Este Haim, Christopher Stracey talk Suncoast, Composing Score

Nico Parker, Ella Anderson, Ariel Martin, and Daniella Taylor in SUNCOAST. Photo by Eric Zachanowich. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

Este Haim and Christopher Stracey spoke with Solzy at the Movies about composing the score for Laura Chinn‘s new film, Suncoast.

Suncoast is a semi-biographical film from first-time feature filmmaker Laura Chinn. The film, which revisits the early 2000s, follows Doris (Nico Parker) and her mother, Kristine (Laura Linney), during one of the most vulnerable times for her family. Doris’s brother is spending his final days at the same Florida hospice facility as Terry Schiavo, which means having to deal with media attention, police, and of course, the protesters on scene. One of the protesters that Doris befriends is an activist, Paul Warren (Woody Harrelson). Chinn takes dramatic liberties in telling the story.

Following its Sundance Film Festival premiere and a brief theatrical release, Suncoast is currently streaming on Hulu.

Este Haim and Christopher Stracey attend the World Premiere of Suncoast by Laura Chinn, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.
Este Haim and Christopher Stracey attend the World Premiere of Suncoast by Laura Chinn, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Photo by Michael Hurcomb / Shutterstock for Sundance Film Festival.

It’s so nice to meet you today. How are you doing?

Este Haim: We’re doing great.

Christopher Stracey: Doing good. Doing good.

Este Haim: Can’t complain.

It’s my understanding that you all read the Suncoast script before reaching out to Laura Chinn about doing the score.

Este Haim: No. I was a fan of Laura’s because of a book she wrote called Acne. But no, we didn’t. We saw cut and after we saw the cut, we were like, We’re in.

So what was it about the film that drew your interest?

Este Haim: Well, I think firstly, Stray and I had our formative years in the early 2000s. I think the nostalgia factor of Suncoast really spoke to us. We’re such big fans of music that came out of that time period so I think it just begged us to be able to kind of play around with the music from that era and also sonically. It’s also just such a beautifully, well-directed, well-acted movie that we just jumped at the chance to work on it. The story is beautiful and all that stuff but I think it was, we were firstly just attracted to the music of the time.

Is there anything in particular that draws you to working on a film or TV series as far as doing the score?

Christopher Stracey: Definitely, yeah. The story. I mean, if we get to see a cut like this one where we’re like, Oh, my G-d, this is such a touching film, it would be a dream to be a part of it. But yeah, if we don’t see a cut or we’re just seeing a script or something like that, or just meeting with the director—yeah, the story, obviously. The style.

Este Haim: The quality.

Christopher Stracey: Yeah, the quality. But also, it could even just be the director. Sometimes you just meet someone that you just feel like, oh, we would really click and we’d be able to help each other with each other’s visions and you know it would be a good fit, a good job.

When you met with Laura, were you more or less on the same page?

Este Haim: Yeah. The great thing about Laura is—I think with most of the directors that we’ve worked with thus far, they kind of just trust us to do our thing. When we were talking with Laura, we both were just kind of like, Yeah, we should just make something really beautiful and something that kind of tugs at the heartstrings, but is also true to the period. We were like, great—that’s literally our wheelhouse. So yeah, I think we’re pretty much on the same page on most things.

Did you receive any particular direction about what she wanted for the music?

Este Haim: I think she was just looking for something, again, really beautiful but also, not telling the audience how to feel, not making it too melodramatic but still being—

Christopher Stracey: Nothing too over-produced as well. The stuff she was sending us was a lot of indie—acoustically recorded music that also felt like it had been home recorded in a way, pretty raw. I think that kind of having that kind of sonic aesthetic also helps with the just the honesty and the rawness of the real life that we’re seeing in that film.

Este Haim: It felt very bedroom poppy.

Christopher Stracey: Yeah.

I don’t think I’ve ever even heard that phrase used before to describe music.

Christopher Stracey: (Laughs)

Este Haim: Bedroom pop?


Este Haim: It refers to pop music that’s kind of made in your bedroom so it sounds really lo-fi. Clairo does it really if you look her up. She’s very good at it.

In a typical process, do you tend to start composing music for the film when you first read the script or do you prefer to wait until after seeing footage for the first time?

Christopher Stracey: Normally, we’ll get a first cut, right?

Este Haim: Yeah. We’ll get a first cut.

Christopher Stracey: Either they would have temped in there some other music that’s sort of in their world of where they want to be. Or they might have nothing and they might say, Will you watch it and see where you think—sometimes they really let you take the reins and they’re like, see where you think needs music, but we’re basically thinking we want this point, this point. Genuinely, they’ll have an idea and we’ll get to see it. If there’s a temp in there, then we’ll see what they’ve done and we can have conversations about why did you choose this particular mood, it’s making you feel a certain way? They’re like, Yeah, we want it to have that uneasy feeling and we want it to have that big warm hug feeling. Things like that.

How will the temp score influence your own work?

Este Haim: We try not to give into temp-itis. It’s easier said than done a lot of the time, but what we’ll usually ask is we’ll ask the music editor to just temp in our own music if they possibly can so that it doesn’t sway our judgment. But yeah, it can be difficult. I think most composers go through temp-itis at some time or another. As an artist, I know that I go through temp-itis. I know that Stray probably goes through temp-itis.

Christopher Stracey: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Este Haim: Demo-itis.

Christopher Stracey: Demo-itis, yeah, for sure.

Este Haim: Business in the music indo. But it’s, it’s tough. Because once you’ve heard something and you start liking it, it’s hard to get away from it or even to top it. Sometimes, topping it isn’t even what’s good for the song. Knowing when to just stop or knowing to just use what’s in the demo and being okay with that. There’s stuff from Haim demos that ends up on records all the time. But I think when it comes to scoring, I think that it really behooves you to not listen to the temps. Also, to be able to know that when a director or a producer is telling you to get closer to the temp, to be able to stand up for yourself.

Christopher Stracey: Yeah and pull them away from that idea.

Este Haim: Out of their demo-itis.

Yeah. Is there a studio that you prefer to record at because of the way it sounds?

Este Haim: We record at Stray’s studio. Stray has an amazing home studio that’s like living in a womb. It’s like vintage Gears R’ Us.

Christopher Stracey: Lots of gear in there.

Este Haim: Lots of fun gear. Lots of percussion stuff to play around with. It’s like living in a mad scientist’s laboratory. It’s really fun and it keeps things really creative because there are so many different types of sounds and instruments that Stray has in his studio.

Christopher Stracey: Also, we’re not on the clock. We haven’t booked a studio for a certain amount of time with engineer or whatever. We’re just doing it all ourselves at my spot so we’re not feeling—there’s no pressure of time. We’re not wasting anyone’s time if we want to just explore some rabbit hole of an idea that we figure three hours later didn’t really work.

Este Haim: Totally.

Christopher Stracey: Which is great. You need that freedom, I think, to get the good stuff to come out.

When it came to working on Suncoast, was it minimal instruments or did you bring in a full band or orchestra?

Este Haim: No, we played everything.

Christopher Stracey: We played everything. Yeah, we were the band. That was our idea. There’s all these bands of the time that Laura had been sending us and then she’d been sending us newer stuff that harkened back to that time in that realm. We were like, Okay, well, what if we were an acoustic-ish band of that time? How would we do it? We did it all ourselves. It was mostly just guitars, pianos, drums and percussion, bass, bit of saxophone texturally here and there, and some synthesizer stuff. This definitely a bit of an orchestral vibe in the Green Gloves cover.

Este Haim: Yeah. All those strings—that’s all Stray. I wish I played strings like Stray does. I can’t.

Christopher Stracey: I grew up on the violin. I was lucky to have that to be able to just pull out.

Este Haim: Oh my G-d. I wish I knew how to navigate a bow like you do.

Christopher Stracey: (Laughs)

Yeah. I went from saxophone, trumpet, and then guitar.

Christopher Stracey: Nice.

Este Haim: Nice.

Christopher Stracey: Trumpet’s a hard one.

Este Haim: Yeah, trumpet’s hard.

Christopher Stracey: I’ve tried that because I dated a girl in high school that played trumpet and I borrowed her trumpet for a few months. I got one—“’Round Midnight,” this Miles Davis tune. I got to play the opening, whatever it is, maybe eight bars. The melody of that, that’s the only thing I’ve ever been able to do. But it’s tough. It’s so tough.

Este Haim: I know.

Christopher Stracey: I generally can find an instrument and pick it up and play something right away, but brass with that kind of (inaudible), that is hard.

Este Haim: The reed. Too much.

At some point, I just ended up faking my way through the end of eighth grade.

Christopher Stracey: Beautiful.

It was either band or PE and I was not doing PE!

Christopher Stracey: (Laughs) Yeah.

Este Haim: I never took PE. I was in an arts high school so I didn’t have to take PE, which was great.

Yeah. Well, I got lucky in high school that we had the option to do the summer course between eighth and ninth grade—one month, half PE, half health. That was it.

Christopher Stracey: Wow.

Este Haim: So nice. You made the right decision again.

How did it feel to take in the experience on the ground at Sundance?

Este Haim: It was great. We had a great time. It was both of our first times at Sundance. I think that we’ll go back again, if they’ll have us.

Christopher Stracey: Yeah, that’s my dream is that we have a movie at Sundance every year. That’s the new goal. It was awesome. It was really cool. Plus, the best part about it was that when we went to the screening, honestly, there was probably not a dry eye in the theater. You could just feel around you this chorus of sniffles towards the end of the film and also, a lot of laughs, which is great, because there is a lot of light moments. It is literally the ups and downs of life at their extremes and having the audience be there along with it and really ride with it, that felt great. That was something really cool to see on the big screen.

Este Haim: Totally.

Were you able to have fun or was it just film obligations?

Este Haim: Oh, no, we had a great time. I DJ’d the after party. There’s nothing like an open bar and a packed dance floor. We were having the best time. We just traded off songs. It was our own way of composing a party.

Christopher Stracey: Yeah, it was wicked. It was really cool. I was on mountain snowboarding a lot as well. That was a lot of fun for me.

My second Sundance in 2019, I found myself having Shabbat dinner with Dr. Ruth.

Este Haim: Wow!

Christopher Stracey: Whoa!

Este Haim: How’d that happen?

Shabbat Tent hosts the Festival Shabbat Dinner and Lounge every year during opening weekend. In 2019, it was so popular that they had to split it into two dinners.

Este Haim: Wow.

The first one was Dr. Ruth because there was a documentary that year. The second one, Peter Yarrow stopped by and they were singing songs.

Este Haim: Amazing. Shabbat shalom, am I right?


Este Haim: I love it. I’m jealous.

Yeah. I would have gone this year but it’s just getting more and more expensive each year, especially with Airbnbs just going up in price.

Este Haim: I know. I think that’s with everything though. We’re very lucky that we got to go this year and we’re very thankful that we were able to attend. But yeah, we we had a great time. We saw so many people, so many friends—so many new friends.

It was so nice meeting the both of you. I know we spoke earlier this week, Chris.

Christopher Stracey: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Este, I will say say that I probably have a lot of friends that are jealous that I’m talking with one of the Haim sisters.

Este Haim: Awe, that’s so sweet. Well, tell them that I say hi and that I can’t wait to put out some more music and keep scoring.

Will do.

Este Haim: Thank you. Nice to meet you.

Christopher Stracey: Yeah, thank you for talking to us.

Searchlight Pictures released Suncoast on Hulu on February 9, 2024.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.