North Texas Daily

Interview: Filmmaker and Composer Take Us Into ‘Trance’

Interview: Filmmaker and Composer Take Us Into ‘Trance’

April 12
14:01 2013

Preston Barta

Film Critic

The North Texas Daily recently had a chance to speak with Academy Award-winning director Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire,” 2008) and film composer Rick Smith (“Sunshine,” 2007) at the South by Southwest Film Festival last month about their bond and new thriller, “Trance.”

Where did this friendship begin, and what creates the trust between you guys?

Danny Boyle: “Well, we go back a long way, really. We started off with the song ‘Born Slippy’ in ‘Trainspotting,’ which was a huge success and a wonderful way to end the film. It was really tremendous for Underworld as well because it got them to a wider audience and we built on that, really. The next movie we did, ‘A Life Less Ordinary,’ they wrote a track for it, and each of the films we’ve done since they’ve been involved, and especially on ‘Trance.’

My own personal take on this is that you have a very strong opinion about music, which I do. I love music. It’s a very important part of the films. But I also know I am not a musician. I’m a consumer. That’s important that you don’t delude yourself. In the end, what you try and offer them is inspiration, but what you also must guarantee they get is the freedom to make the music themselves.

Sometimes they’ll take your notes and sometimes they won’t and that’s a good thing. You hope that then people respond with that you can build trust and faith in each other through that. Also, they’re great guys. Rick is a very, very special guy and he’s kind of wandering into film composition having spent 20 years as a techno musician, if you like.

I think that transition for him is exciting. I can help him with it at some times, but also I don’t want to make him— I want him to bring his originality because he’s less familiar with the process than very experienced composers. You want to protect that as well and that means giving him his freedom. He’s doing a great score for us, so we’ve been very fortunate.”

Rick Smith: “Trust is something that you work on and build with people. Danny is a lovely human being. I certainly found that in the past couple of years of working with him that I’ve met some amazing people. Some lighting directors and writers— people who blow me away. It’s very nice. It seems that people gravitate towards him. He recognizes something in people— a certain humanity.”

Danny, when you’re working on a film like this that’s so complicated, you’re working very closely with the screenwriter. You have an advantage in that you get to read the script over and over. By the time you start shooting, you know everything forwards, backwards and sideways. With the audience coming in and experiencing this plot for the first time, do you have any concerns that they’ll have difficulties following the narrative?

Boyle: “It’s a very, very good question. It particularly applies to a film like this, which is a puzzle with clues and mysteries, but it’s true of all films actually. One of the ironies of filmmaking is that you’re entrusted as director with presenting the film to an audience, whereas in fact, who are only going to see it probably once. Whereas in fact, you, as the custodian of that process, have seen it 200 times. So in fact, there is an argument that you’re the least qualified person to actually do that job because you’ve known the standing of what it’s like to see it first time.

In the case of ‘Trance,’ actually, because it’s such an important element of it, we were helped by the fact that we shot the film while we were preparing the Olympic opening ceremony in London, but we didn’t edit it until we finished the Olympics. There was a six-month gap where the footage was put on ice, if you’d like. When we came back to it, it felt like I was seeing the story for the first time again.

I know a lot of filmmakers hate the preview, the testing process. I actually like those screenings because although what people say afterwards can be quite hurtful, it’s actually incredibly useful to experience live an audience watching the film for the first time because you can feel where the rhythm of the film isn’t helping them— where they need more help. I enjoy that process actually, but it’s a fascinating question and it’s one of the ironies of filmmaking for sure, really.

I think what you compensate with, in the sense, because you’re over familiar with the material, you also are passionate about the material in a way. It’s like your own child. You love it, you know everything about it, you want the best for it, and I think people sense that and they’ll forgive you maybe that you didn’t help the audience enough at one point. They’ll forgive you that because of your passion for the project.”

Do you find it easier or more challenging going of someone else’s vision – in this case, Danny’s vision for the film – compared to creating your own music?

Smith: “That’s another good question. Danny has ideas, but he’s encouraging something in you, which is about surprising him. A lot of what’s involved in film composition, and maybe theatre as well, is practical. It’s just about a common sense. A good idea is not enough. You have to be passionate about it. And one of the things that Danny is brilliant at is arousing this passion in you. The way that he talks about something gets me excited.

When we work together, we work quite closely. He comes to the studio a lot. He loves music. He’s incredibly articulate, whereas I’m not. I chose to do music. I was excited about music. However, I don’t like the sound of my own voice. So, being able to express myself— if it turns you on, you can call it what you like. Green, blue, yellow— you like it? Fantastic. To work with someone like him, it’s been a gift, really.”

Do movies influence the way you look at music?

Smith: “Absolutely. When I was a young boy – I come from a small town in Wales – there was a cinema there. My parents used to bundle me off, so every Saturday morning, I’d go and it would be mayhem. You’d go see strange, black-and-white films, chunk sweets at each other and have a great time. It started then.

Music inspires me. Other people’s music does inspire me, but by far, it’s visual things and story telling that really inspires me. Film is an amazing medium for story telling on all sorts of levels. So, it’s been really important to me.

In fact, around 1990, my wife said, ‘you have to start following your heart.’ My heart was saying to me that there’s something about story telling and film that I’m not getting across in the band. There was something about dance music that I thought was an amazing framework. You tell stories, paint pictures and take people on a journey. I didn’t see a lot of people doing that at the time. They would make great beats and grooves. But there was just something that I saw and it made me think, ‘I could bring something filmic to this and people will accept it.’”

Since I come from a university that is well known for its music department, what advice would you give to aspiring musicians?

Smith: “We’re living a great time. You can look at history, what has happened before so easily. You can research, examine and try to understand so much stuff. It’s so straightforward. You sit there with your laptop. If you want to be progressive, it’s important to know where things come from. To embrace that learning and try to push it forward in your own way is the way to do it. You’re looking for your own statement. There’s so many ways to create music with and without technology.”

“Trance” opens today.

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