Rescoring 'Drive'

On Thursday 30th October BBC Three screened Nicolas Winding Refn's 2011 film Drive, nothing unusual there as it's a great film, however for this broadcast the film had been rescored by BBC Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe.

Lowe had spent the last year developing a new soundtrack with exclusive work from 13 artists (Laura Mvula, Bastille, The 1975, Baauer, BANKS, Bring Me The Horizon, CHVRCHES, Eric Prydz, Foals, Jon Hopkins, The Neighbourhood, SBTRKT and ZCC (Simon Neil)).

Image: clothesonfilm.com

Image: clothesonfilm.com

"It's the most ambitious, awesome thing we've ever done. We've been working on it all year and we're super proud of it - you don't want to miss this!" - Zane Lowe via www.bbc.com

Having rescored one of my own films Close due to licensing, I know how difficult this task can be, especially if the music is so intrinsically linked to the rhythm of the entire film, as is the case with Drive. Film music is almost like another character in the story, it weaves in and out of the action and can change the entire feel of a scene within seconds. Drive has an outstanding score by the immeasurable Cliff Martinez.  I often listen to Martinez's work for inspiration, his music is subtle and persuasive.

It requires guts to take on a soundtrack like Drive which has earned an almost cult like status. As such there was controversy surrounding the project, many people outraged at the idea that anyone would attempt to change such a synonymous score. Also due to the link with Radio 1 and current music there were lazy knee jerk comments that only young people would like it (I'm looking at you Mark Kermode).

"I've read some messages from people who are either confused or angry about #R1Drive. This experiment comes from a place of respect. We have not steamrolled in. We are not trying to replace or improve the original. That said it's really, really good." - Zane Lowe via Twitter

I loved that director Winding Refn, who won at Cannes with this film, was fully behind the project. He was keen to see how new music would change the viewing experience.

Radio 1 had been building up to the film's airing for weeks with Lowe releasing interviews with the director & artists and live lounges of the new score. Whilst watching the film viewers could use the red button to swap between the original and rescore, to compare and contrast, and of course social media was buzzing before, during and after the Thursday evening airing. This was a great interactive, integrated campaign by the BBC - real-time events, radio, social media, film and TV.

Did the rescore work?

I had only watched Drive once before and I remember the film's palpable atmosphere but most of all I remember thinking "God that music was good". Since then I have listened to the soundtrack in its own right so I don't associate a particular piece of music with a particular scene, which I think helped when watching the Radio 1 rescore last week.

We all know music can alter how we feel about something, it's used in anything from adverts to elevators, there's a reason retail takes great care choosing what music they play and when. I have used a variety of music in my film work but it wasn't until I began working with Bastien Keb to create an original score for the film Damned Spot, that I become hyper aware of how music influences a viewers perception of the film's themes. Seb Jones, who is behind Batien Keb would send me a variety of samples for each scene. I began to notice not only how music can change the atmosphere of a scene but how with each new addition it changes the overall tone of the film. Seb created music that told the unspoken story of the film which helped emphasise the whole concept behind the piece.

There were some lovely moments in the Drive rescore but at times it felt like the music was holding the audiences hand and telling us where to go and what to feel rather than supporting the action. The music missed the languid Americana feel which creates that ominous atmosphere and helps hold the through line and characters. Some of the tracks are great in their own right as pure "audio" music but they didn't sit comfortably with the film. Overall I felt the 13 tracks housed next to one another within the film lacked the cohesion of a single entity needed for a film score.

What I did notice watching last week was how direct the dialogue is, perhaps this is because I am in the middle of writing a new screenplay which focuses on reactions rather than what is spoken, but by concentrating on one element of the film, music, all the others come to the fore too. Drive's great script, beautiful lighting, cinematography and  understated performances still made it a watchable film despite, at times, some overzealous music.

From this post it sounds like I didn't enjoy the rescore, when in fact I liked moments of it and was very happy to be watching such a great film again. I think it's a brilliant concept and would love to see other film scores being reimagined, however with Drive I think they may have bitten off more than they could chew.