Kick Ass 2’s composer discusses building a better bad guy theme

Kick-Ass 2 opens in theaters this weekend, bringing back the green-suited, baton-wielding not-a-real-superhero superhero, along with his cohort Hit Girl, and a slew of new bespangled wannabes. This Kick Ass him in the midst of Justice Forever, a band of misfit heroes who don their own garb and hit the streets.

Matthew Margeson

Matthew Margeson

With all of these new characters comes brand-new music, including the new villain’s theme courtesy of film composer Matthew Margeson. While some of the film’s score hearkens back to the first film, including the iconic “Kick Ass Theme,” there are a ton of new tunes here as well. Margeson was handed the task of creating the sound for the main villain in the film, The Mother Fucker. While his decoy hero Red Mist wasn’t very heroic in the first film, he now wants to avenge the death of his father, prompting him to become a vinyl-clad, S&M themed villain who wants nothing more than to kill Kick Ass.

We spoke to Margeson about creating The Mother Fucker’s theme, scoring the movie, how he got started, and the intricacies of designing music for film and video games. Read on for the full interview, and check out the score for the movie which is in theaters now.

What was your first paid gig working with music?

When I came out here, I worked a couple different library companies – it wasn’t really a creative job, it was more of sitting in front of a desk working with Excel, but it was dealing with getting composers paid who were doing music for reality shows. And so, even though it wasn’t a creative outlet for me, it was really an educational stepping stone as far as learning how ASCAP works and learning how royalties work. Because, there are people that are constantly working to try to get composers paid on the back end. And that was my first job in Los Angeles where I actually had a foot in the door, so to speak.

Shortly after that, I started working as a technical assistant called Klaus Badelt who was the composer of the first Pirates of the Caribbean, Ultraviolet, Constantine, some really good movies, and that was my first time being able to sit in the room with the composer and actually getting some hands-on as far as Pro Tools and Logic and these different pieces of software and really immersing myself that way into real, live, working situations.

So, you’ve also done work in video game composing. Is composing for those two mediums different or similar from your point of view?  


You know, good question. I’m going to speak for myself on this one because I know a lot of composers that do both video game and television and films, or all three or whatever, and everyone has a different take on it and everyone has different strong points and different weaknesses to their style of working. For me, specifically, I’d like to break film music down into two categories. Now with these two, with video games too, a lot of these games, you’re actually playing a film, in other words. So you have the in-game music and then you have these cutscenes, these cinematic scenes, which play, maybe after you beat a level or world or something, and scoring those, to me, is very similar to working with film because a) you’re telling a story, b) you want it to be thematic, you want the player to not just be playing these levels and doing whatever they’re doing in game but also but to also have some sort of goal and some sort of long term arc to get to the end of, in a way. And so doing those cutscenes is very similar. The picture is dictating what the next more is and what the vibe is and what the pace is.

Now, on the other hand, for me scoring music that is in-game play, where it’s not necessarily depicted by the picture – a lot of times when we get these directions, it’s just a couple lines of text. You know, ‘We need a two minute piece that loops medium action industrial.’ So, that’s a little bit more of a different bag. And from my experience, switching back and forth between … on the couple video games that I’ve done, where I’m only floating one project at a time and really going to get fully into a video game, my MO, it usually does take me a little bit of time to get a little bit of momentum, because it is different. Like I said, there’s not the picture dictating what the next move is.

But after you get into that, and after you get your hands into those gloves, then it does become a little bit of a well-oiled machine and one could argue that you could be a little bit more free and a little bit more creative compositionally, because you’re not necessarily scoring under dialogue or don’t necessarily have to stay out of the way or cut the verse short because the scene ends. So you can be a little bit more free with it in some regards.


When you initially get a call about a possible job, do you change your daily music listening habits? Do you start listing to more movie scores? Do you start thinking about music you might want to draw inspiration from?  

Interesting question. Personal habit – I don’t necessarily think I will go and listen to other specific movie scores. I don’t necessarily want my scores to sound exactly like something else that’s already out there. A good reference to listen to, without actually listening to movie scores, is going into some of the classical genre and listening to the regular repertoire. Because, you can steal a lot from Wagner and the Frenchies, and Prevel, and just to come up with certain musical ideas that could work. You could listen to one passage and that could really inspire the sound for a whole entire score.

I think that it’s really important to kind of establish a real dialogue with the filmmakers, with the directors and producers, because ultimately, you’re writing music for their baby. You’re writing music for somebody else’s piece and you need to give your input well while also satisfying what they’re looking for in the music; figuring out what the world they want to create is. So I think, multiple discussions about character development and just sounds and textures and that kind of conversation with the film makers is a really important step one.

Tell us how you got the job composing Kick-Ass 2. You worked a bit on the first movie and then you took over the reins for this one. How did that come about?

” wanted to create our own thing and really push the envelope and say, ‘this is a sequel. There is new material.'”

I worked on the first one, just a couple of small pieces. So, when Matthew Vaughn, the producer was getting the momentum going for the second one, he had called Henry Jackman who had written the Kick-Ass theme for the first film and he wanted to hire him back for the second one. Between the two of them, they kind of discussed getting me on board to bring my ideas to the table, but the situation on the first film was that I came in at the very last moment to do a cue which had been attempted by the other four composers and all of them did these wonderful cues that Matthew, as the director of the first film, he loved different points of all of these cues, and it was kind of like, ‘Why can’t we have these all play at the same time, or why can’t we just mash them into one?’

Unfortunately, it happened so late in the game that these four composers were already basically sitting in front of a 50 or 60 piece orchestra in London and not at their writing studios. So I got the call from Henry while I was back in Los Angeles, ‘Can you listen to these four, and kind of mash them into one and do one piece of music that satisfies what the director loved about all these?’ So, I did that, and then when it came time for the second one, they had decided to bring me on, remembering what I did for the first one. And here we are today.

How much did you know about the first film before you were called in?

When the first one was in production, I actually didn’t really know anything about it until I got the call from Henry. I watched it once during the mixdown and he talked about the couple of scenes I was going to come in on. I probably watched it once or twice when it came out on DVD, and I’ve always been a fan, it’s definitely a really, really fresh film. When the time came for the second one, I did re-watch the film at the beginning of the process just one time, and once in the middle, and it was to create boundaries for myself really, so that I didn’t stray too far. I think both the director of Kick-Ass 2, Jeff Wadlow, and I wanted to create our own thing and really push the envelope and say, ‘this is a sequel. There is new material.’ But we didn’t want to completely abandon it and throw out the baby with the proverbial bathwater. We needed to somehow pay respects and stay within the world that was created for the first film.


You had to create some new character themes for this movie. What was the process that went into creating The Mother Fucker’s theme and making him stand out as a new force to be reckoned with?

Creating The Mother Fucker’s theme was probably the task that I spent the most time on. We tried a couple things at first, and there was a lot of back and forth, and there were a couple of ideas that we tried out at first which both Matthew and Jeff loved and didn’t quite love and loved certain parts of things and not others. There was one thing that happened after multiple conversations, where Jeff said, ‘We’re not the audience looking at The Mother Fucker. We need to put ourselves in his mind, and what’s the music that is playing in his head? What is he listening to on his iPod?’ That’s how we figured out that he’s the skinny, geeky kid with the squeaky voice, but he thinks of himself as really bad ass. So he’s listening to hip hop. He’s listening to Jay-Z and he’s listening to Eminem.

But at the same time, he wants to become this uber-villain. He wants to become as bad as Darth Vader. So having that conversation really said, ‘Let’s try getting a band in here and try having some chugging guitars and create this vibe of something that’s really cutting edge, while also having the orchestra do the imperial march under it, that way we can have some sort of epicness to it. We eventually figured out a way to mesh those two worlds together, and once we played that idea for Jeff and Matthew, they both basically signed off and said, ‘Let’s move forward with this idea full throttle.’

Mindy’s a much bigger character in this film, so we see a lot more of her including a totally different side. You have high school Mindy, and Hit Girl Mindy. What was it like differentiating those sounds? 

With Mindy as a high school girl in this film, we really wanted to create something very simple that everyone can relate to. When you are 14, 15, 16 years old, everyone is self conscious about what they’re wearing and who they like or who’s looking at them and which boys or girls they like, and what their hormones are doing, and it really is a story that everyone can relate to. The fact that she’s an ass-kicking superhero is a little aside to that actual story, so we wanted to really choose a simple theme for her and a simple instrumentation so when she is Mindy, in those moments of trying to figure herself out, her tune is loosely based on the Big Daddy tune from the first film. It actually starts off with the same couple of first notes that are re-harmonized, and that was us basically saying, ‘She still is an extension of him. She still is trying to fulfill her destiny as a superhero and carry on his legacy.’

“It’s really like the electricity that brings Frankenstein to life”

When she is Hit Girl and jumping back into action, it’s more of an aggressive version of that tune. It’s more using the guitars, the bigger orchestra. And also, when she’s jumping into action, a lot of times we do play the Kick Ass theme as well, just as a representation of the whole entire group. In this film, it’s not just Kick Ass, it’s also Justice Forever, who’s this group of vigilantes and they are represented by basically a bigger version of his theme from the first film. So she kind of evolved into that category when she’s jumping into action as well.

Do you have a favorite part of the film composing process? When you’re in there directing the orchestra and instruments or do you like the whole conceptual stage of figuring out what the score is going to be at the beginning?

Interesting. I would say, if I had to pick one process that is one pinnacle of the whole entire process, it has to be without a doubt, the scoring session. I mean, we’re working with synths and guitars and drums and everything in the writing studio, but when you get the 60 people there, all following the conductor, it is really fantastic. I know people and directors and cinematographers and film editors who say that even from script writing until seeing it in theater, the best part of it for them is being able to come to the scoring session. It’s really like the electricity that brings Frankenstein to life. You have all these parts, and the scenes and the actors doing their wonderful job, but once you play and mix in the live music, it really gives it the breath that it needs to become a real thing. It’s something that you’ve also been working on the whole entire time and most of the time, it’s one of the last steps in the process, so you can almost enjoy the fruits of your labor in a way, by having this momentum behind the music now, and not just hearing the samples of instruments. 


Do film directors tend to be present during that live scoring process or do they wait for the final score to be presented to them?

In my experience, it’s a little bit of both. Jeff and Matthew and Eddie (Hamilton, the film editor), these guys were there for most all of, if I’m not mistaken. Most or all of the post-production for Kick-Ass 2 was done in London, except for the music. So they were all over there starting the final dub and still doing some final edits when we did the scoring process. It’s interesting, I’ve definitely been at sessions where the directors and producers are present and that could either be a really good or a really bad experience, depending on how happy they are with everything. You don’t necessarily want someone that’s speaking up the whole entire time, because there are a lot of people on the line, and there’s a lot of money on the line, and every second counts. You need to get really good takes. You need to be listening the whole time. You have to have people being very respectful of your ears at that time too, because you need to get the perfect take for everything, so you only have one chance in a way to get the perfect one for the final print of the screen.

What is it like getting notes back from a director? Is it a tough process, or just part of it?

There’s a really  wide range of notes we can get back, and it depends on the person too. Some directors are more musically inclined, which sometimes can be a really good thing and sometimes can be a really really terrible thing, and sometimes you’re getting reactions from them which are based on and described by what they’re feeling, which I’d say is really favorable for a composer to get. If a director comes back to you and says, ‘I think that this stretch of 30 seconds should have a little bit more tension. We’re letting the audience off the hook too soon.’ And those are very direct notes that you can get. Whereas, if someone listens to the first 30 seconds of a six minute action film and says, ‘I don’t like it.’ It’s like, ‘Well, let’s talk about what you actually don’t like about it or be a little bit more specific.’

“You need to be listening the whole time.”

Technically speaking, if you think about it mathematically, one of the worst notes we can get is if you’re doing something like chase scene, or some sort of action battle or something, where there’s a lot of rhythm and a lot of chasing, we all cringe when the director comes back and says, ‘It’s too slow.’ or ‘Can we just make the whole thing a little bit faster’ because you know you’re doing these pieces over a long 5, 6 minute stretch of the film. If we move the whole entire a tiny bit faster, now that 5-6 minutes is going to end before the scene does. We’re going to truncate the whole entire piece by a minute or so. 

So those are always a little bit more difficult. It’s fun if you do have a really good working relationship with a director, where you worked on a couple films together and you almost create a shorthand. And so, they can say certain things that might not have anything to do with the musical language, but you know exactly what they’re talking about and you’re able to translate that in, ‘Oh, he doesn’t like the violins that high.’ Or, ‘He wants a little bit less bass on the cue.’ or something like that.

Kick-Ass 2 has the score coming out on CD, and I don’t think the first film had one. What’s it like for you as a composer to have that physical representation of your work come out for purchase? 

I can’t even describe how awesome it is. It’s a way for composers, established composers and young composers, it’s a way to get our work out there and put something tangible into the history books. And also, and it’s not just me, there are a lot of people that really put their heart into this film. There’s the orchestra players, there’s the contractors, there’s the conductor, there’s the editors, the list goes on and on, and so it’s really a way for those people to shine as well. It’s something that people can take home with them. And although it is small, there are really a hardcore group of music fans out there that this means something to, and they can collect it and add to their collection. Getting a CD or a record, you have the book and you have the artwork, and you have text and personal messages and credits, and it’s nice to actually have something that’s tangible to take with us. To say ‘Hey, we did this!’

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