Work on this movie has been amazing. As of this moment, I have about ten minutes of music left to write before I find myself at the end of the film. That in no way means I’m done, but I’m getting super close. So what’s next after the end of the film? Well the studio is still putting together the opening of the movie, so when they finish, I’ll have however many minutes of opening titles to write. That should be an easy, fun thing to do though because all the theme music is already written so it’s just a matter of introducing the themes I use later on in the beginning of the film. Then there are the production credits: the scrolling credits found at the end of the movie. Again those will be easy. There’s something that I’ve found I like to do during the end credits that I hope to include in this film if I have time so be on the lookout for it when the movie comes out. I enjoy to retell the entire story through music during the credits, so I’ll write tiny snippets of the iconic music from different parts of the film and string them together to tell the story again in miniature. I have no idea if I’ll have time to do that, but I hope so. It’s always fun.
But even after all that, I’m still not done. Every cue I write needs to get sent in to the production team to get approved. Then it’s up to the director to determine if he wants any changes to the cues. So far, I’ve only received minor notes and they are really pleased with the music (and with the sort of deadline we have, that’s a good thing). Once the cue is approved, I need to go back and mix the whole track. As of right now, when I write, I’m just putting all the notes down, meaning what is each instrument in the orchestra playing. I’m playing all this into the keyboard as I watch the film, and sometimes my timing isn’t precise. So I need to go back and fix all the timing errors, and then mix all the volumes for each instrument as well as add my reverb (the sound of the ‘room’ we’re in) and any other effects I need on the track. Only then is a cue truly done. Movies and TV need cues in a different format however than something you would buy on iTunes does. When you buy a song off iTunes, you get a finished, single file that you can play on your computer or burn to a CD, so when you click on the name, it starts playing. That file has also been ‘mastered’. What mastering is, is once the finished piece of music is ready, the volumes and sound gets adjusted again so that it sounds good on every set of speakers you may play it on, and isn’t too quiet, as orchestral music recordings usually are. For this project, I am not mastering the files. The sound department will be doing that so that it specifically fits within the film. If I want to release this soundtrack on iTunes (which I do) then I’ll have to master it myself after the film is over. The other difference is I am giving the music to the team in stems. Here’s what a stem is. Your iTunes song is one file you click play to and it plays. For a movie, I need to break the segments of the orchestra up into separate files. Meaning one file for the strings, percussion, brass and woodwinds, and sometimes solo instruments or special sound effects. This way, the sound department can adjust those sections of the orchestra themselves after I’ve finished the music in case the string section in one section is too loud and covers up the dialogue in a scene, they can still make that change without needing me to resend a cue with those changes. So that’s my little lesson for today. On to more storytelling!
So two weeks ago I get an email from one of the producers asking me what I’m doing last saturday, the 28th. I always have those days off so I was free. They told me that they had a reshoot scheduled and that I was invited to the set to meet the cast and crew! They also told me to bring a winter coat because I was also invited to be an extra in the scene. This was totally unexpected and exciting so of course I agreed. Saturday morning I woke up at 5am to start driving to Burbank for call at 7am. This was a crew call. I arrived at a little church and met all the crew who had just started setting up for the shoot. This was to be a quick thing with no dialogue. It’ll be the very last scene in the film. I told them that I had a bit of production experience so I was able to help set up lights and help out wherever else I was needed. The actors also had to do an EPK interview that morning. EPK stands for Electronic Press Kit. It’s basically a behind the scenes that will be used as a DVD extra as well as for promotional purposes. I was asked to be a stand in to make sure the camera was sound gear was tuned properly, but then the producer said “Wait, you’re the composer. Why don’t you do an interview for EPK too.” So I did an interview for the behind the scenes about my involvement in the project, where my inspiration for the soundtrack comes from and what this experience has been like for me. Yet another unexpected perk of showing up. The actors came a bit later for hair and makeup and I was able to meet all of them. Everyone was extremely nice, very professional and easy to talk to. Filming had been done for months, so this last reshoot was like a reunion for everyone, and they were all happy to ‘get the family back together’ another day. Soon after, Corbin arrived to oversee the rest of setup. As I was walking around the set, I heard some of my music playing, and I walked into the green room to find Corbin playing one of the scenes I scored for the actors. None of the cast or production crew have seen the film yet, so they were very excited to get a look at it. All the extras came last and we moved into the church. Corbin started placing everyone into the scene, and he actually placed me right next to the lead family, so I’m sitting next to the little girl who plays a character named Jesse in the film. I was very honored to get placed there. They filmed the scene a number of times which was very fun to be a part in. Usually the film is already done by the time the composer is involved, so it’s a rare treat to get a chance to go on set.
After the main filming, Corbin had an idea for an alternate version of that scene where the little girl sings in a choir. He had some B-Roll (B-roll is footage shot that’s not involving the main cast or crew, like scenes of a crowd or a shot of a building) of a children’s choir singing Silent Night, so he wanted to play that scene on his computer and have Jesse sing to it. Problem is his computer ran out of battery and he didn’t have a charger. But I remembered the tempo and key of the song the first time he played it, and the church had a piano, so I offered to play silent night so they could still get the shot. So that’s what I did. The scene came out really great in the end. I still haven’t scene the finished version yet, but I’m excited for it. After that we wrapped, and that was the day. On the way out, the lead actors who play the mom and dad came over and thanked me for doing the music and said that what they heard was very impressive. I told them that their acting made my job very easy, and I hope we’ll all be able to see each other again for the premiere. I came home and slept happily for the rest of the afternoon. Being on set that day was such a fantastic experience, and definitely inspired me for this last leg of writing I’m on.
I’d to leave you all with a little something as a reward for getting through this long post. Here’s a sneak peak of one of the cues for the film. This piece of music accompanies a montage where the family comes together and works as a team. Keep in mind this is a currently unapproved cue, so what you hear may not make it exactly as is it into the final film. Also, the timing errors haven’t been corrected yet and none of the volumes have been adjusted. This makes it simple for me to make changes if they request any, so what you’ll be hearing, even if approved still won’t sound the same once it’s truly finished, but you’ll get a good idea of what this movie sounds like. Hope you enjoy!