Diary of a Score: Part 1

Many people have been asking me how the film score is coming that I am composing for Ryan McNeal’s short film Minuet“. I thought I would post a little bit it about what I’ve done so far, and my process through it all.

So far I have watched the rough cut of a film about 5 or 6 times. This cut has the temp music on it. It’s been good to hear what type of music Ryan chose to put in there, but I didn’t want to watch it too many times fearing that my mind would subconsiously learn that that is how it should be.

I recently was able to obtain a cut of the film without any music, which I uploaded into my sequencing software, Sonar Producer 8, and I’ve have viewed this version at least 20 times, with many more viewing sessions to come.

Last week, I went through the film in detail and wrote down any moment where I felt that music was needed (not thinking about the temp music, but just what I felt was needed for the scene). This included writing down specific timestamps on the film for later reference.

For example, for one cue in particular this is what I wrote down:

START 00:06:05:12 – solo piano (to represent lonliness)
00:06:31:22 – Cairpre is on deck and see stuffed animal on beach trail from afar. Need cue to let audience know he sees something.
00:06:34:01 – Goes down the stairs in a hurry, start building intensity in the music but not too much yet.
00:06:52:07 – Starts running, yelling “Elise!”. Music should be fast, intense as he runs.
00:06:58:04 – Elise is standing on beach, there is a sense of danger. Audience needs to feel through the music that she is in danger.
00:07:07:05 – Cairpre runs up to Else and grabs her, she jumps. Music starts to die down.
00:07:18:10 – Claire’s vocal theme starts as Cairpre looks up and around at the beach. Haunting, beautiful music.
00:07:35:23 – Music starts to die down as they walk up the beach. Elise says “I just wanted to see her again.”
END 00:07:41:22 – Music at complete stop. Elise pulls away from Cairpre
Total time: 1 minute, 36 seconds

As you can see, writing down what goes on in the scene at what times creates a map for me for when I compose the music. I will know, for example, that from this time to that time, there needs to be 9 seconds of intense music. Then the next 14 seconds need to dying down and gradually fading out.

With the above notes, I then watched the scene several more times to figure out what I heard in my head as far as the music.

Since the scene starts with Caipre waking up from a dream and then going out onto his deck, I knew that I wanted the music to portray his sense of lonliness and despair since he lost his daughter. The solo piano represents this.

When he sees his granddaughter’s stuffed bunny on the beach, it signals to him that she had snuck out during the night and was somewhere on the beach. So I then started to melt the solo piano into some strings, where the harmonies were tight and intense but not too much yet, because I wanted to save that for a moment happening only several seconds later.

As he picks up the bunny and starts running towards the beach, the music picks up in speed and intensity. I brought in some very short bowed notes on the violins, some longer strings lines from the rest of the orchestra, and some timpani beats and cymbal swells to add to the intensity.

Getting the music to sync exactly with the timing of the scene was difficult, because the “intense” theme I started to develop ended up being too long. I went back and rewrote the section, then adding a key change which shifted the intensity up a notch as well. Then, as Cairpre looks up to see the ghost of his daughter on the beach, the music needed a change there. I felt that the beautiful spirit of Claire needed to be represented by a haunting vocal line. So as Cairpre looks up to see her standing on the beach from afar, you hear a beautiful voice overlaying the strings and piano (which, by the way, the vocals you here on the sample below are just temporary and created using software. They will eventually be replaced by a live voice from a real soprano).

Now, to hear how this all came together, here is the sample of what I came up with.  You can just click on the link and an mp3 will come up momentarily.

Bunny on Beach Cue

The hard part about composing for film, is you might spend a lot of time composing a cue and the director ends up not liking it, or it doesn’t fit the scene.  What you might be hearing in your head may or may not be what the director hears in his/her head for that particular scene.

Ryan loved this cue, however, once they got it synced up to the film, he wasn’t sure that the timing of the climax of the scene matched the timing of the climax of the music.  It is very true that the music can change a scene entirely and it’s got to be timed exactly.

For those who are fans of M. Night Shyamalan films, do you think you would be as greatly affected by the film if the music didn’t have certain cues in it to stir those emotions within you?  For example, in the movie “The Village”, you do not see any danger in the movie until the final moments of the film and yet you are greatly affected emotionally by certain musical and audio cues from the very beginning.

Another cue that I recently worked on, was a scene for where Caipre has a flashback dream.

The cue starts with the tail-end of a scene where Cairpre says goodnight to his granddaughter and closes her bedroom door. She blows out a candle, the screen goes black.  Next you see some ocean waves hitting some rocks on the seashore, and then moves to show Caipre in bed sleeping, apparently experiencing a dream or nightmare.  You then see him have a flashback dream of the moment he found his daughter dead on the beach.  Waves are crashing all around, he looks very much alone and saddened, and full of dispair.  Then, he wakes up suddenly and sits up in bed.

My idea for the music for this scene was to show how haunted Cairpre still is by the passing of his daughter.  My idea was to have the music play in reverse for the flashback.  It sounds misconstrued and nonsensical, which is how dreams are most of the time.  And then the music comes to a complete stop as Cairpre suddenly wakes up.

This was a bit tricky to execute and I tried several different ways to do this.

First I recorded a very basic string section part with some minimal harmonies. I then took that part and reversed it.  This didn’t end up working, because apparently when you reverse string parts they sound exactly the same backwards.  Which, makes sense.  When a bow hits the string it attacks the instrument the same way no matter if it is coming or going.  Whereas, with a piano, the notes are struck with a hammer, thus making the reverse effect much more noticable.  If you think of a piano note being struck and then slowly fading out. If you reverse that, you would get a note that slowly fades in and then ends with a striking.

So I then added a piano part, which knowing it was going to be played in reverse, did not need to make sense or be melodic.  In fact, I added some very off-key notes in there just to see how it would sound.  Upon reversing it, and lining it up with the strings it actually worked quite well.  With the striking of the piano strings, it also created somewhat of a rhythmic pounding nature to the sequence, which I wouldn’t have acheived otherwise with just strings.  I also added some pizzacato notes in the strings for the reverse section as well, which again, you don’t really pick up but you would notice them gone if they were taken out.  At least my ears do.

So you can hear this short cue by clicking the following link:

>> Flashback Dream Sequence <<

I have one other cue that I’ve finished so far and it is the music for the intro to the film.  But I’ll save that to share at some other time.

So far, out of the 9 cues that I counted up that I will need to compose, I have completed these 3.  However, like I said, due to film editing and sequencing, I can’t say these cues are final until they actually cut a final cut of the film.  6 more cues to write.  The film is in line to hopefully be finished by the beginning of September. However I am due to have a baby around the middle of August and so it’s my goal to finish the music for the film by the middle of July if not sooner.

And that’s a rap for this post.  More to come at a later time.

Read “Diary of a Score: Part 2” here.

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3 responses to “Diary of a Score: Part 1

  1. It’s really neat to see what happens “behind the scenes” when composing for a film. Thanks for sharing!!

  2. Pingback: Diary of a Score: Part 2 « Musical Meanderings

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