Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Hey y'all! I'm back again. I know it's been quite a while since I've posted anything. I just finished two projects, and I'm working on a few more at the moment. So I'll try to keep this blog more fresh as the days go by.

This first post will be about the (short) documentary that I just scored. The film is titled, "Jerry" and it's about a former executioner in Richmond, VA. I had some fun exploring different sounds with this score. Also, I am obviously going to (SPOIL!) the entire film throughout the post in case you're concerned.

The doc starts dry as the main character, (you guessed it) Jerry Givens, introduces himself. He says how he's been in Richmond his whole life and the zinger is when he says, "I've killed 62 people." SLAM into opening credits.

They used a song (titled "Shotgun Wedding" by Madeline) for the opening credits so that will not be on this blog post but it really fit the sequence nicely and sets the film off to a great start.

Once we get back to the story, Jerry's telling us about how he wanted to play football when he was young. He was being scouted and everything was going great but he was injured. He got a scholarship to a university but he and the coach couldn't see eye to eye so he left and went to work as a guard at the nearby prison.

For the music here, I went with some French Horns to hint at the naivety of his youth and the aspirations to play football. However, once he makes the move toward the prison, the music starts getting a little dark. The same note on a solo French Horn plays over and over, getting louder and louder.

This is where I first incorporated the PRISON DRUM KIT. That's right. I went online and looked for all these different sounds of prison (i.e. cage door slams, handcuffs, buzzers, etc.) and created a sampled drum kit of them all. I used different sounds from the drum kit along with the repetitive French Horn to hint at the life he was about to lead.

The cue goes out on on a higher register because there's a loud prison door slamming sound effect in the edit that I didn't think the music should compete with.

From Football To Prison

Now that we're in the prison, I wanted the music to take a very cold feeling. This next cue happens while Jerry talks about his reputation "for being hardcore" and how he was known as "Stun Gun Givens" (you can guess why).

He then bridges into how they asked him to be the executioner since Virginia was reinstating the death penalty. He took on the job and described getting the chair "ready."

The director wanted the music to crescendo when he's talking about getting the chair ready, so I wrote it to be more of a cold fun cue when he talks about being Stun Gun Givens and underneath the entire piece are tremolo violins gradually growing in velocity. I felt like it should happen to where the audience doesn't even realize it's crescendoing until it's finished and you're staring at the chair. There's also a squeaky prison door that acts a steady pacer throughout the piece. It grows with the violins.

Stun Gun Givens

After that, he talks about his first execution. I wanted this to be a little darker than the other cues since it's the first person he's ever killed. I had Pizzicato Cellos keeping a steady, but eery, pace as the melody grows in orchestration. The intensity haults and goes back to the quiet-like pacing (from the beginning of the cue) as a quote comes up on screen, explaining the execution:

"During the second application of current, smoke began to flow from Mr. Coppola's leg electrode....

I could smell an acrid odor that I assume was the smell of burning flesh...a sizzling sound could be heard that sounded like cooking flesh."

-J. Samuel Glasscock, Esq.
Witness to the execution

My First Execution

After his first execution, he talks about dealing with it and how he justified it by saying "these people put themselves in this predicament." He was convinced that if they didn't want to be put to death, then they shouldn't have done the same to someone else. You can still tell that it took a toll on him and as he's talking about it, you see images of him walking by cemeteries and whatnot.

He then starts talking about this one guy he executed, named Linwood Briley. He said when it came time to die, the man had come to terms. He found religion and was ready to except his punishment but said he was charged with some things that he had not done.

That seemed to eat away at Jerry because he figured there was nothing to gain by lying so he must have been telling the truth. Jerry prayed that God would forgive him if he ended up killing anyone who didn't "deserve it."

Dealing With It

After he learns that people can go to prison under false accusations, guess what happens ... he goes to prison under false accusations.

The director said he wanted the music to play slightly whimsical/mysterious because as he's telling the story it's like he's "falling down a rabbit hole" and for it to get dark once we learn that he actually spent five years in prison.

The cue starts out pretty coherent with subtle violins (being tweaked in and out of pitch) very low in the mix and pizzicato cellos carrying a fun/mysterious melody. As his story progresses, the cue starts to grow chaotic with more and more instruments joining in, countering each other. This cue used the prison drum kit the most. There are about 10 different prison sounds that accumulate near the end where it goes out hard as he says, "They found me guilty. I did 57 months in a federal institution."

After that, the music gets very serious and we learn that his career at the correctional institution came to an end (obviously) as he was incarcerated. While he was incarcerated, he would go out and sing. One time, a little kid came up to him and gave him an eraser with something etched in it. When he went back to his cell, he looked at it as a sign from God that He wanted him to erase the problems from his life and clean his life up.

Down The Rabbit Hole

After that, we see him talking about getting out and what he's doing now. He's part of a Scared Straight program and is a board member of the abolitionist group, Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (VADP). He talks about his family (his wife didn't know that he was an executioner for the 20 years that he did it).

Also, he's taken up drawing and shows us some images he's drawn of his wife and kids. Now that we're out of prison and things are brighter, I went back to traditional orchestration and, for this cue in particular, went for a very innocent feeling. Hence the Xylophone.


Last, but certainly not least, is my favorite cue of the entire film. This happens when he talks about the future. He talks about how it'd be great to stop the death penalty, but it's even more important to try and prevent kids from getting to that situation in the first place. I felt he brings up good points and he's hopeful for the future, but it's also a dark and uncertain path. So I wanted the score to have a hopeful vibe, but also have a looming feeling, to kind of say, "It's not going to be easy."

For The Kids

There was one more piece of music I wrote for this (well, actually two but the other one was really just a droney type thing that I didn't think y'all would be interested in). At the very end of the doc, Jerry sings a song for us, that he later reveals he wrote. When I watched the doc for the first time and was taking notes on where I thought music should go, I just felt like there really should be some accompanying orchestral music building underneath him as he sings to kind of bring the film to a powerful close.

I thought it worked really well and plays very nicely with him. I actually incorporated the melody of the song he's singing throughout the entire film (varying on the key) so there was some kind of theme that identified with him to help the ending feel like a cap to his personality.

Once the film is fully mixed (and with the director's permission) I will post that scene here for your viewing pleasure.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this one. I'll have a new blog post coming soon (also attached with video) for another project I just recently finished.

Leave a comment. Or don't. Just remember, I know where you sleep.

I'm kidding.

But seriously...

No comments:

Post a Comment