Composer and musician Chris Wotherspoon (a member of the prestigious Society of Composers and Lyricists mentorship program) has supplied the music for a number of films. He’s quite comfortable doing this. His eclectic resume spans political/mind bending documentaries (Gays for Trump?) to environmental topics (2017’s My Garden, No Longer) but the film They Lived was a challenge in sonic mood creation. The film is writer/director Aaron Lovett’s personal story surrounding the loss of his father and sister. The sensitivity to the film’s topic was magnified by the fact that it was the filmmaker’s own personal story. The score which Wotherspoon composed needed to focus on minimalism and sincerity while rejecting an overly dramatic/overly produced approach. Filmmaker and composer worked very closely in the crafting of this sonic complement to a story which discusses a tragic loss and communicates it in a way that every viewer can contemplate.
Direct-first person notes from Aaron about the scenes in the film and his feelings were given to Chris. The composer describes the experience as if reading someone’s personal diary with their own permission…about one of the most malevolent experiences in that person’s life. Such transparency allowed Wotherspoon to create the proper customized emotion for each scene of They Lived. It’s commonplace to use the music of a film score to “push” the audience towards the desired emotion but the goal of this film’s composer was to manifest a score perfectly congruent with the action onscreen. The achievement of this end is actually much more difficult than the previously mentioned somewhat heavy-handed approach. The score is careful to always be respectful to the story. A tragedy such as this can illicit different responses, which is the reason for Chris’s score to always subtlety lie underneath the scene like a cushion.
In navigating such intense emotions and topics, Wotherspoon found himself acting almost like a therapist in the sense that he had to deeply understand Aaron’s feelings and interpretation of what had transpired in this experience. In addition to notes from the filmmaker, the composer was supplied with home footage of the family prior to their loss. Chris found himself transitioning from hearing about Lovett’s feelings to internalizing them in an attempt to then recreate them in musical form. No one ever thinks that they will be trying to connect with such feelings (of others) when considering a life as a film score composer. The simplicity and sincerity of light synths and solo piano convey the heartfelt moments of a happier time as they accompany home movie footage of the entire Lovett family onscreen. The piano instills a sense of sentimentality and a quiet, subtle sadness while the pads create a sense of stasis- they largely remain still and don’t change drastically throughout the course of the cue.
Most films and the music which accompanies them are about other people and characters. The separation, the disconnect between subject and storyteller can give way to a dramatized approach in communicating the lives of others. They Lived is a deeply personal story and the music also adheres to this path. The truth of the Lovett family’s experience and the way that it is presented is enveloping when viewing this story. Even if you have not experienced a similar situation, you feel as if you have insight upon watching this film. They Lived is a warm expression of love from one man to those whom he has lost…accompanied by a soothing and melancholy love song which allows everyone to feel his heart.