Achieving the Organic Score for “No Letting Go”
While in London during the recording sessions for â€œElysium” we had dinner with A-list editor Lee Smith who explained to us how Hans Zimmer, when working with Christopher Nolan, will create a 20 minute musical suite of themes based on the script and his conversations with the director.
The resulting suite is then used by the editors during the editing of the film and becomes a guide to the composer.
I thought this was very interesting and seemed like a fantastic way to avoid the dreaded temp tracks and resulting “temp love”. It seemed also a great way to build your relationship with the director and the picture over time rather than rushing at the end, and to have the music grown into an organic, integral part of the film.
So for “No Letting Go”, Jonathan (Bucari, the writer/director) and I decided that we would give this approach a try. Instead of a suite I began writing ideas of various lengths and sending them along for his feedback while he was shooting the picture and while he was editing. This way we were building a collection of favourite themes that he started integrating into the first assembly of the film.
Jonathan loved many of the themes, as I did. But once I saw them in the film, with the film: the pacing of the shots, movement of the camera, colours, sound of the voices and the acting etc… I felt that something was missing.
I felt that whole layers of meaning were absent from the pieces, and the themes were quite scene-specific, that they could not be used in multiple scenes in order to give a sense of architecture to the score. Jonathan was happy, but I felt I could do better.
Now, at this point I should say this: both Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams have stated that they will not read a script and prefer seeing the film with fresh eyes and reacting to it like an audience would as the very first step in their creative process. That is exactly what I had done up until now.
And so I ended up putting all those themes aside and starting with a clean slate. I watched the film without music and approached it as if for the first time, looking to build thematic connections and creating themes that could be a bridge between different scenes that could have multiple layers of meaning that had a specific story-telling goal to play in the film and all that good stuff.
So in the end, for me and for this particular film, seeing the film was crucial for me to really get the music right. Every single note I wrote before that went unused.
Does that mean that the John Williams approach is better than writing a suite sight-unseen the Zimmer way? Perhaps it’s specific to a genre of film (“No Letting Go” is a dramatic film) and perhaps it depends on the composer and what they are trying to achieve and how they like to work. And perhaps it depends on the musical genre being used – and that the minimalist, ostinato-driven music is best for this? What do you think?
One thing is for sure is that I was able to avoid ALL the temp track and that Jonathan fully approved my wanting to find an even better music story-telling approach for the score, so all turned out great! Listen to some of the score below. (Coming out on CD soon.)