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How Ben Lovett brings musical storytelling to the big screen

Shot from Ben Lovett's The Ritual - SWAGGER Magazine
In-scene shot from Ben Lovett's The Ritual bought by Netflix

Entertainment

How Ben Lovett brings musical storytelling to the big screen

The musician discusses his work on horror film and how he’s turned movie music into a career

There are only a few seconds of music in the two-minute trailer, and while you’ll probably have to go watch The Ritual in full to appreciate Ben Lovett’s score, one thing is for certain: it will only add to the sense of terror in the film.

Directed by David Brucker, The Ritual tells the story of four friends who take a trip to the woods where they are stalked what can only be described as a malevolent presence. Lovett, on the other hand, sounds far less haunted by the experience of making music for the film, given it’s just one of several such projects he’s picked up since getting unexpectedly thrust into scoring for movies.  

Ben Lovett in Studio - SWAGGER Magazine

“I don’t pursue the work. It just sort of finds me,” he says. “It’s kind of a career by accident. I wasn’t formally trained, didn’t have any specific focus on composition categorically. It happened well before I ever earned it or should have had any business attempting it. But it’s the same kind of formula of success for anything: hard work over luck plus timing.”

The Ritual, which made its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival last month, has since been bought by Netflix for a reported $5 million, and it has also come out in the U.K. For Lovett, it marks the end of long days and nights in London, figuring out how best to create music that evoked the sense of horror and dread that pervades the film.

“The scoring process can start before you’ve seen anything,” he says. “That said, you can have some grandiose ideas when they first tell you the idea of the movie, then you see what’s on screen. You have to service what’s there, and the relative limitations of that are actually kind of a blessing — to work within a set of parameters.”

This is in contrast to, say, writing a more personal tune that will be streamed on Spotify, or performed before a live audience. Lovett says he needs both.

“They are different parts of the brain. Usually I need to be able to put one (project) down and go back to the other one,” he says, adding that he feeds of the challenges.  “If all I was doing was writing songs, I would find a way to make that hard for myself. But in this way, I can keep it fresh by floating between those worlds. (When I’m doing a movie) I have to go into a whole different mode.”

And while most people might focus on the more terrifying aspects of The Ritual, Lovett says that wasn’t how he saw the plot.

“I don’t think of stories in terms of genres,” he says. “It’s a story about a guy losing friends. It’s a story about relationship dynamics and how your relationships with your oldest friends change as you get older. That resonates for me. There are life lessons about how all that goes down. That was the most interesting part.”

Lovett’s film career shows little sign of slowing down. He’s just wrapped an feature for ESPN’s 30 for 30 series about HIV-positive boxer Tommy Morrison, and is now about to work on a documentary about — wait for it — taxidermy.

“I do feel like the scoring thing in particular is a job for people who are just obsessed. The work expands to fill the time available for it,” he says. “It took me a while to finally realize this, but I think what I am is a storyteller. My primary occupation and lasting interest in all of it is storytelling. There isn’t one specific medium of that that is wholly satisfying, that is the only thing I want to engage in.”

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Editor-at-Large, SWAGGER Magazine. Shane Schick is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine, the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca, and has been a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Canada. As a content marketing consultant, Shane has helped everyone from startups to some of the world’s most recognized technology brands tell more authentic and engaging stories. Follow Shane on Twitter: @shaneschick.

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