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Composing for Television Drama

A television drama about the life of a social worker and the dilemma of child protection could have had a very dull and unexciting soundtrack – but I didn’t want to do that.

‘Protection’ (from Silent Witness series 18) is about forensic pathologists Thomas Chamberlain, Nikki Alexander, Clarissa Mullery and forensics specialist Jack Hodgson who are slowly pulled into the world of Social Worker Louise Marsh (played by Claudie Maza).

For this film I started by playing around with very electronic sounds and patches – the film was set in council estates and quite run down areas of London – and these electronic sounds felt appropriate for this urban setting. When composing, it is not a case of writing a piece of music and hoping that it just works. Every decision I make when composing I am asking myself: is there a reason for this choice and does it make the music more coherent with the film? So for example: every sound and timbre and instrument is very carefully considered and how it plays part of the ‘whole’ soundtrack and film.

When working on a scene certain keys jump out at me as feeling ‘right’ – and in this case the motifs felt like they should be based around F sharp major. I had always wanted to compose a theme in a major key for a crime drama  – just to see how the juxtaposition would work over a story with incredible grief and indeed ‘if’ it would work. Lizzie’s main theme and subsequent variations are all based on an F major to D major chord progression.

I then layered on some electric guitar to counter the electronic soundscape that I had created – the guitar added a wonderful personal element and warmth.

As I began to try out themes over various scenes in the films I realised that something quite powerful was happening with the combination of the music and film.

I knew inside me that it was working – I just had that ‘feeling’; but had I gone too ‘left field’ for a BBC 1 prime time drama – the doubt did play on my mind.

When Daniel O’Hara (director) came to my studio the first time to hear my music over his film I was a little nervous: I often like to push the boundaries in the music but this time I worried that I had gone too far. My concerns were however unfounded – I remember that as we watched though the episodes Daniel fully embraced the score and loved what it was doing for his film.

Even now as I compiled this ‘mix’ I am immediately brought back into the world and life of Louise Marsh the social worker.

Silent Witness – Series 18 – Episodes 5 & 6

Directed by Daniel O’Hara Produced by Sharon Bloom

First broadcast BBC 1

Richard Lintern talks about Protection in this BBC Interview.