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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Research: Vehicle/Pedestrian Collisions in Films

In films and tv series, people often get hit by cars. Sometimes the character darts out in front of the car, sometimes, for whatever reason the driver has lost control, but in the vast majority of scenes I’ve watched of vehicle/pedestrian collisions, neither the pedestrian nor the driver have been paying attention resulting in tragedy. But what does this mean? Often, in more cases than not, recklessness of hope in a cruel and unfair world is summed up on screen by scenes of a pedestrian collision.

I intend to film a man crossing the road on a bike but just before he gets hit by a car, the scene will cut to black, however the audio will continue to play for a few seconds afterwards. This will reduce the need to film real stunts yet still give a believable impression on the audience that a pedestrian collision has taken place.

A film that demonstrates this incredibly well is ‘Me Before You’ which tells the tale of a lady that takes care of a rich man after he becomes paralysed upon being involved in a motorcycle accident.

 

This example ties in well with my own short film. The scene in which the man gets hit by the motorcycle is in fact a flashback, which is exactly how I intended on presenting my own crash scene. Another reason for picking ‘Me Before You’ is due to the way the film creatively avoids showing the audience the crash, yet the audience are still aware that it happens. This was achieved by cutting to black and then having sound effects such as nearby people screaming and the sound of tires screeching. This is exactly the effect I am looking to execute in my short film.

Another example of a pedestrian collision is from the tv series ‘Skins’. At the end of the first series, one of the leading characters gets hit by a bus whilst on the phone to his ex-girlfriend. This crash scene is more graphic than the first example as it actually shows the character being hit by the bus, however the scene is quick and no injuries or blood are shown on camera. A similarity between this example and the first is that both characters are on the phone, which links back to my previous statement about most pedestrian collisions happening due to inattentive pedestrians and/or drivers. I chose these examples in specific because I intend on having the pedestrian collision in my short film to be caused by talking on the phone.

Obviously, films like ‘Me Before You’ often have a budget of at least $20 million and I do not have this kind of money to spend on a film. Usually, I refrain from including action scenes in my projects for this reason, as I believe low budget action is a surefire way to make your work look unprofessional. However, in order to improve my filmmaking skills, I need to challenge myself. The key importance of this research is to study how to make low budget action look tasteful and semi-professional. As previously stated, the main way in which I will achieve this will be through an emphasis on audio over visuals. Sound effects of a car screeching to a halt and people screaming will allow the audience to visualise the scene for themselves and will allow me to avoid trying to create a low budget scene of a character actually getting hit by a car.

At this point, I think I’ve researched everything necessary to make sure my collision scene looks and sounds semi-professional. In conclusion, I believe that vehicle/pedestrian collisions in cinema are extremely effective as a storytelling technique. Not only do they convey a visual representation of tragedy but they can also be used as an interesting way to end a conversation between two characters.

 

Research: Flashbacks

The narrative of my short film is nearly completely told through flashbacks. Therefore, I am going to research the use and benefits of flashbacks as a plot device in film, in order to help myself understand how to use them effectively in my own work.

First of all, there are subjective and objective flashbacks. Subjective flashbacks offer a chance for the audience to see the thoughts and personal memories of a character. In ‘Citizen Kane’ for example, five characters tell their version of the story of the main character through separate flashbacks. These flashbacks are subjective because each character’s flashbacks are told through personal memory.

When entering via an object or if it is not visibly clear to the audience that the memory of a character has been entered, it is an objective flashback. These flashbacks return to earlier events to show their relationship to the present. An example of this, is from the tv series ‘Lost’. The flashbacks presented in this series are objective, as no character is telling the story, yet the audience is still being shown scenes from a different timeline.

Furthermore, flashbacks can be distinguished into being internal and external. Internal flashbacks are shown within the timeframe of the film. They draw the attention of the audience to a previous scene to remind them of what has already happened or which now reveal parts of the story due to new information told to us as the narrative unfolds. In ‘A Beautiful Mind’, the main character learns that he has schizophrenia and his ‘best friend’ has been an figment of his imagination throughout the entire movie. Upon learning about his mental illness, earlier scenes are shown but this time, with the absence of his best friend to emphasise the severity of his illness. We instantly know these flashbacks are internal because we have already seen the scenes presented earlier on in the film.

External flashbacks happen before the timeframe of a film. These are often used to give depth to a character by introducing a back story, as well as revealing information about events not present to us throughout the timeframe of a film. An excellent example of this would be ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ that follows the highschool life of a boy called Charlie. Throughout the film, glimpses of his past are shown in the form of flashbacks. These flashbacks are external as they happened before the initial timeframe of the film. However, later on during the film, there is a well edited sequence that incorporates internal and external flashbacks revealing that Charlie was sexually abused by his aunt, which has had an effect on his current mental health. This sequence proves that films can contain not just one, but many different forms of flashbacks.

Although, flashbacks tend to be predominantly visual, they are not limited to visuals only. Occasionally, flashbacks can be a mix of visual and oral; and sometimes even entirely oral. For example, in the film ‘Kon-Tiki’, the main character is drawn back to a childhood memory of nearly drowning as he presently gets knocked back by reoccurring waves underwater. This flashback is solely oral. The visuals depict the character in the present nearly drowning, whilst the audio is entirely from a past memory.

The majority of flashbacks in my short film will be visual, subjective and external. If possible, I would like to include at least one non-visual and subjective flashback, as I believe they take more planning and skill to execute.

Now that I have researched the different types of flashbacks and the ways that they can be visually or orally represented in films, I need to ask myself: what are the challenges in including flashbacks and what makes a good flashback?

The first challenge is to ensure that the audience is aware that the flashback is in fact a flashback. If the flashback has not been presented correctly, it could leave the audience confused and unaware of the progression in narrative. The key way to avoid confusion is by thinking about the order of scenes and the best way to arrange them, in order to avoid disrupting the flow of the film. Clearly presenting a flashback can also be achieved by using a colour overlay in post production. For example, overlaying end burns or light leaks can be brilliant transitional element for flashbacks. In ‘Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince’, one of the characters experiences a flashback with many light overlays. However, the flashback also included one technique that I found very interesting. The editor had layered several audio tracks on top of each other, such as dialogue, people chanting the characters name and many sound effects. I believe this was to create the feeling of the character experiencing an emotional overload.

This research has helped me to understand and be able to achieve flashbacks as a storytelling medium in filmmaking. It has also allowed me the chance to study numerous examples of flashbacks, something that I believe has helped to shape the narrative and progression of my own project. Throughout the course of studying different types of flashbacks, I have been able to decide on what type of flashback I would like to implement into my film and how I would like to represent it. In conclusion, this research has significantly helped me to expand my cinematic knowledge, as well as being extremely important to the decision making process and evolution of my short film’s narrative.

http://cinewiki.wikispaces.com/Flashbacks+as+a+Film+Technique

 

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What are the challenges of including a flashback in a film? Making people aware that it’s a flashback – colour overlay or different methods. Memento – film backwards, Irreversible.

Ensuring that the flow of the film isn’t disrupted by the flashback – you could talk about order of scenes etc. in one specific example.

Pose new questions, even if they’re rhetorical, or potential further areas of research.

Conclude on how this has helped you.

Walk By Transition

In my short film, I would like to include interesting transitions to show the passage of time in a creative manner. In a previous blog the week post, I screenshotted evidence of practicing a transition known as the walk by transition, which involves masking a clip where someone walks across the screen over another clip. Usually, this effect is used to transition one scene to another, however I’ve used it slightly differently in order to bring the camera closer to the subject that I’m filming without the use of a zoom.

The edit itself went well but it was a struggle trying to avoid continuity errors within the two shots. For example, the wind moved my hair in second shot, which made the shot seem as if it has been mirrored. If I end up using this type of transition in my end production, I will need to be sure to think about the possible continuity errors between the two shots beforehand and try my best to avoid them.

Below I have inserted the tutorial that I used in order to learn how to edit the transition.

Equipment, Props and Costumes

In 2014 David Fincher used the Red Epic Dragon to film ‘Gone Girl’. At the time of filming, a Red Epic Dragon camera cost around about $50,000 each (and they had four of them). I imagine the cost of other equipment combined with the $200,000 spent on cameras would be equate to roughly $400,000. Gone Girl cost 61 million dollars to make, which means that only 0.6% of the overall films budget was spent on equipment.

A lot of indie or small-time filmmakers like myself are spending a lot of money on equipment in comparison to the overall budget of the films they are creating. To put it into perspective, if I were to buy a Sony A7Sii (a camera I have been wanting to upgrade to for a while) then I would need to be working with a $500,000 budget to be on the same budgeting scale as a professional film like Gone Girl.

In conclusion, small filmmakers are focusing too much on camera equipment in the belief that it will improve the quality of their films. Instead, they could be investing their time and money into other areas such as professional actors and purchasing vital props, which are more likely to improve the quality of the film than a slightly better camera.

My budget for my short film is extremely limited, therefore I have to be resourceful and use the equipment that I already own, along with whatever other equipment I can get my hands on for free or at a low price.

List of equipment I own:

Camera:

  • Canon 70D

Lenses: 

  • 18-55mm 3.5-4.6 Canon Lens
  • 75-300mm Canon Lens
  • 50mm 1.8 Canon Lens

Sound: 

  • Rode Video mic

Miscellaneous:

  • Canon Battery x2
  • SD Card 64GB
  • Tripod

Equipment I may use that I can borrow from college:

  • Rode Video mic Pro
  • Sennheiser ME67 Microphone Kit
  • Zoom H4N Digital Audio Recorder
  • Various lighting equipment

Props

One crucial prop in my film, is a bike, which is easily accessible as between my family, we own seven bikes. The second prop is a phone and a pair of earphones, which again is easily accessible as I own both. The final prop is a framed photo of the main character, which I can manage by printing off or sourcing a photograph and then putting it within an empty frame.

Costumes

There will be two costumes in my short film. I have decided that one will be very casual. This will include a hoodie, a pair of jeans and a pair of trainers. The other will be smart and will include a shirt, tie, a pair of smart jeans and a pair of smart shoes.