Evolution of a Cue

Evolution of a Cue

When composing music cues for a film, the director is the final arbiter for what is and what is not acceptable. He or she will usually suggest a mood, and sometimes a style or genre for the music. Then it is up to the composer to meet these requirements.

But sometimes the director is not quite sure what he/she is after. The director asks the composer for several trials. So, a music cue in a film rarely gets accepted in its first draft form. And, sometimes the music goes through many drafts, in a trial-and-error sort of approach.

This was definitely true while I was scoring a short film titled “The English Retreat”. The story is about a couple whose marriage is rocky. They go to a vacation resort in order to re-establish their marriage. The trouble is, when they want to leave, they can’t!

In the introduction to the film, the husband and wife are walking around a garden, aimlessly looking for an escape. Then they start tapping on the front door of their cabin, ostensibly to locate a hidden button that will open up an exit. Here is my first draft:

When starting on the composing for the film, the director had only a vague idea about what was needed for the opening scene. However, as I drafted one music cue after another, the director became progressively sure about the desired mood. She asked me to compose a cue that had a more upbeat vibe, so I composed this:

Later in the film, the husband hums a tune, and  the director asked me if I could work the tune into this opening temp track. The director also wondered if the music could be made to be synchronized with the footsteps of the actors. So, I composed this:

She was not quite satisfied yet, even gave me a “temp track”, that is, a music cue extracted from another movie that seems to capture the desired style and mood. Finally in the fourth draft, I think I captured the desired mood; a dark comedy that starts out with a fun theme which progressively gets darker and darker, followed by a “boom” when the distorted title screen appears:

So, the character of the music evolved quite a bit. Each of these drafts is good, but did not quite fit the director’s vision. And that is always my goal — to bring the director’s vision to life!

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