When filmmaker, author and former editor-in-chief of Rue Morgue magazine Jovanka Vuckovic had the opportunity to choose where to hold the world premiere of her first short film, The Captured Bird, Toronto was the obvious choice. “I was born at Toronto General Hospital. I’ve been here most of my life. I also wanted my friends, family and crew to be able to attend the premiere,” says Vuckovic. The Captured Bird was screened for the very first time at the Worldwide Short Film Festival on June 9th 2012 at an event called The Night Shift, which began at 11:30pm and was composed entirely of dark, disturbing and horror-themed films.
Even in this lurid company, The Captured Bird stood out for its visual poetry, compelling narrative and strong, brooding soundtrack. Funded in part by an extensive Kickstarter campaign and executive produced by Guillermo del Toro, for a first short film The Captured Bird is as stunning as it is unsettling. Following a fairy-tale-like story line of a little girl who wanders away from her family out of curiosity, the film quickly moves from winsome and lovely to disturbing. Vuckovic acknowledges that she intentionally contrasted elements of sweetness with horror in the film, stating that, “there is beauty and darkness in the world, everywhere we look. One cannot exist without the other. If what you are showing people is too ugly, they will turn away. Wrap a severed head in a pretty bow, however, and people can’t help but look.”
A large part of the the film’s atmosphere and narrative strength comes from the intense, brooding soundtrack, which was the product of a collaboration between Vuckovic and Toronto heavy metal band Redeemer. Initially discussing the possibility of doing music video for Redeemer, Vuckovic gradually realized that the collaboration was far more suited to a short film. “Some of the imagery [for The Captured Bird] came out of a discussion I had on a plane with [vocalist] Shane Faulkner of Redeemer,” Vuckovic states. “This explains why I ended up choosing Redeemer to do the score. They offered to collaborate on the project and were up for the task of doing a traditional film score.”
While many heavy metal bands have collaborated on film soundtracks in the past, especially for horror films, such as the Saw franchise and the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Redeemer were presented with a very particular challenge well outside of their comfort zone: to create a soundtrack that was much more like a classical horror movie score. “We wanted something that sounded like a horror soundtrack from the 70s and 80s, the kind of movies we grew up on,” Shane Faulkner explains. “We were inspired by the sound of films like The Amityville Horror, The Entity, The Changeling and a few newer ones like Sleepy Hollow.” When it came to describing what she wanted the soundtrack to be like, Vuckovic admits that she relied on the language of these soundtracks to communicate her vision to the band. “I gave Redeemer a handful of my favourite horror soundtracks to study as reference for The Captured Bird score: The Entity, The Amityville Horror, Hellraiser, Session 9, with specific tracks highlighted.” At the first viewing, she was thrilled to discover that the band had nailed it.
The soundtrack to The Captured Bird is a more integral part of the storytelling than in many films. “The music is the dialogue for the film,” Faulkner explains, and so “it’s tied to the story as much as the visuals are.” What begins as sweet and light becomes darker and more ominous, before finally swelling to a crescendo when the film’s monsters appear. While Redeemer were more than up to the challenge, the band do admit that the process of writing the music for The Captured Bird was “exactly a million miles away from how [they] write normally.” Redeemer‘s bassist, Darius Szczepaniak, is a skilled producer and engineer who has worked on film soundtracks in the past, and with Faulkner directing the process and the rest of the band advising, Szczepaniak was able to create a lush, orchestral sound scape using Pro Tools. “We couldn’t really afford an orchestra, or Darius would have conducted an orchestra successfully,” Faulkner explains. “The budget was pretty low, so we really just had a few days in the study to flesh out the idea.” In the end, however, they were able to tap into the correct emotional register and convey the subtleties and shifts of the film’s narrative and tone brilliantly.
The collaboration between heavy metal music and independent film-making in Toronto proved to be a powerful one for The Captured Bird, Jovanka Vuckovic and Redeemer, and their success sets the tone for future film-makers will who wish to seek out the talents of Toronto metal bands to score their films. Vuckovic believes that horror and heavy metal have a natural affinity for one another, explaining that, “both are immensely cathartic. The horror genre in particular is a great springboard to express our fear and anxiety about death and dying. Watching a horror film in the safety of your living room, with the awareness that you can effectively be a tourist of death with impunity – now that’s exciting! People into horror tend to embrace other outsider art including aggressive music like heavy metal, because it also screams and rages against the dying of the light.”
For more information about The Captured Bird, visit the film’s website here.
For more about the band Redeemer, check out their myspace page here.