So the weekend came and went and the 48 Hour Film Challenge is now over. On Friday I learned from the Oxford team producer that the genre was going to be Zombies. I am a huge Zombie fan but I vowed never to do a Zombie movie! Why? Well, the primary reason is that just about every low-budget film-maker seems to be doing this. Sure Zombie films are great fun to make but I’d argue that much like Zombies themselves – there are hordes of them and they are cliche-ridden with nothing interesting to say or do (unlike some of the older films).
Clearly I hail from the golden Zombie era of George A. Romero. Night of the living dead was truly revolutionary at that time. The original Dawn of the dead is possibly the best Zombie film ever made. Day of the dead is totally under-rated. These movies had deeper themes and played on deeper fears. But this market is now over-crowded. Of course exceptions do creep through – longer-form TV series The Walking Dead, rebooted “speed” Zombies (28 days later and the recent World War Z), parodies (Shaun of the Dead/Zombieland/Dead Set). But even George A.Romero – the Zombie-King himself – was losing his way by the time his fourth entry “Land of the Dead” hit (and this decline would get more noticeable with every one of his subsequent films).
Anyway, back to the project – I was onboard as the music composer. On Saturday the rest of the team were assembling everything together from scratch. I believe what they managed to achieve within a day is frankly astonishing! Working completely independently, I also threw myself fully into the “48 hours” spirit and endured similar pressures – I would not know much about the film until I had the edit and only had 6 hours to compose the entire score from scratch!
I took my love for the Romero entries and began experiment by creating some spooky “Zombie” riffs on Saturday. This was mostly a red-herring. The team created a comedy/parody mixture of “found-footage” and “documentary” (think Shaun of the Dead meets Dead Set meets Diary of the Dead). Most of my original “Zombie” motifs ended up being shelved. After watching the short a couple of times, I began spotting where I wanted the music to be, what the tone of the music should be and frantically set to work! The score is split into four main sections:
1. The “found-footage” part, which was actually my favourite part of the film. The musical in-joke being I would score this daft scene in a reasonably “straight” manner akin to traditional 70’s/80’s Zombie films (with synths and discordant notes). I also mixed in “trailer” elements to make it feel snappy and fresh. I had a complete ball writing this part, hopefully it shows. The only problem being it took a while to complete – so I was now racing against the clock.
2. A “rag-tag” military theme to be used for a more obvious comedy effect. I did this with a tin-whistle and some military style drumming. Okay, so the timing didn’t come out 100% but I was up against the clock and when it was mixed in with the film’s dialogue it wasn’t too noticeable (unlike listening to it in isolation).
3. The quickest part to create, a cheesy beauty-advert ditty which would segued into a bit of Zombie internalizing/sound-design. Thankfully this section allowed me to pick up the speed a bit!
4. The final part – a bitter-sweet love theme between the main characters before ending in more ambiguous tone.
Originally I planned to score the very final shots but time had run away by this point. My raw files were uploaded just in time to make the 12:30pm deadline. Three minutes of score from scratch within six hours – by this point it was me who was the zombie!
Sadly it pains me to say that because of technical/time issues the score fell at the very final hurdle and didn’t make it in the final film. As you can probably imagine – after such an intense period and all the effort/love I’d poured in – this was totally soul-destroying to learn. I am still completely gutted truth be told. Not wanting to let the work or the experience go completely to waste – here are the medley of tunes as described above:
Would I ever work to a such a tight deadline or do a competition like this again? Very doubtful! Obviously quality isn’t as polished as I’d like, it is extremely stressful and tiny issues can end up being magnified into epic problems (and those problems can come from completely unrelated sources which are totally beyond your control). Then again I recall saying I’d never make a Zombie film – so who knows..!