Research: The Importance of Music in Film

I decided to research the emotional connection between a film and its soundtrack; and in particular, how choosing appropriate music can have a monumental impact on the success of a film.

For me personally, music is also incredibly important in the process of thinking of ideas. Whenever I experience a creative block, I like to listen to instrumental tracks and imagine movie scenarios in my head. During the start of this project, I was really struggling to think of an idea I was satisfied with enough to dedicate my time to spending weeks creating. At that point I was under quite a lot of stress and decided to put on music to get my creativity flowing. The track I put on was ‘How This Came To Be’ by Tom Rosenthal. Whilst listening, I imagined a man dressed in a suit riding his bike in time to the music. I didn’t have an official idea at the time, but I knew that I wanted to base the narrative around that one scene.

I emailed Tom Rosenthal asking for his permission to use the track in my upcoming project and he informed me of how to get my hands on a high quality copy of the track with creative licensing.

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Tom Rosenthal’s music can be described as well crafted alternative indie pop songs, which definitely suits the indie drama theme of my short film. In the initial scene that I want this track to be used in, I want to portray a very nostalgic feeling, which Tom Rosenthal’s music conveys very well. In addition to this, the lyrics sync up with the visuals being presented to the audience. In the first verse of the song, Tom Rosenthal sings “Follow me now, there is somewhere I would like to go” which fits together nicely with the imagery of a man cycling.

In order to get a feeling for the emotional connection a soundtrack has with the narrative of the film, I have been listening to numerous cinematic soundtracks. One of which is the ‘Interstellar’ soundtrack composed by Hans Zimmer. My favourite track in particular, titled ‘Cornfield Chase’ is primarily played on the pipe organ, which are usually played in churches. Hollow echoes of a pipe organ being played in a church perfectly illustrates the emptiness of space and in a way, the contrast to religion is very interesting considering that the film defies many religious beliefs.

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I read somewhere that the pipe organ is used, the further away from earth we are in a film. Perhaps the pipe organ is a way to symbolise thinking about the safety of home, much like the main character misses his home and his family back on earth. The resonation between what we hear and what we see creates a lot of tension in the film. Particularly in a scene where a character attempts to perform a dangerous docking manoeuvre. The track overlaid onto this scene is called ‘No Time For Caution’ and starts off with atmospheric tones. We are then introduced to a gradual organ and then at the cue, a pipe organ comes in. I researched into the specific music terminology and it turns out that Zimmer uses a musical form called passacaglia when he put this cue together. A passacaglia is a musical form based on repeating the melody in the bass line. In the track you can hear how it continues, leaping from instrument to instrument for the latter half of the piece which creates tension when you watch the scene, as your mind is trying to process numerous different sounds at once.

One other thing I find incredibly interesting about the sound of the film, is that when there are cutaway shots from outside the spacecraft, the audio is completely silent. Of course this is to represent that sound does not travel through space but in my opinion, it also helps to create an unnerving tension and the feeling of emptiness in space, which leaves the audience in suspense as they wait for the audio to begin again.

Often, film scores will contain leitmotifs. Leitmotifs are a reoccurring theme in musical compositions that are associated with a certain character, idea or situation. Hans Zimmer incorporates a couple within the Interstellar score. The track ‘Cornfield Chase’ is considered the main theme, due to its use throughout the film whenever there is a hectic situation. In addition to this, a couple of the other tracks such as ‘Stay’ are just remixed versions of the track ‘Cornfield Chase’. Perhaps a better and more well known example of a leitmotif is from the Star Wars film score, composed by John Williams. The Luke Skywalker leitmotif theme is undoubtedly the most memorable because it also serves as the main title theme that opens every episode. Although the Luke Skywalker theme is the opening music, it is interesting to note that it is not the overriding theme within the franchise. More prominent is the Darth Vader theme, a leitmotif theme used whenever Darth Vader enters a scene. Leitmotifs are important, specifically for characters, as they help us to pick up the tone and atmosphere of the scene much quicker. As an audience, we are aware that the tone of the film has changed to a slightly more sinister atmosphere and that a certain evil is present when we hear the Darth Vader theme.

I don’t intend on my films having leitmotifs as per say. My film is much too short to be able to demonstrate recurrent themes. However, I am planning to have a different mood of music depending on which character is on screen.

In conclusion, I have learned that music is one of the most important aspects of film in terms of creating a suitable atmosphere and allowing the audience to easily judge the tone of a situation. I have also learned that in certain situations, the absence of music can be even more powerful, and create even more tension. Through this research, I have decided that to keep dialogue in my film to a minimum. Too many modern films have characters that speak whatever they feel, instead of creatively showing it in a visual and oral manner. That is why I want to take it upon myself to try and tell a story through the selection of appropriate music, sounds and carefully shot visuals to convey the character’s emotions.

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