Creating Tension in "Bro I F*cked Up" - The Shed Scene
In the short film “Bro, I F*cked Up”, our main characters find themselves in a classic horror movie scenario: entering a dark and creepy shed where they will inevitably find themselves face to face with the monster. In this blog post, I want to walk through this scene, musically, and break down my approach.
You can play the audio file above to listen to the isolated music from the scene, and read on below.
Outside the shed
The scene begins with the main characters outside the shed as Andy explains to his friend the situation: their friend Jess became possessed, killed everyone inside the house, and is now locked in the shed. It is their job to go inside and kill her. To underscore the sense of dread at the task at hand, I open the scene by stating the primary theme of the film in low strings and male choir. It is a simple melody of repeating phrases that first shifts up a half-step to give the feeling of creeping up on you, then in the second repetition moves a bit higher (mostly to create interest).
As they begin plotting their scheme to catch the possessed friend, a driving staccato bass pulse sits under violas and violins repeating the same idea from before, but this time as tremolo chords. This lets us continue the same thematic idea from before, but the tremolo strings give us a sense of the character’s nervousness, while the driving bass keeps them moving forwards. At the end of this sequence, we get a small crescendo that ends when we hear a loud bang and the garage door shakes, startling the characters. The crescendo adds to the comedic effect of that moment.
inside the shed
Once they go inside, weird dissonant low brass chords remind us that this is a scary movie, but they quickly give way to a brief moment of release. Strings come in as Andy reassures his friend. Everything is going to be okay…..right? At the very end of this sequence, listen closely for one of the notes on the last string chord to go a little sour (1:07 in the audio file). Are we sure we can trust him?
As they begin their search for Jess, very low dissonant piano comes in. A repeating creepy phrase of sour “wrong notes” represents their search. Throughout this scene I made use of soft tremolo bass and cello, sometimes rising in intensity then falling, as well as more dissonant brass. Basically… the name of the game was dissonance and tension! We don’t want to release the tension with a nice “consonant” sounding chord until the right moment.
After a false ending that we crescendo into, we return to the “searching” piano theme, until Dan’s flashlight goes out. Right here, we drop everything out and get very quiet… a classic horror score trope. By getting very quiet, we leave plenty of headroom to suddenly give the audience a jump scare a few moments later, when we get a big loud string hit. These are basses and cellos hitting the strings with their bows, called col legno in musical terms. It’s an uncomfortable percussive sound, and not one you hear often. Originally, I had a much bigger jump here, with horns as well, but we decided that it was overkill, and cut it down to just the strings.
Through the use of tension and release, using dissonance to create a sense of unease, we are able to paint a musical picture of two friends cautiously risking their lives as they go through a creepy old shed in search of their possessed friend.