We recently had the opportunity to talk with Paul Mills, the composer for the new feature film Overcomer set to be released in theaters on August 23. The inspiring motion picture marks the anticipated return of filmmakers and brothers Alex and Stephen Kendrick after their #1 box-office hit War Room, which Paul also composed. Overcomer is the second film Paul has collaborated with the Kendricks brothers; he wrote the main theme for the inspiring feature as well as five new tracks for the soundtrack, which was released earlier this month. Overcomer follows the story of high school basketball coach John Harrison (played by Alex Kendrick) and his team as they face an uncertain future when their town's largest manufacturing plant shuts down unexpectedly. As hundreds of people move away, John reluctantly agrees to coach cross-country. His outlook soon changes when he meets Hannah Scott (newcomer Aryn Wright-Thompson), a runner who pushes herself to the limit for the biggest race of her life. See below for our full interview with Paul on what it’s like working with the Kendrick Brothers, the most challenging part of the writing process for this film, and his measures of success for Overcomer.
Congratulations on the upcoming release of Overcomer! Can you give us an idea of how long this project has been in the making?
Thank you! We are excited to share this movie with the world.
The Kendricks probably started writing the script in 2017. Actual filming began in June of 2018 and continued through July. I had begun working with Alex on specific themes during that time and started the composing process in earnest in November, once there was a rough edit of the film. We recorded the orchestral score at Oceanway Studio in Nashville at the beginning of March, and I believe they finished the final mix of the film by the end of March. A long process with so many talented folks contributing!
What was it like to work with Alex and Stephen Kendrick again on this project after your work together on War Room? What was similar and different this time from your prior experience?
As on War Room, it was an inspiring pleasure to work with Alex and Stephen. Similarities with War Room in our approach on Overcomer are that they love music and recognize the importance of it as a big component of a film. They love strong, singable themes in the score both for ideas and characters, and they love big orchestral scores. The biggest difference was that I started conceptualizing the score much earlier, even as the film was being shot. So, I had over twice the time to compose. Alex and Stephen wanted to take the score to the next level, so we had a much larger orchestra and more recording dates to capture the score.
What were some of your biggest inspirations in writing music for this film?
My biggest inspirations for the score were Alex and Stephen. They had a large group of folks pray for me at the Boot Camp, that I would write my best score with themes that would touch people and convey the importance of their identity in Christ, and to overcome any obstacles in that quest. They were cheering me on the whole time!
My other inspiration was to make the cross country running scenes, and the score as a whole, progressively bigger in scope, like the way my favorite stories of reluctant heroes’ journeys start small but end up with the progressively stronger hero facing a seemingly insurmountable challenge. I wanted the music to be epic and heroically noble.
Which of the new tracks for Overcomer was most difficult to write?
There’s a cross country race in the third act that is the longest music cue I have ever written at over eleven minutes. This was one of the cues I began writing before I ever saw film on it, so I literally spent a few months on it. It incorporates the Overcomer theme you hear at the beginning of the film, as well as other character themes. Once I had film to watch, I would do a detailed music “mock-up” of the cue with my programmed orchestral sounds for Alex to watch and give me feedback. He’s very precise and decisive about what works musically and what doesn’t, so we were finally able to hone this long cue, at the end, in just a few days.
Which of the new tracks are you most excited for people to hear?
Hard to pick just one! But I think one would surely be the opening of the film. I think it will silence the crowd in a great way as they realize that an important and inspiring story is about to unfold. I love that part of a movie when I go to the theater! The lights go dark, and the music begins its work with the opening visuals to pull me into the story and away from anything outside the theater. That’s what I hope happens for people seeing Overcomer for the first time.
Are there parts of the film's storyline that relate to personal experiences you have had or experienced with others?
The whole concept of overcoming and running a race has been and is still important to me. My dear wife has ongoing health issues that we deal with and during some of the months working on Overcomer, I was working through a temporary respiratory illness that I contracted. And so through ongoing and temporary challenges, my endeavor is always to follow the apostle Paul’s advice in Corinthians 9:24 and “Run in such a way that you may win”!
Another lesson I get from Overcomer is the importance of reaching out to those around you. Through these challenges I reached out to Brenda Harris, who among other things heads a prayer chain for the Kendricks. From her, I knew there would be a lot of people praying for me. In addition, God has blessed me with a wonderful music team. A young man I have been mentoring in film composing, Zack Leffew, was invaluable in the areas of programming, additional orchestrating and additional music writing. David Davidson, my principal violinist stepped in when I lost my project coordinator (another challenge) and took care of all the logistics of music prep and recording and mixing a score. There were so many others that God brought into my life right when I needed them, who strengthened me to be able to overcome and run the race and get this score over the finish line.
What is one message you hope people take away from the film overall?
I think a realistic one: that this life can be hard, and awful things can happen and do happen, but that’s not the end of the story. If you find your identity in Christ, and make Him the center of your life, you can find the strength to overcome and run a good race in spite of the challenges. And hopefully, you will become aware of all those around you, even strangers, who would love to help you.
What will be your measure of success for Overcomer?
To be honest, I do hope that it is a smash success with moviegoers! I want many to see it, because I believe so much in the message.
However, my main measure of success will be if people in this chaotic and negative world are inspired to reorder their lives so that their identity is found in Christ, not in career or possessions or the temporal things of this world. I hope to read many messages telling the story of people being inspired to overcome!