KNOW THE SCORE
When emotions are high and those strings kick in we've often found ourselves in floods of George-like tears. (Hey, don't judge us. Everyone's allowed a little cry sometimes.) But it doesn't happen by accident. Richard Wells is the solid gold genius that works tirelessly to create the musical score that toys with our emotions and sends shivers down our spines. We caught up with him for an insight into his creative (and gruelling) world..
So you're the composer for Being Human... what does that mean?
I write all the incidental music for Being Human. Basically anything that is not licensed. In an average episode that's about 20 minutes of music, although in the epic episode 8 I think we are up to 35 minutes.
When do you start planning the music for the series?
For series 2 I started work in October and I finished episode 8 on Friday 19th February. I like to watch the locked cut [a basic edit before special effects are added] as my first experience of an episode. I don't read the scripts in advance. That way I get to feel all the emotions that a normal viewer will go through at least once. Where we put the music is worked out in a "spotting session" between the director the editor and myself. We try very hard not to use music for the sake of it. If it's going to be in there it needs to be doing something emotionally useful.
How do you create the music we hear in the series?
I have a studio near Salisbury where I write, record and mix all the music into several computers. During the course of both series I have used a handful of fantastic live players who have provided a constant flow of weird and wonderful sounds including live percussion, guitars and erhu. Because there isn't much money we can't afford an orchestra, so I have to create that myself. We have also used some other interesting sounds like Giant Panpipes and a keyless piano that was miked up and then smashed to pieces.
In terms of the style the producers, Ross (my excellent Music Supervisor) and myself, decided to go for something that was different from the licensed tracks but as acoustically real as we could make it. There are very few synth sounds in the Being Human score, even though a lot of the acoustic sounds are heavily processed. We have created three separate sound worlds for the vampires, werewolves and ghosts, to help differentiate between them.
Another thing I have tried to do is to get as much contrast into the score as possible. So when we have a sad moment, we push it as far as we can and when we have a violent scene, it's as brutal and horrific as we can make it. There is a harmonic world representing real life and then there is the supernatural world, which in the case of the werewolves and vampires can be horrifically dissonant. It's amazing how much contrast the show can take, but I think that is down to Toby's excellent writing.
What's the hardest part of your job?
Delivering on time. This series has been particularly grueling. In series 1 we had an average of 3 weeks to do an episode and on series 2 since Christmas we have been down to between 1 and 2 weeks, which makes it very hard, particularly if there is a live session, which requires extra time and work. Since December 26th I have had 1 day off and it's been 12-16 hours in the studio every day. When you have a family that's not easy or popular! I love Being Human and all I ask is enough time to make my contribution as good as I can make it. On some other shows the composer gets help, from a music editor or engineer etc but in our case the music department is basically one and occasionally I need sleep!
Do directors ever make you rewrite tracks? If so, does that cause friction?
Because the directors are generally a) too busy to listen to any music before the final mix and b) there isn't any time to change it after, I do very little re-writing. Occasionally I do some the night I get back from the mix, because I'm not happy with a cue.
Luckily, I have enjoyed an immense amount of creative freedom on Being Human, and I think I have had a good relationship with all the directors so far. If I get something wrong emotionally, I'm always happy to re-write it. I've had invaluable support from Matt (Bouch), Rob (Pursey) and Ross and I'm well inside Toby's head these days as I've probably watched Being Human on screen for more hours than anyone in the production. I still love it though! As a result it doesn't go badly wrong very often.
What's your favourite use of music in the episodes we've seen?
I will go for George and Nina on the phone at the end of episode 3 with Lucy's reveal, which was heart breaking and shocking at the same time and the Pressure Chamber in Episode 1 which was great fun. Horror scenes are always a bit of a laugh!
Is there a scene we should look out for in the final episode where the music is really strong?
There is a scene in Episode 8, which is pivotal. I can't tell you what happens but it will make people scream in horror! That's all I can say.
Is there going to be a soundtrack release?
Ross and I are currently working on a score and/or soundtrack release, and we should have some news soon, if anyone is interested...
Finally, do you have any tips or advice for anyone thinking of a job as a composer?
Too much to fit in this blog. If you really are mad enough to want to do it, only do it because you are totally passionate about writing music, don't do it for any other reason, never give up, and one day you may earn a few quid from it!