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How a film score can create tension and suspense

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

As we at Cinemagic are leaders in visualizing ideas into motion pictures through cutting edge technology, we do our very best in visual storytelling. However, visual storytelling or production has a large number of things that require utmost focus. In this blog, we focus on one of the most important parts in the post-production process of visual storytelling - background score or background music and we aim to help you as a reader, to understand, briefly, at the least; the importance background music can play to enhance storytelling through motion pictures. Music can set the tone for a film. It gives the viewer an idea of the genre, the degree of intensity, and the type of film that it is. This happens very quickly although it's a subconscious influence. Music contrary to the scene can also be produced which gives the audience a different perspective. Sometimes this is seen in storylines that have a twist.

If you wanted to create tension in a scene you could try a few methods such as juxtaposing contrasting scenes, using long deliberate close-up shots, showing glimpses of danger, panning, dolly shots, fast action, silence, and the musical score.

The musical score can influence how people feel, it has a powerful way of steering our emotions. Think of how music composer, Bernard Herrmann', famous Psycho shower scene, uses deliberately repeated shriek of violin strings to strike a chilling chord in its audience. The music builds up and mirrors the actor's stabbing motion, leading to the moment of silence when this action ceases. The vicious tone makes us aware that we should be terrified, and indeed we are.

The score for Jaws ranks as one of the most terrifying music ever written, its menacing insistent tones played loud or quietly, fast or slow (depending on mood), created so much tension and suspense, that the audiences were screaming and cowering in fear.

Mission Impossible 4's ending scene (music composed by Michael Giacchino) concludes with a shoot out that asks the audience to accompany the actors on their adrenalin infused conclusion. To accomplish this, the accompanying score crescendos throughout the battle falls momentarily whilst building tension and suspense thus allowing the audience to breathe.

Here are a few of the Cinemagic team favorite musical scores; Twin Peaks, Psycho, Game of Thrones, Gravity, Looney Tunes, Tom and Jerry and for extreme suspense 2014 Academy Award for best 'Interstellar'.

In terms of background music, one of the most cinematic projects that we have worked on, is the ad for the Sheikh Abdullah Al Salem Cultural Centre which was a collaboration between Cinemagic and Bustop. The project itself was an extremely important one in terms of what it represented about Kuwait as a nation.

To us, ASCC represented the importance in building the future of Kuwait. It was a museum according to the world's standard, one of the largest in the world. It had items that you couldn't find anywhere else in the world. It was a very important ad itself. So we wanted to approach the ad with the same amount of respect. - Tarek Jamal, Head of Productions, Bustop.

The ad, over all, was created with envisioning it as one of the best of our works. According to Tarek Jamal, 'in terms of cinematography, in terms of the way it was filmed - we wanted to make sure that everyone who was working on this project was working to the best of their abilities. And the same goes for music.' The background music of this ad was not purchased online and neither was it composed locally in Kuwait. The concept behind the production of the music for the ad was to make sure that the background music would be cinematic in nature and would go beyond the ad itself.

When we wanted to create this film, we wanted it to be on an international cinematic level. We didn't want it to feel like an advertisement. We tried to capture the imagination of the main character in this museum and how she is envisioning herself. So she's seeing the world as though she's living inside of a film. So we composed it, and then we recorded it, dedicated a piece of the budget into recording a proper piece, buying an orchestra so you can get that extra level of quality and beauty that you get with real instruments. - Tarek Jamal

If you were to pay importance to the background music in the ad below that Cinemagic produced for the Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem Cultural Centre, you would notice that in the first 20 seconds of the ad, the music stays calm and low as the little girl reaches the cultural centre. As she begins to explore more areas of the cultural centre, the music intensifies bit by bit as though rhythmically trying to express her excitement about the world she explored at the centre. From 0:40 onwards, the music gets higher pitched and intensifies more as she speaks of her experience with space until she is finally seen wearing a spacesuit. As she moves from there into walking in the forest, the music becomes slightly calmer as though trying to express the calmness that the greenery arouses in the little girl. From there onward until when she moves to the aquarium and interacts with the sea-world, the music shifts and finally reaches its most calming and soothing rhythmic state expressing her intrigue towards the sea-life that she witnessed at the cultural centre.

At Cinemagic, we believe that perfection is achieved by making sure all needs are met. For this reason, we try to pay just as much attention to the background music we select for our productions just as much as we would pay to the words selectively chosen for the voiceover. 'Music touches us emotionally, where words alone can't' - Johnny Depp For further details, please contact:


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