Blow

Film Score & Sound Design

Blow - 9' 33" stereo mix - © Marie Craven 2001

Background

Blow is a short film funded by the Australian Film Commission and developed by writer/director Marie Craven and producer Lizzette Atkins. Essentially a teen comedy-drama, it portrays the sexual frustrations and eventual awakening of young Becky, inexplicably afflicted with compulsive sneezing.

Blow's dramatic tone is naturalistic but wry in its observational slant and affectionately sardonic. Entirely non-condescending to its teen characterization (a rarity for Australian cinema trapped in having to parody teens rather than give them a voice of any substance), the film places Becky at the centre of an overbearing adult world. Surrounded by sexual tensions, advances, obsessions and distractions, her climate might be the course of her mysterious sneezing.

Blow premiered at the 51st Melbourne International Film Festival in 2002.

Credits

2001

Writer & director - Marie Craven
Producer - Lizzette Atkins
Synths, drums machines, keyboards, guitars - Philip Brophy
Sound design & mix - Philip Brophy

Overview

Discussions between director Marie Craven and composer Philip Brophy for Blow centred more on overall cinematic references than the film itself. Marie and Philip were well aware of the other's deep appreciation for John Hughes 80s teen movies and their use of 'pop song scoring'. These were films that were fuelled by the energy of song and its wonderfully plastic emotional theatrics and staging. Despite the more toned-down comedy-drama of Blow, this is what they agreed was required for Blow.

To this end, Philip sketched out 3 tracks in the mid-80s electro-pop vein of tracks that could have easily percolated in the background of Pretty in Pink or Some Kind of Wonderful. At this stage Philip had read the script, but the tracks were envisioned as aural covering to the emotional totality of the film, rather than any particular scene. During work on these tracks, Philip received a very rough assembly edit and was struck by one thing in particular: the beaming face of the young actor playing Becky. This helped Philip refine the tracks in a very directly positive light: this was not a film with a cynical edge, but a genuine celebration of teen spirit. Becky's face proved it cinematically.

These tracks were given over to Marie and editor Ken Sallows, who laid up selections of one key track (their favourite). After a series of refining sessions, Marie and Ken had worked out precisely where the music should go - which was through the bulk of the movie. With these markers, Philip then shaped the cues' arrangements so as to give the music an overarching shape across the film while retaining the overall presence of its 'musicalised teen energy' throughout. The experiment was to be bombastic with this plastic pop veneer, but to have it perform as 'song underscore' at a loud level but not get in the way of the drama and narrative.

Technical

While Marie and Ken had ostensibly settled on one track - and effectively decided where and how to steamroll it throughout the edit they were working on - one of the other sketches (a slightly brooding one) was only used once in an obviously brooding moment. Philip argued to not use the track there because it was a bit obvious, plus it stood out from the extensive use of the main theme track throughout the rest of the film.

This led to an interesting compromise where Philip rewrote the elements of that track using the 'musical materials' (instruments, temp, key, etc.) of the main theme track, thus creating a sub-theme. Through combining two songs into one, he created a single meta-theme for the whole film, but one which is broken down into separate components at different points/stages of the story. This became important in creating a sense of climatic sexuality (of a quite restrained but palpable kind) which affects and controls the film and its characters.

From this point, the tracks were then arranged through additions and subtractions to match the dramatic levels as well as the density of sonic activity. Philip also was sound designing the film at this point, using a technique he had developed for Mall boy and which was variegated for Blow. This required severely gating the dialogue to remove all background atmosphere, then selectively allowing back in focal points of body movement, sound-action or presence. The location recordings by David Pyefinch for the film were particularly good, so no ADR or Foley were required. Now this quite stylized fragmented editing of location sound would normally appear 'unnatural' in a naturalistic drama such as Blow, but because the song-score was often bubbling underneath in a radiophonic sense, it meant that holes in the atmosphere were not apparent.

Due to the film score and sound design being done in direct response to the other, it meant that the film was 'mixing itself' as the post-production was carried out. While this had time-saving advantages and positive value in terms of their fundamental integration, it also was a key factor in allowing the film to have a loud music mix without getting in the way of any character or performer on-screen presence. The sonic and musical 'loudness' typical of the John Hughes' teen movies was thus maintained.