Before and after – a film composing show and tell.
Reflections on the approach taken to composition of the score to ‘Boy Meets…’
This short film was made as part of the Northern Film and Media ‘Stingers’ series in 2007. Written and directed by Graeme Beech ‘Boy Meets…’ is less than three minutes long, contains no dialogue and is a clever ‘single idea’ short film with a neat twist at the end.
Watch it as it was first presented to me – the composer
When I watched it I came to the conclusion that this was a gift of a film for composer – a single idea executed well with a nice twist at the end. It contains no dialogue leaving the way clear for the music to help to tell the story. Its a nice show reel length – roughly two and a half minutes and I was genuinely amused by it.
The tone of it to me is largely comical – light hearted and playful. I also picked up on an element of magic – making the girl disappear from the cafe in the middle but underpinning it all was that this was a live action film that also behaved a bit like a cartoon. It had a series of episodes – a bit like the Tom and Jerry thing of multiple scenes where the cat is trying to ‘get’ the mouse and failing. We are asked to suspend our disbelief that during all the time following the girl, the main character never actually gets to see her face. It also has a tragic-comic ending with the death of the main character in a surprising way.
As a composer, it feels important when scoring comedy to play it straight – the laughs are somehow diminished if you do the obvious and make the music funny – to play along with the comedy with a kind of whoops, bang, wallop, crash – following the action type approach. What you are giving then, is the same as what is on the screen – you aren’t really adding anything. If you play it straight – i.e as a serious drama I think the comic effect is enhanced. The juxtaposition of the seriousness of the music and the comic nature of the pictures add an extra element. The music in film should always be contributing to a scene, otherwise it feels like there is little point in being there.
So this led me in a couple of ways. The ‘magical’ element I chose to represent using glockenspiel. Since the Harry Potter films and probably before that, magic and the supernatural have come to be represented on screen by metallic tuned percussion – Hedwigs Theme which is the main Harry Potter theme is played on a celeste. The solo glockenspiel in the intro has an ethereal quality and is there to introduce a sense of mystery – both for the audience who are at that point in the film thinking ‘whats all this about ?’and from the point of view of the main character – the boy who is enchanted by a pretty girl and wants to know more.
An instrument which has a long association with comedy is the tuba. The low pitched rasping nature of the sound conveys ‘pompous’ with great aplomb. It also sounds like a fart and draws on our propensity to appreciate toilet humour. On top of this I came up with a melody which uses a compound time signature 6/8 and a skipping rhythm – tum-ti-tum-ti tumpety tum etc which by its nature has light hearted, fun, bright and breezy connotations. The melody also contains a number of crushed notes or ‘acciacaturas’ which, when used in this way can add a bit of comedy to the music as initially they can sound like the wrong note. All this is accompanied by odd blasts on the ‘heroic’ solo French horn adding some comical gravitas to represent the films hero and also to add some surprising sudden swells which keep the listener guessing as to the direction the music and the film will take.
Hopefully all of these elements add something to the pompous nature of the tuba and gives the overall effect of something light but trying hard to be serious. Part of the thinking behind this was to lead to the plot twist at the end of the film not giving away any clues as to what was about to happen. This is another key principle – don’t tip the story – don’t give away the punch line. Wait until the thing happens and then react simultaneously.
The structure of the score roughly reflects and is loosely timed to match the episodic nature of the different film scenes. All of the episodes trundle along with the 2 beat in a bar 6/8 march like feel with relatively simple 16 bar, four X four bar phrase structure. In the contrasting sections I used the odd rest/unexpected pause before the final phrase of the sequence to heighten the anticipation of what is coming next. This uses the idea inherent in antecedent and consequent musical phrases – one phrase setting up a question and the next answering it – in this case with a slight delay and a quick unexpected flurry of notes – a surprise in other words – the key element in comedy. All of these devices I hope contribute to the playfulness of the score and the contribution that makes to the film as a whole.
It is lightly orchestrated – it wouldn’t do to be too large an ensemble or to be too forceful – it would feel overblown. In the beginning there are some timpani, snare and cymbals, a staccato string melody and tuba, woodwind and horn accompaniment. I contrast this with use of pizzicato strings and some light woodwinds and a return to the ethereal magical glockenspiel for the the magic trick of the girl disappearing from the cafe. There is also a return to the original theme and a big build up to the surprise ending that tells the audience that something is going to happen but we don’t know what.
This film has made a great show reel piece and has got me more work as a composer. It was among the successful portfolio of work I submitted to the Royal Television Society for their regional awards in 2007.
It has been nice to revisit it. I hope you enjoyed some insight into my thoughts about how the score came together.
Watch the film, complete with music score below and feel free to leave any comments on the use of the score. Thanks for taking the time to read this post.