Two of my favorite movies in the world

are Mulholland Dr and Elf — although

vastly different, both perfect films.

So it was a thrill for me to get to work on

Pretend, a unique christmas story with a

Lynch-ian twist, written and directed by

Jim Ohm.

The unique script of Pretend needed a different type of score. The actual conception of the music was a collaborative effort with Jim and myself. We started off with a very detailed spotting session. He challenged me to figure out the “what” and gave me tons of creative license with the “how”. Along the way, we had fun phone conversations discussing the story in great detail. The score ended up featuring slightly out of pitch bells, sad whistling choruses, nordic piano and clay flute as main musical building blocks. We also sailed on a small iceberg to my arctic homeland to record real elf voices. Jokes aside, the bouncy voices represent all the family joys of the holiday season.

Toward the end of our first meeting, Jim shared some peculiarities that had occurred during the making of the film. Christmas related random events had mysteriously helped them along the way, repeatedly. When I came home after that meeting, I decided to rearrange the furniture in our living room. I don’t always do this. After painstakingly moving our couch, I discovered an anklet hidden underneath, a red leather band with jingle bells on it. My son had made it in school for Christmas the year before. It was now March and this was the only holiday paraphernalia we had missed boxing up. I overdubbed the score with it wherever the storyline allowed for it.

The story of Pretend is not only unique and mysterious, it’s also anchored in something very real that people all over the world have felt since the Wall Street crash of 2008. As a result of reckless banking practices, bad things did indeed happen to good people and many are still recovering from it. Seen through the lens of the secretly unemployed main character we get to experience how, in the face of economic adversity, one bad decision can lead to another, and another.

The theme for his unemployment “blues” needed to be sad, but it also had to have a masculine undertone. Its lead voice ended up being a large whistling chorus. Maddie, the soon to be teen daughter, was voiced by a clay flute. The Ocarina has pitch imperfections that seemed to match her vulnerable character. The swaying bells and vibraphones speak to how his lies start to infect their daily family life.

I was of course thrilled to see Santa making a cameo in a red Volvo station wagon with a hula girl bobble head! Who wouldn’t? It begged for Ultra Lounge music.

Working with JIm was a true pleasure and privilege all around. He represents a brave breed of filmmaker that I personally think is on the rise into mainstream popularity once again — one that favors substance over gimmick, artistic expression over quarterly reports, one that doesn’t care much to pretend.

Below, a playlist from Pretend’s musical score.

Claes Nystrom





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