To make a movie on the cheap, get a band

It goes without saying that if you’re going to make an indie film, you’re going to need a killer soundtrack to go with it.

Members of Malajube pose with their trophy at the ADISQ gala

Members of Malajube pose with their trophy at the ADISQ gala

TORONTO — It goes without saying that if you’re going to make an indie film, you’re going to need a killer soundtrack to go with it.

The traditional method of crafting one has been to seek out the coolest up-and-coming bands to create that perfect mixed tape.

But recent Canadian indie releases have been charting their own course, turning to just one group to craft a unified soundscape that falls somewhere between a traditional music score and a compilation of indie gems.

The latest is The Trotsky, fuelled by the melodic riffs of Montreal’s Malajube, while Gunless gallops to the country twang of Blue Rodeo.

Earlier this year, Grown Up Movie Star was infused with the alternative strains of Elliott Brood.

Movie Star director Adriana Maggs says it was simply cheaper to go with Elliott Brood — a band she happened to love anyway — than assemble a collection of hot tracks.

“I’m really excited about the fact that maybe that’s how we can do it in Canada from now on because it gets really expensive to get American songs,” says the Newfoundland-bred Maggs, whose coming-of-age film earned a performance prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

Writer, director, and actor Don McKellar, who wrote the Broken Social Scene-inspired love story, This Movie Is Broken and appears in the upcoming girl-band movie, Trigger, says teaming up with a hungry band can be great for everyone involved.

“You can spend heaps of money on buying music,” says McKellar, whose collaboration with the Toronto indie band is more akin to a concert film than a traditional feature.

“But if you work with a band, usually they’re eager because they can show their stuff and it’s a great showcase for them. You probably do get more of your money’s worth.”

Malajube bassist Mathieu Cournoyer says he was surprised when they were asked to record music for The Trotsky.

“It was fun doing it, actually,” says Cournoyer, noting they culled material from a stash of melodies, including previously released tracks.

“(Singer) Julien (Mineau) had a big bank of songs and half songs and just riffs, and we just took some of these riffs and worked on them. But it’s fun because it’s not like writing a whole song. You write a 30-second song with no lyrics. It’s pretty different from trying to write an album. Writing music with no lyrics, we had a blast doing it.”

Although popular this summer, such collaborations certainly aren’t new. French electronic duo Air were behind the dreamy sounds of 1999’s “The Virgin Suicides,” while Explosions in the Sky set the tone for 2004’s “Friday Night Lights.” Neil Young provided the instrumental soundscape for 1997’s “Dead Man,” with the legendary songwriter reportedly improvising melodies as he watched the film in a recording studio.

That was similar to the way Montreal’s Besnard Lakes approached the score for actor Mark Ruffalo’s directorial debut, “Sympathy for Delicious.”

“And it was such a blast to do,” says frontman Jace Lasek. “Mark Ruffalo is such a sweet guy. We really sort of hit it off and he kind of gave us a lot of creative freedom in interpreting the scenes and he was really open to our suggestions.”

The apparent trend certainly isn’t limited to smaller pictures. Bigger-budget flicks are leaning this way, too — “Iron Man 2” largely features a best-of collection from AC/DC, the Ben Stiller comedy “Greenberg” is framed by James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, and Daft Punk is applying its robot-inspired anthems to “Tron: Legacy.”

Toronto director Michael McGowan, whose soundtrack for last year’s road movie “One Week” featured a galaxy of Canadian music stars, says there’s a huge advantage to having a single musical viewpoint. He notes it can be tricky trying to shoe-horn a previously recorded song into a film.

“We had a composer and a score and source (previously recorded material),” McGowan says of “One Week.”

“But putting source music is a bit of hit-and-miss. You’ll try a track against it and it just won’t be right for whatever reason and you’ll do that 20 times ’til you find the track you think, ’Oh, that actually kind of does what it emotionally I want it to do for the scene.’ ”

McGowan’s next film, “Score: A Hockey Musical,” features original songs integrated into the storyline. It’s due for release in the fall.

Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan says he never thought he could score a film until he was asked to provide music for Matthew Bissonnette’s 2002 film “Looking For Leonard.”

“You think of film scores, you kind of think orchestral and you know, John Williams or something like that, you know?” says McCaughan, who more recently served as musical director for Bissonnette’s road film, “Passenger Side.”

“I was like, ’I can’t write for music for a string quartet.’ They said, ’No, no, no, we like Portastatic, we want it to sound like that.’ So I thought, ’Well, I can do that.’ ”

“It’s not that common you get a band that can do the full range of a movie,” he says. “The thing with the Broken Social Scene movie is that the band is quite atmospheric and they’ve got so many musicians and resources that they can make so many different sounds.”

While acknowledging that musical needs will vary from project to project, McGowan says a unified musical vision — no matter where it comes from — is a powerful way to pull together a film.

“As long as the composer’s good it’s going to help do things that you can’t do by just selecting songs,” he says. “But a great composer can come from anywhere.”

– With files from Nick Patch

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Security and police block the entrance to GraceLife Church as a fence goes up around it near Edmonton on Wednesday April 7, 2021. The Alberta government has closed down and fenced off a church that has been charged with refusing to follow COVID-19 health rules. Alberta Health Services, in a statement, says GraceLife church will remain closed until it shows it will comply with public-health measures meant to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Expert says gathering outside Alberta church attended by many conspiracy theorists

SPRUCE GROVE, Alta. — An expert investigating hate groups says a weekend… Continue reading

Interior Health nurses administer Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News)
Canada set to receive 1M Pfizer-BioNTech doses, Moderna playing catch-up

OTTAWA — The federal government is expecting Moderna to make good on… Continue reading

This satellite photo from Planet Labs Inc. shows Iran's Natanz nuclear facility on Wednesday, April 7, 2021. Iran's Natanz nuclear site suffered a problem Sunday, April 11, involving its electrical distribution grid just hours after starting up new advanced centrifuges that more quickly enrich uranium, state TV reported. It was the latest incident to strike one of Tehran's most-secured sites amid negotiations over the tattered atomic accord with world powers. (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)
Iran blames Israel for sabotage at Natanz nuclear site

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran blamed Israel on Monday for a… Continue reading

A man rides his bicycle past fields covered with volcanic ash a day after the La Soufriere volcano erupted, in Kingstown, on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent, Saturday, April 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Lucanus Ollivierre)
‘Huge’ explosion rocks St. Vincent as volcano keeps erupting

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent — La Soufriere volcano fired an enormous amount of… Continue reading

Map of Syria. Turkey is to the north. (File photo)
Investigation finds Syria likely behind 2018 chlorine attack

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — An investigation by the global chemical weapons watchdog… Continue reading

Ron Howard is photographed at the "Inferno" film premiere on Oct. 25, 2016 in Los Angeles. (Buckner/Rex Shutterstock/Zuma Press/TNS)
Brothers Ron and Clint Howard have memoir coming in October

NEW YORK — Filmmaker-actor Ron Howard and actor Clint Howard, brothers, former… Continue reading

FILE - In this Saturday, March 27, 2021 file photo, Buffalo Sabres’ Taylor Hall plays against the Boston Bruins during the second period of an NHL hockey game, in Boston. The Buffalo Sabres could trade 2018 MVP Hall, who signed for just this season and is a pending free agent. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)
Boston Bruins acquire Taylor Hall to kick off NHL trade deadline day

Trade deadline day in the NHL has started with the Boston Bruins… Continue reading

The Huawei logo displayed at the main office of Chinese tech giant Huawei in Warsaw, Poland, on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. Poland’s Internal Security Agency has charged a Chinese manager at Huawei in Poland and one of its own former officers with espionage against Poland on behalf of China. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Huawei, HSBC agree on document deal for extradition case

HONG KONG — Chinese telecommunications equipment firm Huawei said Monday that it… Continue reading

The Montreal Police logo is seen on a police car in Montreal on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Hundreds defy Montreal’s 8 p.m. curfew in violent, destructive protest

MONTREAL — Hundreds of protestors gathered in Montreal on Sunday in defiance… Continue reading

Security and police block the entrance to GraceLife Church as a fence goes up around it near Edmonton on Wednesday April 7, 2021. The Alberta government has closed down and fenced off a church that has been charged with refusing to follow COVID-19 health rules. Alberta Health Services, in a statement, says GraceLife church will remain closed until it shows it will comply with public-health measures meant to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Hundreds gather to support Alberta church shut down for ignoring COVID-19 orders

SPRUCE GROVE, Alta. — Hundreds of people are gathered outside an Alberta… Continue reading

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces march during the Calgary Stampede parade in Calgary, Friday, July 8, 2016. The Canadian Armed Forces is developing contingency plans to keep COVID-19 from affecting its ability to defend the country and continue its missions overseas amid concerns potential adversaries could try to take advantage of the crisis. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Canadian special forces supported major Iraqi military assault on ISIL last month

OTTAWA — Some Canadian soldiers supported a major military offensive last month… Continue reading

A woman pays her repects at a roadblock in Portapique, N.S. on Wednesday, April 22, 2020. The joint public inquiry in response to the April mass shooting in Nova Scotia has announced a mandate that includes a probe of the RCMP response as well as the role of gender-based violence in the tragedy. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Creating permanent memorial to Nova Scotia mass shooting victims a delicate task

PORTAPIQUE, N.S. — Creating a memorial for those killed in Nova Scotia’s… Continue reading

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Erin O’Toole says ‘I didn’t hide who I was’ running for Conservative leader

OTTAWA — Erin O’Toole assured Conservative supporters that he never hid who… Continue reading

Most Read