Music & Movies - How One Inspires the Other

Recording the Night Owls  soundtrack. Photo credit: Lucy Young - Viedelamort

Hey Guys,

   Recording for the Night Owls soundtrack began in earnest mid-March, when my sound guy, Ian Cudmore, and I paid a visit to musician Mike Hardy. This is probably the part of post-production I've been looking forward to the most; we have a handful of local musicians contributing original songs to the soundtrack, and I don't know many short films which have been given that treatment.

   When you put a soundtrack onto a film, it comes together - it feels complete. Audio and visual combine to give a full experience. A world is fully realised rather than just suggested.

   But music isn't just something which comes at the end of making a film. It has a 'sound' before the camera even rolls. Ok, perhaps this isn't the case for every film and filmmaker, but for me, music plays a vital part when I'm just at the writing stage. I choose specific music, and sometimes even create a playlist, to set the mood of the film in my head, and to inspire the rhythm of my writing - and I know that my recent co-writer, Tommy Draper, does the same.

  The songs chosen for 'inspiration' can also work well when it comes to defining character. Either the songs reflect the characters' moods, or you can imagine the characters having those songs in their private collections, which says a lot about a person. I've often been known to attach a certain song to a character, or to send a song to an actor during casting sessions as inspiration for their performance.

  As well as helping to shape the script and characters, these early playlists give me something to show the sound guys when they start work on the film, and these help to inspire the finished soundtrack. So music bookends the entire experience.

   So which songs have inspired the writing of the scripts on my last three films, and did the finished soundtrack resemble those 'inspiration' tunes? A few of these may surprise you...

The Opening Night (2010)

Inspiration song - Frozen, Madonna

   Frozen is a bit of a guilty pleasure for many people. I absolutely loved its lilting notes and dramatic video when I was a teenager. So I listened to it during the writing of The Opening Night for two reasons - to shape the dreamlike, slow pace of the scenes, and to reminisce back to a time when I was a young girl in love for the first time, so that I could get into the mindset of the lead character.

Example from the soundtrack - Untitled, Lucy Day

   This song was recorded for the film by my old friend, Lucy Day, using lyrics from a poem by the film's cinematographer, Emmaalouise Smith . Although it didn't make it into the original cut of the film - which featured atmospheric cello music, recorded for the film by Rico Borza - you can hear it on the film's trailer. When Lucy first delivered the track, a member of the crew, I don't remember which one, said, "it sounds like the film!" I couldn't have put it better, myself.

Ashes (2013)

Inspiration song - Uninvited, Alanis Morisette

   A beautifully eerie song - it unnerved me just to listen to it, and it helped to create a sense of mood and pace as I turned my original drama piece into the macabre, fantastical shooting script.

   We also had music on set. I made a playlist on request from one of the actors, to help create atmosphere during the film's only romantic scene. In retrospective, not every song I chose worked to create the right mood, but Born To Die by Lana Del Rey really suited the scene that played out in front of us, as well as ultimately inspiring some of the film's lighting.

  Honorable mentions must also go to Smother by Daughter, and the American Beauty score. Without dialogue for most of the film, I was able to play these two songs on repeat during the first cut, and I literally shaped it to the timings of those pieces of music. It was quite difficult for me to take them away when the audio track came in!

Example from the soundtrack - Love will Tear Us Apart, Ian & Stephanie Cudmore

   Ashes' soundtrack gave it real punch - a haunting, difficult listen which builds and changes to suit each of the film's different 'worlds', but always harking back to a simple motif, created by Ian and Adam McCready. And that creeping little motif certainly wasn't a million miles off Alanis Morissette's opening melody from Uninvited.

  But I love the trailer song - not only because it skyrocketed the trailer to over 20,000 views on YouTube. I enlisted Ian's talents to cover the song because the lyrics worked so well with the themes of the film. But the style of the singing, replicated by Ian's wife Steph, came from a weak, tired-sounding demo I recorded a day or two after the end of the Ashes shoot, which perfectly captured my emotions at the time.

Night Owls (2015)

   And so we come to my most recent film. It feels weird to pick just one inspiration tune, as myself and Tommy created an entire playlist to inspire writing of the screenplay, which you can hear for yourself, and which has been used again during the creation of the feature version.

   Instead, the songs I'll choose to showcase here are the ones I sent to the actors (both the original casting and the last-minute replacements) as songs their characters would listen to, and ones which sum up their moods and personalities perfectly (as well as the vaguely 90s era the film is set in):

 So, for Kent - On Every Street, Dire Straits 

(Closely followed by Song to the Siren by Tim Buckley)

And for Mari - Forgiven, Alanis Morisette (again!)

(Closely followed by What's Up by 4 Non Blondes)

I think both those choices say a lot about the characters you guys will see in the final film.

So will the finished soundtrack resemble any of these inspiration songs? I'll leave you guessing on that one. But for now, since it seems wrong not to post it, here's the song which was probably played the most during the edit of Night Owls:



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