early, so quickly, and why the first part of this process was so straightforward. But finding the next thing, which was that tension and that propulsion, that was more challenging. We got there in the end, but it’s always a bit of a dance to get these things right.
How many themes did you plan to write? Were there more or fewer than you ended up with?
Will Bates: In the end, I think I think there were more thematic elements than I anticipated. We talked about that at the beginning: about there being emotion, but not necessarily a thematic score. In the end I have, like, a theme for Keith’s family that then became useful to contrast with the Plotkins. There’s a moment where Keith’s wife is like, “How much did we win today?” and then Gabe’s wife is like, “How much did we lose today?” and I use the same melody in different formats, [with] different instrumentation; it was kind of useful.
There was that, and then also this idea I suggested to Craig quite early on that maybe we try using brass, low brass and horns, to almost have a sort of coal miner’s brass band vibe, if that makes sense. Then Craig was like, “That’s probably because you’re British, mate,” but I always thought that this feeling of the brass band would be like the feeling of the working man. So, I have these big horn walls of sounds that happen whenever it seems like the shorters are sort of taking over the hedge fund guys. There’s this repeated thematic idea that comes from that as well that’s not necessarily melodic, but more of an instrumentation thing.
You did Going Clear, right? The Scientology documentary?
Will Bates: That’s right. I sure did.
Because this is based on a true story, were there any ways in which you were tempted to approach it more like a documentary? Because I imagine on a documentary that maybe you’d be more careful about being heavy-handed or something like that.
Will Bates: Yeah, definitely. I think that, with some of these longer sequences that I was talking about, my documentary chops were useful to have. But with a doc, obviously, it’s a lot of talking heads, and all of that stuff, and you want to stay out of the way. I will say that with (Alex) Gibney’s movies–we’ve done a few of them together at this point–I think one of the reasons why his documentaries are so compelling is that he has a very cinematic approach to his subjects. It becomes very musical and thematic, and I definitely leaned on some of the skills that working on those films has brought me.
Did you work to build into any of the needle-drop moments in the film?
Will Bates: Sue Jacobs had definitely laid the groundwork with a lot of the source music before I came on board. They were still cutting when I was working. They were pretty far along with the edit, but the source songs were more or less locked. We talked early on about how maybe there should be something that I draw upon from that; there’s that tennis cue, for example, where I’m using trap beats and big, slightly ridiculous synth sounds to contrast this very ridiculous tennis match that they’re playing together.
I also tried other things. Obviously, there are a lot of trap beats in the source. I have these MIDI triggers–they’re like little mallets that you can put on drums—and I have a set of timpani in my studio. I used these triggers on the timpani to play trap beats, so it’s orchestral sounding, but it’s played like a robot. That appears in that cue, and then there’s another cue where Kitty is running at the track. He does that a lot, obviously, but it’s the one where he’s written the manifesto. It’s quite early on in the film, and that has these trap beats with timpani, and I guess I was inspired by the source to use that palette.
I saw an Instagram clip of you playing the Roaring Kitty theme and I Googled the thing you were playing with your right hand, which was the Suiko ST-10. Was that a key piece of gear for you on this score?
Will Bates: It kind of was. I had just started working on my first bunch of sketches. When I start a job, I tend to just write tons of stuff. Sometimes it’s to a specific scene and sometimes it’s just inspired by what I’ve just seen or read. While I was doing it, my friend–a guy called David Wallace who’s a musician based in Canada–happened to be in Australia, and he was like, “I just saw this thing. I think you should look it up, man. It’s available for sale. It’s very rare.” So I found it, got ahold of it, and had it shipped to me very quickly.
First of all, everything is written in Japanese and there’s no manual. I found something online that was kind of a manual, but it was also like, “Before you start your poetry reading, you should do this, this, and this.” It’s like, “What is this thing?” And I didn’t understand for a while what that cassette deck was even for. I unboxed this thing, plugged it in, played around with it, and had already had a little sketch going, and more or less came up with that “Roaring Kitty” melody immediately.
What’s lovely about that instrument is that it has these different settings for different Japanese scales and microtone scales, so the keys are laid out in a way that’s incredibly unfamiliar to someone like me, who’s a Western musician. It’s not arranged in a diatonic scale, so you just don’t really know what you’re going to get when you start hitting the keys. So, that melody kind of evolved out of me just experimenting and not really knowing what I’m doing. But I think that thing is for… I think you record, like, a basic melody in the cassette deck, and then you play it back, and you play another thing and recite your poem on top of it. That’s what I kind of think it’s for.
I wanted to ask you about Fall On Your Sword. I know you founded it; it looks like it’s essentially a music production house. Is that the case?
Will Bates: It’s evolved into something of a post-production facility here in LA, but it started out as a video art project. I was cutting together these funny videos, and one of them went viral. I made this video called “Shatner of the Mount” where William Shatner is–it’s a little DVD extra from Star Trek V–talking about falling in love with a mountain, and I set it to music. It went viral, and then I started getting asked to perform at sci-fi conventions and Star Trek stuff. It was like, “All right. I’d better form a band,” so a band evolved, and then I started making more videos, and it became more popular.
It turned into its own thing, and then I started scoring movies under that name and then launched the company as something of an umbrella. I was scoring commercials, scoring movies, and all sorts of stuff, and I was becoming kind of frustrated that those different avenues exist by themselves, and I wanted to have something that would allow for some cross-pollination.
So, if a director is making commercials [and] if he or she goes off to make a movie, I would go along with them. That’s kind of how Fall On Your Sword started, then we moved out to LA, and now we have a large facility. We got into mixing, we have a Dolby Atmos mix stage and we do all of that stuff as well. It’s somewhat separate; I’m obviously a TV and film composer but Fall On Your Sword is very much a facility for post-production.
And we also make a lot of art. We do these really fun, interactive, music-driven art pieces, which I guess is a sort of natural extension of the silly videos. We have art shows with crazy pianos that play images of the Statue of Liberty being destroyed from different movies, and things that you stand on that create music, and all sorts of stuff. It’s all on the website.
Looking forward, do you have something that you’re working on right now that you’re excited about?
Will Bates: I’m finishing up a horror movie that I’m scoring right now called Immaculate, starring Sydney Sweeney. I wrote a bunch of music for them during production, so I’d really come on board right at the beginning, and we’re just finishing up now. It’s awesome. It’s really exciting.
And my wife wrote a script last year. It’s a vampire movie that she’s cast me in, along with my mother and a dear friend of ours, and the three of us are going to eventually start shooting that. So that’s going to be weird.
Have you acted before?
Will Bates: I have a little bit, a long time ago. My parents were both Hammer horror movie actors, and my father was in a sitcom back in England in the ‘80s called Dear John, and I played his son. I mean, I was nine. I’ve not done it since then, but I like to think that maybe it’s in the blood, and maybe it’ll be an easy transition. What I’m more terrified of is that my wife obviously wants me to score it as well, so eventually there’s going to be a scenario where I’m scoring myself, which is kind of weird. I don’t know how that’s going to go.
I can imagine. You’ll have to write yourself a theme.
Will Bates: Exactly. There might be a reason why people don’t do this. I’m going to find out
About Dumb Money
The ultimate David vs. Goliath tale, based on the insane true story of everyday people who flipped the script on Wall Street and got rich by turning GameStop (yes, the mall videogame store) into the world’s hottest company.
Check out our other Dumb Money interviews with Lauren Schuker Blum & Rebecca Angelo and Craig Gillespie.
Source: Screen Rant Plus