Warren Ellis – Bad Girl

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INTERVIEW WITH

Warren Ellis

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When you watch a movie at a film festival as prestigious as the Melbourne International Film Festival the one thing that you don’t expect to get is an audible reaction to a film during the actual screening. These are serious, seasoned film lovers watching the movies and while you may get a round of applause or a standing ovation at the end of the film, during the film, it is dead silence – no crinkling of chip packets (which is bliss) and very little reaction – something that can be a little daunting when nobody is laughing during a comedy. You could imagine the surprise then when the Australian thriller Bad Girl, directed by Fin Edquist (Little Deaths), had the audience gasping when it delivered a twist that nobody saw coming.

Starring Samara Weaving (Mystery Road) and Sara West (The Daughter), this great Western Australian thriller keeps its audience on edge all throughout the film and helping raise that suspense is the score from legendary Australian composer, Warren Ellis, who in the past has worked with Nick Cave to create the film score for films such as Lawless, The Proposition and The Road.

For Ellis, the fact that for Bad Girl and his last film, Mustang, has been made without the help of Nick Cave he says has given him a new sense of ‘freedom’. “When the producer sent me the script, I sat down and read it and I found that it was a different kind of film and the kind of film that I haven’t worked on before,” he explains.

Bad Girl – Warren Ellis: “In the past, a lot of the films I’ve worked on with Nick (Cave) have been about men lost in wildernesses or trying to figure something out. So we have always been wanting to get different things to come in and sometimes that hasn’t always been available. But with this one there was just something about it – it was great to read and it had a great energy about it – and it came after I had just done another film called Mustang, and it was something I could tackle on my own. Up until that point, I had always done my scores with Nick and Mustang showed me that I could work in a certain way, that I could work on a small budget film… and I like the economy of that; I like what that provokes in you because it forces you outside of your comfort zone. Doing Mustang for me was a huge learning curve, it was a very different film and I found myself working very, very quickly, actually, and it showed me that I could take the training wheels off in a way. Similarly, Bad Girl was a very lean affair and I really like the energy of smaller budget films, there just isn’t that flabbiness that can be contained in the big studio films and there’s a different energy in the way that the directors and the producers are working. I had a few rules with this one: I couldn’t go into a studio because I was on tour with Dirty Three, so I wanted to just do it on my laptop because it was all I could really do with it and they were really into that idea. So I just started throwing ideas together based on a really lengthy discussion with the director about approaches and how the music would be used and my reference, I guess, was a kind of Mad Max very-impacting score that comes and goes out of nowhere, which was kind of wild for the editing of the film. So I guess I had a couple of ideas and then just started making it and I got addicted to the process. I didn’t sleep much in January, I just sat in my hotel room rehearsing by day and making this score by night with a couple of synthesisers and old pieces I had laying around. It was pretty liberating, actually.”

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While the theme of characters being ‘lost’ has always been a big thing in the films that Ellis has worked on he says it is different this time around. “I think there is a real strength and independence with the female characters in both Mustang and Bad Girl,” he emphasises. “I’m not sure the girls are really lost, but more victims of their environment. But someone like Lale in Mustang is definitely not lost—she’s anything but lost—she’s trying to make sense of everything and trying to empower herself and her sisters… she doesn’t want to be a victim of her own environment and that was a very different scenario to me. There’s something very empowering about these two films. I love the energy of Bad Girl. When I eventually saw it, I loved the staging of it and the editing of it.”

As talk turns to how a composer goes about putting music together for a film, Ellis says there really are not any set rules. “For me, I’m not sure how my approach is different or the same to other people (it depends on the film), but generally there is a discussion and if I’m working with Nick we might have a discussion about the sound and what will be necessary… certainly what the sound palate will be,” he explains. Then you might talk to the director but it is very different with each film, like with The Road, for example, we had a discussion with John (director John Hillcoat) about the sound and what would be generated. Then we tried to make sounds that we thought would exist after an apocalypse, so things like wind going through wire, bottles, water boiling and stuff. I sat around the house making sounds. All the backing sounds were generated using things that I thought might exist after the apocalypse – what sounds might be coming out. It’s a little general idea but it gives you something to aim towards and then you can go from there. I guess with every film you just try to get a sound palate going on and then you sit down and start working. Normally, it’s with Nick, and we just start making music and let some accidents happen. This, to me, is not a job. It’s something I love doing and I still feel like an outsider in this world. I’ve made some films but it’s not my job. With Bad Girls, I wanted an energy and I wanted it to be impactful. I wanted it to be economical and I wanted it to be something that was minimal, but something that would help with the energy of the film and I wanted it to be loud… I wanted it to be overwhelming.”

Bad Girl is out in cinemas now and has been reviewed at heavymag.com.au

Written by Dave Griffiths

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