The Creation of “Gotham City SF” Film Score
For many artists in photo and video, the general process of creating photo or a film is generally known, even if we admit to ourselves we couldn’t have actually done it, we at least can fathom an idea of how it came to be. But one specific area of filmmaking is somewhat of a mystery to most of us: crafting original music. Even beyond that, the process of how one even begins to score something.
James Everingham is an incredibly talented composer whose star is on the rise. A member of the Planet Unicorn artist collective, James was approached by timelapser Toby Harriman to produce a score for what would become Harriman’s very popular “Gotham City SF” film. “I was first approached by Toby Harriman in February 2014. My friend Andrew Studer, who I have worked with in the past, had put a post on Facebook advertising my music after I scored his timelapse film ‘TIME.’”
So how does a composer go about deciding how to score a film? “Before accepting a project, one of the first things I ask is what style of music is needed. There are some styles of music that I am experienced in writing, and others in which I don’t consider myself great at. It turned out the style Toby was going for was well within my capabilities and was just the kind of music that I love writing. I had seen Toby’s work previously and loved it, and therefore was more than happy to work with him.
“First, Toby sent over a selection of tracks in the style that he felt the track should be in. These are called ‘temp tracks’ – and these consisted mainly of various Audiomachine and Ivan Torrent tracks. He also sent me a link to a private Soundcloud playlist where he had compiled some pieces of music in the style he wanted the track to be in. I sent him a clip that I thought matched the style he was looking for and he said it was exactly what he wanted.From here, I had a pretty solid understanding of what Toby wanted from me – something percussive, rhythmic, loud and Batman-esque, reflecting the title of the film, ‘Gotham City SF’.”
From here, James needed to determine how and in what order he was going to build the score. “I wrote this track in chronological order. My starting point was the synth pad at the beginning, which leads into a Zimmer-esque string ostinato. Again, this reflected the Batman feel of the film Toby was going for, and built the tension nicely.”
Though composers sometimes work with final scenes in front of them before they start to write, it’s not always a requirement. “I wasn’t given any moving footage until a few months after I’d started writing the track. Instead, I began writing the track based on Toby’s temp tracks and some of his previous ‘Gotham’ work that I’d seen. Some timelapsers/filmmakers prefer to have the composer write music to a locked cut, but in this case I was writing the track and Toby was editing the film to the music.”
Working in tandem instead of one after the other has its benefits. “This workflow was fantastic for me because it gave me more freedom with the structure of the music. This worked well for timelapse film scoring particularly, as timelapse films often rely heavily on the music as there is no dialogue – just moving images. Toby was then able to edit his film based on the cuts and hit points in my music.”
So what does that process actually look like? “Throughout the scoring process, I would generally write a section of music, send it to Toby and he would then come back to me with his thoughts. These would usually be something along the lines of ‘this is good, but I don’t like that sound at 0:52 – can we make it a little shorter because the clip I want to put there ends at 0:47?’ etc. etc.”
James chose a certain set of instruments and sounds in order to create the end result, a Hans Zimmer-like score with deep strings and pounding drums. “Some recurring instruments in the track are the percussion ensembles from Heavyocity’s Damage library. There’s a patch called ‘Armageddon Ensemble’ and when you crank up the ‘punish’ knob in Damage, the sound gets more and more compressed and punchy. I used these drums to keep a rhythm going through the entire track.
“I then went on to write the melody in the middle of the track and map out where the track was going to rise and where it was going to die down, based on information Toby was able to give me about the structure and direction he wanted the film to go. Once I had this down, I approached my friend Luke Standridge. I had heard his music before and recognized how talented he is at utilizing hybrid orchestral sound design effects and choir in his tracks. Luke contributed to the track by writing the choir part and adding a few other sound design elements to the track (for example, rhythmic synth elements and risers). Collaborating on this track with him added a large amount of production value to the track and I’m extremely thankful for his contributions. We worked well together and later went on to produce other tracks together such as the popular track, Atlas.
Once I had mixed in Luke’s contributions to the track, I made the finishing touches to the track and sent off a 24bit WAV file to Toby. Over the next few months, I made a few minor changes (mainly in instrumentation and the mix) as Toby heard the track more and more, but the structure of the track stayed locked for Toby to edit to.”
Hopefully James was able to give you a good picture of what it’s like to work with a composer. To get the best results, it’s best to communicate early and often. Make sure you are both on the same page when it comes to theme and core instruments, and be patient with one another as you both build your specific art together to create one perfect harmony. A solid team is capable of producing amazing work, as evidenced by the wild success of “Gotham City SF.”
“It was fantastic seeing Toby’s film come to life on top of the music I’d written and I’m proud of this work, and also congratulate Toby on producing such an amazing film – I’m honored to have been a part of it.”
To view the full project visit: GothamCitySF.com