While in London during the recording sessions for â€śElysium” 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.)
POV stands for “point of view”, and is used to indicate that the audience is seeing something from a specific angle or through a particular characterâ€™s eyes.
Considering POV makes a HUGE Â difference in the decision making process when scoring any given scene. As I mature as a film composer I think about POV more and more and it really informs my choices.
Here is an example from the film I just completed called “No letting Go”.
There is a scene where the young boy named TimÂ is being taken away to get help as his mother and father look on. Without divulging too much about the film, let’s just say it is a very sad and emotional scene.
There are three characters in this scene: Tim, his father and his mother.
It is not a loud scene, although there is some screaming at the start, and at one point the sound drops out entirely and it is only music and visuals.
On the surface, the most obvious choice would have been to score the sadness of the scene, and perhaps to score it gently in order to avoid making it trite or overly dramatic. I considered that briefly but I don’t think I even wrote a note of music music in that direction. It didn’t work. And the reason?Â You guessed it… POV.
Thinking it through I realized the scene was from the mother’s POV. Every shot and angle the director chose supported this. And thinking about the events from her perspective I realized she would not be feeling a quiet sadness, but rather a guttural pain, an overwhelming sadness, a silent scream…or perhaps not so silent as the scene does indeed end with her crying and screaming off-screen.
So, having made the decision to represent the mother’s POV in the music, the composition/decision process just flowed, and I used the strings fairly high at times, building up to aggressive triple and quadruple stops leading into loud, sustained double stops for a full, rich sound that represented that crying out of the mother. This is not meant to sound like an actual scream of course, but more musically stylized.Â (Listen at 1’06”)
So in the end, something that might have seemed over the top in another context was exactly right for this scene because of the POV, and it became a very powerful statement.
Here is part of the resulting cue.
Alain is a film composer, orchestrator and amateur cook. He isÂ also the author of ScoreClub.net, where he just released the first module of his composer training course. He is available for one-on-one composition/orchestration lessons over Skype. You can find more information on his site here.
No Letting Go Work Diary Entry
As I am working on a cue this morning I am thinking about a few things as I make compositional decisions.
Writing a scene you should always keep in mind where you are in the film, in the arc of the story and the characterâ€™s development. How you play scenes early in the film will be different than when itâ€™s the filmâ€™s denouement, for example.
This particular scene I am scoring is an important moment for the main character and the story. Things are getting under-way to resolve the filmâ€™s central problem.
However, itâ€™s early in the film and, as in all stories; things will get worse before they get better. So I need to consider that in the tone of my cue.
I therefore aim to balance those two aspects:
- Things are getting under way towards eventual resolution
- Itâ€™s not the resolution yet!
So understanding how this scene fits in the pacing of the film I make certain decisions before I get a single note down.
- The music shouldnâ€™t get big, but still give a sense that something has gotten underway for solving the films central problem
- Itâ€™s a gentle, positive scene, and the music should be as well to some degree, while staying hesitant since itâ€™s early in the film.
- At the end of it the main character is still unchanged it appears, so the tone gets darker at the end, or at least more quiet and unresolved.
The writing here has more movement than other scenes I have done so far, a bit of lightness and warmth with some degree of hesitation.
So I have chosen certain modes like Lydian and Dorian, I avoid big chord changes, orchestrated with the palette of the score: strings, harp and piano with the addition of the clarinet in the chalumeau register which I havenâ€™t used up to this point.
Back to work!