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November 4, 2009

Soundtracked - "The Way We Get By" by Zack Martin

Motion picture soundtracks have always fascinated me. In the Soundtracked series, composers and/or directors offer commentary on their film's soundtrack, and offer insights into the creative evolution that melds music into the final film.

The Way We Get By is an honest and moving documentary about three Maine senior citizens who greet soldiers at the Bangor airport. Zack Martin's music enhances their story without ever overpowering it, the mark of a great film score.

The New York Times wrote of the film:

"Unfailingly modest and profoundly humane, “The Way We Get By” profiles three people over 70 whose lives have been changed by a simple act of service: greeting troops at Bangor International Airport in Maine."

In his own words, here is composer Zack Martin's Soundtracked essay for his soundtrack to the film, The Way We Get By:

The score for The Way We Get By started with a phone call. The film was long from being finished, but director Aron Gaudet wanted to get started immediately brainstorming ideas and themes for the soundtrack. We believed that due to the film's rural setting (Maine), minimal acoustic guitar music could work perfectly. I suggested that we might consider tastefully working in some experimental percussive aspects; that it need not be strictly traditional Americana. Aron agreed, and the work began.

Upon starting the demoing process, I thought about of some artists I would consider as inspiration. I am a huge fan of Califone, and believe they have put an interesting spin on the Americana sound. I also thought of Ry Cooder's score for Paris, Texas. I got to work on some initial theme ideas and started tracking them at my home in Providence.

The acoustic guitar ideas were an instant hit with Aron and producer Gita Pullapilly, but that is not to say that the process was without setbacks. I was making regular trips from Providence to the WGBH building in Boston to show them new ideas, watch new cuts of the film, and take notes to bring home. Initially, the film had news footage of soldiers in Iraq on patrols and scenes of real life war carnage. This led me down a road that was not working for any of us. I started writing and recording ideas for "hard-hitting" modern warfare film music, with everything from intense, deep drum percussion, to electronics that strived to emulate cheese-ball nightly news music to intensify war footage. I struggled, trying to conceive something that would coalesce with the minimal guitar music that is prevalent in the rest of the film.

In time, and luckily for me, Aron and Gita cut all of the war footage from the film. They struggled, like I did with the music, interweaving it into the story. They felt that the "war is bad" documentary had been done numerous times before, and although important and done well by others, it just wasn't the film they were trying to make. The film was about the subjects, not about the visceral horrors of war.

Although most of everything recorded for Aron was eventually re-recorded for the final cut, a few of the original demo pieces used for the first trailer were also used in the film. "Bill's Lament" was one such piece, and in some ways it was conceived by accident. I was getting audio levels for recording melodica -- an instrument I used throughout the score -- and an idea came to me. I tracked it quickly, and layered it with additional melodica tracks. Its somber tone worked perfectly as a theme used to establish the more difficult aspects of Bill's life.

A deadline of two months came as I was moving from Providence to Brooklyn, NY. I spent a month living with some family friends in their guest house in the Adirondack Mountains, and continued to record the percussion of the score. It was then that Aron asked me to write and record a song for the credit sequence. He wanted an acoustic song sung by me to replace a Kinks song they were using as temp music. I wrote "the Trapper" in an hour, and had recorded most of it later that night. With percussion all but finished, I spent a week in Burlington, VT recording acoustic guitars at a friend’s house. I chose her house because of her spacious living room, yielding big, bright sounds with a character that really suited this project well. Upon moving into my new apt. in NY, I didn't bother unpacking anything but my recording gear and my mattress. I had little time to finish and mix before the deadline. I finished a few days ahead of time so that I could get it mastered with a friend, Ken Johnson, who I believe really brought the life and tones out of my recordings.

When I met the three subjects of the documentary – Bill, Joan, and Jerry -- we were all attending a large screening in Bangor, Maine. Upon our introduction I could tell they were practically dizzy from meeting so many people, but when they were told that I was the one who did the music they were ecstatic to finally meet me. It felt amazing that the music had an effect on them. They are the true essence of this film.

The Way We Get By links:

the film's website

The A.V. Club review
Film Threat review
Hollywood Reporter review
Living in Cinema review
New York Post review
New York Times review
Variety review
Washington Post review

Zack Martin Links:

Zack Martin's MySpace page

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Soundtracked submissions (directors and composers discuss their film's soundtrack)
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
musician/author interviews

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