Au-delà de son œuvre, Beatrix était une femme à part, engagée, émouvante, libre et consciente de l’importance de la nature bien avant l’heure. A travers ses histoires, elle l’a magnifiée, à travers sa vie, elle l’a protégée. En trouvant le courage d’être elle-même, cette jeune femme a ouvert une voie que rien n’a depuis effacée. MISS POTTER raconte sa fascinante destinée.
NigelWestlake - Please Mister Westlake, how would you personally introduce yourself? I have extremely diverse tastes in film, art & music. I like to go sailing up & down the east coast of Australia.
You started playing the clarinet with your father when you were ten years old. When and how did you come to work in film music?
Both my parents were professional musicians so even before i was born I was exposed to the sounds of my mother & father practicing music on a daily basis. This had a profound effect on me & from as early as i can remember I always wanted to play the clarinet just like my dad - which I did before turning to music composition full time about 11 years ago. My interest in composition dates from the late 1970's when I formed a classical/jazz-rock/world-music fusion band to play original music. During this time I started to receive offers to compose for radio & circus. Commissions for TV & film soon followed. In 1983 I furthered my studies of contemporary music in the Netherlands.
None other than all the great composers who have come before & illuminated the path.
How do you choose a project to work on?
I am usually invited by the director – then I read the script & if I feel I am well suited to the project & have a rapport with the director, I accept.
Did your way of working change along the years or according to each film? I started on paper, but these days I use computers.
I would find that difficult. I try to write what is appropriate for any given situation.
How do you compose? Do you have a method of working? How do you proceed?
The composer / director relationship becomes pivotal to the inspiration & working process. Good directors have a gut instinct for what works & what doesnt & I frequently refer to them for guidance. Chris Noonan & I developed a solid working relationship on our first film together, "Babe", so it was very inspiring to have the opportunity to work with him again. The editing & pacing of a film also has strong repercussions on the score, not to mention the cast.
What do you feel when you’re composing and what do you like in this process?
I feel pain, inspiration & joy – usually in that order.
Imax requires ideas that are simple and economical. It’s important that the score is not overly burdened with busy, detailed orchestration. It must be clearly understood on first listening because most people will only ever see it once. I think of it in terms of working with broad brush strokes as opposed to detailed line drawing.
How did you come on the Miss Potter project?
I was invited by director Chris Noonan.
How would you describe your score for Miss Potter?
Miss Potter is a film that traverses the hidden life of a woman who in many ways was ahead of her time & who paid little heed to the conventions & expectations of the period.
In the stifling environment of the Victorian era - when emotional expression was taboo & no one actually said what they were thinking, director Chris Noonan spoke frequently to me of the music engaging with the hidden emotional context of Beatrix's life & also supporting the subliminal subtext of Beatrix's journey through this deep & rich emotional landscape.
What do you think about the subjects of the film?
Very touching & emotional.
Did you know about Beatrix Potter before working on this film?
Have you ever read her books when you were a child?
I read as much material on Beatrix Potter as I could find, including her stories, her diaries (transcribed from her secret code) & several biographies.
Miss Potter is a feminist film. What do you think as a man about doing this kind of film?
For me the main challenge was to find simple ideas that resonate emotionally with the subject matter. With most of the scores I've written, this is almost always the hardest part - to say as much as possible with the least number of notes.
For this score you worked with Rachel Portman. Did you know Miss Portman before this collaboration?
I was introduced to her by the US distributors of the film.
How did you work with her? As a woman, what did she bring to your music? (question suggested by Mortimer)
I met her once & then we were instructed to work independently of each other.
The orchestration is fairly traditional without direct reference or influences from
that period, however the music box melody “let me teach you how to dance” was an attempt to re-create a popular “parlour song” of the era.
Did you listen Victorian composers such as Elgar to inspire you, or immerse yourself within the period?
I listened to some Gilbert & Sullivan in order to capture the mood of the music box melody.
To you, what is the most interesting, the most successful or the most complex scene you had to score for this film? May you tell me how you did it? May you analyze for us the relation you created between picture and music?
I guess the most challenging aspect of the score was dealing with transitional passages in time. For instance there's one track in the score which is track 9 on the soundtrack which is "Beatrix and Norman", which is basically establishing Beatrix's relationship with her publisher. She is forbidden to marry him by her parents because he is seen to be a tradesman and beneath them. So the parents say we're going on a vacation for 6 months. If at the end of that time you still love him then you can proceed and get married.
There's this wonderful scene, a big romantic emotional peak of the film where he comes to see her off at the station on her way to the Lake District for her vacation. As you'll see in the picture this has to traverse some very interesting, emotional moments, and either side of that railway sequence is a bunch of footage of Beatrix and Norman together. That was quite difficult to make those transitions between those quite intimate scenes and then lightening up into a larger orchestral pallette for the farewell at the station and situations like that. Once I had the thematic material at my finger tips it was then a matter of fitting it to picture and making those transitions seamless and as effortless as possible which is always a challenge. So that was the most challenging aspect of it.
There is a music box in the film. What does it symbolize?
The music box was given to Beatrix by her father when she was a young girl. In the film it was used as a catalyst for Beatrix & Norman’s relationship.
How did you treat the magical aspect of the imaginary world of Beatrix Potter?
With a “fantasy theme” orchestrated with celeste, harp & metal percussion (crotales).
Did you choose specials instruments for the score?
There was a special emphasis on celeste & harp. I also used some tibetan singing bowls.
Halfway through the shoot I had a call from director Chris Noonan on set, requesting me to compose a theme for the music box scene which was about to be filmed with Renee Zellweger & Ewan McGregor.
This is a very touching moment between Beatrix & her publisher Norman Warne.
Beatrix has painted a beautiful painting for Norman as a Christmas present & takes him up to her room to present the gift. He notices a music box in the corner of the room - this was given to Beatrix by her father when she was 9 years old. Norman opens the music box & it begins to play. He recognizes the melody & at Beatrix’s insistence, begins to sing "Let me teach you how to dance" (the lyrics were written by the writer of the screenplay Richard Maltby).
Beatrix becomes enchanted & together for a brief moment they dance a waltz to the accompaniment of the music box. Norman attempts to propose to Beatrix – but his clumsy attempts are rudely interrupted by Beatrix's overbearing & protective mother.
In describing the character of the melody to me, Chris Noonan said that he wanted the music box melody to suggest a popular song of the era (circa 1890)...a melody that was once well known, but has since been lost in time - that somehow reflects the innocence & gentility of the era.
This melody is used throughout the score as a reference to Beatrix's personal emotional story, in particular her relationship with her publisher Norman Warne.
Can you tell me about your other themes for the film?
Basically there was the “Love theme”, the “Fantasy theme”, the “Lakes theme”, & the “death of Norman” theme.
What is the role of the piano?
It was used to obatin a feeling of intimacy.
Among all your scores what are the ones you like the most?
Solarmax & Miss Potter.
Chris & I forged a very close working relationship working on Babe together. (“Babe – Pig in the city” was directed by George Miller – not Chris). We have been on the lookout for more projects to work on together & Chris has been very busy since “Babe” developing a number of feature films. We are in regular contact & have developed a close friendship.
Can you tell me about your collaboration with Katie Melua for the song "When You Taught Me How To Dance"?
It was a matter of taking the original music box melody that I wrote for Ewan McGregor & then re-adapting the lyrics & song for Katie Melua.
In a matter of minutes, Mike Batt (Katie’s MD) cleverly turned the lyrics around to become the voice of Beatrix reminiscing on her affections for her first love, Norman Warne. Mike's rapport with Katie & his sensitive direction of her performance made him the ideal collaborator for this song. His musical sensibility is perfectly suited to film. Katie has imbued the song with a very special blend of charm, whimsy, romance & spontaneity. She has made it her own. I cant imagine anyone else singing it.
The score was composed over several months. I have no idea what the music budget was – this was in the hands of the music supervisor Maggie Rodford.
I worked closely with director Chris Noonan & editor Robin Sales, providing synth versions of each cue which we discussed in great detail.
What kind of orchestra and what size did you choose? Did you use some electronic sounds in your score or was it all live?
The score was all live & was a standard size Symphony orchestra – but without any brass (except for french horns).
In the early stages of writing the score for Miss Potter I spent some time on lake Windermere & visited Hilltop farm in Near Sawrey with my wife Janice & Glenys Rowe (wife of director Chris Noonan) where Beatrix Potter wrote a number of her charming books. We arrived at Hilltop late one afternoon just as the gates were closing, however after explaining that we were associated with the Miss Potter film we received a very enthusiastic response from members of the Beatrix Potter society who gave us a fantastic tour throughout the house. I imagined that these wonderful women were somehow reincarnations of the Beatrix spirit, certainly guardians of the "Potter flame" as it were. It gave me a crucial insight into Beatrix's work, passions & life.
For a new project, if you could choose you a genre, a kind of story and a filmmaker, what would they be?
As long as I have a rapport with director - Im up for anything!
Are you working on another project? If yes,may you tell me about it?
I have just written a concertino for clarinet & chamber ensemble & am currently writing an orchestral score for a theatre production called “The Glass soldier” which is currently in developement for film.
Do you have any other projects to come?
I am in discussion with Chris Noonan regarding his next feature “Zebras”. I also have a number of concert commissions to complete over the coming 18 months.
2. The Park
3. A Bunny Book To Conjure With
4. The Story Of Peter Rabbit
6. Jenima Puddle Duck
7. The Rabbits Christmas Party
8. 'Mr Warne!'
9. Beatrix & Norman
10. Return To London
11. Beatrix Lock Herself Away
13. I'M Painting Again
14. The Lakes
15. When You Taught Me How To Dance (Katie Melua)