The Music – Why Do It That Way?

As I cut my FMP down more and more, the time drew ever closer to the tense moment when I would have to start adding sounds and music tracks not recorded on-site to my film. These varied from sound effects like mobile phone ringtones, to music by sound designers and musicians. My main fear of this part of the post-production process is that I lack any ability to create audio – thus, I would have to make do with whatever I found, or whatever I had arranged in pre-production.

Early on in the pre-production process I recruited a sound designer – another student at the university. I gave him a relatively ‘free-reign’ brief (the assignment briefs I issue are usually relaxed to give artists the most artistic control over their productions), with the only points highlighted that it was a gothic film, it needed background music for a rather downbeat conversation, and come up with as many tracks as possible. Some edits were given to me in March, which allowed me to provide feedback regarding which things I liked, and which things I didn’t. It put my mind at ease though, as it demonstrated that I was in successful communication with the sound designer, and that the sound designer understood what he’d been asked to do. The quality of the music was of a very high standard as well – the rough edits convinced me that he was a good sound designer capable of making my FMP better with his works implemented.

For most of the production process, we were out of contact, which left me to focus on other aspects of the sound scape. As the final ‘dialogue cut’ came to completion, there were several parts of the film I needed to take note of in terms of sound:

  1. The Chase – Peter jumps, he runs, he falls down. This was meant to be an exciting opening, and it still had that purpose, despite being heavily cut. The music needed to fit the mood of this part of the film.
  2. The Flashbacks – Ambience and / or music was needed for both Peter and Amy’s recitations – the rest of the main conversation was to be diegetic.
  3. The Threat – The shot I commonly referred to as ‘The Threat’ in the later weeks of production simply refers to the scene where Amy grabs Peter and warns him not to make passes on her. This was one of my biggest concerns, as it did not require music alone – more like a mixture of music, ambience, and effects at the same time to get the tone of the moment correct.
  4. The Ending – This was the smallest and biggest problem of them all. The final shots featuring Peter three weeks after the main events was to be accompanied by an acoustic / indie rock music piece. The sound designer would not be able to make this, and nor would I find anything like this in simple sound effect sites. I knew of a site that could give me some really cheesy indie tracks with no lyrics, but this would end the film on a goofy note rather than a happy one.

The ace in the hole from the beginning was a site called Free Play Music – it supplies loyalty-free music tracks to any who want them, and I’ve used the site extensively throughout all three years of my course. Sadly, the tracks are usually loyalty-free for a reason, but if you’re a good enough editor, you can make the music fit the mood of your film. The terms of use of the site were applicable to film festivals, but as far as I could tell only in the USA.

I had one track already that I knew would come in handy – ‘Witches Approaching’, which I’d used previously for my ‘Montage Of Beautiful Things’ project in Year 2. I figured I would use it in some way during the opening scenes (which I did indeed do eventually), but only partially, as I wanted to use as many different audio tracks as I could in the final cut (to add variety to the feel of the film regarding the fluctuating emotions).

I was keen to approach a local artist called Kristy Gallacher regarding the film’s closing track – her song ‘Fending Off The Frost’ suited the themes within the film well. However, as time went on, I realised I may well have had to pay to get the usage of the song. This was not guaranteed, but I wanted to investigate another option first – that of a local music video competition called 2Weeks2MakeIt, which I was hoping to help out with. If I could meet a musician through the competition, I would possibly have been able to secure a suitable track for a lot less trouble.

As it transpired, I did find an artist at the music video festival to help out with the final track – an artist called Matt Lakey, who we subsequently did the music video for. The song was called ‘Motive’, about love and ‘troublesome women’, which I again thought suited the theme of the film pretty well.

Battle Of The Bands – Kristy Gallacher and my initial idea for the end track, and Matt Lakey below, who gave me the final song I used for the film (though it is not the one here – the song I used was called ‘Motive’)

Once the final dialogue cut was done, I contacted the sound designer and asked him to send everything through. Within a week I had everything I needed (with the exception of the final track). I queued all the tracks up in the FCP bin (even ones I didn’t think I’d need) and began adding them where I thought appropriate. The film starts off rather depressed, and so all the more melancholic tunes were placed at the start of the film. These were mostly in the form of slow piano tracks. Sharp ambience served to play over the transitional period during the middle of the film (i.e. Amy’s recitation of her death), which was neither sad nor happy – rather, indifferent or horrific! This led for the aptly-titled ‘fairy-tale’ sound track to be added over Peter’s confession of his love for Rebecca.

Atop the music I added some basic titles and credits (I told you they’d be basic!), but I don’t think their simplicity detracts from the film in any way (I never do!). ‘Motive’ was placed at the end, the ambience was sorted at the flashbacks, and the ‘Witches Approaching’ track was placed very strategically at the moment when Peter ‘jumps’ upon first meeting Amy face to face during the opening scene.

The final things to be added were the sound effects, notably during ‘The Threat’, and also some of the cut away shots (such as the ‘twisting tree’ shot). Most of these were actually taken from iMovies and distorted using the speed modifier function in FCP (slower speed equals higher bass, but it can distort the sound too much if not used sparingly).

I really liked the metallic sounds in the ambience – it sets up Amy’s flashback to her death subliminally before her character has even been introduced. It also added a layer of threat and danger on top of the moody and isolated atmosphere. Black and white visuals, a deserted forest, and the melancholic and industrial music all fused together to create a unique mood for which the film was to operate in throughout. This complemented the gothic nature of the narrative, and made the film feel more complete, and together as a whole working artefact.

Overall, the music really changed the film on every level. The threat scene makes you sit up more. The loud music during the chase makes Amy’s towering form over Peter seem more epic. Matt Lakey’s track ends the film on an even happier and chirpier note. The industrial sounds make Amy’s recitation more harrowing. The ‘fairy-tale’ track makes Peter’s love for Rebecca seem even more fantastical. The audio make this film complete as a stand alone piece, and as my FMP. I owe all who helped with this part of post-production a big debt of gratitude!

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