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Interview: A Conversation With Emmy-Winning Actress & ‘American Horror Stories’ Composer Brittany Allen

Emmy-winning actress Brittany Allen is perhaps best known for her starring role in the soap opera All My Children as well as horror films such as Extraterrestrial, It Stains the Sands Red, Jigsaw, and more recently, What Keeps You Alive. She also was in the wildly popular superhero series on Amazon Prime, The Boys. And even more recently, she’s taken a step back behind the scenes, working as a composer for film and television, most recently on the new FX on Hulu series, American Horror Stories, adding very moving dark and melodic themes to this show, through crafting her scores.

Brittany spoke exclusively with Awards Radar on her newfound career transition into crafting score compositions for film & television, why she’s so invested in the horror film genre, and offers insight into her two latest projects; the CW series Two Sentence Horror Stories and the FX on Hulu series American Horror Stories.

Max: I want to start on your latest passion now for composing scores for film and television. We obviously know you’ve been in front of the camera on a whole variety of films and TV series over the last 20 years. But what got you started in composing over the last few years?

Brittany: So it was a very unexpected, and yet natural turn of events for me. I studied musical theater in high school and in college. So I was listening to the great musical theater composers all throughout my teens and early 20s. And even before then, I was listening to pop music of the day. So I think looking back, I was learning a lot about telling a story through music, and how to convey a character’s inner feelings through music, which is something that I find very useful now. But following college was when I booked All My Children, which brought me to New York, and then to LA. And, you know, after a few years of being on television, I kind of lost sight of my goals in musical theater. And I really started to push only towards acting in film and television. And, you know, I definitely had a lot of great opportunities come my way throughout my 20s. But I was also aware that it wasn’t everything that I wanted to do, that I had more to give as an artist. And I just needed to figure out what that what that looks like and and also maybe get the courage and the work ethic to tackle a new art form, with the same commitment that I had, thus far tackled acting. And then I guess there was a real turning point about five years ago, where I was, you know, I’d heard myself say that enough times that I was fed up, and I had to do something. And I also had been building a ton of musical ideas over the years just in my voice memos on my phone, and I reached a fever pitch to where I thought, well, what the hell am I recording all of these for, if not to do something with them. And then I also, you know, am very lucky to have an incredibly supportive partner who heard me write a song one day, a couple years into our relationship, and who encouraged me to go home and record it on GarageBand. And so I reopened that program, which it had been a number of years since I’ve learned kind of the basics of, and that was definitely a major moment where I realized holy shit, everything that I have in my head, all of the ideas that have kind of been percolating in there, I can express them if I learned these tools. It just seemed infinite the possibilities with where technology is at now. And so over the course of a couple of years, I was writing a lot of original material and I was teaching myself music production, I was teaching myself how to produce and how to mix and, and really, you know, understanding the technology. And then Colin {Minihan} and I set out to make our third film together, What Keeps You Alive, and we just threw around the idea that maybe I could try to score it because my music was kind of cinematic in nature, and I was definitely at the stage where, you know, I could work my way way around well enough. And it was, it was a revelation, I would say, when I sat down at the piano to score the first scene, and it came out so effortlessly and just aligned with the scene, it was exactly what it needed. It’s the piece that still remains in the film. And that was the very first thing that I scored. And it was a beautiful discovery that for the first little while of doing this, I kind of had to go wait, how did this happen? But it’s, it’s taken me a minute to really own that this is what I do now, because it was just such an unexpected turn. But it just made perfect sense. And, now it’s just been a really great journey of continuing to learn and continuing to understand scoring and to push myself further and further towards developing my voice and, and taking more risks and with everything I do. 

Max: How easy or difficult has it been transitioning from acting to composing?

Brittany: I am absolutely very fortunate to have a partner who is a filmmaker, because I’m learning now that that is one of the biggest challenges for composers starting out is they might be an incredible composer, but if they don’t have the connections to filmmakers, then what are they going to score? It’s not an easy thing to break into, that’s for sure. So I was definitely very lucky to have my first project be a feature film, that was also a feature film that ended up doing fairly well, you know, as far as independent films go, and we played South by Southwest, and it was a New York Times critics pick, etc. So I was definitely able to parlay my work in that film into one of the biggest kind of first connections as a composer, which was my manager, I was able to use the recognition that that film had garnered to connect with with a really awesome manager who, you know, I sought him out because he reps some of the biggest horror composers around right now. And he was brave enough to take a meeting with me and then also take me on even though I was so early in my career, I think we both agreed that you know, I think he just heard the music mostly and he really responded to it. And then beyond that, we recognized that there was a really good opportunity as a female composer in horror. To come into that, that playing field and and balance that a little bit more in terms of the male-female ratio and then from there, though it did take you know, that didn’t necessarily lead to my next job but I did then score my second feature which was a different director but it was also kind of the crew of friends that that we’ve made a number of movies together that’s Brandon Christensen who was the director of Z, and I loved scoring that film and and he wanted for that movie an orchestral sound so that was brand new for me and and really pushed me to learn and explore a style that I had yet to to dive into. The first TV show that I’ve now scored was the second season of Two Sentence Horror Stories. Yeah, that show is actually produced by a producer who produced a film that I acted in a number of years ago so he’s a really great guy out of Vancouver. And I knew him from my work on the film Extraterrestrial. He was one of the producers on that and you know, a couple years into scoring I think I shared some article on my Instagram or my partner shared it and this producer saw it and he said oh shit, Brittany’s scoring now and he got me an interview for Two Sentence Horror Stories and then that led to that so yeah, I mean it’s funny because I found that you know, for the most part very much for the most part everyone is so stoked by this transition and incredibly supportive of it. And I think it’s been interesting to note that there have been a couple of older male directors who I think were very comfortable knowing me as an actor and who you know, maybe have a hard time in general with seeing younger women stepping into roles that are more historically held by men and so I have found that there have been a couple of instances they are rare but where you know, somebody is not comfortable with the fact that I’m no longer just the pretty actress so that’s just kind of something for me to clock and I definitely don’t have a desire to work with somebody who is only willing to see me as that but for the most part, everyone’s been super supportive and excited by the transition.

Max: You mentioned Two Sentence Horror Stories, which I’d love to sort of segue into. Most of your composition work prior to this was indie films. What was it like working on a series now for a major network with the CW?

Brittany: It was mostly different at first, just in the pressure that I put on myself. I knew that it was a big opportunity at that stage in my career, and I wanted to and still want to put out work that represents me in a way that is to the best of my ability. The biggest difference though, outside of my own kind of mental pressure, is just the pacing. So that was the biggest thing to adapt to. Because prior to that, I had had, you know, a few months to score an hour and a half long feature film, and on a TV show you have about a week to score, you know, in this case, a 22 minute episode so suddenly, you know, when previously I had had the luck luxury of sitting with a scene for an entire week to try playing with some ideas and then leaving it for a minute and coming back two weeks later and deciding whether or not it was working and maybe it wasn’t and so I try something else then you know and really taking my time to land on the overall themes within a project and the arc of it musically but suddenly I was having to do that in a week and in the case of Two Sentence Horror Stories, it’s a new arc every episode so it’s kind of like a mini-movie, its own set of characters and its own world and and so they’re standalone mini movies so I think that you’re not only having to create more music because I wanted each episode to have its own unique sound but you’re also having to establish that music off the top and then take it somewhere and then resolve it by the end so it’s many beginning middle and ends and that was definitely a challenge off the top and it wasn’t necessarily everything was completed on time but my stress levels were you know, insanely high, my shoulders were up to my ears and it took me a minute to settle in and be able to truly enjoy it and be able to settle into it and to get to the point where my instincts could be faster and my ability to interpret a scene and to interpret what it needed and the beats of it could match the pace that that was that was needed to to get things in on time and also to be able to relax and enjoy myself so I would say by the end of the season I kind of gotten to that place and now things that I never thought I could finish in a week I’m able to finish you know sometimes in a day or sometimes in two days.

Max: I want to switch gears over to what you most recently scored that we had the fortune of listening to this summer which was the sixth episode titled Feral of American Horror Stories. Did your prior work on Two Sentence Horror Stories help get you noticed for this project or, if not, how did the AHS team find you and your work?

Brittany: Yeah, so I owe that job to Mac Quayle, the main Ryan Murphy composer. We share the same manager and he’s deeply connected into the Ryan Murphy universe and he knew that they were going to be looking for a different composer for every episode of this anthology show. He scored the first and second episode but then they wanted to bring on some different composers for the latter ones and my manager shared my music with Mac and Mac responded to it and was then kind enough to put my music forward to the team over at Ryan Murphy’s company and they thankfully also responded to it and and then I got offered the job so yeah, it was it was a very natural thing but I definitely recognize how freaking lucky I am that I’ve had this opportunity relatively early on in my career and again, it was definitely a moment of okay pressures on, you know, every time you get kind of a new opportunity that’s a next step up from something the pressure increases but I like that pressure to a degree if you can use it because because my goal is to just keep getting better and to create work that is undeniably awesome and so that was definitely what I went into this with was that I wanted to craft a sound that was unique to the episode and that really captured the essence of the pharaohs and their primal you know, organic but violent and angry, driven from society kind of feeling but also marry that with the pain and the tragedy of the family and the the gentle heartbreak of it. So that was what I went into hoping to achieve and I’m definitely really pleased with how the episode as a whole turned out.

Max: You’ve worked on so many horror genre projects that you’ve composed your scores for. Why is it this particular genre that you find yourself gravitating towards? Is this intentional, or is this simply just where the work is coming from?

Brittany: Yeah, it’s a bit of both. I mean, I think once you start to build material in one genre, you’re a lot more likely to be considered for more things within that genre and maybe slightly less likely to be considered for things outside of that genre. So you know, sometimes you will have to seek something to believe it. So if you’ve never done, say a drama before, they might take a moment before hiring or just hire someone who has already done a drama. So yes, I think there’s some kind of, it’s once you start down a path, I think it’s wise to really commit to that path. And that at a certain point you will likely be able to broaden out a bit more but seize every opportunity that comes for you within that path. And right now that’s horror and I love horror because it allows me to be really experimental with the sounds that I create. It allows me to channel a lot of the darkness and kind of rage that I feel inside and craft really edgy sounds through that and it also allows for these really tragic character journeys that have room for deep, dramatic, melodic themes, which I love to do too. So it’s a really great genre for me to work in. And, ultimately, I would love to do a drama, I would love to do a historical drama, I’d love to do a big Marvel movie. I hope to definitely broaden my work into that as I continue.

Max: Do you have any upcoming projects you’re working on? I know that Two Sentence Horror Stories and American Horror Stories have both been renewed for another season.

Brittany: So I actually just finished the next season of Two Sentence Horror Stories. Yeah, literally just delivered the 10th episode this week. So I was working on that throughout the summer. And that was another great journey and I have a vinyl that’s coming out with Burning Witches Records of my EP of which I’ve released a handful of singles from over the last couple of years but they’ve put it all together into vinyl and that’s going to be coming out in a few weeks which I’m really stoked about because I write my own original music and I go by Britt and it’s another facet of my creativity I’m so excited to share and promote that. Then, I’m finishing up another album so I hope to have that done by the end of this year. It’s something that I’ve kind of been working on throughout the pandemic and so it’s looking at a lot of the things that are going on in our world today and a lot of the things that we might kind of all be feeling in some degree or another so that that’s a project I’m excited to continue onwards and then I actually am going to dip my toes back into acting for the next couple of months and it’s a show that I probably don’t think they’ve announced anything about it yet so I can’t say exactly what it is but I can probably say that it’s a fun show for Netflix that I have a really fun role in and I started on that in a couple of weeks so looking forward to playing in that side of the film business again.

Max: Yea, that’s exciting because you’ve already worked with a streamer for the Amazing Prime series The Boys so now you’re continuing stepping into the streaming world with this new Netflix project. I know you can’t say much about it, but what can you say? Is it a horror, like what we’re used to seeing you in?

Brittany: I don’t really know what I’m allowed to say. But it’s another flawed character who presents herself, who, when you meet her she’s kind of on top of the world but it won’t necessarily stay that way for long.

Max: That’s great. And that’s great to hear that you’re able to still balance both acting and composing and that it’s hopefully not too stressful in doing so.

Brittany: Yeah, I hope that it doesn’t get to the point where it’s too stressful but so far I’ve been really fortunate that as soon as one window has kind of opened you know, acting has has come in and and then vice versa. I’ve had a lot of time over the last few years to really develop my craft as a composer and to devote myself to that and right when this Two Sentence Horror Stories job is ending, this acting opportunity came up so it fit nicely in and I hope that I can continue to balance that because I think it’s just a part of who I am. I can’t be contained creatively. And I have to have a number of outlets through which to express myself.

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Written by Max Geschwind

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