Swedish filmmaker Joachim Hedén‘s Breaking Surface premiered at the virtual Nightstream Film Festival in October to positive reviews, the thriller is now being released digitally on December 15th.
“A few days after Christmas, half-sisters Ida and Tuva set out on a winter dive in a remote part of the Norwegian coastline. Towards the end of the dive, a rockslide traps Tuva underwater. As Ida surfaces to call for help, she discovers that the rockslide has struck above water as well, burying their equipment, phones, and car keys–they are completely cut off from any chance of outside rescue. As the frantic race for survival unfolds, Ida is put to the ultimate test of character and forcefulness. During Ida’s fight to save Tuva, a fractured sisterhood is exposed, and when all seems lost, the stakes rise beyond simple survival.”
The imagery in the Breaking Surface trailer alone is pretty gorgeous. A lot of the scenes look like they are straight from a postcard. How did these settings influence your score?
I always love to get inspired by the production design and overall look and feel. The mountains, even though beautiful, had an intimidating quality. They seemed so huge compared to our two protagonists. This added an eerie and uncomfortable feel to it, especially after the disaster happened. It felt as if the mountains were just standing there and witnessing all these painful events unfold.
Are you a fan of coming up with a sound palette before you begin work on the film? If so, what did that look like for Breaking Surface?
I do like playing around with sounds inspired by the visuals. It is always important for me to create and put together sounds and then “bathe” in them to see if they lead to some interesting sonic fabric. I played around with some plugins to manipulate the strings and that added an eerie and icy feel that I liked. Then I played around with the more rigid synth pulses for all the action moments. They added something relentless and calculated. So, yes, creating a palette beforehand, but then also alter and expand the palette as I am writing is part of my process.
That’s an interesting question. To me, the dialogue just added some information to the story, but not so much emotion. Not knowing the language made me focus on how they were saying something, how they felt, as opposed to what they were actually saying. And not understanding the language made the movie even eerier for me.
Because the film is Swedish, did the director want to have a “Swedish vibe” to the score? If so, how did you learn what that was?
Joachim never pushed me in such a direction. It wasn’t essential to the story where it took place. It could have been anywhere.
Do you have a favorite scene, musically, from The Kissing Booth and The Kissing Booth 2?
Musically speaking, I really like the scene on the Ferris wheel in KB2 where Marco and Elle get to know each other’s different outlooks on life, and the scene right after at the beach when Marco tells Elle what he would do if he loved someone. On the Ferris wheel, I could borrow a bit more from the indie world. And for the beach scene, I was able to score a powerful, emotional moment. I love it when I can follow each story beat in the dialogue but do it in an organic way, so the music has one big arc.
When you scored The Kissing Booth, did you know upfront it was going to be a trilogy? If so, did you already have the score mapped out to evolve with each installment?
I had no idea actually. The trilogy was the result of the success of the first installment. I think the sequels were demanded by the fans who really played an important part in this process. Both KB2 and KB3 were created by the director, Vince Marcello, who really understands the demographic. He was able to write a very relatable story, and that was in part why it became such a big hit.
You said when you first watched The Kissing Booth it was 2.5 hours. Did you create a score for a 2.5-hour film, or did you not begin until after it was already edited down?
On the KB movies, I usually begin writing when the picture is 2-3 weeks away from picture lock. So, by that time, the running time is already close to the final version. The KB movies are all pretty packed with excitement and several story arcs, so even KB2 ended up being a little over two hours! That’s pretty substantial for a rom-com and hence more work since there are more minutes to write.
Have you started scoring The Kissing Booth 3 yet?
I started enhancing the songs a few months ago. Several songs on the show get enhanced since they weren’t written for the movie. So, they obviously can’t acknowledge the action on-screen perfectly. That’s when I come in and help with transitions or enhance the big chorus with some string lines just to make the moments more powerful. We sometimes also decide to crossfade a song into a scored moment, again to get us closer to the action. I will start the actual score in the coming weeks, and then I probably won’t be seen anywhere else but in my studio for the next three months.
You have said that comedies are probably the hardest genre for a composer to score. Why do you think that is?
I always say there are brighter movies and darker movies. The dark side is easier to achieve than the funny, bright side. There are more possibilities to fill a big canvas with darkness. Each composer has their individual approach on how to express things like tension, angst, terror, fears, etc. Compare that to things like embarrassment, awkwardness, adding fun, or making things funnier and quirkier without turning them into a cartoon, etc. – they’re just more complicated to nail. Furthermore, in most comedies, we’re standing very close to our protagonists, and dialogue is of the utmost importance. Acknowledging each word of dialogue, the pacing between each line, the tone in each line, etc. – all these things are important. Romcoms are full of these little nuances and details that make a scene funnier or more entertaining. And to nail all that is a tall order.
In 2007 you started teaching music at USC. I know you are teaching the students, but have you learned anything from that experience?
Oh yes! First off, you learn how this next generation approaches music, what they listen to, and how they write. The aesthetics are constantly changing, and that’s a great challenge for me. I keep up with the trends and the Zeitgeist by being in constant dialogue with this next generation. I also got better at analyzing my students’ cues when the music isn’t working so well with picture. You learn how to dissect the story and understand its inner workings. That of course has helped me with my own scores. And lastly, when you teach such a complex topic like film music composition, you learn how to be more concise, just by the way you’re talking or how you explain something. This focus and clarity of thought have helped me a lot when talking with directors. Teaching really is a win-win!!
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