By Simon Beins
The running scene in “The Ticket” that uses my song “Those Kisses” reminds me why I got into the business of making music for films. I’ve created music in a lot of forms, for a lot of different purposes. But there’s something special that happens with music in film that rarely happens in a concert hall, or a rock club, or on a record.
When Po Chan and Shane Hurlbut invited me to contribute music to “The Ticket,” I knew that I’d be getting to work with a strong story and powerful footage. And, if you’re a composer, that’s the best. You’re starting off on good footing. Po also envisioned music with lyrics, which is a rare treat – yet another element that could communicate with the viewer. I knew it would be a challenge to match the stunning kind of film they were making, but I was up for it!
Po and I initially began trading ideas about the script and the music long before “The Ticket” was actually in production. She knew that there would be room for a big song with lyrics, in a big scene, so I immediately began sketching ideas. I knew that overly literal lyrics would stifle the story (and potentially spoil the ending), but entirely unrelated lyrics would just create noise. After days of back and forth with Po, I finally landed on a set of lyrics that evoked the themes and emotions of the story without encroaching on it. Take a look at the first few lines:
Like I’d passed through a thousand deserts
And come upon a mountain stream,
I was blind for a thousand sunsets
Then opened my eyes to see
The lines start to form a narrative, albeit a metaphorical one, and suggest we’re about to hear a story: not unlike the beginning of the film, in which Emma emerges from the hospital room intact after a seemingly horrendous car accident.
The next few lines add a new dimension:
My angel is coming closer
I feel her breath on me
Lipstick in the mirror
Blowing kisses in a dream
Here the lyrics take on a stranger quality and start to play a little bit with reality: the theme of two lovers reuniting emerges – just as Vince renews his commitment to Emma – but it’s also clouded by the surreal imagery of the “lipstick in the mirror” and the “dream,” which foreshadows that all might not be as it appears.
As the dynamics of the scene that uses “Those Kisses” crystallized, we quickly realized that above all, the music needed to be simple. As much as I love making lush studio creations, I had to rein it in and leave room for the picture, the climactic scene of Emma and Vince running to the Santa Monica Pier in beautiful slow motion. So Po and I settled on an arrangement with a simple acoustic guitar and vocals at the core. My initial inclination was to add a pedal steel to help tug on the heartstrings, but Po felt a special affinity for the combination of violin and piano, which I knew would also do the trick. I decided to layer just a few other elements to give the scene the right vibe: a balance between celebrating the love between Emma and Vince and suggesting that their bliss may be temporary.
Since I’m based in Brooklyn, I enlisted my friend and engineer Gary Olson, of the great band The Ladybug Transistor, to record the track at his studio in Ditmas Park. I love working there – it’s relaxed, comfortable, and Gary has an endless parade of vintage mics, amps and keyboards to find just the right sound. I also got two other players on board: Elana Arian, a superb violin player and singer/songwriter, and Arthur Lewis, another fantastic singer and songwriter, to tickle the keys. We added a couple of other elements to round out the sound – some subtle chords on a Hammond organ, a tremolo electric guitar – but maintained the sparse, aching arrangement throughout.
To add a very minute detail, we recorded a piano-only version of “Those Kisses” in a “loungey” feel, to play quietly in the department store scene right before the big song – just a hint of what’s to come musically.
I couldn’t have been happier with the product of combining the music with the picture. It brings a unique kind of joy to hear your own music accompany such a beautifully envisioned and executed film.
The first time you hear my voice singing, as Vince and Emma exit the department store, is a key moment. Introducing a new element – the singing voice – allowed us to solidify the transition to a new and very different kind of scene. And there is so much that is important about that moment.
Of course, the slow motion style of filming is principal change that the music accompanies. Such stunning, epic, visuals make this the kind of scene that a composer dreams about scoring!
When my voice comes in, you hear the sound of a lone car driving away, and then the film loses all ambient street sound. That single car racing off into the distance signals a kind of departure of the “real” world, and really gives the sense that you’re seeing Vince and Emma envelop themselves even deeper into their own reality, disconnected from the world around them.
Further, it’s the first time you’re hearing an outside voice, drenched in reverb, clearly not coming from anything on the street. It gives the scene an otherworldly quality. It heightens both the meaning of the words and the imagery on screen.
There are so many other subtle interactions between the music, lyrics and picture that I love:
When Vince and Emma look at each other as they’re running, you hear the lyric “I was blind for a thousand sunsets / then opened my eyes to see.” It reinforces the idea that, for the moment, Vince is re-envisioning his relationship with Emma.
The moment you first hear the violins, which help take the intensity of the song up a notch, is the amazing shot of Emma’s billowing dress. At this point, the emotional sound of the violins, coupled with the flowing fabric of her dress, embodies the passion of their relationship.
When Vince and Emma run in front of the chandelier store, I sing “I can’t see anything but I can feel your hand.” Even though they’re right in front of a store that sells lights – a symbol of vision – Vince and Emma are so wrapped up in their own world that the touch of each other’s hand is all they need to truly “see.”
I could keep going and going… Almost every moment has something that catches my eyes and ears – some intentional, some accidental. It’s why I love making music for films! It’s an express lane to the heart; a shortcut to the soul. It has the ability to heighten any emotion in a film. And in “The Ticket,” we get to see and hear – and ultimately feel – the results.