Review Fix chats with composer Paul Mills, who discusses the creation process for the soundtrack of “Overcomer.”
Review Fix: What was your process like for this soundtrack?
Mills: On any film that I work on I like to get involved with the filmmakers as early in the process as possible. Alex and Stephen Kendrick got me involved pretty early on by inviting me to their “Boot Camp” which is the day before principal photography begins and the entire film crew gets together. For this Boot Camp, they invited the whole post production team as well. Here, Alex and Stephen share their vision for the movie, introduce the actors and department heads, and then everyone eats a big lunch together and interacts with folks they don’t normally even meet on a production. It’s a big camaraderie boost! I was able to meet Director of Photography Bob Scott and get an early bit of insight into the cinematography I would be viewing a couple of months later.
I really like to get inside the director’s head on the music he might envision hearing and how I can bring my voice to that. So, the first thing I try to do after reading the script is to get with the director and have a spotting session, where we watch an early version of the movie and talk about musical ideas for the film. The film will usually have “temp music”, borrowed from other films and dropped in the film to approximate the emotion and energy the director is thinking about. On Overcomer, Alex and film editor Steve Hullfish used my music from other films to “temp” the movie. This helped to sort of put the film’s score into my voice from the beginning.
After the spotting session, I had tons of notes I’d taken, and so I returned home to my studio to start composing music for the scenes Alex and I agreed were important ones to begin with. The process from this point on is that I write the music I’m hearing for a scene and then do a “mockup” of that scene with synthesizers and samplers and the like, to approximate the symphonic sound we will end up with. Alex views videos online of these mockups with my new music and gives me feedback. It’s always a great collaboration with him.
Alex and Stephen are big fans of very strong themes in the score. So, I included several in this movie, including an Overcomer theme, and the principal female lead Hannah’s theme. You can hear these two main themes developing and intertwining throughout the film. This is one of the hardest parts of the process, developing themes that can work together in a myriad of different scenarios, that can sometimes call big attention to themselves, and sometimes almost disappear into the soundtrack.
Review Fix: What do you think your score adds to the film?
Mills: I think my score enhances the journey that the film invites the audience to take. In the beginning, the first iteration of the Overcomer Theme is orchestrated instrumentally and dynamically to build anticipation for the audience, telling them that an important story is unfolding. And then the rollercoaster hits the top … and we’re off!
Review Fix: Were there any real challenges?
Mills: There are several scenes that have highly charged emotion and a good amount of dialogue. A husband and wife in crisis, and then reconciliation. A young girl experiencing sadness, despair, and then hope. A coach seeing his career tank, but then realizing there are things that are more important. In these kinds of scenes, the music can quickly become maudlin or sappy. I felt the best way to deal with this was to use as few elements as possible, to be a simple underlayment to the scene. So, therefore, the music creates more of an atmospheric texture that supports the dialogue dynamically, and moving notes are kept to a minimum. I liken it to how a scene is lit. Great lighting in a scene is not usually something the audience is aware of, and they never comment on it. Effective music in these types of scenes is very similar, it enhances but doesn’t take over.
Review Fix: How would you like this score to be remembered?
Mills: I’d like my score to be remembered as one great element in a great film. When you see Overcomer you will laugh, you will cry, you will yell, and then leave with a sense of victory and new purpose. I want my score to amplify those moments.
Review Fix: What’s next for you?
Mills: I’m currently finishing producing the songs for the new Erwin Bros music biopic film I Still Believe. This will be my second outing with them on a music biopic, the first was on last year’s I Can Only Imagine. I am also scoring the new Chonda Pierce comedy Laugh. Love. Karaoke which is just going to be a ton of fun!
Review Fix: Anything else you’d like to add?
Mills: It’s been great getting a chance to talk with you about music, thanks for having me! I hope you and your readers get a chance to check out Overcomer and enjoy the ride as much as we enjoyed creating it.