Scoring the Prison Fight Scene - EMusician

Scoring the Prison Fight Scene

In the prison fight scene from Watchmen (see Fig. B), Bates was faced with scoring an action sequence that changed from real time to slow motion and back
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In the prison fight scene from Watchmen (see Fig. B), Bates was faced with scoring an action sequence that changed from real time to slow motion and back again and included a lot of fast cutting. A scene like that, with a visual rhythm that varies so radically, can be very challenging for a composer.

“The editing was really crazy,” Bates says. “There was no way to sort of rock through it with a singular tone or tempo, so I looked at it in sections. There are certain shots that have a specific attitude, which need to be supported in tone with music. When fast fighting stuff is happening, volume and intensity are way up. There is a slow-motion shot of Silk Spectre II [one of the Watchmen characters], who just kicked the s--t out of somebody, so we break it down to half tempo to give her an iconic acknowledgment — just rocking really heavy and low for a second or two — then we pick it up again as the action continues in real time, and the tone becomes more about kicking ass in a fun, almost '80s way.”

Transitioning between the various sections was key to making the music accentuate the rapidly changing visuals. “That's where this comes in handy,” says Bates, pointing to his Dave Smith Instruments Evolver synth. Taking advantage of the Evolver's ability to generate tempo-based sounds, Bates or Matthes would adjust its bpm control in real time as they watched the picture, trying to match the visual tempo. “We just kind of spin it up really fast,” Bates says. “A lot of it is the transition, too. Let's say Wolfie is working with a filter; he might open it up wide right up to the cut and then just slam it shut, and we move into the next section of music.”

It was necessary to write in some odd meters in order to make the music match the picture cuts. Sustaining sounds were often used to mask the awkward musical transitions. “It makes you forget about the actual rhythm at that moment and sort of sucks you in and transports you into the next figure. It's such an intense sequence. It's like something that comes at you like a train and rolls over you,” says Matthes, “and suddenly you find yourself in the next section and you don't even know why you're there.”