Peter Lam has always had two loves in his life: music and film. He has always understood the power they both have to move people, and he has a deep appreciation for the art behind both mediums. It is only natural, given these two passions, that he found his way to film composing, the only career that perfectly balances both.
Audiences around the world have been able to appreciate Lam’s skillful orchestration. His work on films such as (le) Rebound, Lovebites, Through the Glass, and Hopeless have garnered outstanding reviews at many of the world’s most prestigious film festivals. Despite all of the success, Lam considers the highlight of his career to be working on the film The Ballerina, Her Shoemaker, & His Apprentice, where his work allowed audiences to travel back in time to early 20th century England, all through the sound coming from the speakers.
“I am a big fan of period dramas, where music often plays a big part in transporting the audience back in time. As a classically-trained composer, it was a dream to work on the Ballerina project, and even better – to have such an elegant story set in my favorite city, London. It was the perfect opportunity to write a true classically-inspired score, including elegant ballet music that played in sync with on-screen dancing. It was fantastic that we could record an orchestra for the score too. It’s always a wonderful experience on the podium conducting my own music live to picture. Deciding to work on this film was a basically a no-brainer,” said Lam.
The film tells the story of George Arkwright in Hackney, England during 1936. George is a young man down on his luck, who must navigate the refined world of ballet pointe shoe making and redeem his value while being an apprentice under the shadow of Mr. David Traynor, a talented but stuffy pointe shoemaker. George's imagination turns into reality when he becomes smitten with the Ballerinas the shoes are built for, one named Sylvia in particular, and soon learns that this magical and distant world is not beyond the reach of affliction.
“Music is essentially the soul of the film. The story is about George, a ballet shoe-making apprentice who got into the business and was gradually sucked into the magic of ballet. The music accompanies the narrative journey on an emotional level, especially highlighting the transformation of our main character. Needless to say, a ballet film would not be complete without music. Almost half of the film was set to score, including themes that were featured prominently in several dancing scenes. The music brought the ballet magic alive,” said Lam.
After premiering at the SHORT to the Point Film Festival in Romania, where it won the award for Best Young Director, The Ballerina, Her Shoemaker, & Her Apprentice went on to be nominated for Best Drama at the LA Shorts Fest, and was an Official Selection at Maryland International Film Festival and Ouchy Film Festival in Switzerland. It won The Grand Jury Award at The Next Generation Filmmaker Film Festival, and it was a Semi-Finalist for the KCET Viewers’ Choice Award. The film was also an Official Selection at the Newport Beach Film Festival, where Lam received a special mention for his work on the score. With a film being so music-reliant, this success could not have been possible without Lam.
“Peter is a very hardworking and talented artist, he has a really great sense of storytelling with music. Our collaboration was professional and exciting, he taught me a lot about what music can do to add to the story. Coming from similar cultural backgrounds, Peter and I share some similar taste in music. It was very easy discussing what works and what doesn't. He is extremely passionate about what he does and he was the one that kept me on track with the post-production schedule. The kind of dedication and talent he had put in this film was rare to see,” said Director, Eva Ye. “Peter has quite an international education background, I think that really adds to his layered understanding about music, apart from his incredible talent. He is humble, and is willing to listen and discuss. He fights for what he believes is right and he compromises to what serves the story better. He works diligently with zero ego or bad attitude. I think that puts him ahead of many of his peers.”
Ye approached Lam to score the film as she was impressed with his classical training, as well as his previous works. She knew she needed the best, and the results were a testimony to her choice of composer. Lam’s training as a classical composer was a great asset when scoring the film. Originally a violinist, he had ample amounts of orchestral experience, and knew how to compose in the European-Classical idiom for a period drama score, with an in-depth knowledge of the orchestra for dramatic purposes in scoring, including the use of character themes and orchestral colors to support the film.
“I worked closely with Eva throughout the post-production stage. I was brought in when they were already editing the film, hence we just jumped straight into spotting the film together, deciding the overall vibe of the score and the purposes and durations of every cue in the film,” Lam described.
Lam scored all of the music by himself, his creative touch perfectly following the journey of George. Early on, he came up with a character theme for the apprentice, which transformed over time and tied the overall dramatic arch together, allowing the music to act as a guide for audiences watching.
However, perhaps the best experience for the composer was recording the score with an orchestra, which he conducted himself. Most film music is recorded with a ‘click track’, a metronome click that syncs the music to picture. However, to achieve a more expressive and humanized performance, Lam chose to conduct the music in free time directly to the picture without ‘clicks’. The result, of course, was well worth the effort.
“It is always amazing to conduct and hear my music come alive with an orchestra. I am very proud of the score and I am glad that the film was received well, as it reflected all the effort that my music team, my musicians, recording engineer and score producers, and I had put in,” he concluded.