Compose Action Scores Like a Pro With This Advice From ‘Day Labor’


This post is by Jason Hellerman from No Film School

When looking at composer Chris Bezold’s resume, you will see he is somewhat of an aficionado when it comes to action film music. He has scored everything from Larceny starring the great Dolph Lundgren to Samuel Goldwyn Films’ As Good As Dead starring Michael Jai White. So what actually makes a good action film score? A great action score should be engaging on its own, while reinforcing the movie around it. It should also add another layer of emotion and suspense to the chases, cliffhangers, explosions or fights we often see in the genre.

“In my opinion, it should bring you into the drama and help you really feel what’s happening on screen.” Bezold says. “You also shouldn’t notice it! This is key. If someone is really noticing the music and not getting wrapped up with the drama on screen, then something is wrong. The music should pull the audience into the story and bring them to the edge of their seat, without realizing that the score is what’s doing this.”

Bezold talks about his latest film, R. Ellis Frazier’s Day Labor and much more in the below interview. Bezold’s score for the film is now available digitally.


Day Labor TRAILER | 2024

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Editor’s Note: the following interview is edited for length and clarity.

No Film School: How did you first get into music? What was the score that lit the fuse for you to become a composer?

Chris Bezold: I actually started in music very young. I started taking drum lessons at four years old. After many hours watching videos of Buddy Rick and trying to copy him by playing on my mom’s pots and pans, they decided it was time for some real lessons.

I actually didn’t have a straight path to becoming a composer. I started out wanting to produce, and then my work found it had a pretty good fit for film, and then as I discovered writing to picture, I fell in love with the process. I’d say one of the scores that really inspired me was John Williams’ score to Hook. Still one of my favorite themes.

NFS: What life experiences have had the most profound impact on your professional trajectory?

Bezold: I could spend a long time speaking to this. I had a very unusual path.

As mentioned earlier I started in music very young. I grew up playing in a few different bands, and then after high school started working in technology sales. After five years, the company I was with downsized and I was let go along with many others. I was already exploring ideas on what I wanted to do next, and I ultimately decided to get back into music. I attended Full Sail University and studied Music Production where I began following this path and also was introduced to composer Larry Groupe who mentored me.


‘Day Labor’Toric Films

NFS: How would you say your Day Labor score is different from some of your other scores?

Bezold: What I love most about this score is my collaboration and work with my friend and amazing bassist, Chad Gutterud. Chad and I were in multiple bands in high school, and I wanted to take the sound and style of his playing and incorporate it into this film. It’s a unique voice I hadn’t used up to this point and absolutely separates this score from the others I’ve done.

NFS: You have scored a lot of action films. Why do you think that is? Do you think your background in the National Guard helps you connect better with the material?

Bezold: Very interesting question! I’m not sure my time in Guard has contributed to the action scores, but definitely a possibility.

As mentioned earlier, I believe all life experience shapes how we express through our craft, so I know my time in the Army has impacted my music and composing to an extent. In regard to my scoring action films, it just started with Rumble, then Larceny with Dolph Lundgren and the rest just started building momentum in this genre.

NFS: What advice would you give to a composer who is just starting out and scoring an action film?

Bezold: I’d say to take the time to study rhythm and how this contributes to the emotional tone to a scene. Experiment with different rhythms using diverse orchestration, and watch how it can shape certain scenes to make them more exciting, and bring the audience into the suspense or action you’re looking to highlight.

For new composer’s starting out: be patient and try new things. It’s easy to find a certain pattern that works and replicate it, but push yourself on each new project to try something new. Maybe a new instrument. New time signature, just something that takes you out of your comfort zone and helps you develop as a professional.

NFS: What makes a good action film score in your opinion?

Bezold: In my opinion, it should bring you into the drama and help you really feel what’s happening on screen. You also shouldn’t notice it! This is key. If someone is really noticing the music and not getting wrapped up with the drama on screen then something is wrong. The music should pull the audience into the story and bring them to the edge of their seat, without realizing that the score is what’s doing this.


‘Day Labor’Toric Films

NFS: You have said before that when beginning a new film, you gather an initial palette of sounds. What was that palette like for Day Labor?

Bezold: Love this question! As I mentioned before, it started with bass guitar, using some of Chad’s slap elements for more action scenes, some different effects for suspense and some nice melodic melodies for the more emotional scenes. In addition to the bass guitar, we added some acoustic guitar, violin, and some lighter synth elements.

NFS: Day Labor follows a Latino American Veteran looking for work who finds himself caught in a battle for survival after he is mistakenly dropped off at a private ranch in Texas to be hunted for sport. Does geographic location influence your score? If so, how did you create a sound that was fitting for rustic Texas?

Bezold: That is another really good question.

It can, and also sometimes not. This really depends on the director’s vision, and how we’re trying to tell the story. Oftentimes, we want to take the audience really into the scene, and incorporating some “local” type of sounds can really help to do this. But also, sometimes we don’t want to do that, and we want to direct the audience to something else and in this case, we can use sounds and orchestration that is outside of the geographic location.

For Day Labor we mostly did the latter, incorporating sounds and instrumentation outside of the geographic location. However, the melodic bass guitar and acoustic guitars do give a sense of locality in certain parts of the film.

NFS: How much did that palette change from when you first started working on the film until it was complete?

Bezold: Just slightly, in the beginning we had a lot more percussion, and some larger elements, but working with the producers we really toned it down and gave it a cleaner sound which really serves the film better.


Toric Films

NFS: Day Labor will be your fifth film with director R. Ellis Frazier. What would you say is key to your collaboration with him?

Bezold: I’d say firstly it is trust. Frazier and I have great synergy and he really lets go and trusts me to react to my instincts. Frazier does a great job of jumping in and guiding the process when needed, but he prefers to step back and let me run with my initial judgements and then we build off of this.

NFS: When scenes give you trouble, what are some of the things you do to make them work?

Bezold: This can be very frustrating, but also very fulfilling, like putting a puzzle together. Some of the things I do could be to just step away from it, get some clarity of mind and then come back and listen with fresh ears. Other times I may mute some tracks and listen to how that is without certain elements. Often less is more! Conversely, I may bring in a new instrument and see if this better connects to the picture.