Home Cast Bios Crew Bios Locations Objects Important Dates Music Trailer Awards Press

Composing for Documentaries

Music Director Steve Sauder discusses the process of writing the music for “Was I Next? The Sean Cribbin Story”:

It's unusual for documentaries to have composed scores, because of the way they are typically made. Unlike fictional films, with docs, often the director doesn't have a firm idea of what the narrative of the film will be, until the very end, when they're in editing and can see clearly what they have shot. During shooting, the main focus is on “documenting” what's happening, not necessarily how things will tie together with other scenes to create a through narrative. This makes it difficult to write a score for a documentary, as the details of the narrative are fuzzy until nearly the end of the process, leaving almost no time for a film composer to work.

For “Was I Next?”, Craig (the Director) and I met at the beginning of pre-production, and hammered out a “soundscape” for the film (that would govern things like instrumentation, arrangements, and overall mood and style), and a list of “emotional beats” that we figured would be useful no matter how the narrative might twist and turn. That gave me time while they were shooting to write a number of cues, that were based on these emotional beats, and these were finished in time for the start of editing, which gave the director and editors a broad palette of music to draw from and allowed them to edit to the score directly. It also allowed them to use elements of the actual score (like “Danger”, ) for the trailer, which works to tie the whole project together sonically.

Two of the “soundscape” rules that we agreed upon, that would heavily influence the method of composing for this film, were: (a) that we would highlight a “prepared piano” (a piano with various items placed onto or around the strings that change the timbre and, in our case, detune some of the strings - a technique originated by composer John Cage), and (b) that we would incorporate sounds usually considered to be “sound design” into the score (the clip of “Sadness”, , demonstrates both the prepared piano, and a thunderstorm and modified passing police siren included in the music).

Illumination Waltz
Partway through the shooting schedule, the production spent a couple days filming at Cedars Campground, during their “Illumination” weekend, which is an annual event started during the AIDS epidemic, where all the campers decorate their campsites with lights, to honour the members of the community who died during the previous year. This year, because the serial killings were fresh in people's minds, Illumination took on added significance, and Sean spoke and took part in a tree lighting ceremony. When I saw the initial footage shot during the weekend, I was so moved by the beauty and magic of it that I immediately broke our own rules and wrote a lyrical waltz () to match the magic of the imagery.

There were still a few last-minute panics, though … with about 36 hours to go before we had to have the film ready to enter into the first film festival, Craig called me in the middle of the night, and said: “I need something that will make everybody in the audience cry!” Against a very tight deadline, I wrote “Longing” (), and because it sticks to the agreed-upon sonic rules, it fits within the overall soundscape of the film, and doesn't sound like something that was written in a panic at the end, even though it was.