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In tune with Tom McLeod

Tom McLeod has this year composed the music for a couple of features Into the Rainbow, which had its NZ premiere at the recent Asia Pacific Film Festival in Auckland, and for Tony Simpson’s family feature, Kiwi Christmas, which is enjoying its theatrical release just before the schools throw everyone out for summer.

Kiwi Christmas is a local feature, with all that implies in levels of budgetary and time constraint, and Into the Rainbow was made with partners in the UK and China and required a fair bit of international travel.

McLeod joined Into the Rainbow in early 2016, when it was travelling under its working title ot The Wonder. The production was in the edit stage. “It was a reasonable time frame,” McLeod, noting, “but there’s never really enough time.

“Post tends to be fairly intense and the production was all guns blazing at that point.”

McLeod arrived with a few months to go before the recording was to take place, and was able to start putting things in place, composing, scoring, and pre-recording guide tracks.

A core theme of the film’s story is a struggle between technology and nature, so McLeod wanted to work with technological and natural sounds. McLeod worked quite a lot with the director, who was able to be quite detailed about elements in the story. McLeod found some core elements and using them as touchstones, melodic and thematic and textural. He pre-recorded a good deal of what would be natural elements for the soundtrack using a synthesiser, which a live orchestra later replaced.

“I like working with the NZSO when I can,” McLeod noted, but as Into the Rainbow was an international production, that wasn’t possible and the production used Film Orchestra Babelsberg in Germany.

Into the Rainbow trailer

The final cut of Into the Rainbow contains 57 minutes of orchestral music, which was recorded over two days. The orchestra’s recording space was a stunning room, McLeod said, and the team knew how to get the best out of the orchestra in the space, which made it easy to work with them. “It’s fantastic to have a real orchestra, 80 people all playing together, and I’d definitely go there again.”

The international nature of the production made some things challenging, but the internet makes such challenges a lot easier than they used to be.

The director, Norman Stone, who’s based in Scotland, was in NZ for a while. McLeod and Stone skyped and fired files back and forth. The production had an orchestrator and music editor in London. “We did the score edit and pre-mix in Doha,” McLeod said, working with Matt Howe at Qatari Studios (which is part of financier Metropolis where Howe also works). Howe’s a Grammy winner (for his recording work on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill) and has a fair amount of familiarity with Asian markets having edited and mixed sound for a number of Japanese TV shows.

After recording in Germany in May, posting in Doha in June, the film came to Park Road Post for the dub mix, also in June. On the NZ end of the production, recently-named SPADA Insustry Champion Richard Fletcher was producer.

Ifor a composer it’s easy to risk sounding the same from project to project, McLeod noted, citing John Williams’ comments about always starting a new project with the fear of wondering “Have I still got it? Can I do it again?”

There was a risk of repetition with Kiwi Christmas. Although the film was on a different scale to Into the Rainbow, there were plenty of similarities. Both films were genre titled targeting younger/family audiences, the subject matter of both created expectations of orchestral elements in the score – although with added Kiwiana and ukeleles in the case of Kiwi Christmas. For Rainbow the transporting of western kids to China informed the theme, and contrasting cultures also plays a part in Kiwi Christmas, as Santa is a very northern hemisphere construct and distinctly out of his element (initially at least) in a NZ summer.

Given budget considerations on Kiwi Christmas, McLeod used a midi orchestra but was able to do live recording of a string section. “We were lucky because we also had interns available to us, who were amazing, so we were able to work to a larger budget than was actually there.”

McLeod came in to Kiwi Christmas earlier, just before pre-production, and got to read the script and concept information and have discussions with director Tony Simpson (Kiwi Flyer). McLeod had to write a song during the shoot, which evolved and was also used in the end credits, sung by Barnaby Weir.

By comparison with the compressed nature of his involvement with Into the Rainbow, there was a good amount of time to develop ideas on Kiwi Christmas, and the challenge was more about trying to find a unique way to satisfy audience expectations, to take them on the emotional journey they’d expect but to also deliver some surprises.

As well as the string section, McLeod was able to use the Wellington Young Voices Choir and the NZ School of Music.

If trips to Germany and Doha weren’t part of the gig, Kiwi Christmas did share the love around the country. Shot in auckland, posted in Christchurch with the music coming out of Wellington, it aimed at a level that might have been out of reach. “But we had goodwill,” McLeod noted.

You Got My Love

On the day McLeod spoke to SCREENZ, he was also delivering the music for Shortland Street’s end of year one-hour Christmas cliffhanger, which aired 18 December. McLeod is based at Avalon, which he enjoys. “They’re very supportive, and a home studio isn’t so good now I have small kids.”

Traditionally composers are quite solitary, he accepted, and being able to send work back and forth online rather than delivering it doesn’t necessarily mitigate that isolation. The scale of film production is good for addressing that, as it’s not a one-person job. Being based at Avalon also helps.

Web series Pot Luck, Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s Paranormal Event Response Unit and Gibson Group’s telemovie Mistress Mercy have all been through the studios while McLeod has been working on Kiwi Christmas.



Into the Rainbow has been making festival appearances and has picked up an award for lead Willow Shields (The Hunger Games), but there’s as yet no confirmed wider release, Kiwi Christmas is currently in theatres.