Nabil Elderkin and Miguel on the Importance of Soundtracks to Films

Soundtracks have always been an integral part of film. It’s the sonic counterpart of the visual aspect, serving as the apparatus that heightens the audiences’ reactions to the most pivotal scenes. The influence of sound was acknowledged as early as the silent film era as music filled the absence of character dialogues, and as the significance of its role grew larger, the curation of a soundtrack turned into a labor of love.

Filmmaker Nabil Elderkin, who is known for his work on Kanye West, Travis Scott and Frank Ocean‘s music videos, has always valued music, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that the soundtrack for his debut feature film Gully is filled with unreleased cuts from some of hip-hop’s biggest names. He shared, however, that asking an artist to give a track to a movie is still difficult. “I can’t tell you how many times I almost chickened out,” the director admitted. “I think it’s just connecting with the music… and for a soundtrack, it’s just letting the artist watch the movie and feel it, then create something based on their feelings as that’s true collaboration.”

Joining Scott, 21 Savage and Young Thug on the Gully soundtrack is Miguel, who has contributed the cut “Violent Dreams” and has worn the hats of both a film actor and a soundtrack artist. He revealed that his involvement with Gully was “such a trip,” adding, “We screened the film after wrapping a commercial our friend Noomi curated and Nabil directed. I was mind blown, we all were. After that I just I made it a priority to ensure it didn’t get shelved. I waited three years to put music out after I first got signed, I know how that feels and this film is too important to the art to wait.”

HYPEBEAST caught up with Elderkin and Miguel to discuss the relationship between film and sound, the process of soundtrack curation and what both industries can do to build a better relationship.

Is there a specific artist you always knew you wanted to work with for Gully, and what was it about the artist that you thought was perfect for the film?

Nabil: Having Travis actually act in the film and be an [executive producer] was a blessing. He came though with some acting chops. I wish I  had more time with him on set — he is a very talented actor! [I’m] looking forward for people to see him on screen.

As a director, what’s your creative process in curating the list of musical artists that appear on the soundtrack?

Nabil: Friends. Talented friends. [I’m] blessed to have been able to meet and work with so many along my career. I went into full action of my asks, and lots responded with love.

[Travis Scott] came though with some acting chops. I wish I  had more time with him on set — he is a very talented actor! – Elderkin

Speaking from a musical artist’s point of view, what attracts you to work on a particular film?

Miguel: Honestly, I just go for a story and/or director that moves me. It’s worked out well so far.

Which specific facets of Gully inspired you while you were working on “Violent Dreams?

Miguel: “Violent Dreams” is very much an attempt to capture what I relate to most in our protagonists as best friends. They’re doing their best to continue to dream while they navigate in a f*cked up world. It’s not fair, the rules change and it’s enough to drive you mad but win or lose, it always comes down to the human spirit and if they choose to be the victim or the victor.

How far along in the production process did you begin thinking about the soundtrack? Would you say the earlier/later into the process the better, or does it differ per director and film?

Nabil: [Laughs] Before the film even got made, throughout the filming, and then over a year after it was complete. Just chipping away and working on confidence to even show my film to these artists I respect so much — it was a humbling and vulnerable experience.

As a filmmaker, how do you decide on which song is ideal for the scenes that need music? Is it simply a gut feeling, or are there technical and creative requirements that need to be fulfilled?

Nabil: It’s a bit of both. Gut, and then also just playing with it in the edit, trying out different songs in different parts… there is such a crazy process in getting music into a film, I must say especially original music. I won’t bore you but it’s the hardest process I have ever had to encounter, but it was well worth it.. and also making the movie! God willing.

It’s fun, I get to step into another person or characters world and find commonality, then express from our shared point of view. It’s cathartic honestly; I find truths that I may not have shared otherwise. – Miguel

Do you believe that each of the artists that are involved in a soundtrack album should share a common element in order to make the soundtrack feel more cohesive?

Miguel: I think that will always come down to the director’s vision, purpose of the soundtrack and how vital the songs are (or are not) to the film.

What would you say is the biggest difference in mindset when working on a track for yourself versus one for a movie?

Miguel: The biggest difference between working on music that’s not particularly for myself is my headspace. It’s fun, I get to step into another person or characters world and find commonality, then express from our shared point of view. It’s cathartic honestly; I find truths that I may not have shared otherwise.

As a director, how do you think the music and film industries can work better together to improve the relationship between musical artists and filmmakers?

Nabil: They can really work together, that’s the most important thing. There are so many layers to clearing a song and pieces to the puzzle, that if they worked together from the inception of the film and helped facilitate along the way, it would be amazing. I am so happy I got to put together a soundtrack for this project but I can’t see myself ever doing it like this again.

Soundtracks are meant to be cohesive and provide somewhat of a voice to the accompanying film. What kind of message do you want fans of the film to hear when they listen to the soundtrack?

Nabil: I think the duality of life, but ultimately hope. I think that resonates in the music. There is definitely a duality.

Miguel: One of my favorite things about this film is how Nabil captured the character of Los Angeles and how well is displayed and beauty and the darkness. The soundtrack does a great job at mirroring this balance of the two.

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