Making a short film, or any film for that matter can be a lot of amazing fun. I recently made a short film called HUNGRY. It’s a wickedly humorous little piece on the greed that is rampant at Christmas time. Here is how I came up with and developed the sound and music in the film.

In the very beginning of preparing to shoot a film, when I am still writing the script actually, I start to listen to music that I like. I listen with the sole purpose of getting a feel for how this particular song will go with the film. I use each song that I like or think might go well and imagine how it will tell my story. In “HUNGRY”, the story takes place at Christmas so I was constantly listening to holiday songs: wild versions, old-fashioned ones and newer versions. The one I came up with was of a child choir singing Carol Of The Bells. This song was important in setting up the beginning of the film in 3 ways:

  1. It is a beautiful innocent rendition of this song
  2. It lulls the audience into the sweetness of the Christmas season
  3. It also didn’t telegraph what was coming to the audience

Music or sound is vitally important in setting up your story or film. If you can do it right, then the whole film just falls into place. Another example of how much music played a part in my film was when the main character walks into the shop while the owner is listening to 1930’s jazz. The story’s background was that this woman had been alive for several hundreds of years, and this was her favorite music. Now you don’t actually see a 500 -year old woman on screen as that was just the back-story. But this music really helped the actress get the feel for what I wanted. And her performance made the film. Another instance of how important sound was for me, was in editing. My film is a horror film, and so I had a small creature. But because I was on a tight budget, I couldn’t really afford to build a creature that could move in every way I wanted. So movement was limited. I searched a couple of free sound sites for sci-fi sounds, or dinosaur roars. It took me weeks to get it the way I wanted. In order for the creature to look realistic, I had to use different sounds for each two-second piece of footage that had the little guy in it. Each different sound conveyed a different want and emotion in the creature. It was incredibly grueling and difficult work. But in the end, the sounds and music are what really helped this film. And when my main character was being eaten alive, sounds were so vitally important in conveying the horror of what was happening to him. And at the end of the film, when it is clear that the owner is in cahoots with the creature, or the creature is almost her mate, then the music that I put in at the end conveyed the craziness of this situation. So I put in this wild and crazy piece that makes me giggle whenever I hear it.

Some of my favorite films have some great music in them as well.

RED – The final film of the Three Colors Trilogy by Krzysztof Kielslowski. This is such a magical film and the music he used in it is beautiful and eerie. From sudden crashing cymbals to convey horror, to gentle intoxicating music for the “Fashion Show”, to crashing doors for when the storm blows in. It is such subtle and at the same time “in-your-face sound effects and music.

BLADERUNNER – by Ridley Scott:  The music in this film is the most amazing sounds and music I have ever heard used in a film.  From the weird lively beat by some kind of reed instrument (I’m guessing) when Deckard is walking through the outdoor bazaar, to the echoing music when he is in the great building of the Tyrell Corp. Even the weird futuristic music by Vangelis for the scene transitions are masterful. This movie is the perfect example of how important music and sound are to creating the world of the film you are     making.

LUCY – by Luc Besson: This is the most recent film by the French director who brought us the beautiful and haunting film – “La Femme Nikita”. In LUCY, the use of music has really been amped up to make the horror of what is happening to Scarlett Johansson’s character. There is the slow low drumbeat of when she is waiting in the office lobby in the beginning that makes you squirm in anticipation of something really bad coming her way. Then there is her becoming super aware: She hears the minute sounds of creatures crawling and         the sounds of radio waves as they go up out of people’s cell phones. There are many examples of how he uses sound to enhance this film.

IRREVERSIBLE – by Gaspar Noe:  In this film, there is an undercurrent of bass that was purposely put into the soundtrack. The reason for this is because this low bass sound creates a feeling of nausea, confusion and dizziness for the audience. I have no conclusive evidence of this, but if this was intentional, then it is a brilliant use of sound to affect the audience and bring them into the world of Monica Bellucci’s character and of the world of rape.

SNOWPIERCER – by Bong Joon-Ho: You know, I didn’t really care for this film much. It made me very uncomfortable, which will most likely make Mr. Joon-Ho pleased. It was very claustrophobic and monotonous. The thing about his film that I remember vividly (and probably added to my discomfort) was the constant clacking of the train on the tracks. Normally I love hearing the sound of a train… but here it was used to create the insanity of the situation. The constant noise created a great discomfort on my part as an audience member. Which is a great success for the director, because that is what you want…to have the audience feel something…ANYTHING! And not just sit there munching popcorn, waiting to be entertained.

If you are in preparation for a film shoot, or if you are already in editing, then I cannot stress enough the importance of taking your time and getting the music and sound right. If you have the right style of music that brings your audience into your film then this will improve your odds of yours being a successful film. If nothing else, it helps your audience into your film, and help in keeping them there.

Want to learn how to make your own film projects?  Auteur Film School offers home-study courses in filmmaking. Email us for a prospectus:

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About the writer:

John Montana is an actor living with his wife in L.A. His most recent film, “Hungry” has been accepted into 24 international film festivals. Check out his short film – HUNGRY at No Title Production Films.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 8.34.00 PM


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