“Find the sound that feels truthful to the overall big picture.”
As director Hugo Blick and composer Martin Phipps sit on comfortable looking sofas (at Directors UK’s offices) to discuss their creative partnership, it’s clear from the outset they’re equally as comfortable with each other.
Some might expect the director-composer dynamic to be a complicated one – two highly creative visionaries battling for control, as they aim to communicate emotions through mediums the other may not always understand. However, both Hugo and Martin seem to effortlessly converge and complement each other’s style, leaving us left wondering if the magic of this relationship can simply be reduced to a trusting friendship.
There can be a tendency to think that the director-composer partnership hinges entirely on the vision of the director and the composer’s faithful replication. There is of course some truth to this.
As Hugo explains, the director must know the story they want to tell and be able to ‘travel that thread with confidence’ throughout the creative process. Do not be the director, warns Hugo, who fails to light their scene appropriately, relying on the viewer to find the action, rather than guiding them to the story.
However, although the director’s role is to ‘direct’, they mustn’t have sole ownership of the vision.
Hugo says: “The key to making a project work is enabling autonomous contributions from the individuals you’re working with. I don’t want Martin to replicate what he thinks I think is right’ – I want to release my ideas into his consciousness and see his interpretations.”
Generating passion is essential to this. Martin says: “If I can be swept along with the director’s vision and gain a sense of the world they’re inhabiting, then I’ll feel inspired.”
Martin who has worked with Hugo on TV series ‘The Honourable Woman’ and ‘The Shadow Line’ says that music is a language directors ‘aren’t able to control’ – therefore, it can be ‘frustrating for both parties’.
Martin says: “It’s helpful to know the main emotion that’s driving the work.”
He also advises directors working with composers to ‘admit when you’ve changed your mind’. He adds: “Above all, make sure you continue to talk to your composer.”
The creative process between Hugo and Martin is also helped by the fact Martin really likes Hugo’s work. He says: “It’s great to see a cut working well without music.”
It’s rare that Hugo cuts to a temp track and his initial direction is sometimes as limited as placing a red dot in the cut where he wants to ‘feel the pressure of the score’.
Equally, Hugo really likes Martin’s work and particularly appreciates his ‘minimalist’ style.
He says: “I think music stands out more when it’s quite sparse.”
Being in sync with each other can make all the difference, literally. “There are occasions where Martin may need to break a beat – this makes a massive difference, especially when you’re working on a thriller.” He adds: “When it gets to the editing stage, I may get more prescriptive.”
Neither Martin nor Hugo believe it’s necessary to go into huge detail regarding specific scenes – although at times, Martin has created music that reflects the characters. For example, Martin remarked that the Stephen Rea character in ‘The Shadow Line’ was ‘quite autistic in his murderous methods’, an element he conveyed in the score.
In the same way the director guides the viewer to the story through visual methods, the composer will, as Hugo puts it, “lead a viewer to many moments throughout a sequence where their heart can break – this is when you know you have a great score.”
Trust is of course imperative throughout the process. They are, as Hugo describes it, ‘two midwives collaborating’ in the nurturing of their creative offspring. If Hugo is to be compared to some sort of parent figure, he certainly seems to be winning the favourite dad race for Martin – when asked what one piece of advice he would give to a director working with a composer, he answered: “Be Hugo!”