'Flatliners' Composer on the 'True Blood' Scene That Catapulted His Career (Exclusive)

Nathan Barr talks to ET about his storied TV and film composing career.

Composer Nathan Barr isn’t a name an ordinary person would recognize, but scour his resume and one is bound to find a television show (True Blood, The Americans) or movie (Grindhouse, Hostel) they’ve obsessed over. Now, Barr is taking his talents to Flatliners, the modern remake of the 1990 sci-fi psychological horror film toplined by Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts and Kevin Bacon.

But Barr, who grew up in Tokyo with musical parents and spent much of his career scoring horror films, credits his experience on True Blood, in which he served as head composer for its entire seven-season run, as his breakthrough moment. 

“Ever since True Blood, things started to take off,” the 44-year-old industry vet tells ET. “As composers and in many facets of filmmaking, you always need that one person who endorses us and the phone starts ringing. When [creator] Alan Ball hired me on True Blood, that was one of those moments.”

Barr detailed an early season one scene from the popular HBO vampire drama in 2008 that catapulted his professional career.

“There’s a moment where Sookie and Bill first kiss,” Barr said. “That was the first time I came up with their theme and I played it for Alan -- he came up to the studio and listened -- and I was petrified. I’d never played him anything I’d written for [the show] yet. He had finished [listening] and was like, ‘For the first time I really feel something very special between them and your music is really helping me do that.’ That was a proud moment.”

Barr’s involvement with Flatliners came abruptly and a bit out of the blue. 

Producers decided to go another direction musically, linking up with Barr and tasking him with creating a full orchestral score in under three and a half weeks. It was the smallest amount of time he’s had to complete a film job. “They hired me with the caveat that, like, ‘Hey, you have no time to do this,'” he recalled, sharing he was hired on a Monday and writing music by Tuesday. “Leonard Bernstein had a great quote, something like, ‘Two things you need: a plan and not quite enough time.’”

Barr was up for the challenge, but he confessed that Flatliners was one of the toughest jobs he’s done in his career -- in part because he “had to nail it right out of the gate.” Of the score, Barr said he went for a “contemporary, electronic foundation with orchestra strings over the top” after director Niels Arden Oplev voiced his desires to keep the music non-traditional to cater to a younger, PG-13 audience. 

Barr has a busy slate ahead of him. He’ll continue scoring music for The Americans (he says it'll evolve in the new season) while working on Eli Roth’s upcoming gothic horror film, The House With a Clock in Its Walls, starring Jack Black and Cate Blanchett. But Barr praised his Flatliners family for a pleasant, albeit whirlwind, experience and hopes future projects have similar atmospheres: "Everyone was excited about what the score was going to do for the film and really supportive. It was a really nice environment to work in."

Flatliners is in theaters now.