The Safdie brothers’ crime thriller Good Time is a throttling dose of a movie, equal parts funny, dazzling, and anxiety-inducing. A lot of that can be chalked up to the score by electronic composer Oneohtrix Point Never, a.k.a. Daniel Lopatin, who blankets the film in propulsive synths, icy percussion, and wailing, guitar-like howls that rarely let you off Connie’s (Robert Pattinson) wild ride into the darker corners of Queens by night. It’s a score that feels like a classic as soon as you hear it.
“After Rob, Dan was the second creative addition to the film,” Josh Safdie told me when I visited him and Lopatin in his midtown studio. In hindsight, Lopatin and the Safdies’ sensibilities seem destined for each other, and Lopatin’s score feels inextricable from the experience of Good Time. As a solo artist, Lopatin creates dense, atmospheric compositions that feel at once tactile and flamboyantly synthetic, ranging from austere minimalism to scuzzy, headbang-ready anthems. (In a bit of coincidence, he had already been working with R&B artist FKA Twigs as a producer before he began composing onscreen accompaniment for her boyfriend, Pattinson.) After the film wrapped, Josh and Dan spent countless winter hours at Lopatin’s studio building the score, a near-constant presence in the film that the two say they approached in a surprisingly old-school way, building themes around their chaotic leading man. “It would go in between this sexiness and this messiness, which is what [Connie] is all about,” Lopatin says. “It’s this sort of psycho-scribble over these beautiful landscapes.”
But in the final scene of the film, a solo piano comes in, and the film and the score take a turn for the tender. With a heartbreaking performance from Iggy Pop, Lopatin’s closing track “The Pure and the Damned” brings all the madness that we’ve just witnessed home. “There was this idea that the credits were … not a bait and switch exactly, but in a way, yes,” Lopatin told me. “You’ve been totally immersed in this film, you’ve somehow been convinced to love this guy who’s pretty much a piece of shit. And then, suddenly, reality.” As the song plays and the credits roll, we return to Nick (Benny Safdie), Connie’s special-needs brother, for whose sake this entire violent misadventure has been for. In Lopatin’s mind, Nick is a reminder that “most of life is not that,” he says. “Most of life is people in a room, trying to be better.”
Similarly, most of Lopatin and Safdie’s life is not collaborating with a rock icon of this magnitude. Josh still sounds somewhat disbelieving of “the fact that now, we basically have a narrator” in Iggy. But as Lopatin and Safdie tell it, the story of how the song came about is one of both funny and oddly sweet — one of those rare situations where an older creative sensibility and a younger one bump into each other and find they speak the same language.
Emily Yoshida: So, the Iggy Pop song. How did that happen?
Daniel Lopatin: I thought, why not attempt to do something like a dream gig, you know? A dream collab. And so there’s very few names that actually occur when you ask yourself what you really want. I was like, “I don’t think I want anything.” [Laughs.] There are only so many people that you could even imagine …
Josh Safdie: Well, Britney Spears said no.
DL: Spears said no. Then Iggy was next.
Britney would actually have been an interesting fit.
DL: She would be great. Her best song is her ballad, what is that song, with no beat?
DL: Yes. That song is incredible.
JS: I need to catch up.
DL: Twigs loves that song. Me and Twigs actually wrote a fake song that sounds like that Britney ballad.
But you were saying — dream collaborators.
JS: Yeah, so Dan wrote this piece of music, this piano piece — the music from the song. And he sent it to [Bennie and me] and we were like, “Wow, this is gorgeous.” And he actually put in a vocal guide with a synth. Because it has to communicate with the dialogue in the scene, because the dialogue is like an extra set of vocals. And he said to us, in an email, “You know, I’m thinking maybe Iggy Pop.” And I was just like, “Yeah, I’m thinking maybe I’ve got a million dollars.” [Laughs.]
DL: It didn’t seem probable.
JS: No. But I think [Daniel’s] manager shared the film with him, and sent [Pop] the piece of music.
DL: And he liked the music, and the rest is history. But it’s kind of cool that, on some level, it was like a really new, weird experience for me, too. Because I had this idea for a topline, a vocal melody, but I didn’t know how to convey it, and I certainly wasn’t going to sing. I just couldn’t sing in that pitch. [Iggy’s] got an incredible baritone. So that was the whole thing, I was like, “Oh my god, this baritone over this sweet piano would just be so crazy.” So I was like, What, do I just get a friend to sing it? And I just sampled some — it was one of those corny sound packs of like “Voices of the East” or whatever, some Tuvan throat singing. I just truncated it, and I added a little bit of color on it, and I was like, “This sounds like Iggy, I guess.” And I just sent him that. And I think it was enough where he was like, “Okay, I can see the song.”
JS: And then when it actually came time to do the [recording], we never actually met him. We did it all virtually. He was in a studio in Florida, and we were in New York, and he actually thought we were in L.A. at first, so he was kind of like …
DL: He didn’t like us.
JS: He didn’t like us because he thought we were in L.A. He loved the movie. And he made that clear. The first thing he sent was his weird, truncated review of the movie. Which was basically the song. And then there was some strange back and forth and he was like, “How’s that for you, L.A.?” And we were like, “We’re actually in New York.” And he was like “Ohhhh, okay!” As soon as he knew we were in New York, everything changed, in a strange way.
Wait, so what he sent you his “review” of the film that ended up being the lyrics to the song?
JS: Yeah! So he said, “I have some stuff that I wrote, stuff that I’m going to sing, and then I have a bunch of spoken-word stuff that I’d like to record.” And we were like, “Go ahead!”
DL: [Laughing.] Oh god, there was all this stuff we didn’t use, where he was like [Iggy Pop voice], “You know, we don’t have to rob this bank. We don’t have to do this.”
JS: It was incredible. He was like, walking through the movie.
DL: He was personifying the whole thing.
JS: He said [Iggy Pop voice], “Cross the room if you have a friend.” He was saying lines from the movie that he remembered, or that he wrote down. And then he had some spoken-word bits that Dan chose, that are just pure poetry. There were other things he said, like, “Imagine all the people in the world, in a desert, in a box.”
DL: Yeah, that’s the other thing about the song that people don’t entirely understand. It sounds like a holistic thing, but he just gave us some material, and then we kind of created this little shape with it.
JS: But to me, the part that touched me the most, the part that [felt like] some sort of success for me, as someone who’s trying to express themselves, is … There’s the duality between Connie and Nick, and I see the movie through both of their eyes. I genuinely do. And Iggy did as well. And he saw it, he saw the “pure” as Nick’s character, and the “damned” as Connie’s character, but that they’re one, and that they both, in a weird way, act out of this thing called love. And I was blown away by that. I was blown away that the communication was clear. And I mean, we cried when he was recording. We just sat there and listened to him, and it was like he was in the room. We were in a studio downtown and he was in Florida, and it was very visceral. The whole thing was very visceral. It was like he was the voice of God, blessing the movie.
At that point we’d already sent the film to Cannes, but it didn’t have the track on it. And so immediately, I was like, “We gotta pull the DCP, and make sure Thierry [Frémaux, director of the Cannes Film Festival] watches it with the Iggy track!”
DL: We were all a little upset! Because we were like, “Oh my god, they’re not going to see this!”
It really is such an incredible note for the film to end on.
JS: You know, on Heaven Knows What I worked with Ariel Pink a bunch, and he wrote music for the movie, and a lot of it didn’t line up totally, and we ended up only using this song that it ends with. And there’s this thing — when you can’t inspire somebody, then you’re not going to get an inspired work. It’s that simple.
It’s just so fitting that we got a poetic inspiration from Iggy. And it’s like, all of a sudden we have Iggy Pop’s writing on the movie, because he wrote those lyrics. And he interpreted the film in that way, and that’s exactly what you want.
This interview has been edited and condensed.