#AmWriting: 10 Soundtracks to Write To

I’m currently working on a mammoth project – a (possible) 70 000+ word manuscript for an action/thriller novel that I’ve been planning for a few months now. It’s a scary thing to think about, and so writers often need something to help get them through the process. F. Scott Fitzgerald had his (ahem) indulgences, as did many other writers including Oscar Wilde, who even imbued his famous character Dorian Gray with some of his own habits. For me, well, there’s music.

Music is the perfect mood creator. It helps to set the imaginative landscape and gives the writer much-needed energy to put down words. And with a good pair of headphones and the right music, you can really create a cocoon for creativity.

I’ve written on the subject of film soundtracks before, and in this post I’ll highlight my favourite pieces to listen to while writing such monstrous things like a first draft manuscript.

Film and game music are designed to keep audiences engaged with visual content. And since, as writers, we’re creating visual scenes through the magic of words, these two mediums work beautifully with each other. Below are some of my favourite scores to listen to while writing.

I should mention that, while I present these pieces in the context of writing, they’re suited to most creative tasks where a little mood music can go a long way.

1. Man of Steel (Hans Zimmer)

The soaring orchestrations and endlessness of the guitars set a beautiful sonic landscape for your words to flow. The deluxe edition has a brilliant “sketches” session, where Zimmer explores in a continuous mix the various ideas and themes that permeate the Superman reboot.

2. Oblivion (M83)

M83 created an electronic-infused score to this Tom Cruise science fiction blockbuster. It’s very atmospheric with lots of rising strings and melodies that almost urge you onward to the next word, the next paragraph, scene or chapter. It’s an especially nice listen when you’re wanting for inspiration, at the beginning of a writing session, and gives your imagination a nice kick start.

3. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (Jesper Kyd)

This is a soundtrack designed to help you focus. Since it’s scored for the (insanely cool) Assassin’s Creed games, it works really well when writing scenes of intrigue, action, or contemplation. I sometimes listen to this to get into the writing mood.

4. The Dark Knight Rises (Hans Zimmer/James Newton Howard)

In case you don’t know by now, I’m a huge fan of Hans Zimmer. He’s my go-to guy for a musical fix when I’m working on a creative project. The Dark Knight Rise score is powerful, with great highs and lows perfect for almost any kind of scene. And if you just want to feel inspired, the rousing chant from the movie certainly does the trick, as does Junkie XL’s remix “Bombers over Ibiza”.

5. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Howard Shore)

You can never go wrong with Lord of the Rings. The quintessential high-fantasy drama, its soundtrack is powerful, rousing, and the perfect mix for creating an immersive creative environment. The final tracks, with Enya’s ethereal voice singing in Elvish, is hauntingly beautiful.

6. Game of Thrones: Seasons 1-4 (Ramin Djawadi)

Since I’ve gotten into the Game of Thrones world, I’ve become enchanted by its music. Ramin Djawadi scores a diverse soundtrack that’s a mixture of exotic eastern strings, thunderous trumpets and some chilling lyrics like Sigur Ros’s “Rains of Castamere.”

7. Skyfall (Thomas Newman)

Skyfall is one of my favourite new Bond movies, and Newman’s score is a mix of electronic and classical, that’s perfect for action scenes and scenes that are particularly dialogue-heavy. It’s also great to listen to before sessions, to get into that mood (along with Assassin’s Creed and Oblivion).

8. Da Vinci’s Demons (Bear McCreary)

Bear McCreary is a genius. The theme for Da Vinici’s is written as a musical palindrome –it’s the same forwards and backwards. The rest of the score is good mood-setting music, in a similar vain to the Assassin’s Creed score mentioned above.

9. 300: Rise of an Empire (Junkie XL)

Junkie XL is a rising electonic-based musician, and his score for the latest 300 film is action-packed with definite eastern accents that articulate the sequel’s plot line. “History of Artemisia” is my favourite track on this score.

10. Inception (Hans Zimmer)

Where do I begin with Inception? Well, firstly: “Time” is perhaps the best Hans Zimmer piece written. Ever. In fact, watch it in the video below, performed live by Zimmer and his orchestra. It’s emotionally-charged, carefully crafted and powerfully executed. As is the rest of this score, one of my all-time favourite motion picture scores. Its subtle piano notes, contrasted by heavy brass and thunderous drums, create a highly immersive environment that helps one emotionally connect with their work, as with the music itself. It’s Hans Zimmer at his finest.

(I might write a future post on the status of the above-mentioned manuscript. It’s going as well as can be at this stage and I’m getting closer to the midpoint).

Advertisements

Could DC Make “Superman: Red Son”?

2493286-Superman_RedSon_Hardback_cover_by_DevilpigSuperman: Red Son is a curious rendition of the Superman tale. It provides an alternate reality, where Superman lands on Earth a handful of hours earlier, ending up in a collective farm in Ukraine rather than Kansas during the reign of the USSR. The story aims to answer a simple, intriguing question: What if Superman had been raised in the Soviet Union? He grows to become Stalin’s golden son, spreading communism throughout the world and becoming the United State’s chief enemy. This plot is, of course, in direct contrast to what we know the “normal” Superman to be. However, it makes for extremely compelling reading, and at times is quite fun to notice how this alternative tale diverges from the orthodox rendition of the Man of Steel.

DC is about to breathe life into their highly-anticipated cinematic universe. And whilst we know that it will draw inspiration from some interesting sources – for example, the new Batman is inspired by Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns book – wouldn’t it be incredible if they chose to make a film adaptation of this particular Superman tale?

Superman is seen as the colourful contrast to Batman’s monochromatic portrayal. He provides hope, serves as humanity’s beacon and supposedly guides us into a more enlightened future. Red Son, by contrast, still maintains Superman’s powerful moral compass whilst set against the backdrop of communism, an idea that is incredibly controversial in contemporary society.

Yet Red Son makes for an enthralling story, one where there’s plenty action, suspense and ambiguously sketched characters that provide varied interpretations and thus depth. Perfect ingredients for great story-driven cinema, wouldn’t you say?

The idea for a Red Son adaptation came when I was recently discussing the DC Cinematic Universe with a friend of mine, a veritable comic-book guru (incidentally, he introduced me to Red Son). We talked about how this film could end up being a slight departure from the overall arc of the DCCU, providing an alternative reality – perhaps even a completely standalone film separate from the DCCU. Sure, we need to get audiences acquainted with DC characters, but once that establishing is done, these deeper, darker story lines could be explored.

Red Son is indeed controversial material. Communism seems to be a touchy subject in popcorn cinema, but I feel that a story of this caliber could transcend mere popular cinema and launch a niche in the superhero film obsession – one where there’s a deeper sense of story permeating the flashbang nature of these sci-fi-action-fantasy flicks. Red Son would seriously challenge DC’s prime competitor, Marvel. It would provide the battleground for the serious era of superhero films.

In reality, could Red Son be made? Could we seriously see Ben Affleck as “Batmankoff”, Henry Cavill as a Russian Superman, Jessie Eisenberg as a positive Lex Luthor trying to fight the spread of communism that’s accelerated by Superman’s rise to power? In today’s world, realistically, no. DC is laser-focused on getting their Cinematic Universe started-up, and such a film would be a sidetrack, with too limited an audience appeal at this stage. Hopefully in the future, when we’ve exhausted the conventional story lines, producers will begin to delve into these fascinating conceptions of some of our most beloved heroes.

David S. Goyer on Screenwriting

David S. Goyer is one of the most influential writers in film and television today. He’s responsible, along with Christopher Nolan, for reinvigorating the comic-book film adaptation scene with Batman Begins, and is the creator and writer for Da Vinci’s Demons (one of my favourite series on at the moment).

Goyer is a brilliant screenwriter. His stories are compelling, action-packed and filled with enough gravitas to ensure dramatic tension befitting the nature of his iconic characters, whether it’s Batman, Leonardo da Vinci or Superman.

In this lecture and interview with the British Academy of Film and Television, he talks about the craft, about his start as a young screenwriter, and his process on the Batman films, Man of Steel, Blade (for which he got his big break as a writer in Hollywood), Da Vinci’s Demons (and why writing for television is becoming more attractive for writers over films), and writing for video games.

It’s an excellent video, very informative and entertaining. A must watch for anyone interested in the craft of screenwriting, films, comic books and television.

4 Future Box Office Giants

4BoxOfficeGiants

Every year I compile a list of film releases that I’m looking forward to seeing. So this is a mere interlude (I’ll still write the 2014 list either at the end of this year, or early next year), but I felt compelled to write it since there have been some major announcements for franchises that I enjoy, many of them remakes that I’m curious to see the modern interpretations thereof.

These movies are also sure to be box office smash-hits, given that they’re from existing (and successful) franchises. Whether they’re going to be cinematic masterpieces (highly doubtful in this realm of popcorn cinema) doesn’t matter: because they’re going to be damn fun to watch. I can’t wait.

Batman vs. Superman, or Man of Steel II

Starring Ben Affleck (aka Batfleck). ’nuff said. Also, it’s going to be the first time Batman and Superman share screen time together. I’m not expecting  Christopher Nolan-eque quality here, but I did enjoy Man of Steel and a sequel is much appreciated from this blogger.

Jurassic World

I’ll admit I was terrified of those CGI dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. But I was just a kid then. And the news that a new film in this franchise is under way is great news; it gives me a reason to re-watch the old ones (and marvel at how far we’ve come in CGI tech… and how inaccurate our ideas of dinosaurs were back then. Granted, they still won’t be 100% scientifically accurate in Jurassic World, but they’re sure to be 100% better animated this time round).

Star Wars Episode 7

Probably the most-contested film on this list, Star Wars Episode VII will be the first film produced under the Disney banner, without Lucas directing. There’s so much that could go wrong here (and as the picture above notes, “It’s a Mouse Trap”). But there’s also a lot to look forward to: J J Abrams, director of the reboot of Star Trek is, in my opinion, a good choice – as long as he lays off the lens flares. Lucasfilm is still involved (albeit with heavy steering from Disney this time), and hey – more Star Wars! That’s a good thing, right? I recently read that they’ve chosen to film it on 35mm film, and use physical models in lieu of CGI, in attempts to keep this sequel trilogy as visually consistent with the original trilogy. That’s a bold decision, but one I’m sure many fans will welcome after the smorgasbord of wham-pow! effects in the prequels. Whatever transpires, one thing is certain: this particular Star Wars film will be one of the biggest releases of 2015.

Godzilla

The kaiju to end all kaijus is coming back. And this time it’s set to be even better: this film will tell the origin story of the famous monster as a “terrifying force of nature.” Set to release on May 16, 2014, we can be sure to expect spectacular CGI. According to Legendary Pictures:  “An epic rebirth to Toho’s iconic Godzilla, this spectacular adventure, from Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures, pits the world’s most famous monster hero against malevolent creatures who, bolstered by humanity’s scientific arrogance, threaten our very existence.” Sounds like fun.

So those are the films I’m really looking forward to in the long run. Be sure to check out my “2014 in Film” list, which I’ll post on Pixelated Thinking around December 2013/January 2014.

The Superhero Movie Obsession

I’m a huge fan of superhero films. And recently, us fans of these particular films have been treated to a flurry of great (and terrible) adaptations of our favourite heroes. I guess my interest in this genre really began when I watched Batman Begins; it was the first superhero film where I saw a different side to the hero, the darker, the more complex, brooding hero that is the Dark Knight. Since then, Batman has become my favourite superhero (well, he was always kinda my favourite, I just rekindled interest in the DC character with Christopher Nolan’s brilliant rendition).

But with the recent torrent of these films, it’s got me wondering: how long will Hollywood’s obsession with the superhero genre remain?

Superhero films are the perfect money spinner. They have the perfect setups for high-octane action, in-your-face special effects, the easy ability to market them in Hollywood’s latest love affair – the 3D format – and their comic book roots make them the ideal merchandise spin-off tools that take the money beyond the movie house.

But as the universe (and our good old friend Mr Newton) have proved to us, there’s a limit to everything. And I fear that, with the conclusion of Nolan’s Dark Knight saga, we’re fast approaching that point, that singularity for want of a geekier phrase.

Let’s face it: the latest Iron Man was a flop. Weak story line (in fact, I saw a YouTube video that drew parallels between it and The Incredibles plot), over-the-top action sequences and a failed attempt at trying to make the franchise seem “serious and dark” like Nolan’s trilogy all contributed to my disappointment in this film. (I still maintain that the first Iron Man was the best on in this series).

Man of Steel was a great approach at rejuvenating the ultimate superhero, the Übermensch himself. However, it too fell into the trap of including more flash than substance in its extended and dubious action sequences. Sure, I get it: superhero films need the action to justify their genre, but as Nolan displayed in his interpretation of the Dark Knight tale, you can achieve a subtle balance that makes a trilogy a brilliant one.

Perhaps in questioning how long the superhero obsession will prevail, we should investigate why we revel in these films in the first place.

The surface answer is obvious: to see our favourite comic book heroes on the big screen. But then there’s the deeper aspect: the escapism, the retreat to a world vastly different than our own, the offering of entering another dimension where these heroes exist, and where the problems of our own world can, just for a few hours, fade into the background.

With Batman done, and now Superman entering the fold, and with Marvel’s heroes still chugging away at fighting crime and saving the world in generic CGI ways, I wonder if we’re reaching the point of these films becoming repetitive, mundane, and contrary to the mission they initially set out to achieve. I think that, if the studios are to continue their superhero fixation (and there’s no doubt they won’t – the box office takings certainly speak for themselves) then we need more innovative storylines, more engaging drama, and a return to the initial excitement that drew us to these films in the first place.