#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).

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.