Although Tig is technically a documentary, the critically acclaimed film about comedian Tig Notaro had all the dramatic elements of a top-notch thriller.
There’s death, love lost and found, a villain in the form of cancer, and redemption. For composer Ryan Miller, better known as lead singer and guitarist for alternative rock band Guster, it felt more like scoring an exciting drama than a true tale.
“My perception was that with documentaries there’s a lot of talking and it can end up being dry and the score has to be subtle,” he tells Billboard. “This film was way more similar to a fictional movie because there were these really low lows and crying moments — this range of emotions.”
The inspirational doc, which debuted on Netflix July 17, follows Notaro’s journey as she is diagnosed with breast cancer after having pneumonia, a subsequent C. diff infection, a horrific romantic break-up, and her mother’s sudden death — all within a four-month period in 2012. (Live, the recording of Notaro’s now-legendary standup routine from August 2012 when she walked on stage and stated, “Good evening, hello. I have cancer,” was released in 2013).
While Tig is Miller’s first documentary, it is his fourth score. He previously composed music for indie films Safety Not Guaranteed (2012), The Kings of Summer (2013) and In A World… (2013). When the producer for those films suggested Miller score Tig, he met with director Kristina Goolsby — they hit it off, and he was hired. The self-released Tig soundtrack is available on iTunes today (Aug. 11). It is also streaming on Spotify.
For Miller, the melodic sense he’s famous for in Guster guided him through the Tig score, which ranges from taut, menacing electronic cues representing disease to sweeping acoustic piano solos that underscore changes in personal relationships. “It was coming up with colors and textures and the feel of the movie,” he says. “Everything has to serve the picture. Some of the lighter instruments, like the drum machine, felt like they were part of Tig’s personality. I don’t want these choices to feel arbitrary, but maybe it’s me rationalizing, ‘Oh! I threw in the drum machine because it’s quirky like Tig!’”
Miller never crossed paths with Notaro during the film’s production, but when they did meet, she provided him with a story that still makes him giggle to recount. Miller approached her outside the movie’s premiere at Sundance. Even though he could tell Notaro had run the media gauntlet and his timing wasn’t the best, he didn’t want to miss his chance to thank her. Miller introduced himself and told her how much he loved working on the music for the film. “She looked at me and said, ‘Are you running a bit?’ I was like, ‘Pretending to be the composer on the film? No! That would be the weirdest bit ever’,” he recalls with a laugh. “I just saw her at another screening and she gave me a sideways glance. Maybe I look like a weirdo comedian.”
Despite the initially awkward meeting, Notaro thought enough of Miller’s work to give a funny blurb for the press release about the score’s release: “I did this movie just for the soundtrack,” she joked.
Next up for Miller is his biggest project yet: the score for The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, starring Paul Rudd and directed by Rob Burnett.
Then it will be time to return to Guster for a fall tour that kicks off in November. For now, Miller is happily juggling his dual careers. “It all plays nicely with one another,” he says. “Before, when Guster would take a break, I’d be like ‘When are we getting together?’ but now I get to play music every day and be creative in a whole new way.”