Changing the mood

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Music has a huge role in setting the tone of a film. And it’s odd how making an apparently small change to the music has a significant effect on a movie’s mood. Our second film, Albert, has just acquired a new soundtrack and the improvement is significant.


The soundtrack we selected originally was an existing piece of music. It was available under a Creative Commons licence, but I still played safe by contacting the composer and asking permission, which was duly given – at least, for a limited range of uses that encompassed everything we planned to do with the film.

The tune worked well and we were happy. Until, that is, we uploaded the movie to YouTube.

We’ve mostly used Vimeo to showcase our films because it’s somehow a more sober, classier environment. But eventually I came to realise that getting maximum views for our work meant also having a YouTube channel.

As soon as the film was uploaded – literally within a minute or two – I received an email notifying me that “A copyright owner using Content ID has claimed some material in your video.”

That was a shock, as intellectual property rights are something I respect and take seriously. It turned out to have been an automated message.

Content ID is a system that allows content owners – of music or video – to register their works. YouTube samples the registered items and then compares every newly uploaded video with its database. If it finds a match, it issues one of these messages.

This doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a dispute of any kind, and if you receive one of these messages you can opt to do nothing about it. Which is what we did.

But it bugged me. The music composer had effectively claimed the right to ‘monetise’ our film. He was the only person who could place ads around our work and make money from it. Given all the other people who’d put so much effort and creativity into the film, that seemed grossly unfair.

Second, it meant that whether ads were placed on the film was out of our control.

Then Denis Mikhailov dropped me a line. Based in Moscow, Denis is a talented composer and musician with a passion for film scoring. He generously offered to come up with a new, original score for Albert.

What he produced was a revelation. In many ways he matched the emotion of the original piece while adding ideas of his own. And while the first version of Albert has music only at the beginning and end, Denis provided two additional cues for key moments. They underscore the tension brilliantly. In one case – the reading of the will – there’s even a hint of Hitchcock and the great Bernard Herrmann.

You can see (and hear) the results on YouTube here. The Vimeo-based version will be changed to the new version as soon as I have time to upload it. So, if you’re quick, you can compare the two versions. Whatever your preference, you have to agree that there is a real shift in the mood, especially at those two moments.

We’re looking forward to working more with Denis. Because that’s what filmmaking is all about – people combining their talents and creativity.


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