Scoring an independent feature film — Part 3
In the final part of our series, composer Simon Norman talks some of his more emotional work on the score for All in the Valley.
Part Three: A turn for the worse
In part one I talked about the musical backbone of the movie, the moors theme. Then in part two I covered a classic score trope in the cue used for the film’s antagonists. Now in third and final part I’m going to talk about probably the most personal part of the score; Elizabeth’s theme.
Elizabeth Letter Three, Moors V
Scattered throughout the film are four letters, voice-overs read out over the action by Elizabeth, an off-screen character, wonderfully portrayed by Emma Spurgin Hussey. I won’t go into who she is or what her relationship is with the film’s characters (watch the film to find out), but I will say her role is an important one. She adds context, motivation, and a deeper insight into Ballam, our main protagonist. By virtue of that it was crucial to get her music right.
When discussing how we wanted these particular parts to play out, Luke (writer & director of All in the Valley) put forward that the music which underlines the letters should not be imposing at all, and so we talked about how they should instead be soft and personal. I suggested we establish a rule that for all the letter readings I only ever use a single piano instrumentation, forgoing the more complete orchestration of strings, woodwind and percussion that make up the rest of the score. Once combined with the voice over and the onscreen action this simple and limited orchestration had an almost montage-like effect, helping the viewer to paint a more personal picture of Ballam.
“Elizabeth Letter Three” is, for me, one of the most important cues in the film. It’s a real turning point in the story where we see the level of discomfort in Ballam grow. His commitment to the task at hand begins to break him psychologically, which is reflected by a deep well of melancholy. The content of the third letter begins to take on a dark turn, which is played out over a very difficult moment for Ballam, performed with a wonderful desperation and vulnerability by the films lead actor Stephen Hope-Wynne.
To me this one piece is the conscience of the film, a reflection of the inner most weakness of the main character and the effect the story is having on him. He is a deeply wounded person who’s struggling to keep the most basic of grip on his sanity and will to live. It’s here, we begin to feel true sympathy for Ballam.
The piano is a slow and simple minor progression of the earlier letter pieces, leaving the impression of hope being drained from both the letter’s writer and the reader. Once this plays out, I actually structured the final chord so it would plug directly into the key of the moors theme, and we flow into the fifth moors cue as we follow Ballam and James (one of the Tallack brothers) as they struggle through terrible weather to find shelter in a remote stone building.
A little time has passed since I completed the score for All in the Valley, and I feel its some of my best work. The different sections of the score can be listened to in isolation and tell a little sub story. The Moors theme feels like a journey. The Tallack’s theme is challenging and dark. The Elizabeth theme tells a story of loss. And the Ballam theme eludes to his various states of introspection.
I’ve very much enjoyed talking about the score in these blogs, and so I encourage you to watch the film and listen to the score. Hopefully you’ll find elements of each that you’ll enjoy. I’d love to read any comments about your favourite tracks from the score, the relationship between the music and picture, and how they co-exist to elevate each other to a greater whole.
Thanks for reading folks.
Simon Norman is the composer for All in the Valley. Make sure to follow the link below to his website where you can find more of his work, and pick up a copy of his excellent All in the Valley — Original Score.