Our recap of IMPULSE production continues as we feature a guest blog from composer Corey Wallace about the scoring process. Also included below is a brief scoring featurette.
ABOUT COREY WALLACE
Although initially an engineering student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Corey Wallace began full time music study after scoring his student film. After graduating in 2008 with a BM in Music Composition, Corey continued his film scoring studies at USC’s Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television (SMPTV) program, graduating in the spring of 2009. Since leaving USC, Corey has scored 3 independent feature length films and has continued to work on high profile USC projects. In 2010, Corey was one of 12 composers selected as participants in the prestigious ASCAP Television & Film Scoring Workshop.
THE APPROACH TO SCORING IMPULSE
My approach to scoring IMPULSE, as with any film really, was to find the reason for having music in the film. Over time, music’s role in film has broadened and become more objective, while tastes among filmmakers, composers, and audiences vary widely. From a creative standpoint, I try to find what’s missing on the screen and fill that void with music. Sometimes this void is a simple lack of forward momentum that is extremely important in a linear, time-based medium, and the void can be as complex as conveying deep emotions for the characters.
IMPULSE is less than 20 minutes, and furthermore, it’s the last twenty minutes, so we’re supposed to feel a summation of someone’s life and care for him as if we’ve known him our entire lives. This is no easy task for a feature length film, let alone a short. The job of the music is to connect the audience with the visuals instantly. The opening shot reveals the Earth as seen from outer space, a beautiful spectacle indeed, but the significance of the shot is open to interpretation. This brings Jerry Maguire to mind, another movie that starts with a shot of the Earth from space. However, before revealing the blue planet, we hear the intro from The Who’s "Magic Bus", immediately conveying excitement and fun. With IMPULSE, it’s important that the audience immediately knows there is a looming terror.
As for our main character, the story follows his journey as he rushes to an unknown destination. We don’t know why or where he’s going, but we must care, and we must want him to get there, and we must feel the disappointment, heartache, and terror with every obstacle in his path. If we don’t care, then why are we watching? My goal was to ensure that we understand this journey despite the sparse dialogue and unexplained events surrounding him.
THE PROCESS OF SCORING IMPULSE
The key, as discussed above, is to get a firm grasp on the drama and the intended story to tell. I mentioned the role of music being objective, but a common role is to clarify dramatic intent. Where music comes in, goes out, and plays to a specific style or tone, it can really steer the drama (or comedy). I always ask to watch a film first by myself in order to make these decisions as both a fresh, objective audience member and as a composer. This way, when meeting with the director and producers, I can compare my experience with their intentions, and sometimes this guides musical decisions. For instance, when David (played by Chris Masterson) takes the found guitar case to the creek, he opens it and imagines opening his first guitar: unwrapping the box, pulling it out, running his fingers over the strings. I saw this as a beautiful flashback and I wanted to play out the emotions of the flashback with music. Scott and Bryan were more concerned with the present, understanding his anxiety and nervousness. He obviously needs a guitar, and this was perhaps his last chance to get one before the end.
THE VISION TO SCORE IMPULSE
Originally, I saw the music as playing largely against the scene. We agreed to this approach through the spotting session and first 3 drafts of the score, and while this was a good approach, it was ultimately not the best approach. We decided that the film was lacking a certain urgency and drive, and instead of deviating from the action/thriller music to make way for the emotional theme, we decided to keep the music driving forward. While we don’t hear the emotional motivations for the main character through music, we feel his intensity and need to go forward no matter what. The original intent of the music was to make the film a character piece and comment on the visuals. However, since the visuals and story are intentionally vague, the music was best suited to clarify instead of comment. The final music gave the story a linear arc that focused on the present instead of relating to the past.
THE CHALLENGES OF SCORING IMPULSE
One challenge facing the music of IMPULSE was writing the main theme 6 months prior to scoring the film! Chris Masterson needed to play the guitar theme on set, so once the theme was written, it was set in stone going forward. As with many film composers, I’ve become very comfortable and accustomed to letting the visuals inspire me musically. Going off of the script and conversations with Scott and Bryan, all I could do was write a few options and let them picture it in their film. Out of my versions, they unanimously picked the same one, and it wasn’t until 6 months later, after viewing the film with my first draft of the score, I heard the words, “Now I know we made the right decision with that theme”. (Phew…)
THE FINAL SCORE OF IMPULSE
I am extremely happy with the mix. We were fortunate enough to mix in a beautiful 5.1 facility and really dial in the precise sound for the theatre. I’m also fortunate that I was able to get the budgetary support to not only use some live musicians, but a 32 piece orchestra. I keep mentioning low budget, but this film had the highest music budget per minute of music that I’ve ever worked on. These days, it is all but too common practice to settle for the use of synthetic instruments, and I’m very happy that I got to work with such knowledgeable filmmakers that understand how live music can help their film.
As stated in earlier blogs, this working relationship was 7 years in the making, and I’m thrilled we finally got a chance to see it through.
Last movie Scott watched: The Social Network (David Fincher)