UPPER EAST SIDE, MANHATTAN: When faced with stiff film festival competition, the soundtrack can make all the difference. Sundances of all shapes and sizes are the key to breaking indie director’s careers, and when Andrew Hunt put together “The Love Game” he gave himself a leg up by paying more than a little attention to the music.
Expertly scored by NYC-based composer Alf Bishai, the 5:56 blend of live action and animation really stood out in the Bloomingdales Bflix short film competition held this fall, emerging with a win against a high-profile field that included Amy Redford (daughter of you-know-who). A story of two Manhattan twentysomethings who flirt over a board game that magically comes to life, “The Love Game” pops with Bishai’s classic/contemporary Mancini-influenced score.
A New Zealand native who was part of the pioneering Kiwi hip hop scene, Hunt offers us a director’s-eye view on how early attention to the music translates into award-winning vision.
Q: What’s your own personal approach to the art of filmmaking?
A: Filmmaking is about problem solving. You go into it with expectations that you’ll have a multitude of problems — how are you going to solve this one so you can get your story told?
One of the good things you always tell your crew – because things will always go wrong – is it’s not about who was the author of that mistake, it’s, “How do we get though it and carry on?” There’s no time for the blame game.
Q: That’s good advice for life! How do you approach the music so it won’t be a part of the problem?
A: The first thing is where you start the music process. It depends on the composer I’m working with, but my ideal scenario is to work with it at the script stage – as early as possible. If you’re already thinking about music at the script stage, you can come up with sequences that are inspired by the music and where it takes you.
I’m always loved by the sound department because I’ll tend to meet with location and sound design personnel early on. They’ll say, “This is great! We don’t normally get to meet this soon in the process.” But it’s because I value the power of the sound to tell the story – from the ambience to the sound design to the music.
Q: The music in “The Love Game” almost seems like a fifth character in the movie.
A: That’s a good thing to hear! Every story requires something different. In this case, we had these two worlds that were organically connected: live action and animation.
We first tried the obvious thing, and the obvious idea is usually the worst one, so you’ve gotta get it out of the way. So at first it seemed we should have music scored for the animated world, and different music for the live world. That didn’t work because those worlds were so naturally connected, and working over such a short period of time. You needed a musical piece to tie everything together, literally a thread to connect it all.
“The Love Game” wouldn’t have worked without the music, I think. It would have felt really clunky. The music almost became a vehicle to travel through the story. It was the one piece of continuity through an otherwise changing landscape of animation and live action.
Q: How did you interface with the composer, Alf Bishai, to get the score right?
A: Well, you need to start the animation ASAP in a project like this, so the first thing we did was recorded the VO. When we did the live action, we’d intercut it with the animatic for the animation, so you end up with this half-animatic, half-live-action piece. Anytime we got anything from the animators, even a single cell, we’d stick that in, then I’d send that on the composer.
When you see the male character, he’s kind of this quirky, goofy guy, and it seemed we needed to pull the score around his kind of goofiness. So we immediately started listening to Mancini, and every time we put some strings under this guy, he was funny. It was like putting a dress on Cinderella, and you saw who she was – we saw this character through the music, and you see he’s a cheesy, romantic guy who would have his father’s records playing in the background. You kind of have to crack the code through the music.
Throughout, it was a lot of talking, a lot of listening, laying down guide tracks…We just had to try some stuff and see what fit.
Q: How do you know when the extra work you put into the score for a movie like “The Love Game” is worth it?
A: The times when I really enjoy the music of my films is to work with the composer at the beginning. Although I didn’t have access to Alf as early as I would have liked, I think we pulled off something amazing. He was very professional in his approach, and he came into the mix as well. It helped that he brought individual tracks into the mix for as much flexibility as possible, so even at the stage of doing the final sound mix, we could still adjust some of the tracks.
It’s good to see that people have responded really well to the music of “The Love Game”. They see that it fits the characters. It helps to tell the story. – David Weiss