My first ambitious filmmaking endeavor, Golden Streams, Dangerous Dreams, could not have been completed without the help of Ryan de Kleer.
The budget for GSDD, an ambitious period piece, was only $5,000. These few dollars had to be carefully stretched over 40 shooting days and a cast of nearly a hundred people. Because of this low budget, Ryan had to step up and fill several positions: producer, prop designer, dolly grip, boom operator, costume designer, cast assistant, special FX technician, make-up artist, title sequence designer, location scout etc, etc.
Yet, it was Ryan’s work as the soundtrack composer that was his crowning achievement. Almost ten years later, Ryan’s diverse and interesting score is often the first thing people remember when they think about the movie. This shows just how well it added to the story and encouraged the audience to become emotionally engaged with it.
To honour the release of Ryan’s soundtrack, I asked him about his work as composer for GSDD:
Shawn Swanky: What inspired you to add the musical score for GSDD to your list of accomplishments?
Ryan de Kleer: Well, we needed somebody to do the soundtrack, right? [laughs] And I don’t think we really knew any composers. I didn’t have a lot of formal training, but you were encouraging me to do it. And my piano instructor at the time was trying to get me to start thinking about writing music rather than just playing music. So I had spent some time tinkering around on the piano. But, I find that if I want to write music, I can’t just pull it out of thin air. I need guidance; I need that project framing. So this was a great opportunity to do that.
SS: Which composers or other films influenced you while you were working on the score?
RD: You had used temp tracks in an early cut of the film to help generate the mood of each scene. So there were those to go off of. But I like film composition and soundtracks anyways. I remember Hans Zimmer had his “Journey to the Line” song, which I think was playing in every other trailer at the time, which I really like. So I guess there’s a bit of that influence. I was also listening to Danny Elfman and James Newton Howard. This was shortly after Lord of the Rings came out, so I was listening to Howard Shore. And Edward Shearmur, who did the soundtrack for K-Pax. So I had a pretty broad range. Also, because I played a lot of video games as a kid (and a lot of RPGs will have a pretty massive soundtrack ) I’ll throw some Japanese names out there that influenced me: Nobuo Uematsu (who did the Final Fantasy series), Yasunori Mitsuda (who did Chrono Trigger), and Yoko Shimomura, (Legend of Mana).
SS: Can you describe your process? How did you begin imagining each piece?
RD: I was going to university at the time, so I had to fit everything in between homework. I actually spent a fair bit of time waiting for the bus at the SkyTrain station. There is a little bit of a field there, so I kinda just wandered away from where all the people were lining up – so they didn’t think I was absolutely crazy – and just paced back and forth, humming different sounds, trying to get some ideas going. And then hopefully I could remember that, because I didn’t have strong knowledge of music notation. And this is the age before iPhones so I wasn’t able to just pop it onto my recording device.
When I got home, I used my Casio 1100 connected to my computer with some MIDI cables and started recording the base track or the melody. Once I felt pretty comfortable with that, I would start layering in other tracks. Tyring to add in some strings or brass. And then I sent it to you and sometimes you would go, “Alright!” Sometimes you would go, “…I don’t think we’re quite hitting the mark,” which was you really saying, “I don’t like this at all.”
SS: How long did it take?
RD: I moved to Vancouver right after we finished filming (in September 2002) to go to university. I was enrolled in a full-time program at SFU. I did work on one or two tracks that fall. But most of the work was completed between Christmas and the end of summer. There might have been a couple of trailing pieces in the fall semester. I remember it being a challenge to fit in time to work on the score and school.
SS: Was there ever a moment where you thought you couldn’t finish it?
RD: Yah, I mean, it was definitely a battle. I would have thought as we got closer to the end we’d start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But there’s this middle section where you don’t have that momentum from the beginning, but you’re not far enough in to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s like, “wow, there’s a lot more music to do.” And of course school was getting more intense the further I got into the year. So, it was a struggle. But that’s why it took so long, too.
SS: Do you have a favourite track?
RD: There’s definitely some I’m happier with than others. I really like “Overture.” It’s pretty fun and exciting, I think. I like “Drunk on a Dream” as well, which is a similar theme. “A Rosy Dawn” was actually a little musical idea I had been playing with before we even started the film, and so I was able to draw on that when it came time to do the score. “Island of Rest” is good… and “Crossing Over”, which was one of the more difficult pieces. I think I sent you some samples early on in the process and you said, “no, this just isn’t it.” So we put it on hold for a while. And then I just woke up one morning with the feel and a sense of the rhythm, which is what we ended up with in the film. I also really like “The River”; I’m pretty happy with how that turned out.
SS: Was there any one track or part of the film that you found especially difficult?
RD: There was a piece, it’s the one called, “Double the Bet” where the brothers are getting lost. It was a nightmare! I just felt like I was drawing a blank on what to do with it. I think most seasoned composers would pick a couple of motifs and just re-invent them or play on them throughout the film. Then you start creating musical ideas, where maybe a character has a certain theme, so you would play that when they are on screen and you might mix it with another character’s theme when they’re both together. But as a novice, I didn’t know exactly what I was doing. So for most of the pieces I was creating completely new sounds from scratch. And when I got to “Double the Bet,” I didn’t know how to get the temp track feel, without copying the temp exactly. I would try to do something and then I’d listen back to it and go, “no, that’s Lord of the Rings, I can’t use that.” That was the biggest problem, I think. I couldn’t get away from Lord of the Rings, and still be true to the same feeling.
SS: Have you found that the experience of solving the problems created by this score has helped you in your later work?
RD: I think if I knew what I was getting myself into at the beginning, I probably wouldn’t have jumped into it. So, maybe there’s something to be said for just kind of diving into stuff and fighting your way through it. Because, I mean, we did get it in the end. I’m the sort of person who likes to have things planned out beforehand. But this was actually something that I think was just better for me to try and muscle through. Because having it done is a hugely rewarding thing. I mean, I know I’m not Hans Zimmer, but it’s nice to be able to look back and say, “I did this. I’ve written a soundtrack.”
SS: Thanks Ryan!