Recently here on MMI we reviewed FANNY LYE DELIVER’D. which contains a brilliant score by the films director Thomas Clay. The movie evoked many memories of movies that are referred to as Folk or rural movies, I personally compared the film to A FIELD IN ENGLAND and also examples such as WITCHFINDER GENERAL, BLOOD ON SATANS CLAW and to a degree films such as CAPTAIN CLEGG. My thanks to the director for taking time to answer my questions. JM.
What do you consider to be the purpose of music in film?
Whilst music can support the story and the emotions of a scene, I feel it should be much more than that. The music should be integral to the film’s fabric, a key part of its identity. Ideally, the performances, the mis-en-scene and the music should all be in balance. I’m not so keen on the idea of underscore, of the music hiding away and not drawing attention to itself, just as I’m not so keen on the idea that the camera should be invisible. These are two sides of the same coin it seems to me. Which is not to say a televisual style can’t work – I’m as big a fan of Mad Men or Breaking Bad as anyone – but, you know, other brands are available.
Normally when writing music for a movie a composer spots the film with the director. Is it easier when you write music for your own movies?
I spotted it in the sense of adding temp cues to the rough cut. There was a lot of Riz Ortolani’s Addio Zio Tom, and Luis Bacalov’s Quién sabe? which freaked people out to say the least! Since I was performing both roles, feedback from producers and execs became crucial.
I did get some push back over spotting music into dialogue scenes, which is considered in extremely poor taste these days, and yet you can’t achieve an authentic retro feel without it. At one point it was even suggested to drop the score altogether and replace it with atmospheres and sound design… To be fair though, this did push me to do better, and as we got closer to the recording sessions, everyone really started to get behind it. I did also carry on cutting and editing both the film and the music after recording, trimming it back further. I think we found about the right balance in the end.
In terms of internal process, it was quite interesting to discover the conflicts that sometimes arise between the director’s agenda and the composer’s. In my case, the director always wins, of course, without the need for a fight! But this did then make things tougher for Anthony (Weeden, conductor), Geoff Foster,(engineer) and the musicians – I’m thinking particularly of the click tracks. Morricone talks in his book about conflicts with Leone on Once Upon a Time in America, Leone insisting the cues hit a variety of precise sync points. And all of our clicks tracks were of this nature, constantly shifting tempo. Geoff said – with humour, of course! – that, in over 250 scores, it was the worst click track he’d ever seen…
What size orchestra excluding soloists did you have for Fanny Lye?
We had a 40-piece string orchestra that plays on most of the cues, and our choir I Fagiolini were 40 in number as well, they appear on 7 tracks of the CD. Then there was a background grouping of approximately 20 historical musicians, sackbuts, dulcian, anaconda, serpent, natural trumpets, etc, who appear in various configurations, with the lead musicians sometimes soloing and sometimes supporting each other as well. For example, Jakob Lindberg has more ornate lute passages in tracks like Dressing Up and A Story – that’s a cue that’s only in the film – but he is also playing a Theorbo ground on a number of other tracks.
To make sure the recording had a live feel, engineer Geoff Foster gave everyone their own seat within the hall, however we did then track many of the historical instruments separately or in small groups. This was unavoidable, given the dynamic ranges and tuning challenges presented by some of these instruments. The largest grouping on the CD is Old Soldiers. That was recorded with everyone together in the room, the strings, the choir, the percussionists and Jörgen van Rijen braving it out on his sackbut, so 85 players in total including conductor Anthony Weeden and choirmaster Robert Hollingworth. It caused some headaches in the mix to be honest, but it has an energy to it that hopefully compensates.
How long did it take you to write the score and when shooting the film do you play music on set?
I was fortunate to have quite a free reign with regards to the schedule. It took me about a year to compose the entire score. I was learning as I was going along, and also being very fussy about the DAW mock-ups – the latter being the reason I originally gave up writing and producing music 20 years ago. I just can’t help tweaking every note ad infinitum. We played music on set for my last two films, but not on this one oddly.
What composers and filmmakers would you say have influenced you?
I would say I’ve been inspired by Riz Ortolani, Vangelis, Morricone, Luis Bacalov, Philip Glass, also by Beethoven, Schubert, Mahler, Wagner, Bartok, Ligeti, Stockhausen. In your review, you mention John Barry. I wouldn’t necessarily have made the connection, but as a 12-year-old I was quite obsessed with Dances with Wolves, so that’s quite possibly a formative inspiration. Around the same time, in the early 90s, I discovered Vangelis and early Hans Zimmer – I remember borrowing his K2 score from the library and becoming quite obsessed with that too.
My love of the Italian maestros came a few years later. Some filmic inspirations for Fanny Lye would be Once Upon a Time in the West, Heaven’s Gate, Days of Heaven, Ride in the Whirlwind, McCabe & Mrs Miller, The Searchers, Man of the West, Barry Lyndon, Satantango and Andrei Rublev.
In the movie and also within the score there are references to Morricone with a nod to his spaghetti western sound. Do you collect or buy soundtracks? If so what are your favourite scores to listen to?
The first CD I bought, when I was ten, was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I go through phases of collecting soundtracks, although I guess not so often in recent years as there are fewer modern scores that have really caught my ear. Favourite scores would be The Mission, Once Upon a Time in the West, Once Upon a Time in America, Addio Zio Tom, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, The Thin Red Line (the full version), Alien, Aliens and Alien 3 as well. And musicals: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Meet Me In St. Louis.
Your music for Fanny Lye is very thematic. What is your opinion of the use of drone or soundscape sounds within scores for movies now. And do you think that actual themes are now a thing of the past in big movies?
Not every film requires a prominent score. My favourite filmmaker is Michelangelo Antonioni, whose use of music was extremely pared back. That said, it’s striking to me how many of my favourite and formative films are defined by their music, from Leone’s work to Kubrick to Coppola’s use of The Doors in Apocalypse Now, or indeed hearing the Indiana Jones theme for the first time when I was seven years old. So I do feel it’s a shame that music so often takes a back seat and that themes are less in demand. The way the musicians tell it, it is producers and directors driving this because they don’t want the music to be ‘distracting’.
That said, there have been some good musicals lately – Moana and The Greatest Showman are family favourites that get frequent play in our car! In terms of actual scores, I thought Cliff Martinez’s music for The Neon Demon was pretty excellent. And Ludwig Göransson has been doing interesting things with Black Panther and The Mandalorian. Perhaps he will encourage the theme to make a comeback – one can hope.
Is all of the music from the movie included on the CD release?
There’s about half an hour of music that didn’t make it onto the CD – and a couple of cues that didn’t make it into the film either. I feel the CD needs to work as its own thing, you don’t want it to be too repetitive, and it’s not necessary to be strictly chronological. On the other hand, you mustn’t be too stingy and end up with something like the original release of The Thin Red Line. Hopefully the balance is about right.
You must have researched the instruments that you used in the score. Was it difficult finding the specialist soloists who perform on the soundtrack?
Certainly, there are fewer musicians playing those instruments, especially up to the standard we required. Casting the soloists was a little like casting the film, with each lead instrument representing a character in the movie. Anthony Weeden, our bookers Isobel Griffiths and Susie Gillis and myself put our heads together and ended up bringing in performers not just from around the UK but from Europe as well. Jörgen van Rijen flew in from Holland, Miguel Henry from France. Their interpretations are fantastic. And then there was cornett player Andrea Inghisciano, from Italy, who is really special. The cornett is a fiendish thing, somewhat like a trumpet but much harder to master, and he brings to it this swooning romantic lyricism. I actually don’t think there’s another cornett player alive who could have pulled off the most challenging passages – the ostinatos in Fanny’s Choice and The Ceremony and some of the atonal phrases in Retribution – the trumpet players often had their mouths open. That incredibly long note in Retribution is Andrea circular breathing, it hasn’t been edited.
The renaissance cittern however was the monster. During the original recording sessions, we just couldn’t find a renaissance cittern player able to take it on. The part must have passed through 20 hands, most just saying it was impossible. One guy did muster the courage to come in and give it a bash, but we had to give up after about half an hour. We ended up coming back to Air eight months later and splitting the part between two musicians. Miguel Henry is generally regarded as the world’s best renaissance cittern player. We found a gap in his schedule, booked him onto a Eurostar and he took on the quasi-improvisatory passages in The Ceremony and Medlars with aplomb. However, there were still the ‘three finger’ sections to deal with, in March to Joy and Medlars, requiring the instrument to be played in a folk style, like a banjo. In the end, we dry hired a renaissance cittern and gave it to banjo player John Dowling, who learned to play the instrument in 6 months. A sixth and final day with John, Miguel and Geoff and the job was done! Though we did have to restrain John to prevent him from burning the cittern afterwards.
What is next for you?
I really have no idea. Each time I get a film made it feels like a minor miracle. One hopes another will follow, but who knows. I have a TV series about the slave trade in 18th century West Africa that I’d love to get made, and another about the Apache-Mexican-American wars in 1830s New Mexico. We have full pilot scripts for both of those, but they’re not cheap. I’d also love to make a musical, something the children can watch.
Many thanks to Thomas Clay for his time and patience.