I’m endlessly fascinated by process, by how things get done. That’s probably because film is so collaborative, which puts the working process front and center. For a film to work, or even to be finished, many strong-willed people have to align their skills and intuitions, and their egos, in a constructive way. The creative team has to be tuned, like an instrument.
Two composers contributed music to The Nature Makers, which meant they had to be in tune with each other. The talented cellist and composer Ben Sollee contributed pieces of recordings, often isolated tracks from multi-track recordings, and I worked with these recordings from the early stages of editing the film.
When were close to locking picture, Los Angeles-based composer David Mann created a score specifically for the film. It’s a score that I still find moving, even after repeated listens. David has just released his compositions on Apple Music and Spotify (links below), so I asked him to write a little about his working process.
When Scott first showed me a rough cut of the film, which included gorgeous work from cellist Ben Sollee, I admit I found the tracks a bit intimidating. Ben’s use of the cello was very innovative. His tracks were at times lush and rich but at other times minimalistic and sparse. So cello became the foundation of the score I wrote.
Compositionally, when writing for acoustic instruments, I prefer to write using a pencil and paper, away from the piano and away from my computer. I think the mind is the most powerful instrument and that is how all the cello music was written.
Many of the pieces that we created for the movie were very melodic, such as those used with the bird scenes in Act I. Although it may sound like a mix of violins, violas, cellos, and basses, in fact all of those parts are played by one cello player. We overdubbed the parts repeatedly over the course of about one hour to create a dense, single piece of music.
In contrast to the rather ornate music described above, it was not uncommon to have music which was very simple. Some scenes are scored with only a single note, repeated over and over. This was an effective way to create tension and a sense of sparseness. In addition to the cello, another instrument that we used extensively was the harp. When most people think of the harp, they imagine a cartoon-like scene with angels in heaven. (Scott thinks of Joanna Newsom!) However, this project motivated me to use the harp in ways I had not experimented with before, such as working with the repetition of very low bass notes.
You can hear David’s score here: