Wednesday 5 April 2017

How to Write an Inspiring Film Score; The Music For Jacinta Marto Production

It began back in 2009.  Fatima had always held a significance for my sister and I, the way the small children responded to Our Lady's visit and simple message - prayer and penance.  Francisco was inspiring because he wished to console Our Lord; Jacinta in a different way wanted to save souls.  We produced a DVD film on Francisco of Fatima in 2009.  I used a couple of tracks from 'Holy Spirit of Peace' to begin the music score and immediately an atmosphere of peace, holiness and reflection surrounded the film.


Ever since then we have wanted to produce a short film on Jacinta Marto but it was not until early this year 2017 that it came about.  A lovely little girl from our parish portrayed for us and once we had everything we needed the film was underway!

The Music Score

This week, I undertook the task of composing the music score for Jacinta Marto DVD.  Filled with inspiration I set about writing for the opening sequence.  The first problem I found was that the piano sample I use was not very good.  I believe you must have good samples in order to write good music, not just because of what they sound like, but more importantly because you need to feel inspired by what you write as you write it and as you hear it.  I set about Upgrading my Kontakt 5 player and purchasing Cinematic Studio Piano.  After a day or two of computer problems resulting from this, everything was sorted and it was well worth it for the new piano sample!

Cinematic Studio Piano
I personally write everything improvisation-style.  I load in the video to Cubase and hit play/record with my fingers hovering over the keyboard.  I simply play what I see, or what I'm inspired by what I see (if that makes sense!).  I was immediately struck by the beautiful nature which always accompanies our productions.  The main decision though is which instrument to begin with, I chose strings.

Soon, the strings progressed to full orchestra, the desired sound and depth being the most taxing to achieve.  The entire day was taken up with trying to fill and build the opening sequence and eventually I had strings, oboe, flute, French horns, choirs, bass, soundscapes and Stormdrums creating ambient atmosphere.  All this with a lead Cello which is just beautiful. 

Tina Guo Cello Samples - Beautiful!

I always feel moved by the cello and I felt that the opening sequence had depth and emotion.  I use Tina Guo Cello samples which are gorgeous and so articulated they sound so real it's as if the cello is playing live. 


It is important, I think, to get across the right mood in an opening sequence which poignantly reflects the entire story, almost like an overview of what to expect.  The opening sequence in 'Jacinta Marto' is only a minute and a half but I felt that the opening sequence in itself already says a lot before the film even begins.  Through the music of the opening titles, I tried to express the following: Jacinta Marto being just a small girl, how her life was changed and also the profound beauty of Our Lady visiting. 


This score was really difficult.  I was so pleased with the opening titles and the start of the film.  Usually, as the narration begins and the music turns to underscore, it becomes easier, but I just could not connect with the right mood, atmosphere or pace that was needed. As a result, whereas I can usually write a score in a few days, this took a week and quite a lot of stress.  The difficulties arising mainly from not being able to connect or feel the right inspiration or emotions needed to write.  The key here was perseverance!


I am a HUGE fan of Eduardo Tariolonte and I use his samples in everything.  In this score I drew upon some lead instruments, 2 holed flute and tenor viola da gamba from ERA II to lead the beginning underscores for the first 6 minutes and after a while the mood was right: 100 years ago, Portugal, simple peasant children about their work as shepherds. 

Even though the majority of our productions are spiritual, they are also historical and biographical, not just religious based.  It's incredible how Eduardo's samples are so perfect for what we do!
The message of Fatima is deep as well as beautiful.  Our Lady, asking for our simple prayers and sacrifices for souls and for the world.  A lot of our films harken back to the Rosary and for me Fatima inspires me to pray at least one Rosary a day, for everybody and for the world.  I believe that music should always tell a story - like another language being spoken.  This is a story of hope and love.

Screenshot from Opening Titles

Day 3 saw me only up to 12 minutes of score.  I had to think and try many different things in order to get the mood I was looking for - not too fast, not too upbeat, not too slow, not too depressing, a fine line between contemplation and engagement.  I want the audience to be engaged in the story, but set back enough to meditate on what's being said.  More importantly: moved emotionally.  Emotion is the key factor behind all my music and the film scores won't work if the listener is distracted or unengaged.  Film launches are best, where we sit everybody in a dark room so that about 100 people are together in silence with a big screen and there are no telephones or conversations or interruptions. 

Write What You See!

I believe that if you're stuck with music, look intently at the image you see (if you're not writing to picture then find a picture for inspiration) and let go - let yourself be moved and write what you see!
The Miracle of the Sun - Witnessed by Thousands
At 12 minutes I was unhappy with the beginning so far.  A key point in writing a good score is to be willing to make sacrifices.  There was a 2 minute section about 5 minutes in that I felt was too 'jolly' for the overall mood of the story.  In the end I took the plunge and deleted the lot.  It's never nice to have a large gap in a music score but by listening and re-listening I was able to bridge that gap with music that was more continuous, with less motion and more reflection.  The result was something much better!

Fortunately for me, this film has a lot of contrast so the pace moves along well.  I need space to draw the viewer in in a contemplative style.  I fuse Symphonic Choirs as a background to many other instruments, especially soundscapes and this sets a mood of meditative listening.  Some of the topics in our films are quite profound such as the miracle of the sun at Fatima as well as the vision of hell.  I think people can only absorb so much at once so whether it's a musical or scenery break, you can almost break up a score into chunks that can be absorbed piece by piece. 

The vision of hell was quite dramatic.  I find Omnisphere fantastic for providing spooky sounds when needed.  For Our Lord to decide to have Hell shown in its reality to small children has always struck me about the Fatima message.  What strikes me more is the children's reaction: "We must not allow anybody to go there.......forever and ever" (said Jacinta).  They never forgot this message and tried to do as much as they could to save people.  God's mercy is so profound, I was really able to connect with this part of the film.  By showing the reality of Hell to the children, Our Lord has given us a simple nudge: pray.  I hope that this short film inspires anybody who sees it to love the simplicity of the Fatima message.  To fall in love with simple prayer and to decide to choose good always and to be aware of God's goodness; always forgiving, always waiting to give us joy.

Jacinta Marto DVD is available worldwide NOW from our online shops:
Also available through

I hope to make the music soundtrack available on CD shortly too!

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