The short film Firefly, directed by Micah and Amelia Austin, is about a young girl. When she and her brother lose their mother suddenly, he struggles to help her find a way to cope with the loss. Beautiful cinematography and refreshingly understated performances from the cast set a very high bar for the rest of the production.
Preparation and Inspiration
The Austins were well prepared for the scoring process in that they spent time listening to dozens of songs during their months of pre-production. When it came time to start the scoring process, they had a clear vision for the sound and feel of the music.
The goal was to create a feel and atmosphere that embodied the the open, breezy sound of the fields and countryside. We focused particularly on keeping the melodic elements simple and understated. Instead of using many musical notes and motifs to underly the story, we created many dynamic textures that fade and shift as the story unfolds.
More on Inspiration
We live in a wonderful age of social sharing and collaboration that gives us tools like the Spotify Playlist.
One thing I really love about their playlists is that it gives me the ability to create a collaborative environment where a filmmaking team can share music that helps inspire the process.
Whereas a temp score can often turn into a limitation for the final music of a film, I believe that creating a larger pool of ideas can actually help us hone in on the elements we need in order to create our own unique sound that fits the story.
Regarding Conceptual Music
When we have the available time, it is often very useful to prepare some music for the director to listen to. This has some great benefits.
- I have the chance to test out various ideas and techniques that might be too risky to try within the confines of a production schedule.
- The director and I are able to have a meaningful conversation about musical direction, with our experimental music as a reference.
- In some cases, our music can even be used for temp purposes during the editing process.
For Firefly, we were blessed to have the opportunity to try out some different ideas before beginning the actual score. I’ve collected a few samples of our experimental music so you can hear them. Keep in mind that my musical sketches typically were worked on just long enough to get an idea across!
A handful of those ideas were good and made it into the score. Some of them proved to not work for what we needed, and were shelved for this project.
Firefly is full of big skies and fields awash with windblown grass. In it, a small girl deals with loss and feels very lost herself. We put a lot of effort into creating a wide-open sonic feel, putting space between different instruments to reflect the scenery and the story’s theme. Carefully choosing instruments and writing parts plays a large part in achieving this desired result.
The actual sounds used to create all the textures are from a variety of different sources. Electronically synthesized and sampled sounds make up much of the soundscape, but they are accented by electric guitar, close mic’d piano, and some cello effects we recorded in studio. Orchestra strings have a wonderful quality in that they add great elements of warmth and airiness. In Firefly they are used as “glue” to hold together many other musical elements and present a sound that is more cohesive to the ears.
The Final Synthesis
One of the great blessings to me in this project was working with composer Jurgen Beck, who joined the film as the music producer. While his input during the entire creative process was valuable to our team, it was an especially good experience to be able to work together with Jurgen in the final mixing and mastering process.
In fact, being able to work with the entire Firefly team has been a great experience. I couldn’t be more pleased to be part of what I feel is an exceptional work of storytelling. Firefly will be released to the public on September 19, 2014. When that happens, I hope you’ll take a few minutes to watch it!
Programming software synthesizers.
Stereo microphone rig used for cello recording.