With no pesky dialogue to get in the way, scoring a silent movie like "The Artist" may sound like a musician's treat -- but in many ways it's harder, says the Oscar-nominated composer Ludovic Bource.
"In a sense you have to be more restrained," the 41-year-old Frenchman, whose work on the film has already scooped him a Golden Globe and a BAFTA award in Britain, told AFP ahead of Sunday's Oscars where the movie is up for 10 awards.
Bource had already worked on three films with director Michel Hazanavicius, but for "The Artist" he says they "thought long and hard about how to use music, about what pace, what style would stick best to Michel's story."
"With an action scene you can have music booming all over the place, along with sound effects and dialogues. But for 'The Artist', we had to find the right balance, to make sure the music didn't become overbearing."
A light-hearted tribute to Hollywood's golden age, the film casts French actor Jean Dujardin as a silent movie star battling to survive the arrival of the talkies -- and who falls for an up-and-coming starlet.
When Hazanavicius sat down to write the script, Bource would drop by his studio, where together they watched film after film from the era.
"I must have digested 30 to 40 years of cinema," he said. "Michel had virtually everything you can find on DVD -- from German impressionist films to Soviet propaganda films -- up until the 1940s and the talkies."
"I immersed myself in that world for months before writing a single note."
When Bource did sit down at the piano, it was under pressure since the crew was racing to get the film ready for the Cannes festival last May.
So to make sure they were on the same songsheet, he sent Hazanavicius six tunes early on in the process.
"He told me, 'One of them is really very good'. A week later he called to say, 'We've been playing the piece on set and everyone loves it. There is a six-foot Mexican technician who dissolves into tears every time we put it on. It's going to be the theme song of the film'."
Entitled "Comme une rosee de larmes" -- Like a Dew of Tears -- the plaintive piano composition was inspired by the lieder, or romantic songs of the day, specifically a Hans Schmidt poem set to music by Brahms.
"It appears from about midway through the film, when the main character George Valentin is starting to lose it all," Bource said.
For other pieces, like the catchy showtune that introduces Valentin, Bource delved into the popular hits of the day.
"There were a lot of foxtrot-based pieces, and others where the rumba was starting to make an appearance. So I mixed up a foxtrot and a rumba and the result was George Valentin."
Crowned by a string of awards, Bource has come a long way since his first brush with the spotlight -- aged just eight -- when he played the accordion on stage at a Bastille Day ball in his native Brittany.
"I was looking for a way to draw attention to myself -- that was kind of why I started making music," he said.
Aged 17, having switched from the accordion to the piano, he came down to Paris where he joined a jazz school, started playing in bands and composing his first pieces -- "all written for girls, out of love!"
In 1996, he met Hazanavicius, then directing TV commercials, and began writing music for his ads, almost as a lark, for everything from pizza to an airline. He went on to score his films, four including "The Artist".
Hinting at a fraught relationship with an estranged father, he says "recognition" for his work matters more than fame or prestige.
"I've gained confidence thanks to all these prizes -- it's made me proud of myself," said the composer, who heads to Sunday's ceremony armed with a lucky charm bracelet made by his four-year-old son.
"But right now I am mostly just grateful to be able to talk about my music. After all it is all I know how to do -- that and flipping pancakes."
Source: AFP Global Edition