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The Elements Music Scores Ian Derry's Film Vivien 'One Day in December' for Nowness

Music & Sound
Los Angeles, United States
Directed by Ian Derry and composed by Charlotte Raven, Vivien's story follows her extraordinary connection to water

The Elements Music met Ian Derry four years ago producing a re-imagined version of ‘Happy Birthday’ for a film he directed for FitBit. Becoming fast friends, The Elements since had the honour and pleasure of composing for several of his personal and professional films. 

The success of the collaborative partnership stems from shared sensibilities and the unique gift of creative license he affords it. So a few years back, when he started talking about a film he was dreaming of making about a cold water swimmer, The Elements Music already felt the draw to be involved. 

Ian’s personal connection to water has become a constant narrative in his work, since his stunning debut film about the ice diver, ‘Johanna’. Capturing the imagination of the millions who saw it, Johanna has since been extended as a short feature for Netflix to be released later this year. 

Vivien’s story is the second in what he hopes will become a trilogy homage to this element. But where the score for Johanna, reflects the cold, hard, ice and breath taking, stark, monochromatic landscape, ‘One Morning in December’ has a softness and warmth, embodied by Vivien and her extraordinarily natural connection to the water. 

When Ian first talked to The Elements Music about creating the score, he felt a female composer may bring an added intuitive element. The team agreed and tapped the incomparable Charlotte Raven. An accomplished musician, Charlotte selected a few instruments to sketch out the story, including her grandmother’s 300 year old cello, made in Belgium by the Hoffman family around 1703, another more modern cello, also her grandmother’s that was ‘lying around her house in France’, a double bass and upright Steinway piano from 1878.

When talking to Charlotte about how she approached the music she said how; “Emotionally for me, as a composer, to connect with a picture like that, it was honestly instantaneous, I felt it immediately.” 

Elements Andy Carroll and Charlotte discussed the approach and came up with the idea of giving Vivien a theme using a musical motif to evoke the transformative experience we see her go through, as she slips into the water, naked, unburdened by any material trappings of the man-made world, magically shapeshifting to become one with it. 

Charlotte composed a melody on the Steinway, distorting it using stutter edit, ‘so that nothing fits a bar or beat. It’s all slightly off kilter, to feel like water’. Andy subtly weaved this movement and musical motif into the mix to create the feeling of an immersive ebb and flow. ‘There was a tussle to be had in the mix to balance the music, v/o and sound design’, said Andy, ‘but I leaned into the visual narrative to navigate the story so the music and sound felt natural to picture’. 

Ian said: “the hardest part was capturing the vo”, explaining how shy Vivien was and how intimate the experience is for her making it hard to share or explain in words. So he decided to stick with the original take, feeling it's vulnerable honestly was more valuable ultimately, in the same way it was for Johanna’s.

“What I love about this film is it’s all real, it’s from the heart”, says Andy, “the score was simply about drawing from that, from Vivien”. 

A successful photographer in his early career, Ian has a keen cinematography eye, but has never shot his own films. To be able to intimately capture Vivien’s experience without intruding on it, he used a hand held Canon Cinema EOS C70, practicing for weeks till it felt ‘second nature’, but says how it’s ultimately its not about the equipment, it’s about putting ‘the right person in the right location and shooting them at the right time of day’. 

Shot over four mornings and four afternoons, Ian explains how they only had a small window to film, as the water was so cold. Vivien would lie by the fire for a few minutes, swim for about ten minutes, then warm up by the fire again. Charlotte’s intention was to create her ‘state of mind’, layering strings and suspending notes, with a pulsating beat, echoing the meditative anticipation and internalization, as she disconnects from the stresses and realities of her life for the few moments she disappears into the ocean, alone, free and at peace. 

There is a quiet heroism about this film. Reminiscent of a mythical nymph, Vivien is beautiful and hypnotic and watching her enter the ocean to become one with the natural world, is truly a spiritual experience. 

“I don’t even think people will look at this film and see nudity”, says Ian. “It’s just natural”. 

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