“Music is the emotional spine of a film. It offers the opportunity to become a character in a film which has immediacy in the way it influences the way the audience feels about what they are seeing,” says renowned local musician, Kyle Shepherd, who recently found his place in the film world as composer of Noem My Skollie’s score.
“Music in film is “a bit like the ‘air’ in an environment”, says Donovan Copley. “It might not seem immediately vital to the life of a production, but take it away and it becomes more obvious.” Copley heads up local band Hot Water – best known in the film world for their song Wamkelekile, which was used in Adam Sandler’s Blended a few years back. The track has since reached over 1 million streams on Spotify thanks to the exposure with Warner Bros.
And, just as oxygen is the lifeblood of the body, music is “the translation of emotion in film,” says Johan van der Colff, Owner of Mastermax (MMX), a sound recording and audio post production facility serving the film industry. “Music and sound in film is as important in making the film a success as the storyline, and if the sound and music do not do the film justice, the audience will not make the emotional connection that is needed to fully be captivated,” he explains.
Music Matters and Movements
Despite South Africa declaring recession, most companies working in the music space have reported a good 2017 so far. Mama Dance, a music solutions company that’s been in the business for over 15 years, has one of their tracks on The Forgiven starring Forest Whitaker and Eric Bana, and has been facilitating music for productions in Kenya, Ivory Coast and Nigeria. Dale Blignaut says that one of the things filmmakers struggle with when choosing the correct music is only choosing tracks from sources that are available to license and within budget constraints. “We have often had to replace tracks that worked well in the edit, but either due to the number of cooks in the kitchen, no one knew where the music came from or alternatively the filmmakers didn’t consider whether or not the latest Bruno Mars track was affordable.”
“Filmmakers many times tend to forget the importance of music and sound in film and its left as an afterthought once the film is done and budget has been depleted, which then leaves very little scope for the creative team to create an engaging soundscape for the film,” says Johan can Der Colff of Mastermax Productions, of which MMX recording studios is a division. They recently worked in the sound design and final mix of Deon Meyer’s Jagveld. “Another film called The Roar that we’ve just finished we had the privilege of composing a full original score that had to include some original songs.”
In terms of industry trends, Johan says the greatest move in sound for film is Immersive Sound – which surpasses even 7.1 Surround Sound. “It enables sound designers to create a more encapsulating, true to life, soundscape that holds extreme potential to add to the emotional experience the audience has when watching a film. There are a few players in the market when it comes to Immersive Sound, but the biggest two in the cinema market currently is Barco’s Auro3D and Dolby’s Atmos.” These both use an ear level layer of speakers and a layer on the ceiling. Auro3D has an additional layer of speakers on the walls called a height layer, creating a ‘dome’ of sound.
Local Musicians and Composers
With the help of technology, composers can now create great sounding scores with virtual instruments and programming software in relatively quick time frames. “But in my experience,” says Johan, “programming just cannot replace the opportunity of being able to work with live orchestras and live instruments when creating an original score for a film. There is an emotional connection when the instrumentalists starts to play the arrangements and each person is moved emotionally by the melodies and harmonies that translates thru to the final product and creates and emotional bond between the music and the film that brings it all together to tell the story.”
Pianist Kyle Shepherd can agree, having composed all the music for Noem My Skollie. This was his first experience doing so for film, and he is currently working on the music of an American production called Conformist. “This is also an interesting process because the director is based in Los Angeles so we are collaborating and communicating online – which works surprisingly well.” He’s pushing boundaries with a totally new mash up of film and live performance art. Kyle will perform the Noem My Skollie score live with an 18-piece orchestra on 17 September 2017, complete with a large LED screen projection of the film at the Artscape Theatre in Cape Town. “I’m new to this field but from what I can tell there are not many people specialising in film composing in South Africa. It really is a field that requires a different mindset to writing performance music. I can see how the specialised nature of it may turn people away from it, but I have been encouraging many young musicians to think about it as a possible alternative to an exclusively performance career.”
Read Issue 9 for more on music in film: