London Short Film Festival is currently mid-flow, with various screenings at cinemas all over town. Among the films being featured is The Immaculate Misconception, directed by Michael Geoghegan and produced by Russell Curtis at Partizan Films, for which Adelphoi Music composer Ashley Bates composed the music.
The Immaculate Misconception is a story about belief, family and honour. Sinead O'Reilly is a pregnant 16-year-old schoolgirl living in west Belfast with her grandparents Daniel and Bronagh O'Reilly. Bronagh is the matriarch of this dysfunctional family and a devout, pious, dour Catholic to boot, who will stop at nothing to maintain her standing in a community that doesn't want her. Sinead's underage pregnancy is both the last straw and, unbeknownst to Bronagh, her salvation. Bronagh is thrown a dubious lifetime by their GP who informs her that 'although pregnant, Sinead is still technically a virgin'. If Bronagh can get the birth proclaimed immaculate by the Vatican then God only knows what's possible. We spoke with Michael to find out more.
How did the film come about?
MG: We, Simon Reilly (Co-Author) and myself had finished writing a feature set in Belfast and Liverpool and were finding it hard to get anyone to read it. So we decided to write a short that might get act as a gateway into making the feature.
How important for you is the music within the film?
MG: The music was incredibly important, it had to set the tone of the different scenes and yet still be a cohesive in its own right. It had to underpin the emotive drive of the film and yet still be able to work with the comedy.
At what point did you start thinking about how to incorporate music within the film?
MG: To be honest, not until we had a rough cut, I had a few ideas and put together a series of tracks to go with the film, that I thought worked, some of these were wildly ambitious (The Godfather theme tune!) given that we had very little money.
How did you come to work with Adelphoi Music?
MG: Partizan had worked with Adelphoi Music, and set up a meeting to see what was possible, everyone was incredibly positive, we discussed all the elements and waited for her to get back to us with a plan.
How did you go about working with Ashley on the original music?
MG: Ashley had been suggested as the composer when we first met. We had a few calls and he started working on the soundtrack; we both agreed that there should be one central riff, that we could build on as the backbone of the music and Ashley took all my references and did his magic. I was blown away when I heard the music and think it has really made the film what it is, it has the ability to be emotive when necessary and then incidental when it need to play second fiddle. Its greatest achievement is that it is the glue that holds the film together and yet has the ability to underpin its shifting mood.
We also cornered Ashley, to grill him on the experience from his perspective.
At what stage in the production did you get involved?
AB: Quite late on! The edit was pretty much locked. I think there may have been a few tweaks here and there, but nothing that messed with the flow of what I was doing. That was a godsend really. One of the problems with scoring anything to picture is getting the timings right, and if the edit isn’t locked (which is very frequently the case) hours of work on getting a cue just right can be lost in an instant of eding. That said, the fickle nature and fragility of timings within advertising music has led me to be…. somewhat philosophical about time, and it was quite refreshing not to have to worry about hitting sync points bang on, or having peaks or falls prescriptively hit specific moments. It was nice having that freedom again.
How did you work with the filmmakers?
AB: I generally work from my home studio so everything was recorded there and delivered over the interweb ;^) We had few listening sessions where we discussed where we were at and where we wanted to go but mostly I just got on with it. I would work on a cue, send that over, Adelphoi would liaise with Michael, who would in turn provide feedback, and so on. Curiously, I didn’t actually meet Michael face to face until some time after the music was completed, but, perhaps surprisingly, it did not feel like anything was lost with this arms length relationship. If anything I think it’s kinda what made things work.
How does working on longer form films compare with shorter ads?
AB: Well, the skill sets are very similar, but, as I mentioned before, timing and sync point are generally a lot more flexible, which definitely allows a composer to breath more freely. Mixing can be time consuming as, obviously, the tracks are inevitably longer, but that has its merit also. Not having to cram everything into a 30 second spot is quite liberating, and definitely more enjoyable. That said tailoring a piece of music to start, build, hit multiple sync points, crescendo and finale all in 30 seconds is thoroughly rewarding challenge, so I guess they both have their pro’s and con’s.
How much direction were you given for the music, or were you given free reign?
AB: Michael was great to work with as he was quite clear about what he was after in the first place but was happy to let me get on with it and very open to our ideas. His feedback was also very clear but not restrictive or prescriptive. They had been using a Clannad piece as a theme over the intro to the film. We agreed that this was emotionally the right feel and tone for the film, so that was a strong guide. We were also aiming for something traditional sounding or like a lost folk tune, something we also agreed on in our early conversations about tone. Initially we were only aiming to write a piece for the intro of the film as there were a couple of musical cues already in place, but once we got started it became clear that there were other pieces needed, and the idea came about to extract a theme from the intro music that could then be re-worked across the film to reflect the life changes within the story. So to answer your question in short, both. Clear concise direction at the beginning, but free reign from that point on. Kinda a dream job really.
The Immaculate Misconception will be screened alongside other longer form shorts on Sunday 17th January at the Hackney Picturehouse, and there will also be some Q&A sessions with the filmmakers. Tickets and further details on the event can be found here, and also on the London Short Film Festival website here.