Composer George Kallis recently scored After We Fell, the third installment in the popular After movie franchise, based on the New York Times’ best-selling book series by Anna Todd. In addition to crafting the score, Kallis was also the creative driving force behind the ethereal and romantic pop ballad “After Our Dawn”.
After We Fell was released in September by Voltage Pictures and Vertical Entertainment. The film follows Tessa (Josephine Langford) and Hardin (Hero Fiennes Tiffin), who have endured struggles during their relationship and are now faced with some of the biggest changes and challenges of their lives.
Director Castille Landon asked Kallis to create a musical score that captured the deep sense of growth and maturity the main characters have achieved since the first film, while staying true to the musical soundscape of the existing films. The elevated sound palette features piano, electronic elements and live orchestra.
“After Our Dawn” was born when Kallis suggested to Castille the idea of creating an original song based on the film’s main musical theme. He took the creative lead, composing, co-producing and co-writing the lyrics, alongside the voices behind the song of Taylor Conrod, Castille Landon, Ryan Steffes, George Solonos and Nicolas Farmakalidis.
Kallis recently took some time to detail for Post, his work on the project.
How did you get involved in After We Fell?
“Our director, Castille Landon, reached out a couple of months prior to shooting the film. I worked with Castille on two of her past films, Apple of My Eye and Albion The Enchanted Stallion. She explained that she was working on a romantic drama film and asked me to send in some of my contemporary drama scores, so the producers could consider me for scoring the film. She did not specify which movie it was, but she gave me a rundown of what was expected out of the score.
“Getting off the phone call, I quickly realized I did not have the exact contemporary drama style the film required! I was coming off of a series of orchestral action and fantasy scores. So I decided to spend the rest of that day composing two thematic pieces as demos. A few months went by and I got the call from producer Brian Pitt (saying) that I was hired. When I received the final cut of the film to start scoring to picture, I was pleasantly surprised that the demos I had pre-composed matched almost perfectly with certain key scenes. This is credited to Castille and her thorough understanding of the direction we were going to take.”
What were the musical needs of the film?
“I think the aim was to keep connecting the audience to both the emotional development and the hurdles experienced by our protagonists. Tessa and Hardin are now going through some serious issues. We find out about Tessa’s estranged relationship with her father, her health problems, and of course we have a new distant relationship with Hardin. They are not the same couple anymore, as their connection gets interrupted by a third person, Robert. Therefore, without straying too far from the soundscape of the previous films, the need was to re-imagine and grow the music with a more of a full-fledged sound.
“This could be seen a gift to me, as it gave me an empty canvas to work on, but on the other side a little tricky, since we are switching the musical language. I had to make sure I found the sweet spot for the loyal fans. Spotting-wise, I micro-focused on the couple’s feelings and interactions with each other through very delicate instrumentation. We had the piano as the central instrument, but I added a little bit of weight to the string orchestra to establish a more grandiose sound for certain important scenes, particularly as the story develops quite dramatically towards the end of the picture. The new love theme is intimate but flexible, and it can be stated in both major and a minor keys. I mostly feature this melody in the middle register of the piano, which seemed to address the need of a mature sound. I then started scoring each scene, working closely with the director and our editor Morgan Halsey, and approvals came from the core production team of the After franchise and Voltage Pictures.”
How many cues and themes did you create? Can you talk about their approximate lengths?
“I composed 42 cues, which averaged around one-minute in length. The individual lengths are quite shorter than what I was used to in my previous films. The reason was that, Josh Kessler and Dylan Bostick, from Heavy Duty Music, licensed some fantastic songs that were required for this type of film, and so my work was mostly focused on underscoring the important dramatic moments, as well as moving things forward in the transitional sequences.
“For the score’s soundtrack, we focused on giving audiences the most important cues that tell the story. I also created and co-wrote the end title song “After Our Dawn”, together with Ryan Steffes, Castille Landon, NicoTheOwl, George Solonos and Taylor Conrod, who also performs. I always loved the interconnection between the score and a film’s title song, so I derived the chorus out of the B-section of the love theme.”
What was the timeline to create the music, and what gear did you rely on to record and mix?
“The time-frame was around eight weeks, which was actually a blessing, since I had a bit of time to try things out, find the sound palette we were going with, and set up my sample template.
“I am scoring on Apple's Logic Pro since 1995, when I was started studying film scoring (Back when it was still with Emagic). I have two further Mac server computers connected across the network via Vienna Pro Ensemble. VPE runs a 600-instrument template, which is mostly Kontakt (Native Instruments) and Sine (Orchestral Tools) based, and it streams all samples back into Logic Pro. I am using TouchOSC, a modular MIDI control app on the iPad which makes my work faster with some convenient hot keys for Logic, such as quantization, transpositions, velocity inserts, etc.
“The main sound library I focused on for this particular film was Spitfire's Contemporary Drama Toolkit. It had a wonderful selection of pads, and in particular, I loved the Piano Black Hole, a beautiful haunting piano, which worked perfectly for Tessa’s flashback into her childhood and her estranged father’s theme.
“I also used their Felt and Labs Soft piano, which I love. Further to this, I was looking for a lo-fi color and a lot of the times I found myself opening Outputs’s Arcade. Once I chose a sound I liked, I manipulated it through various filters and plug-ins (including the Slate Digital ones), to make the final timbre sound as close as I had imagined it. I had my bud, George Solonos, record all live guitars remotely in his studio in Cyprus, and we recorded the string orchestra with the Budapest Art Orchestra.
“The score orchestrations were made on Sibelius (Avid) by Apostolos Papapostolou. We occasionally had some options of various performance approaches for our soloists, for example with the cello. The session preparation and recordings were on Pro Tools, with the mix sweetened by my friend, Alvin Wee. We delivered a stereo and surround mix and around 10 instrument stems for flexibility on the dubbing sessions.”