Client: International Justice Mission (IJM)
Custom Music Artist: Chris Coleman
International Justice Mission’s latest film, written and directed by Adam Joe, is a docu-narrative that tells the story of Liana (her real name is protected), a young girl who was sold into sex slavery by her own mother. In this case study, we’ll explore how Musicbed Custom Music Composer Chris Coleman took Adam’s direction to create a stunningly on-point score for this heart-wrenching and redemptive short film.
International Justice Mission’s aim is to “end slavery in our lifetime.” Since they were founded in 1997, they’ve rescued more than 45,000 people from slavery and helped local authorities arrest more than 3,500 suspected slave owners and criminals. As a director/writer/editor with the organization, Adam Joe’s job is to help connect people with these survivors’ stories.
“It’s important for us at IJM to make films that look and feel cinematic — quality films that people would want to watch,” Adam told us. “We don’t want to make your traditional non-profit films that are just talking heads. Our clients have gone through so much and they deserve the best storytelling possible.”
Recently, IJM has branched into a more cinematic style of filmmaking, blending traditional narrative elements into a polished documentary format. It’s a style that connects and compels an audience to action, but also requires heavy attention to narrative methods and next-level storytelling. The method, though, is paying off. They’ve seen increased views on all of their online platforms, including Vimeo, Facebook, and YouTube. They’ve also seen an increase in support from their core donor base.
Adam first heard Liana’s story back in January 2018 and was immediately tasked with producing a film about her story. The film aired on Freedom Sunday 2018, an event held every September dedicated to raising support for IJM’s mission. He poured over interviews with Liana, spoke with her after-care workers and social workers in the Dominican Republic where she lives.
Her story is a difficult one, as is the case with most of IJM’s clients. Liana’s mother, a drug addict, forced her into sex slavery and even supervised the abuse in-person. Liana was eventually rescued by IJM and found refuge with her grandfather — her mother is now in prison. The most amazing part of the story to Adam, though, is Liana’s reaction.
“Liana expressed that she actually forgives her mother. That idea of someone coming to the place to forgive someone who nearly killed them just blew me away. So, I said, ‘Let’s make a film about this mother and daughter relationship.’ Which is different than what IJM has done in the past. We wanted to make a film that explored a little more of the emotional side, that had more universal themes.”
They hired a cinematographer and production company, spent months planning, and built trust with Liana to put this amazing story to film. It was a lengthy, time-intensive pre-production process followed by a fast-paced production process. Ultimately, his team came away with a heartfelt story about darkness and forgiveness.
Once the film was in post-production, Adam needed an appropriate sound for his project. He had a vibe in his head — references including the soundtrack for Beasts of No Nation, the music of A. Taylor, and the band Sleeping at Last — but wasn’t sure exactly what shape it would take. He did, however, know what he wanted the soundtrack to accomplish. That’s when he started conversations with composer Chris Coleman.
“[Liana] trusted us to tell her story in a powerful, moving way that honors her life. So, we needed to create music that’s never been heard before, because someone like Liana deserves that much attention, treatment, and creativity. I think creating something different can really cut through the clutter of films that are out there, particularly in the non-profit space. When you’re able to work with someone as amazing as Chris to create something deeply moving it elevates the film to a whole new level.”
When you’re able to work with someone as amazing as Chris to create something deeply moving it elevates the film to a whole new level.
It turns out Adam was familiar with Chris’ music but hadn’t had a chance to work with him on an original score. Through Musicbed Custom Music, he was able to connect with an artist who’d he been listening to for years.
“I immediately gravitated to his sounds that were just deeply personal, just his use of the cello and other instrumentations. The moment I heard his music — I think maybe the first one was called ‘Telos’ — I just put it on repeat for like an hour because I was so moved. When you’re able to work with someone whose track makes you put it on repeat for an hour, it’s like a dream come true.”
Adam sent his references to Chris and he starting honing in on the creative direction for the soundtrack.
“My first conversation with him was just, ‘Hey, let’s create an intimate, human, realistic soundtrack that really gets at the emotion of this relationship. I referenced a few other films and musicians that I really liked and he just ran with it.”
Chris’ process involves working on only one piece of music at a time — they needed three for the final film. He’d send multiple options for a song through to Adam, who narrowed in on which versions he thought fit the film more appropriately. Throughout the process, though, Adam pointed out that he let Chris experiment on different sounds and approaches. It paid off.
“I approached working with Chris as a true partner in the storytelling. I have overall guidance, of course, but I really wanted Chris to bring his own perspective, experiences, feelings, and emotions into creating his own score. There’s this one instance where he decided to experiment with a high pass in a scene that was really trying to hammer away the feeling of isolation. I didn’t request it. The moment I heard it I thought, man this is awesome. It helped us enter the headspace of the character in ways I never saw. Because of Chris’ talent and his connection to the piece, we were able to create something that wasn’t expected.”
The resulting soundtrack for Para Mi Madre is perfectly matched to the film. It’s subtle, with emotional touches that ebb and flow with the narrative energy of the story — and, most importantly, it’s distinct. Adam wanted to inject elements of Latin America into the piece without imitating Latin music directly. Chris added guitar elements into the piece to evoke the spirit of Latin music without being too heavy-handed and it helped the soundtrack work within the story and evoke the spirit of its setting.
Overall, Adam requested three separate songs that worked in a connected, cohesive manner. According to Adam, his collaboration with Chris accomplished the film’s mission in ways he may not have even seen in the first place.
“We were in sync from the very beginning. When I heard the score, I think the music represented how I was feeling — and was even better than what I had hoped for. I’ve been working with composers for five or six years now and it’s one of my favorite processes in post-production. You’re bringing in someone with fresh eyes, fresh ears, and it can really bring a film to life in ways that myself alone never can.”
When I heard the score, the music represented how I was feeling — and was even better than what I had hoped for.
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