There are an overwhelming amount of options when choosing the right track for your production; style, genre, mood, feel and tempo. Do you want the music to function as wallpaper / background or to shout out the message…to perfectly match the vision or, and in my opinion the most underused, juxtaposition to the vision to create a more impactful response.
A few great examples of this are the 1997 film Face Off, directed by John Woo, score by John Powell, during a horrifically violent and bloody gun battle. The director boldly chose to use a beautiful version of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”, making the scene feel quite twisted and the violence so futile. Above all else though, it distinguished this fight scene from so many others. Another example is a recent film I wrote the score to, ‘The Last Showing’.
Again, a life or death fight scene involving two men, fighting to reach a gun, and between myself and the director Phil Hawkins, we decided to re-record a lush, filmic arrangement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata for this one minute long scene. In this particular instance, once the action was in slow motion, accompanied by this slow and romantic track, this violent fight actually looked like a ballet, with beautifully choreographed dance moves, a truly absolute juxtaposition.
For me though, the Oscar winning 1986 film Platoon, DIRECTED BY OLIVER STONE and score by Georges Delerue beats them all. The death of Sgt. Elias exudes such emotion with the use of Samuel Barber’s Adagio For Strings, juxtaposing the slo-mo action of one of the films main character’s being shot. The natural sound of the helicopter blades and gunfire fading into the distance, leaving just the emotionally soaring strings is stunning.
The final example of this is a must see, for those interested in combining what seems to be inappropriate music with the vision is Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, where he uses the wartime song “we’ll Meet Again” sang by Vera Lynn for a dramatic montage of exploding atom bombs.
(IT CAN MAKE SUCH AN UGLY ACT / SCENE ALMOST A THING OF BEAUTY), which can only provoke a response.
Don’t forget silence! Silence used well, is equally as important as music itself, especially within a film. It can either let the audience breathe, take in the dialogue, work out where the plot is going or can be used to create tension in its own right – perhaps with the addition of some natural sounds, such as breathing, heartbeat, clock ticking, distant howling wind etc.
Without silence, there would be no impact from the music, when it finally enters. Whether it bursts in or pours in, it’s all about the contrast from nothing to something. The starkest audio contrast is often found within horror movies, where you may find 5 minutes of intense, almost deafening silence, unexpectedly broken by a dramatic wall of music.
Without silence there would be little contrast of audio dynamics, but more importantly, emotional dynamics of the production. A couple of good examples of silence being used to create intense emotion is the Cohen Brother’s film No Country For Old Men and the very desolate and emotionally draining film from 2000 Castaway, directed by Robert Zemeckis. This for me is the best example of what I’m saying.
The sparse score in this film is used brilliantly, in fact, there is hardly any score at all, just one theme, which not only gives the film a documentary feel to it, but also the loneliness Tom Hanks’ character CHUCK NOLAN must have felt being stranded so long and so far from home. Alan Silvestri scores just 2 scenes in this film – one, the heart-breaking scene when Chuck loses his one and only friend Wilson (his volleyball) in the ocean, see it here..
The second time this theme plays out is the final scene of the film where he’s back home, readjusting to normal society. He finally gets to deliver the package that he’s looked after, since being stranded on the island (don’t want to give too much away, if you’ve not seen the film, and you must!). Reaching a crossroads, the music emerges once again, as he realises he’s reached a crossroads in his life and now has to decide how he will continue.
The options seem endless…in fact, they probably are. However, you have a job to do and only have a certain amount of time and money to find that ‘perfect’ track, so by thinking of all the various things laid out in this 4 part guide, you'll be well on your way to making the right decision.