"Film scores demand an extraordinary degree of both musicianship and dramatic understanding on the part of their composers."

Neil Brand
Tonight saw the final episode of silent film composer Neil Brand's Sound of Cinema: The Music that Made the Movies broadcast on BBC Four in the UK. This fascinating and detailed three-part series took the audience from the birth of the now-classic orchestral score, thanks to the likes of European-born composers such as Max Steiner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold, to the modern day audio movie landscape, where classical scores from John Williams and Hans Zimmer rub shoulders with the likes of modernist works by Carter Burwell and Clint Mansell, by way of artists with pop music backgrounds like John Barry and Jonny Greenwood. The use of pop tracks, modern technical advances, audio design and Foley all feature in a journey that shows you just how difficult, stressful but extremely rewarding it can be when challenged to accompany the visuals to a film. 

As a budding film maker, this insight into the world of film scores has been one of the most enlightening and educational for me in recent years. In previous short films I have used music in various forms and styles. One of my key projects featured the use of 1950s rock and roll music. My final film project for university was even named after a Buddy Holly track, Ready Teddy. In writing my simple romantic tale, I struggled when it came to dialogue. My confidence in producing believable and appropriate words to accompany my ideas was not very high, when it struck me that the use of song and lyric could tell the story for me. When I watch the film now, it is clear that it is the work of a young student with more ideas than ability to achieve them. And yet the basic idea worked and the film was received very well by my tutors and peers - certainly better than I could have hoped. The songs conveyed all the emotion that I had intended them to, with the lip-syncing actors able to fashion their own performances around the tracks and capturing the exact mood I had intended to. 

A few years later, a much darker project required a very different musical score altogether. For my drama short Who's Next?, I chose a more atonal score to reflect the other-worldly and despairing tale of two soul-collectors working for the Grim Reaper. The downward spiral of their charge was expanded by the unusual sounds and tones created by my composer, allowing the audience to feel his sadness and despair, while at the same time reflecting the relentless monotony of the spiritual bailiffs' predicament. The score was one of the most successful elements to the film and upon a repeat viewing the composer married his work to mine perfectly. 

This is one of the first true lessons I had in the importance of sound. One could argue that it is the most important factor of film making: it is much easier to follow a movie with sound and no pictures, as opposed to a film with pictures and no sound. But the marriage of visual and audio is the real key to success, where both work to produce a full cinematic picture that envelops the audience and heightens the experience. Neil Brand's series has shown me just what can be achieved and will be a significant influence on my future work. So from one Aberystwyth alumni to another, thank you for opening my ears, Mr. Brand!