Writing Music for a Dance

I recently wrote five pieces of music for a dance project at Bath Spa University, called Secret Project. Two groups of students were given the music and had to use them in their own site-specific dances, which they performed on campus. Uniquely, on the grounds of the university are remnants of Newton St Loe Castle that was originally built as a fortified manor house in the 12th century. Below you can see the surviving keep. Both groups used the grass space just in font of the keep, during their performance.

Bath Spa Uni 1
This was my first venture into the world of dance as a composer, so it was fascinating to watch, and see how the dancers had used/interpreted my music. Hopefully I’ll have some photos of the performances soon, so when I do, I’ll be sure to share them.

Must-Dash Dance

Before I started on this quest to become a film composer, I had a different plan. I studied film production at university and after graduating I carried on with it, seeking work as a freelance camera operator/editor. I’ve cut back a lot now with my filming to concentrate on composing. However, one project which I was still involved with was this short dance film, which I shot at the beginning of the month.

I’ve always had an interest in filming dance as I think that the camera movement should compliment the dance. Although the camera is actually pretty static throughout this film, but I quite like it. It goes with the vintage style of the dance, location and costumes, as films from that era didn’t have a lot of camera movement in either.

Thanks for watching, I hope you enjoyed it.

Beautiful Illusion

This film came about when myself and co-director Jessica Taylor were approached to film a short ballet for a graphic design student at our university. The student, Olivia Ratcliffe, was an ex-professional ballet dancer who unfortunately had to retire due to injury. However, she decided to put on her ballet shoes again for her project where the aim was to show the beauty and the pain of ballet. The project started out as a website (which you can view here), but she also wanted a film making to accompany the website, which is where we came in.

We shot the film in 4 hours, which required us filming it again and again simply going up and down on the tracks which we shot it off. It was an interesting and fun experience and is our first collaborative dance film, which also gave us the inspiration for our upcoming film The Ferryman. This film is quite different to The Ferryman as we didn’t have any influence on the choreography, however, it did help us when it came to thinking about how we wanted to film The Ferryman. So for us it was an essential film for us to make as it has provided us with so much more knowledge and wisdom for us to apply to our own film, where we have had a creative input on everything.

With Beautiful Illusion, the music that the dance was choreographed and performed to was written by Max Richter. However, this music was copyrighted and so for us to submit our film to festivals we would have had to get permission to use the music which would have cost us quite a bit. Instead we decided to get original music written for the dance after we had finished editing it. The music we had written for us was by Rebecca-Kate Leach who we think has done a wonderful job. It’s an approach I would use again, but not in a rush, as I like having the music that you will use in the end there at the beginning, as otherwise you can become too attached to the original music. For The Ferryman we managed to secure our music before we started choreographing so for our next film the music will be the same in the end as it was at the beginning. But we shall have to see if it makes a difference to the finished piece.

We have also entered a one minute version of the film into the 60secondsdance.dk competition which you can view here.

If you want to know more about Beautiful Illusion I have created a page specific for the film containing a synopsis as well as cast and crew bios which you can view here.


I never got to watch this in the cinema unfortunately as I didn’t really know anyone else that was interested in seeing it and I’m not really one to go to the cinema on my own. Although perhaps it’s something I should do when there’s a film I want to see that no one else does, as I find I don’t really buy a lot of DVDs so tend to go to the cinema as much as I can instead. When I saw that this film was available to rent on iTunes for 99p then I just had to do it, and I’m glad I did. Since I rented it from iTunes though I only watched the 2D version, but I don’t think 3D would have really helped the movie that much, unlike films like Avatar where the 3D takes the film to a whole other level. But then I could be wrong since I haven’t seen StreetDance in 3D.

Whilst it’s not a great film in terms of story and acting I did still enjoy it. I’d heard some pretty bad reviews of this film from some friends so was quite worried about watching it, but the opening credits came up and I was like this film isn’t that bad, the opening credits are quite good. It was shot well, had great sound, and the actors seemed fine. That was until they opened their mouths! Being British you’d think I would like to watch a film where the actors have British accents, but for some reason I just found it so bad. Now bad acting doesn’t usually bother me that much, but because they were British accents I knew for a fact that they were bad actors. And the story was another thing that was awful.

But after about 15 minutes I found myself getting used to the bad acting and it didn’t really bother me that much, I just wanted to watch the film for the dance sequences anyway. Although as the film went on I found that the story just got better and better. Yes it was still cheesy, but it was good cheesy. Mixing streetdance with ballet I found really sucked me in as well, because I love it when you get two opposites and crash them together. Mixing dance and music genres together has created some of my favourite pieces.

When this film was promoted though it was plugged as featuring Diveristy, Flawless and George Sampson from Britain’s Got Talent. However, this seemed more like a promotional plug for both them and the film. Diversity perform once in the film and it isn’t shot that great. Flawless do about three performances all of which are very good and are the best of the lot. And George Sampson does one dance performance at the end which is pretty cool. But most of the dancing is done by the dance crew which the film is about, and they are pretty good. I enjoyed all the dance sequences apart from Diversity’s due to it being filmed poorly, and I also enjoyed the fact that there are actually lots of dance sequences.

If you’re into street dance or ballet then I’d say check this film out. But I wouldn’t go as for as to say that you should buy the DVD and watch it again and again, because I’m not sure I’d watch it again. It was enjoyable, but definitely more of a one time thing.

Be Proud Of Your Work

Last months post talked about how I was trying to break out of being type cast as the sound man. This months post is about being re-type cast as the sound man!

Back in October I took up the role of sound yet again for the films Subject 27 and Blind.

You can read the script for Subject 27 here: Subject 27 (Script)

Now the films are both finished. Shooting on them was pretty much back to back for me and so I was going solid, doing long days everyday for about two weeks. And we also had a set to build for Subject 27.

On set, Blind was much easier as there were a lot less shots to do and so more time was spent over them. Subject 27 though had lots more shots, as well as the make-up to do which took up a lot of time, therefore it was much more of a stressful shoot with everyones annoyance levels much higher!

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Both shoots went well though and then it came to the edit. With Blind I never actually touched the timeline. There were a couple of FX that were needed which I went out and got, but otherwise I just left it to the editor to get on with. So with Blind there wasn’t really any post-production work I had to do. On Subject 27 though it was a completely different story. The Director (Jack Bass) and Editor (Matt Hunt) were in the edit suite from November working hard on the film. I only did one day in the edit suite in December and that was just to play around with some sounds I’d got. I then came back in the middle of January with the Director and Editor and that’s when my post-production job really began. I worked pretty solidly on the film again, this time for about two and a half weeks. Myself and the Editor would both be working on the film on two separate computers which meant that we were able to work much more efficiently. I had a lot of post sound to do and so started to tackle it scene by scene, which is definitely the right thing to do.

Gradually I built up the layers on the soundtrack until myself and the director where happy. Then I went through the film again and again two audio lines at a time mixing the levels for the final version of the film.

The film was 95% done apart from the opening sequence. I’d already done some sound design for the opening sequence, but it was only a couple of days before the deadline for the film that the titles and images for the sequence had been done. I therefore had to create the sound for the opening sequence the day before the hand in date. I exported the visual sequence onto my own MacBook Pro where I worked on the sequence in Logic. Up until now I had been editing the sound on the university computers where we edited. I went through my favourite sound library website SoundSnap and picked out a number of sounds that I wanted and thought I could manipulate well. I then also recorded the Director saying a few lines which he came up with and processed his voice so that it would not sound like him. It was then a matter of adding these sound to the timeline I had on Logic. I spent a few hours choosing the sounds I wanted, placing them where I wanted and synching them up to the image.

I then had to mix my mini timeline and then export it as one audio file to import into onto the master timeline on the university’s computer, and then import and mix the single file so that the levels were consistent with the sound in the rest of the film.

The film was then finally finished after some very last minute work and here is the end product.

I think the film was a success and I’m very proud of the work that we’ve all done on it. I also think that whilst I was trying to break away from being type cast as the sound man I’ve done my best piece of sound design to date, and so might have shot myself in the foot a bit there in that regard. But oh well, I’m proud of the work I’ve done and come to realise now that my directing work is something I’ll have to pursue on the side.

As for Blind, I shall upload that film next month, and I also have some behind the scenes photos and a little behind the scenes video to show as well.

In terms of my other projects, myself and co-director Jessica Taylor have been working on a ballet short called Beautiful Illusion. We’ve done three out of our two shoots for the film, but have unfortunately had a bit of a relapse. The gallery where we did the first two shoots has now changed the artwork that is on display, and we still have one shoot left. Fortunately we only need close ups of the ballet dancer and so hopefully you won’t actually be able to see the artwork which will mean we will be able to intercut it with the stuff we already have. Otherwise it might be a case of having to reshoot the stuff we already have. We’re really pleased with the stuff we’ve already shot so it would be a shame to have to reshoot it all. Either way we should hopefully have finished shooting and editing by the end of the month and then it is just the graphics and the music to do, before we will be able to enter it into some film festivals. Hopefully Subject 27 and Blind will also make the festival circuit as it would be great if just one of them got recognised. In the mean time here is some slow motion test footage we shot of the ballet.

Since I’ve now taken down the John Stewart Talk (Part 2), which I posted last month, from my SoundCloud account, to make space for other things, I’ve uploaded the file here instead, so you should still be able to download it for the next few months.

Here is the next and last one in the series though: