Martin McDonagh and I worked together on his two previous feature films, In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. He'd been writing Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri for quite a while and when he knew it was going to be shot he sent me the script.
When I first read it, it reminded me a bit of Martin's plays set on the isolated Aran Islands. Everyone in Ebbing knows everyone else, probably too well. Something unimaginably bad has happened and when the town tries to move past it, one woman, Mildred Hayes (Fran McDormand) won't allow that.
The interpersonal dynamics are so intense, subtle, and constantly shifting that I found it difficult to put my finger on a central concept. Even when my "concept" doesn't align with the writer's or director's, it still helps me enormously as a composer to have one. But this film confounded me a bit. When I asked Martin was the film was "about" he said it was about a woman who goes to war with the police.
At first this didn't help that much but it did lead in a helpful direction. I noticed that Mildred changed her outfit when she was on the warpath, and that other characters also changed their appearance as they shifted between the roles they played in this small town. This helped me to see that the violence and vengeance which are ostensible subjects of the film, are simply dressing they put on.
Because there are so many fully-drawn characters in the story, I considered an approach used by Ennio Morricone in his spaghetti Western scores (which I love) - giving each character a distinctive musical signature that stays with them even as their alliances shift. But ultimately this seemed too arch, and some major charcters, like Sam Rockwell's, simply don't have any scored scenes until late in the film.
I decided to just concentrate on Mildred - to see the film from her perspective and play the game as she sees it - otherwise there were too many loose strings. When she's at war, the score plays a stomp-and-drum march. When she's reflecting on her loss, it's a soulful guitar ballad. There is also a theme for Death, which is never far away. As the story and the relationships develop, these stark colors are set aside and the themes intertwine more subtly, until, by the last couple of reels they're barely recognizable.
Written and Directed by Martin McDonagh
Produced by Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin
Composed, Orchestrated and Conducted by Carter Burwell
Recording Engineer: Michael Farrow
Contractor: Isobel Griffiths
Music Editor: John Warhurst
Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, London
Mixed at The Body Studio. New York City
Starring Fran McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Peter Dinklage, Lucas Hedges, Abbie Cornish
U.S. Release October 13, 2017
As the release of the film gets closer I'll post more excerpts of the score here, for demo purposes: