Nyctophobia – Upfront, Behind the scenes!

It was probably around May when I first came across a post on Facebook by film director Andy Loverage advertising a casting call for a short horror film he was making.
Whilst I wasn’t interested in being in front of the camera, I’m always looking for new challenges for which to ply my trade as a sound producer, and being as this was a horror film I knew it would hold my interest.

With nothing to lose I dropped him a line to offer my services, it didn’t take too long before he got back to me, and we’d exchanged the required ‘show reel’ as proof of ability.

The film concept came about through the UK Haunted team’s (the duo behind the famed TV paranormal investigation shows) wanting to commission a short fictional horror story to accompany their own video output.
award winning author Alan Keen was brought in to write the story and screenplay, and the project started to take shape.

Anyone perusing my website will pretty quickly realise that it’s things of a dark nature that float my boat, so having read the script I was very keen to put my spookiest of stamps on the soundtrack.

So how would a blind man go about writing and recording the music and sound score for a highly visual film project such as this?
Well, the thought had crossed my mind as well, most video jobs I’ve been involved with have been fairly short in nature, and I’ve generally adopted a procedure of writing and recording the music according to the directors instruction and over producing variants so that they can cut and edit themselves to mix and match their audio requirements.

That approach had certainly worked on the many in-house commercial video projects, and also on the one previous film I’d worked on back in 2001 when I co-wrote the score for Marc John’s ‘Jesus the curry King’ the first British film to be shot and distributed entirely digitally with Odeon cinema’s.

Technology has moved on a great deal, and thankfully there are more options available now that help level the playing fieldfor me.
for one thing the crossover between working with audio and video is narrower, both types of producer are able to understand and use each other’s media and quite easily exchange and share work and ideas.

It’s this ability that made working on the film score so enjoyable for me. Director Andy would send me an audio dialog track, along with another audio track empty aside from carefully placed sine wave bleeps indicating precisely where something was happening onscreen. I could load these wave files directly into my DAW (digital audio workstation) select the matching frame rate of 25fps and get to work.

I became very familiar with the script and had a visual image of what was going on in my head as I listened to the dialogue, I was able to play along on piano pretty much as they would have done in the days of silent cinema and record a guide track to flesh out the basic feel and vibe of the storyline.

The ‘jumpscare’ track enabled me to go in and create and place all those scary bits that happen after the suspense builds up.
Most of the initial piano sounds were replaced by my beloved synthesizers which gave greater depth and power where needed.

Andy and I discussed the use of diegetic and non-diegetic sound within the film, one point that came out was that Andy wanted the building where the story took place to be an organic part of the story, so you’ll hear constant creaks and groans almost as if the structure has it’s own life and voice, something that the creepy caretaker character featured at the beginning and end of the film clearly believes.

Other sounds were a definite part of the screen action and I was in my element in creating them. I spent many a happy hour walking around the house with digital recorder in hand knocking and scratching on walls, bannister rails and ceilings. I’d then load the lot into sony SoundForge and carefully audition the many dozens of recordings I’d captured until I narrowed it down to the few I felt would work.

One of my favourite ‘jumpscares’ involves a terrifying rap on a door, however rather than it just being the heavy knock, Andy had said it’d be great if we could hear the dust being disturbed by the thump.
so into the garden I went, gathering together a decent amount of sandy dust on the patio I then recorded the sound as I quickly swept it aside with my hand. Back on the computer I cut and discarded the first element of the sound until I just had the tail of the scattering dust. Pasting this onto the sound of the door thud and panning the dust to one side of the stereo field gave a satisfying result and a nice piece of audio movement that complemented the onscreen scare, probably no-one will even notice but it’s that attention to detail I like to try and put in where I can.

Other little audio tricks were using a subtly recorded piece of tin foil being crinkled to simulate the sound of a glass storm lamp cracking, and the end of a quarry explosion scattering rubble sound being reversed for a ghostly hand morphing from the wall.

The title music was something of a problem for me, Andy was looking for something quite upbeat and almost rocky to start the show,whereas my head was already engaged in horror mode and wanting to create something slower and spookier from the outset. Eventually we seemed to find something that we both liked and I have to concede it’s not something that would normally come from me!

I loved doing the final crescendo music, although it’s very short it packs a good deal of tension into a short space of time and it certainly matches what’s happening in the final climax of the movie!

The end credit music is more my typical style, probably quite 80’s sounding as Andy put it ‘Escape from New York’ there’s certainly a cyberpunk apocalyptic feel to it, dark moody, industrial yet cinematic is what I was hoping for.

Everyone involved with the project is really excited, we’ve submitted it to the Bram stoker International film Festival which is held in Whitby in October. Obviously if we can get it accepted it would be the icing on the cake because everybody has worked so hard to get this film completed.

Personally I’d be really thrilled, we’ll be in Whitby exhibiting my poetryscapes at the Dark Art’s exhibition anyway, so to be there and have a film shown too would frankly be out of this world, particularly as the film’s premiere at the Picturedrome in Northampton will be later that same week!

Whatever happens, I’ve learnt a lot and really enjoyed working on this film, there’s been much midnight oil burnt, very apt given that it’s produced by director andy Loverage and writer Alan Keen’s own After Midnight Productions, and having read the time of night from which Andy’s emails are generally sent I can testify that he’s certainly a nightowl too!

Don’t be afraid of the Dark – Nycptophobia premiere’s at the Northampton Picturedrome on 30th October 2014