Telltale Pre-production Day 2: Screenplay Finalisation and Music Composition

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Update: Now you can listen to a quick preview of one of the Telltale background scores!

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This is part two of the reports on my second short film, ‘Telltale,’ inspired by Poe’s ‘The Telltale Heart.’ Follow the link at the end to read the next/previous reports.

TODAY WE ENTER the final day of pre-production. With Raghul returning to shoot and the Telltale filming beginning tomorrow, I have taken it upon myself to have one last look at the script, and finalise that and the music composition (lietmotif only) for the film. Besides that, you can read more about test shots and sample editing below.

The screenplay

The screenplay I wrote for Telltale is actually one of my older older works — to some extent a spec script — that I merely tightened and shortened specifically for this project. The story is inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s The Telltale Heart, a ghostly, horror-tale of how a murderer bends under the strain of his guilt and confesses to his crime before the police. For various reasons I have not adapted this work but written a story based on the same lines and hence given credit (which Poe rightly deserves) in the manner you have seen.

The script is highly symbolic, not pictorially, but more in terms of what the viewer hears, what the viewer sees and what the viewer assumes. This is where I was hesitant to tread on shaky grounds. While viewers of my last film caught onto the story with ease and caught on rightly (although I did get inputs of some who had not quite got the point) this time Telltale goes ahead to expect more on the viewers part.

I would hate to reveal the plot points right away, but I can state freely that the film relies heavily on good direction, camera movement, editing and — believe it or not– music. There were times when I thought I was putting too much strain on myself considering there is no assistant director, no specific cameraman, no separate editor or music composer; this was what happened with my previous film too, but since that panned our beautifully, I figured I would give this a go. Personally, I love music composition, so that is not a problem, and, although it would certainly help to have a hand on-board as crew, that is a little far of right now.

[pullquote_l]What came to me as a revelation was the use of rhythm in developing an overall structure in music. I just thought it was very interesting… How do you write a 30-second piece? Everything is extremely compressed.

– Phillip Glass

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And this all adds up to clarify my original point: the screenplay this time has so many subtleties that I am sure not one viewer will get every single one of them. But that is where the fun lies, in everybody getting parts and in viewers getting together to add up their bits and pieces to paint a larger picture. Well, so much for the screenplay!

Voice, dialogue and editing

Annoy Me was a silent film that fared just as I had expected. But it is quite obvious not everybody has the class (yes, class,) or taste for silent films because they are so used to being spoon-fed that they hate to use their lovely little brains for an instant. I, for one, am against such straight-from-the-reel-into-my-head filmmaking; that is the rock bottom of filmmaking. In this regard I made certain that my screenplay got just the right amount of dialogue which viewers can hear while none of it gives away the plot straightforwardly. The point was to get the balance between telling and showing just right, and after several revisions I believe I have got it quite well.

The dialogues for Telltale will be voiced over the entire film, not as narrative but as —

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the protagonist reading his confession from a different timeline!
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Anyway, there is no lip-syncing, and no trouble of on-location recording which, on the one hand, means the shooting becomes a tad easier, but on the other, means that the editing becomes a lot difficult what with multiple layers of sound (up to five) that need to be handled this time. (In contrast, Annoy Me had only two layers.)

I have also decided to try out a little colour-correction magic and fast paced editing in a couple of areas (mostly because it is a necessity, not just a vague fancy of mine.) If all goes well, the editing should stand out on its own, if not the direction and acting will surely keep the film together.

A few test shots I took turned out to be excellent, leaving very little work to be done on my side of the camera which means I can concentrate entirely on my actor. The digital editing also turned out fairly quicker this time as when compared to my last project (although I have not yet cut shots or combined them.) Either way, I have made sure that there is very little to mess up that cannot be undone at some point of time in the future!

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Theme music and background score

THIS IS ARGUABLY the most awaited part for most of my readers on this website. As for others too, it may just prove to be very interesting!

The reason I say this is because of the emails I received over the weekend, after I had written my report of the first day of pre-production. I had not publicly written such reports for my last film so it was, understandably, a welcome piece of writing for most of you; especially to the ones who were interested in knowing what went on behind the scenes of my first film. While the emails consisted of things from screenplay queries to thoughts about the location, it was evident that almost all letters enquired of the music. If you will recall, I had released the theme score last time and it had received many positive thoughts.

For Telltale, however, I have decided not to release the music (it is meant to be a surprise) but, after giving some consideration to the matter, I have decided to release the notes of the leitmotif (see picture above!) If you cannot comprehend it, ask a friend who can and I am sure they will be more than happy to help you make sense of these weird markings.

Another interesting feature this time (except for the conjunction music which I will write only after the editing) is that there are two four-minute pieces of music (separate exclusive background score,) which means, on reel (and that is just a metaphor,) the music is actually longer than the visual. Needless to say, some of the music will be cut out and only that which is necessary to bring out the emotion will go on as part of the film (with repetitions, even more music will get cut out than you might imagine at first!) So I will certainly promise to release the entire soundtrack after the film is released.

So the big question is, what to expect from the music? In short it is semi-minimalist and semi heavy-bass so I would perhaps say, think Phillip Glass meets Hans Zimmer. But rest assured, the music is going to suit the film and its atmosphere just as well as the teaser poster (although it is till full MIDI.) I am also contemplating releasing a part of the background music (not the theme music, mind you!) here just to give you a taste of it. Let us see what time has in store…

On behalf of Raghul Selvam, I feel I must thank you for staying with us through pre-production and wish us luck as we head for the actual, powered-up filming come weather-friendly tomorrow!

Read the report of pre-production Day 1 (Location Scouting)