Student short film strikes chord through use of classical music in score
UCLA Extension student Akasha Coral (left) and second-year music composition student Jahan Raymond (right) collaborated to create “Prelude,” a short film that primarily relies on Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-sharp Minor to emphasize the narrative. (Ashley Kenney/Daily Bruin)
By Max Kieling
Sep. 18, 2019 12:24 am
Movies often include a wide variety of music, but classical music isn’t highlighted as often on the silver screen.
“Prelude,” however, puts classical music center stage as the film follows a covertly violent romantic relationship. The short film is directed, written and produced by UCLA Extension student Akasha Coral, who was inspired after having played Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-sharp Minor in concert. This prelude, which Coral said is critical to the short film’s plot, is played by second-year music composition student Jahan Raymond.
“Without the music, we wouldn’t have a movie at all,” Coral said. “In this case, the music came way before the movie.”
With Rachmaninoff’s prelude taking up approximately half of the film’s eight-minute run time, this rings true. It’s similar to a music video, but one that is much more narrative-focused, Coral said.
The film begins with a seemingly perfect couple at a party; however, about halfway through the film, the dialogue fades and the couple returns home. Set to the riveting Prelude in C-sharp Minor, viewers discover that the couple is not as loving as they seem, having resorted to physical violence as a means of displaying affection. The violence takes the form of a hand-to-hand fight, later escalating to include knives, Coral said.
“The couple is really in love,” said lead actor and UCLA Extension acting student Maëva Marcognet. “They just really like being violent, almost as a way to spice things up, but to a dangerous and questionable extent.”
While the acting in the film helps the audience relate to the characters by exposing underlying aggressive feelings that are usually kept invisible, Rachmaninoff’s score brings an added emotional layer into the piece, Marcognet said. The couple’s passionate violence and intense, disturbed love is reflected in such a dramatic composition, with the recurring, powerful bass chords and unsettling chords that constitute the treble melody, Coral said. When the fight scene begins, all other noise fades away and the piano emerges to the foreground of the audio landscape.
Despite music having a central role, it did not get added until postproduction, leaving the actors without sound as they filmed the four-minute violence sequence. This left a lot of direction up to the actors, and Marcognet said that, with no music, she had to improvise a lot of her actions, including kissing, hugging and choking while also focusing on being in the moment.
However, the lack of direction was intentional, as the music was supposed to be the main focus of the latter half of the film, Coral said. In fact, the music was so integral that Coral said she is setting up a live performance of the prelude to accompany the release of the film. A live performance highlights the music even more, drawing out even greater emotion, Coral said. This performance was integral in planning the film, because the prelude is a quintessential reflection of the film’s conflict, Raymond said.
“Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-sharp Minor is a perfect piece for a film like (Coral’s),” Raymond said. “It’s very dark, emotional and great for expressing longing.”
As the couple spars, the music will crescendo and diminuendo to match what is happening at that moment, Coral said. The piano shows the audience what to feel, Raymond said, as the dynamism of the instrument can directly impact the thoughts and feelings of the viewers.
“Especially in this piece, my job as the musician is to tell the audience how they should be feeling,” Raymond said. “The music should clear things up.”
With music as the emotional crux of film, Marcognet said not enough movies are using this element to its full potential. Every soundtrack influences a movie in some way, but Coral said she lends complete control of her film to the music. Therefore, Coral felt it necessary to highlight the musical medium to its full potential in “Prelude” as it becomes its core storytelling component.
“The music is half the film, it’s half of what we experience,” Coral said. “To neglect music would be like covering up half the screen.”