Rafael May: Composer and Ghosthunter

September 4, 2018
We speak with the composer behind the Sydney Film Festival Australian Documentary Prize winner, Ghosthunter.

“The score can expand the story far past the width of the screen,” says Rafael May, composer of the original music for the prize-winning Australian documentary, Ghosthunter.

According to May, “Ghosthunter is a nuanced study of an ordinary Sydney man with an extraordinary past. One which only reveals itself through his ghost hunting. Most who watch the film believe they are in a thriller but become deeply affected by the true story, which for some, shines a light on their own hidden secrets.”

Having worked with director Ben Lawrence (son of Ray, sorry Ben!) for many years in the commercials world, May was kept across Ghosthunter’s progress over the 7-year period that it took to complete the film. “I entered at the earliest stage of editing, watching a four-hour assembly,” says the composer. “We wanted the original music to form a core of the edit as it evolved, rather than being a slave to temp, so work started on music themes as early as possible.

“The music needed a sincerity and delicacy to balance the complexity of the film’s moral issues,” May continues. “It had to show restraint to avoid telling the audience how to feel while remaining strong in character. The desire was to create the music almost entirely organically and as humanly as possible without preset sounds and to find intimate emotion.”

An admirer of the composition work of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (Girl with The Dragon Tattoo, Social Network) and Nicholas Britell (Moonlight), Rafael May’s main inspiration, appropriately, was the Ghosthunter subject matter and its director. “The music concept needed elements of subtle thriller and human connection,” says May. “The film’s ghosts are really about terrible family secrets, but shooting the film, Ben said that he often felt a chill of air moving and the sound of whirring. The idea of hidden ghosts in the music led to baselines and melodies created of electrical hums, bowed guitars while my 100-year-old Steinway features extensively, heavily treated. There were wonderful discussions with the film’s brilliant music supervisor, Andrew Kotatko and Ben both on tone of the score and the overarching idea of music placement that the music should never be either unimportant nor overused.”

Ghosthunter is in cinemas September 20, 2018, with advance Q+A screenings on September 10 at Dendy Newtown in Sydney, and September 11 at Classic Elsternwick, Melbourne.

The soundtrack, Ghosthunter (Music From The Motion Picture) is available on iTunes and Spotify.

Click here for more on Rafael May. 


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