Rob Marshall, a talented musician, producer, composer and visual editor amongst many other things has worked all over the country with talented artists, actors and industry professionals. Read on to learn more about Rob from his gigging days in Shrewsbury to his new film release ‘7 Hours on earth’.
I’ve worked in music for about 35 years. I was born in Birmingham, West Midlands and moved to Shropshire with my family at the age of 9. I left home and joined my first band at 17, in a comfortable mid-sized town, Shrewsbury. Like many other teenage musos, I assumed it was just a matter of time before we “made it”.
After 5 years, I decided that, rather than wait to be discovered, I would pursue musical success under my own steam and I moved to London. For about 15 years I worked as a gigging musician, performing in live venues around London. Then around the UK and eventually parts of Europe. I spent quite a lot of time in Germany and in the mid 90s juggled the occasional monthly contract there with a degree in Music and French at UWL. Part of my final dissertation was based on my experience working in Germany. Another part of my studies involved music technology which fascinated me. The idea that you could record any sound and then play it back on a keyboard in any key had me hooked from the start.
In 2003, armed with both performing and technical knowledge, I set up a recording studio in Teddington Television Studios. We recorded audio, music, voiceovers, podcasts, sound design etc. Then I started to create original music for artists and production companies. Inevitably, we were also asked to create video content and so the company’s services list eventually grew to cover most digital creative disciplines. As time passed I became an audio engineer, voice artist, video editor, camera operator, photographer, graphic artist, sound designer. Of course, making music was always where I felt happiest, so I’d jump at the chance whenever the opportunity arose.
By 2018, we were based at Twickenham Studios providing a wide range of services including post-production. John, our technical director, provided some drone footage for a feature film in production in South London. Later, the director was looking for post-production for the film. Initially, I offered to do the visual editing. That soon extended to other areas of post-production – VFX, SFX, ADR, sound design. During editing sessions I played some musical ideas I had to the director and, luckily for me, she liked them. So we agreed to feature some of my songs in the film and then it made sense that I should also compose and create the score.
The film was written by Steve Smith who had just had a hit in the United States with a film called ‘No Sleep til Christmas’. Our film, “7 Hours on Earth”, was the result of quite stunning tenacity on the part of Patricia Sharpe, an award-winning TV director. Paricia funded the film through crowdfunding and her own money. It’s set in a modern South London school. he plot is based on Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ but instead of fairies splashing potions about, it was aliens misusing technology to try to sort out the love lives of some of the teenage pupils. Obviously, it doesn’t go well and mayhem ensues.
One of the stars is Ramona Marquez. You will know her as Karen, the little girl from the hit BBC TV series, ‘Outnumbered’. She was 17 when the film was shot, she’s 19 now. Her dad, Martin (Hotel Babylon) and Karl Queensborogh (Currently Hamilton in the West End) also star. Ramona was one of the pupils at the school. In fact, everyone involved in the film was either a pupil, staff or alumni of the school.
I am particularly impressed by the performances of some of the non-professional cast. Rufiat Awolope, Gus Flind-Henry and Byron Easmon in particular.
The main challenge was the sheer volume of work involved. We did the dialogue mix first and then the Sound Effects. I love SFX, it’s great fun. You wouldn’t believe how much is needed. The trick is to create all the obvious ones first and then get creative with your ideas later when you’re not pressed by a deadline. Many of the SFX came from libraries, but there were times when I just couldn’t find the right effect and had to create it from scratch. Your readers will know this is called Foley (named after the celebrated Hollywood SFX artist, Jack Foley).
At one time, I spent an hour trying to recreate the sound of a book hitting the floor but couldn’t quite get it to sound like it was coming from the scene. I then discovered that we had the original recording all along, hidden at the end of the clip.
I started to put together musical concepts before we had picture lock so that we could get an idea of how it was going to sound. Picture lock is where all the visual of a film are locked so that they can’t be altered in any way and only then can the post-audio and music be fully done. The film contains a lot of dialogue so it was quite a task to squeeze songs in.
I’m particularly pleased with the song over the closing credits ‘Believe’. It was a co-write with a very talented singer, Karina Stephens, about 4 years ago. We needed an anthem to finish the movie and perhaps persuade viewers to stay seated to read the credits so tried a few songs, including ‘Believe’. I was convinced it was the right song immediately. It took a little more time and persuasion to convince Patricia, the director. Now she tells me she can’t stop singing it, which is a good sign. Karina really does have an amazing voice, I’m very lucky to have the opportunity to work with her.
There was one major stumbling block along the way: The film culminates in a dance sequence with the cast miming to a well-known 1970s song (which will remain nameless for legal reasons). We were about to release the film when the publishing company that owns the song suddenly pulled out of the music licence deal. It left us in a very difficult position. That dance sequence was shot over 2 years ago, everyone looks so different now so we couldn’t re-shoot it.
So eventually, I had to create a song that was the exact tempo and with similar intonation, with words that resembled the text in the original song, but absolutely nothing could be at all like the original – or we’d be sued! I think the result works really well, albeit looking a little slack in the sync department on the odd occasion. No-one remembers the original commercial song now.
I also really enjoyed creating the score itself. It takes a long time but it’s about as creative an activity as I can imagine. I kept the arrangements down to a handful of instruments for most of the film. Because the film is about aliens in our world, I was able to play more natural sounding, regular instruments off against synthesised sounds to highlight the contrast between the humans and the aliens. As the aliens developed human-like instincts, I began to swap their leitmotifs to more human-sounding instruments such as strings. Developing leitmotifs is probably the best part of the whole process; you are literally taking that character and representing them through a musical phrase. There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get when you watch a scene come to life synced with your own musical accompaniment.
I’m a relatively new member but I’ve already found the platform invaluable. It’s really great to have a central place where so many like-minded, creative people hang out.
Not yet, but I’m planning to. I’ve had some excellent exchanges with all kinds of creative people. I’ll certainly be reaching out to members when I score my next film.
The creative industries are changing daily. Technology has democratized music production inasmuch as, young people from relatively modest circumstances can create content of great quality, a quality that only a few decades ago would have required a million-dollar investment. There has been more creative content produced each day of 2020 than in the whole of 1960.
Depending on how you look at this, it could mean more competition, a flooded market, dilution and devaluation of what you do. But it could also mean greater opportunity, more collaboration, an increase in content needing your particular kind of music. Music-making still provides an income to an enormous amount of professionals, younger and older. A sizable part of my income has come from music for the past 40 years and I still get a kick out of being involved.
It’s been an ambition of mine for a long time to score a film. I eventually secured that gig through leveraging my position in production services, it involved planning, articulation and tenacity. There are many other routes you can take to achieve this if it’s what you want, some will be more successful than others, I’ve had many disappointments in trying to sell my compositional services. All I can be sure of is this: had I never put myself in a position to offer what I had in the first place, my name would never be on any credits, ever.
I would recommend a very simple approach: find a content creator, offer your music to them. Repeat this process until someone takes notice. A lot of music creators depend too much on the strength of their creations and forget to learn the other, transferable skills necessary to get their music listened to in the first place. It isn’t just about how good your music is, it’s about collaborating, communicating, understanding your market. Very few musicians get lucky breaks, projects don’t find you, it’s the other way around.
The film is now live on Amazon and will go live on Google Play and iTunes in the next week or so. The premiere is scheduled for Sept 24th to coincide with the press releases and publicity. The Gaurdian is running an article on the film next week. My role will then change back to Producer. There are interviews, meetings, video shoots lined up and plenty of admin work to do.
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