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BSS 2016: Luke Buda and Sam Scott

Friends since the age of 14, Luke Buda and Sam Scott made a name for themselves with their band The Phoenix Foundation. The Wellington based band, founded by fellow composer for Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Conrad Wedde, was successful in their own right – with their second album Pegasus reaching Gold status in New Zealand and in the following year toured with the Finn brothers, and even had their own theatre show. 

Listening to Luke and Sam describe how they dealt with the ever changing needs of Hunt for the Wilderpeople shows how simultaneously passionate about yet detached from the work the composer must be.

It would be living in a dream world, to think for one moment that a ‘locked’ picture is anything but locked. At least, as far as the composer is concerned.

This film was not uniquely troublesome for these composers because it just had to be assumed that the director, Taika Waititi, would continuously get better ideas of how to tell story in the edit, even up to the eleventh hour.

However it was somewhat heart-breaking for the composers. When they got the brief, the sound of choice was the 80s synth. Four weeks later, After they’d created a significant portion of the score, they were told everything had changed and the team was after a different look and feel!

Hindsight is a beautiful thing and after the success of this movie, there are no hard feelings but we see here how an attitude of perpetual adjustment and improvement is essential for the composer.

As the picture edit is finessed and changed, this can off-set a significant number of music cues that are specifically created. One example Buda and Scott gave was of the open title sequence that kept increasing in length in the edit. In this case, it might be said that they were victims of their own success because the editors liked it so much that they extended it much longer than they intended causing a lot of extra musical work!

With their meagre budget to hire a choir to create the particular music in question, the boys showed their talent for how to make a choir of three sound like thirty using effects in Protools that they learned on the job. Listen to Makutekahu.

More accustomed to playing live, the boys entered into film scoring and composing due to an opportunity to score for Taika Waititi’s first movie, Eagle vs Shark, in 2006.

For a film whose principal photography only finished six months earlier the film was finished in record time and their deadline to finish the score before the release meant they were working throughout Christmas and New Year.

In regards to the challenge of composing as a partnership, Buda and Scott presented a united front. They stressed that there was no sense of self-interest or of some working harder than others. If there was a problem they shared it. If one of the trio began composing for a significant scene, the other two chomp away at the myriad of cues in another scene. 

Technically the transition was straightforward. As a band, they digitally recorded in Pro Tools so they were already in the zone when it came to using Pro Tools as their digital audio workstation.  However the sheer number of tracks needed for the opening titles – upwards of 100 – proved problematic as they had to be very careful to make changes globally otherwise one of those tracks might get out of sync and cause a problem difficult to detect.

To create the right score for a film, the composer has to come to terms with the preferences of the director. Taika’s talent for presenting dark moments and moral conundrums in non-preachy ways by juxtaposing dark moments, with jovial and light-hearted musical themes helped the boys – at times – to get their first attempts in the ‘ballpark’ of what Taika eventually signed off on.

We might even say that this ‘playing against’ darker themes with lighter music is what draws us to appreciate Taika’s films. We don’t want to be told how to feel and Taika respects that by playing things tactfully so we might enjoy the presentation of the jarring reality of how we live rather than get bogged down with a sermon on the superficial world we live in.

One highlight of this masterclass was when we were treated to a look at what happens to a scene where you change the music. The mood changes, in one case a light-hearted scene – the burning of the shed – became dark and scary rather than uplifting and fun. Music has that remarkable power and thankfully there are musicians and composers out there like Luke, Sam and Conrad, who can help the right message to be presented in the way the director intended it yet can’t always articulate musically.

We were left with a quote “you just have to do what is right for the movie” and in this case it needed to reflect a crazy gung-ho kiwi adventure that didn’t take itself too seriously yet still provided enough poignant ‘majestical’ moments where the audience can be uplifted.

It doesn’t take much to see that these guys met this brief bang on.

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