Good Time, a visually striking new film directed by brothers Josh and Benny Safdie, is set mostly in Queens. It stars a never-been-better Robert Pattinson as an amateurish criminal desperate to get his mentally disabled brother (played by co-director Benny Safdie) off of Rikers Island. The Safdies’ movie borrows heavily from the jittery realism of ’70s and ’80s nail-biters by Martin Scorsese and Sidney Lumet, but they also worked hard to make something that feels fresh, something that disorients you in a new way.
The film’s score was composed by Daniel Lopatin, the artist best known as Oneohtrix Point Never. Lopatin operated in a similar fashion as his filmmaker collaborators, paying homage to classic big-screen synthwork while also incorporating the mysterious grooves of punk and prog and half-remembered ephemera that have informed his song-making for the last decade. After Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring and the Australian thriller Partisan, it’s also the first feature film he’s worked on where he’s credited not as Daniel Lopatin, but as Oneohtrix Point Never.
“A lot of underscoring is like an emotional veneer; it's meant to slyly suggest you in one direction or another,” Lopatin explained recently, over the phone from rural Massachusetts, where he was holed up writing songs. “No musician really wants to do that — you just do that because it's like, the job. Oneohtrix Point Never is total freedom to do what I think is right. I can do both, but I like to work in that OPN mode as often as possible. I was really happy that [the Safdie brothers] wanted Oneohtrix Point Never.” We’re happy too.
What exactly are you working on in Massachusetts right now?
It's definitely the next Oneohtrix Point Never album, but it's kind of in pieces right now. I don't know how it's actually gonna come out. The space [I’m working in] has conspicuously been set up so that I'm sitting directly under this black, wiry, archaic-looking chandelier that could just, like, cut me and end my life at any moment. But at the same time, I'm staring out onto this peaceful woodland. It's completely my brand [laughs]. It really couldn't possibly be more OPN.
How did you get involved with the Safdie brothers and Good Time?
Josh [Safdie] reached out to me and sent me this weird mood board. It had all this completely unrelated stuff, like a picture of Spongebob and then weird heist imagery. I was like, This is exactly the weird contrast that I'm into. Then I watched [the Safdies’ 2014 film] Heaven Knows What, and I was really impressed. They were definitely speaking my language.
It's been 10 years since I put out my first tape, Betrayed in the Octagon. I was thinking about that era, how I was making music then, with looping pedals and old sequencers and stuff. I was already thinking maybe it'd be fun to revisit that. And then [the Safdie brothers] were like, "Dude we love [Betrayed in the Octagon track] 'Behind the Bank,' it's like our favorite song." I was like, Really?
We started talking about what it means to have synth music as a soundtrack. Obviously all of the iconic stuff comes up, but then we went further. What can we add to that lineage that can make it not just an homage, but something a little bit deeper? We started putting together this vision of the score that was more, like, prog. It had a lot of lead guitar-y and keyboard-y sounding stuff that was meant to embody Connie's psyche — his arrogance, but also his confusion. I was like, Great, I know how to do this. It'll be sloppy prog.
Heaven Knows What used music to build tension, but Good Time really takes it to the next level. Your score is pretty relentless, and it manipulates the audiences emotions in a particularly extreme way.
That was the fun part for me. I was like, No, this is too much. I was like, I don't want to tread on the film too much. But they were like, "No, this has to be completely insane. This has to be completely neon.” Once that was determined, it was a breeze. We were just having fun and motivating each other to find the most truthful way to do what we were doing.
We were in the thick of it, all of us, frame by frame. We were really into this idea that we were constructing this score that was a living organism that was tethered to the image in this really sci-fi way. It wasn't just music, it was this weird existential texture that meant different things at different times. It was creating the energy rush that you needed for it to feel like a thriller, but it also embodied the characters' personal ambitions and doubts. The things that aren't really said.
Did you feel inspired by the film and story straight away? I feel like it would be hard to tap into that level of creative freedom if it didn’t resonate.
You really have to be entranced with a film. That already cuts down on my choices, because I don't feel like I can work well, regardless of what a director might want from me, if I don't relate to the material. These guys were experimenting in making a genre film for the first time. They were embracing these time-tested formulas of the heist movie, and also the buddy movie — like the Midnight Run scenario.
When people talk about how parameters can generate really good work, there's no better example than working within a genre in film. That's like the ultimate parameter. You're working in this historical and stylistic context, and there's all these rhythms that emerge that make you feel really good, and make you, like, get off, regardless of how many times you've seen something like that. But then there's this whole other challenge of, How can we twist it up and make it feel like us?. How can we make it feel really idiosyncratic?
You could have just been describing a lot of your music, too.
Exactly — that's the Oneohtrix Point Never thing anyway. I was like, Fuck yeah. I get what you guys are going after, and I think I can help.
Do you have a favorite musical cue in the film?
Some of my favorite stuff wasn't the cues, but all the sound design that's operating on a subliminal level — vaguely formal ideas like, OK, the car's going underneath an underpass, how can we activate that strip of highway? What can we do to make it seem like the highway's electric, like it's alive? We put in all these sonic moments tethered to certain objects in the frame, and panned them in a way that was relative to the movement of the object on the screen. It's really hard to pick up, but it's rewarding for me.
Your collaboration with Iggy Pop that plays in the final scene is heart-wrenching. But you originally wanted to use a song by Lewis, the elusive crooning genius — right?
I love the Lewis song "Like To See You Again." I composed around it, and through it, in a manner befitting of my style. It was almost like an OPN remix, or something. It was a really cool piece of music, and very different from the rest of the score. The problem was Lewis is hard to find, and he really doesn't want much to do with the business of music, at all. We considered heading out ourselves to go look for him. Private detectives. Then we were just like, Leave it be. I don't think he wants to be found.
I would for sure watch a behind-the-scenes documentary of you guys trying to track him down.
Wouldn't that be a great Jim Jarmusch movie? When Jim crosses over to documentaries like Herzog, he should make a movie where he goes and finds Lewis.
How did you feel when you found out you won the soundtrack award at Cannes?
I've never won anything, so it was very surprising. It's not an award that gets a lot of hype at Cannes. It was just a little news item. It wasn't like the Grammys or the Oscars or anything, so I was able to keep my cool. I've been really trying to be very patient and take my time with the whole film score thing, and work on the projects that I think are important, the ones that embody the kind of work I want to do when I'm collaborating. We just all felt like it reaffirmed that we were doing a really good job. It kind of was a nice way to wrap the project up. It was a really good feeling.
"We were really into this idea that we were constructing this score that was a living organism that was tethered to the image in this sci-fi way. It wasn’t just music, it was this weird existential texture.”
Good Time is being distributed by A24, the company behind Moonlight. Do you think it’s too bleak to be an Oscar contender too?
I keep getting these text messages from Josh, like, "Oh my god, Selena Gomez is super into this film! Daft Punk's coming to see the movie!” There's this hype-y energy around it. As a movie fan, I remember Quentin Tarantino and Lawrence Bender and the sort of energy around Reservoir Dogs, and the jump from Reservoir Dogs to Pulp Fiction, and how everybody was stoked on Quentin’s career. It reminds me a little of that. I wouldn't be totally surprised if it happens. The Safdies are naturals. Whatever that thing is that you need, they have it. If those kind of accolades aren't coming now, they are coming soon.
Still, the movie’s a somewhat hard watch, not least because Robert Pattinson’s protagonist, Connie, is basically impossible to root for. He keeps fucking people over.
Connie is an unsuccessful criminal and an asshole and, to me, a sociopath. He exploits everyone he comes across. He exploits a lot of people who are already being exploited in all these other ways. That's an interesting thing about the side of New York that the Safdies are showing us; it's not really a romanticization of how hard New York is. The reality is that New York is hard because people are involved in all these levels of being reliant on this infrastructure that doesn't necessarily care about them, or protect them.
With the Safdie brothers’ attention to detail — the Access-A-Ride at the hospital, the opening sequence at Rikers, the way that they work with these non-actors to create an incredible tableau — you really just become aware of how everyone's just hanging on by a thread. It's so easy to slip and get off whatever track you're on and end up in trouble. It's just so simple for everything to get so messed up so quickly. That's kind of like my chandelier situation. One false step, and you're fucked.