As HBO’s shocking and controversial documentary, Leaving Neverland, continues to make waves in the media, the doc’s musical composer, Chad Hobson, stops by to give his thoughts on the experience scoring Leaving Neverland.
Behind the Music is an ongoing series that seeks to interview and gain an introspective on both established and up-and-coming composers. These composers, who have worked for everything from television to film to commercials to video games, share their experiences, work ethic, and more. For this edition, Leaving Neverland‘s composer, Chad Hobson, stops by to give his perspective on the situation, his creative process, and the purpose of his music.
Michael Jackson’s name has been riddled with controversy throughout the late 20th and all of the 21st century so far. Becoming known as the King of Pop in the music world, he has since garnered labels like predator and sexual abuser by those following the cases of Jackson being accused of grooming young fans and taking advantage of them. He has had these allegations follow him long after his death in 2009 and in HBO’s latest documentary, Leaving Neverland, the case against him takes a turn for the worse.
Detailing the stories of two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, and their experiences as children with Michael Jackson, Leaving Neverland proposes a highly detailed accounting of the alleged sexual abuse they encountered from Jackson and the resulting fallout as a result of the cases. Director Dan Reed takes his time in fleshing out the backstory and eventual conflict and aftermath, bringing on the help of composer Chad Hobson to help create an atmospheric score appropriate for a story this uncomfortable and sensitive.
Chad Hobson had led a career of many notable projects, including the likes of Adulthood, Stardust, Shaun the Sheep: The Movie, and a helping hand with Ninja Assassin. He recently worked with Leaving Neverland director Dan Reed on the film, The Paedophille Hunter, and their collaboration continues with this latest venture into the controversial world of childhood abuse. Hobson stops by and gives his input on the reaction to the film, his initial reluctance to post the music, what audiences could get out of this project, and much more here on Hidden Remote.
Hidden Remote: Over the months since its premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Leaving Neverland has amassed a large reaction from both the film and music industry. To start things off, how have things changed for you since the premiere, if anything at all?
Chad Hobson: I can’t say things have changed a giant amount. There’s just more of it. You know, more interviews and things of that nature. There is a little more attention paid to me, and more fan messages about my music, which of course is nice.
HR: How did you first come onto the project? Did you volunteer or how did it go?
Hobson: I have worked with Dan Reed many times before. He asked me if I’d like to do the music and to come into the edit and chat about ideas.
HR: The reactions to Leaving Neverland have been passionate, but how do you personally feel about the film’s legacy continuing on past the initial reactions?
Hobson: The film has certainly caused a huge reaction. I think it has opened a dialogue about abuse to a wider section of people. It has taken something taboo and confronted people with it. Ultimately, I hope and believe it is empowering for those victims of abuse around the world to come out.
HR: Leaving Neverland’s focus on facing abuse from childhood makes for an uncomfortable watch just based on the premise alone. How did you personally go about in making sure the work you put into the music was complimentary to the film without being distasteful? Sometimes a touchy subject needs music that doesn’t feel exploitative.
Hobson: I’ve worked on a lot of films about difficult subject matter. But really with all films, you have to find the language and tone for the score. Something that captures and strengthens the film. It’s a gut instinct, really. Sometimes it takes time to find, sometimes you hit it straight away. It’s part of the process.
HR: It’s been mentioned that you and director Dan Reed had a conversation about the overall tone of your musical contribution to Leaving Neverland, in which the theme of a “magical forest” was zeroed in on. Can you elaborate to the readers what that theme is and how it connects to the content of the documentary?
Hobson: Yes, the idea for the audience to take a “walk through the magical forest.” It was thrashed out in our first music meeting.
It was important to set out the magical nature of meeting Michael Jackson. The joy of the unlikely set of events that led to Michael entering the boys’ lives.
It was also important that we felt the innocence and sweetness of it. Then from there, as we walked further in, the forest starts to become dark and distorted. The limbs of the trees twisted and disturbed, as we reach the abuse.
HR: Listening to the soundtrack and its placement in the doc, the magical forest aesthetic has an almost-whimsical quality to it. How did you find inspiration to achieve this sound? Any specific soundtracks or just general inspiration?
Hobson: The nature of the score all came from the “walk through the magical forest” idea. We discussed a few pieces of music, but I felt they were too big and over the top – little too forced. I felt we needed something light, and personal. Even the music for the abuse, I felt it had to be small. A solo cello, a celeste, and piano.
Obviously, there are much larger moments, like when the boys are first invited to Neverland. So at those points, I open up the orchestra. Hitting the giant wide shots, as we fly over the hills, and far, far away to Neverland.
HR: What is something that you want viewers to understand with your musical work here? More than fitting the tone of Leaving Neverland, is there something that you wanted to communicate specifically to the viewers themselves?
Hobson: I wanted people to listen to the boys’ story. Suspend your judgment. I wanted to clear a space to allow their version of events to be heard. But at the same time, I wanted you to still love Michael. It was important that the music didn’t demonize him. The audience had to make its own mind up.
HR: Is there any specific part of the soundtrack where you felt the most inspired to create? If yes, which scene should we look out for in which the music makes its mark?
Hobson: I cannot say there is a specific part of the soundtrack where I was more inspired. For me, composing is all about flow. It’s about finding a place inside that resonates and allowing it to come out. There are cues I like more than others or cues that were easier to write, but the inspiration that brought them into the real world was the same. I just try to be sensitive to the scene I’m working on.
HR: Tackling a heavy project like this is no easy feat. Looking back at your work and seeing how it was implemented into the doc, what would you say is the most important lesson you learned during your experience?
Hobson: This was a difficult project in many ways, personally and professionally. I’d just lost my mother some months before, and my father died as I started writing the score. It was a huge shock and emotionally very difficult, but I used the writing process as part of my own healing. The most important lesson I learned or at least relearned was to throw myself into the music. Let the music be my focus. From there everything else would come.
HR: What is something you feel audiences can take away from Leaving Neverland? The subject matter may convince some viewers to understandably avoid it, but what’s something you feel everyone can get out of the doc?
Hobson: The thing I think we can all take from Leaving Neverland is that things are not always as they seem. Just because someone is wealthy or famous, or on your TV, doesn’t mean they are who you think they are. Don’t be so easily fooled by an image or persona.
HR: On a happier note, do you have any plans for releasing new music at all later this year?
Hobson: Yes! The score for Leaving Neverland is out actually. It’s on Spotify and iTunes already. I was overwhelmed and humbled by requests for the score. Something I really didn’t expect.
HR: Before we close things off, I’d like to ask one more question. You’ve mentioned in a previous interview that you had been hesitant to release the music for Leaving Neverland, but felt inspired after witnessing the effect it had on victims of abuse. Do you have any final words of encouragement and advice for victims?
Hobson: Don’t be afraid. Tell your truth. The times are changing and you have a voice.
Have you seen the documentary? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments below.
Leaving Neverland is available to watch on HBO and Chad Hobson’s music for the project is up now on streaming platforms.