26/1/11 : Film Score - Booked Out
For the last months I've been working hard on the original score for the feature film 'Booked Out', and I'm pleased to say that it's now nearly done and the film is nearly ready to be sent to the film festivals. I've been writing with Derek Yau, someone I've known for a couple of years but never worked with until we started the initial score demos last summer. I thought I'd write a bit about how it's all been going, as it's been a pretty interesting experience and a bit different to anything I've done before.
We started to become involved with the Booked Out film project really early on as the director, Bryan O'Neil knew us both via other things, liked Derek's music and was a fan of The Lost Cavalry. It was Bryan who suggested that Derek and I worked together to compose the score for the film. I was a bit unsure how things would work out at first, as I've only really written with Nick on a one-on-one basis and with The Lost Cavalry and Fanfarlo as part of a band. Bryan gave us a couple of early edits of a scene and asked us to each go and write our own rough demos to fit it. It turned out that Derek and I had similar ideas about how to go about writing, what kinds of instruments should be used, the overall feel and also which existing films had soundtracks that we thought were pretty great... I think for me the soundtrack by DeVotchKa to 'Little Miss Sunshine' was a particular influence, I love the way it builds, the skittery snare drum and the folky instrumentation.
Derek and I met up a few times for some initial demoing session and came up with a few options for what were to become the main themes for the film - fundamentally, a 'sad' theme, a 'busy' theme and a more 'tense' theme. We tried to match certain instruments up to certain characters (to an extent) and we decided early on to use a certain set of instruments, to give the whole score a unified feel. We initially planned to write the tracks (cues) and then to get others in to perform some of the parts but we ended up actually performing all the instruments ourselves, it just felt easier that way, and also helped to capture a more lively feel. We definitely didn't want the score to sound anything like a slick Hollywood score! I mainly played the uke, drums, concertina and melodica, and Derek played the cello, a lot of the guitars, flute and all the piano. We also ended up adding in a fair bit of glock and organ - hammond, but also the lovely analogue sound of my Casiotone keyboard, bought for three pounds from Dalston waste market - what a bargain!
A few months later, after some reshoots had been done, we got our first full edit of the film. This edit had 'temp' tracks throughout that gave an indication of the kind of feel the editor thought that the music should give at certain points, and also a good indication of where Bryan wanted score music to be. We had some planning sessions with Bryan where we got to grips with the feel required for each cue, what the important edit points were, what emotion we were trying to get across at a given point. This was all pretty new for us of course to this level, and looking back it was definitely the hardest part of the process. We wrote a load of demos for each scene, and sometimes struggled to reach the point that Bryan was aiming for - some scenes had to negotiate a number of emotion changes throughout as we switched between different characters but the score still needed to feel whole and coherent. We'd gone for a quite 'full on' sound to our score, treating them as full 'songs' really for each piece, so this made the job harder - but hopefully the final effect is worth it. Certainly the music for Booked Out is a key feature of the film and hopefully something that will make it stand out to reviewers.
After we had approved versions of our demos we started to record the proper versions. We worked often to a click, with the (now locked) video edit visible to us as we played. Often getting our music to match up to the edit points required a fair bit of re-jigging on the computer so the click track was pretty essential. For some slower cues we didn't use a click though, and for some we performed live together. Mainly though, we gradually added the instruments one by one and then trimmed them back where needed. We had one day in Soup Studios, Brick Lane to record drums and piano but aside from that recorded the rest of the music at my home studio. I recorded all the tracks on to my Sonar PC rig (Sonar is like Pro Tools but (in my opinion!) better and cheaper). Our aim was to make it sound like there was a folk band were sat in the corner of the cinema with you, playing along to the film live, as you watch it.
So now I am in the final mixing stages of the Booked Out score, getting the cues to sound as good as I can make them, tweaking bits here and there. There's been a lot of back-and-forth between us, Bryan the director and Roland the sound designer for the film, making changes to the mood at certain point, making sure that the music fits well around the dialogue and so on. After I'm happy with the mix, each cue will be split into stems, with certain instruments in each group so that Roland can fit them in to the film and place them within the surround sound mix.
So, it's been a big project, but absolutely worthwhile, and I can't wait to see the film for the first time in a proper cinema. I hope my mixes will sound right through a full boomy cinema sound system! The film is on IMDB here and the web site is here.
10/12/10 : Post rock Vs Serbian brass
Half of The Lost Cavalry took a trip out west to the All Tomorrows Parties festival at Minehead, Butlins last weekend - the Godspeed You! Black Emperor one... Nick and I are pretty into our post rock, which I think comes over in parts of our music - and certainly in a lot of the music Nick and I recorded before The Lost Cavalry when in Meissner. Usually the great thing about ATP is wandering up to see some band that you've never heard of before, and discovering they are amazing. This time however there seemed to be less that blew me away - and more that you watched for half an hour and then got bored, quite a shame. There were some highlights though - Godspeed of course, and Tindersticks were incredible - really carefully thought out and really together as a band. Deerhoof were great too, to close the festival, but the suprise highlight was the Boban i Marko Markovic Orkestar from Serbia - a brass band with some drums and a bit of singing too. They were the hit of the festival - and they could have played all night if the audience had their way!
So now we're all home and I don't know if I want to start a post rock band or learn the trumpet. We have always talked about a post rock side project, so maybe 2011 will be the year - plus I really miss drumming, so maybe I could do that (I used to be the drummer in the band 'Wolfie'). We should concentrate on getting our next EP made though first of course... which we aim to have ready in the first half of next year. We'll probably release a single from it earlier than that too - plus we have some video ideas at the moment which will hopefully work out... as always, lots in the pipeline!
1/11/10 : New music PC
Well, my new music PC arrived - and it's a beast! A huge black rack mounted case that you almost can't lift, with a big grill on the front and a lock. But it's nice and fast and the monitor is nice and big. I also treated myself to Sonar 8.5 Producer edition. Sonar is like Pro Tools or Logic but better (in my opinion!) and I've been using it for a while for recording and mixing. The new version seems pretty good so far.
At the moment I'm mostly concentrating on the Booked Out film music as well as working on The Lost Cavalry's song 'The Tower' - one of our live favourites! It's sounding great, lots of energy and life plus some pretty beautiful sounding stuff twinkling in the background - including this music box. I've also been trying to build a Theremin - from a kit... it's a lot trickier than I expected it to be, it's been too long since I did any soldering. I will post updates as I go!
12/10/10 : Music on the go
Here's my next invention. I doubt it will work.
We're all very excited about releasing our track 'The Elephant Of Castlebar Hill' as a single, we're really pleased with the new mix (which you can listen to here). We're also excited about some new tracks we're recording at the moment. I think it's time to upgrade my little home studio though - I'm going to splash out on a new computer I think before starting to mix the new songs.
I've also been doing some other recording recently - I recorded a track for Sony Extreme music for this production music album which was good fun, and I'm also in the middle of working on the score for a new indie feature film Booked Out along with my co-composer Derek Yau. It's quite a challenge - really different to be writing music that needs to fit in tightly with the film action and also set the right mood - which often changes quite quickly within one piece of music. It is absolutely brilliant fun though and we're making good progress. I think there will be around 45 minutes of music we'll be making in total though, so there's a lot to do. Definitely a good excuse for getting a new music computer...
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