Making the soundtrack to the interactive film LATE SHIFT

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A work report for everyone interested in game and film music.

While a regular film score to a linear film is composed to fit certain synch points, the music to Late Shift changes dynamically based on what is happening in the scenes of the interactive film. This means that every time a decision is made by the player(s), the music changes and the film takes a different turn. The music plays from an independent sound file stored in the app. The music, as well as part of the sound effects are separate from the film files and are triggered according to the course of the movie.

Basically, the Late Shift music functions similar to a game soundtrack. Rhythmic transitions (like in the software fmod studio) would have been possible with a synchro start of two tracks with identical tempo, but none of the scenes provided an opportunity to try this technique. So all the transitions are in floating, beat-less parts. This technique works well if taken into account when composing the cues. Often we used stingers, risers and overlapping audio files that could be triggered at an exact spot, so that we could be on time for important synch-points.

Besides composing and producing the score, an important part of my work was the music editing. I created flowcharts (picture 3 & 4) to communicate to the post-production team where the various music titles belonged and how they should be treated. These flowcharts became essential to our way of working.

For the instrumentation we used analog synthesizers and digital synth plug-ins, as well as manipulated gong-, bell-, bowl recordings for suspense moments and Chinese hand drums (picture 2) for the chases. At the beginning, we purposefully shunned regular piano and string sounds, only employing them later for the requiem at the end, where the dead were honored with bowed gamelan and strings.

The film mix was executed in two steps. First, premixes of the film were made in Pro Tools. Then the final mixdown was made in the authoring tool where all the audio and film elements come together. Mixing was confined to volume changes.

Without the brilliant post-production team by my side, I would have needed an extension to my brain just to understand how the whole thing worked. And, I was beyond fortunate to find Harry Herchenroth, the talented assistant who helped me finish so much music on time.

Late Shift is the most ambitious project I have worked on to date. Here’s a numerical breakdown of what we were working with:

1 story – countless storylines – 7 different endings.

180 decision points.

A total of more than 4 hours of film.

163 Minutes of music

Get the LATE SHIFT movie app here: App Store

Listen or get the LATE SHIFT soundtrack album here:  Bandcamp | Spotify |  iTunes

Picture 2: Chinese hand drums for the chase

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Picture 3: one page of Late Shift flow charts, picture 4 flowchart sketch

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