Documentaries have come quite far since their early days. The somewhat sterile and mild mannered approach of the mid-last century has been taken over by a new generation of documentary film makers. These individuals often cross over mediums like television and film to also explore documentaries in a way similar to musicians exploring elements of jazz, pop, and hip-hop. In their vacillation they have brought the talent and production value of these other forms to usher in a new and frankly, much more popular time for documentary films. Among the most prominent is the excellence of the music which appears in these productions. Composer Jayden Lawrence often finds himself scoring films but when approach by director Connor Fairclough to create the musical accompaniment for his “Dan to Dandalion”, he accepted. While it was the challenge of a nearly immediate deadline that enticed him, a viewing of the film’s story sealed the deal. At its core “Dan to Dandalion” is a story about a man and a community demanding the most of themselves and potently delivers the message that greatness can be achieved in unity, which also happens to be the story of this film. The story and the excellence with which it was delivered was recognized and awarded the “Most innovative film demonstrating inclusion and community support for people with disability and their families” at the Focus on Ability film festival 2015.
In composing the music for “Dan to Dandalion”, Lawrence took a much different approach than he takes for the constant stream of films on which he works. The creation of a score for a film requires the composer to watch scenes (often while collaborating with the director) and emphasize certain “hit points” in the storyline. Similar to the framing of the lens or the lighting on set, a composer helps to maximize the emotional impact of any given scene; sometimes this is obvious and heavy handed and other times subdued and almost transparent. In creating the score for “Dan to Dandalion” Jayden wanted to be less specific. It was his perspective that creating these specific “hit points” would take away from the honesty and sincerity of the very real story being told. To avoid this, he composed mood or theme feels to communicate the overall emotional temperature taking place. The score is primarily acoustic, which keeps things 'organic', genuine and friendly. The score could be described as uplifting and helps to elevate the emotion in the storytelling. Upbeat rhythmic guitar strumming accompanied by male vocals provides a motivating and inspirational drive for a heartfelt conclusion to the film. Just as notable is the composer’s premeditated plan to leave music out in certain parts of the documentary to utilize negative space, enabling the scenes with more relaxed instrumentation to have greater power.
Many scenes in the film have a symbiotic relationship between the action on screen and the sonic backdrop created by Lawrence. Midway through the film, Jacko (a volunteer) speaks about Dan’s progress in terms of physical ability and confidence. The dedication and the immense strides forward by Dan have earned him great respect in Jacko’s eyes who sees him as a person and not a “case” or patient. As Jacko communicates the stories of Dan’s individual triumphs, Jayden augments this on guitar, changing chords with each story as if providing a dot-point for each achievement. What began on acoustic guitar morphs into electric with a crescendo of strength and confidence. In the final scene of the film, the composer wanted to create a moment of positivity and outlook that was upbeat. Combining an upbeat strumming pattern on guitar and hand claps, the positive vibe of the music served as a build up into the final shot in which a large group of participants and volunteers shout “We give a Dan!” Vocals and glockenspiel come in with a melody for this final shot to add more impact and really hit the message home, leaving the audience feeling motivated and positive.
The intuitive feel of this score belies the curt nature of time it was given. Director Connor Fairclough states, “Dan to Dandalion was produced quite hastily, as I was late to find out about the Focus On Ability film festival, but knew that it was a great opportunity. I had been working on the film almost entirely by myself, but it was clear that I needed a professional to really elevate the film to a new height. Thankfully, I knew just the guy for the job. I sent the film to Jayden, anticipating a response of ‘Sorry, there is not enough time.” Instead, he gladly took on the project. Within only a few short days we had a score that was flawless. Jayden’s use of acoustic and organic sounds really helped to carry the message of inclusivity like a warm, welcoming hug. His music shaped the story, highlighting moments of triumph, happiness, and inspiration.”
The story itself, which Fairclough so adeptly created, is moving on its own volition. While Jayden’s score magnified this, it was the story he viewed that cultivated his own investment. Lawrence was so taken with the story that he was confident he knew exactly what it needed. The importance of the message is something which has resonated with Jayden for some time. He reveals, “Growing up, I spent a lot of time contributing to the community and offering support where I could. In High School, I had a lot of involvement with special needs students, giving them someone to talk to, encouraging them, and just being a friend. While studying for my first University degree, I spent my free time working casually as part of a team of students who would go around to high schools and offer support and guidance to troubled teens.
Seeing Connor's film filled me with great joy. Seeing so many people actively working to help others both physically and mentally in an effort to facilitate an inclusive community, it was intuitive to be a part of this. It was also a great pleasure to see so many film makers spreading these stories and creating awareness about so many different conditions, people, and causes at the Focus on Ability film.