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Kate Lyn Sheil in Robert Greene's "Kate Plays Christine" | © Grasshopper Films
Kate Lyn Sheil in Robert Greene's "Kate Plays Christine" | © Grasshopper Films
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Slowly Lose Your Mind To The Haunting Soundtrack Of 'Kate Plays Christine'

Picture of Ryan Kristobak
Music Editor
Updated: 12 July 2017
It is complete coincidence that two films would premiere in 2016 focusing on the life and death of Christine Chubbuck, the Sarasota, Florida journalist who shot and killed herself during a live broadcast on July 15, 1974. One of the two is Robert Greene’s performance-based docudrama, Kate Plays Christine, a genre-blurring creation that follows actress Kate Lyn Sheil as she prepares to take on the role of Chubbuck for a film that would never exist, veering between fiction and reality with each twist and turn. Greene came across Chubbuck’s story in 2006, and since then has been unable to shake one question from his mind: “How do you make a film about someone who kills themselves?”

To score the film, Greene teamed up with frequent film collaborator Keegan DeWitt, who has scored other works such as the Oscar Award-winning short documentary Inocente, Sundance Audience Award-winner This Is Matrin Bonner, and 2014’s Listen Up Phillip, starring Jason Schwartzman and Elisabeth Moss. For Kate Plays Christine, DeWitt’s 18 stripped-down tracks weave perfectly into the film’s subject. Jabbing percussion and dark, brooding cycles of strings and keys pulse in the spaces between your bones, steadily giving rise to an itch that you just can’t scratch. What was going on in Christine’s head? How genuinely can Kate relate to Christine? Who was the real Christine? Is this the real Kate? These are the questions Greene wants us to ask, and DeWitt’s arrangements help drive our thirst for the answers.

The Culture Trip is pleased to premiere the soundtrack for Kate Plays Christine. You can listen to it and read our interview with DeWitt below.

How did you end up working on Kate Plays Christine?

Robert Greene and I have worked together on films like Listen Up Phillip and Queen of Earth, and even [Alex Ross Perry’s] new movie that we’re wrapping now. We clicked really quickly and he’s a really musical editor to begin with, so we built a whole trust together where…he’s the only guy that I trust to get my stems and cut them up. He was one of the first editors that really gained that trust from me. I knew that he had kind of this background of being this really innovative documentary filmmaker, so as he soon as he said he had something going for himself I said, ‘Of course, count me in.’

Listening through the score, the majority of the tracks have very dark tones and are quite ominous, which makes sense with the subject matter. Can you explain what you wanted to convey with your music in relation to the documentary?

It’s hard because, obviously, it’s very intense subject matter, right? What I tried to understand is almost like when people have migraines, you know, and it’s like this tension and this building ringing in their ears that eventually just gets to be too much. I tried to take that and blend it with the idea of this sunbaked, late ‘70s Sarasota, Florida feeling, and try and capture a little bit of what that was for Christine. It’s a delicate tightrope to make something have the seriousness that it needs and the subject matter deserves without it seeming too horror, or too dramatic. I tried to almost make it be from an empathetic point of view of Christine, or it’s this humming or high-pitched squeal that won’t go away until it finally drives you crazy.

The film seems to target this line of what separates reality and performance, and the level of sincerity that is portrayed when on camera. How did this tie into your arrangement for the film?

Because, like I said, [Green and I] have such a trust between the two of us, really early on I was giving him cues and composing cues that were almost…I was making them extremely layered, and I knew that I was going to give them to him and he was going to almost go in and rearrange, tear them apart, and cut things together. In many ways, he was a co-composer with me on this, or at least a co-conspirator. I thought that was really interesting because it was a mirror to his film-making process, where he’s taking things and clicking them each in different directions. He’s got his fingers in a little bit of everything. He’s taking something that is a traditional construct and deconstructing it, and I thought it was very interesting that we were going to do that with the score and the composing process as well.

In what ways did working on this film differ from other scores you’ve worked on in the past?

With Robert, the first one we worked on together was Listen Up Phillip, where we had about three days to just track a live jazz quartet in the studio, you know? We had this giant folder of like 35 different jazz takes and different things, so you didn’t have the same freedom. Then we got into Queen of Earth together and we were able to start breaking things out, so I would give him just oboes or just clarinets. That’s when started to see this little crack in the door, of ‘Oh, this is an interesting hallway to walk down.’ By the time we got to this film, we almost stepped into it knowing that we were going to take this approach.

Keegan DeWitt
Keegan DeWitt

For those who might not have any idea, can you give some insight into the process of scoring a film — what point do you become involved, how much the film and the music interact throughout their creation, etc.?

I’m lucky that I get to have these friendships and collaborative relationships with these very hands-on filmmakers. A lot of times, composers get pulled in at the last minute, and there’s already a bunch of somebody else’s music temped in, and you spend a lot of time essentially recreating that music or creating things that are very close to that music.

The best thing about working with Robert is he…he just sent me a PDF filled with background about Christine, about the incident, about Sarasota, all these different things about Kate, and I just let that stuff inspire and started to write. I just sent him tons and tons of material, and if it was a song with a full orchestra, I started to break out the different pieces of the orchestra. I would give him the cue as it was, like here’s the song called whatever, maybe “Sarasota,” and then here are all the broken-out instruments as well. Composers, understandably, don’t like to hand over like this because they want what they hand over to be their final creation, but with Robert, I kind of hand it over and say, ‘Okay, what’s this going to be now?’ It’s almost like you put it in a blender and see what comes out on the other end and I think it’s very exciting. It’s a very non-traditional way of doing things.

Considering scores by composers like Hans Zimmer, John Williams, or Howard Shore often yield these massive, stand-alone tracks, how does the score for Kate Plays Christine compare and how do you see a listener digesting something that like this that is so atmospheric?

I always think that…it’s not always suitable, but I like to begin from a place of silence. I think what Robert thinks is unique about me as a composer is that I went to film school for writing and directing. I was always making music in tandem to that, but really when I sit down to score, I try to think about it as a filmmaker first. My job is to really vibrate on the same emotional level, this intangible thing. I am essentially trying to accomplish what the actors can’t with lines, what the director can’t with direction, and what the cinematographers can’t with images, and that’s this teeny little sliver of emotion. On this film, I tried to really sit down and make anything that happened music-wise feel earned.

What’s up next for you?

I just wrapped the HBO show Divorce, and I’m starting on a show for Fox called Making History with Jared Hess, the creator of Napoleon Dynamite. I just finished the new Alex Ross Perry movie with Robert editing and a couple other movies with past filmmakers that I’ve gone to Sundance with, so I’m hoping to have a busy festival season this year, as well as the TV stuff.