When dBs Bristol student Ethan Harper was first told he had won a 2022 RTS West of England Student Award for his composition on the documentary Eden, he thought it was a prank. “I wasn't actually aware that I was going to be receiving an award,” says Ethan, “With the Craft Awards, which is one of the ones I won, they don't nominate them. They just highlight people if they believe something deserves it. I didn't know that there even was a score award!”
“To get kind of acknowledged is always nice,” he continues, “You always doubt your work and you always doubt that things are good enough, especially after so much time has passed. You almost become a bit cynical about your work, but to get that reassurance that reminder that, ‘Oh no, people do like it,’ was a nice confidence booster for me.”
Ethan, whose journey with sound started aged one, “playing the drums on pots and pans”, developed a passion for filmmaking and cinematography during his teenage years, but his instinct for sound proved too strong and he found himself spending most of the time on his college filmmaking course, “making music for film rather than doing the film stuff.” That transition back to sound brought him to dBs Bristol, where he is in the final stages of his Music & Sound for Film & TV course. Fortuitously, Ethan’s best friend and long-time creative collaborator ended up at neighbouring UWE’s Filmmaking BA and in the second year of their studies, they began work on Eden.
Eden: Taking on Science
Eden, which took home the RTS Award for Factual film, as well as Craft Awards for Camerawork and Composing, “Follows the story of a transgender swimmer, who used wild water swimming to cope with her transition, but also her problems with fertility.”
Part way through her male to female transition, Eden realised that she wanted biological children in the future. Now unable to produce fertile sperm, she sought advice from a medical practitioner who explained that there was a small chance cold water might help reverse the effects. Shot in the Lake District, the short documentary illustrates a personal struggle and follows, “Eden's extraordinary story as a transgender woman who, by taking on science, managed to break the rules and find a new passion at the same time.”
Ethan’s role as the composer, “figuring out the overall identity and sound palettes” for the documentary, began very early on in the project’s lifespan, after being introduced to many of the filmmakers at UWE by his best friend from college. The friends he made turned into housemates and their shared accommodation into a production house “in a literal sense.” 2b13 Productions, a “student-led production company & filmmakers collective” was the fruit of this cohabitation and the umbrella under which Eden was produced. It will also be the production house for many of the forthcoming projects Ethan and his collaborators are working on.
Working in that environment, away from the typically isolated nature of being a film composer, “was really interesting,” says Ethan. “I kind of got a view of the whole process because I'm constantly around the filmmakers. It was really interesting to see the editing process. Figuring out what story is in the edit is always a really interesting thing. You’re finding the narrative from the footage you've captured.”
“Sam and Charlie - Charlie is the director and Sam is the editor - they work really tirelessly to make the narrative work as well as it did. When I first saw the edit, I was nervous. I thought, ‘Alright, I need to make a good score now.’ Our first-year project had not gone to plan because of COVID and we all knew we really needed to go for it with this and prove ourselves in a big way.”
Although working on the project saw Ethan pick up an award for his composition, he says the most valuable part of the experience was the process. “I don't mean this to sound contrived or anything,” he says, “but the most valuable thing is actually working on it because it was quite an eye-opening experience and was a really interesting story. We really wanted to do it justice and make sure that the documentary covered her story sincerely and honestly. That was really rewarding. I was not on set for the film, so I've never met Eden, but having brief text correspondence with her, she seemed delighted with the music. That was the main thing I was really happy about because I want to capture ‘you’ in the music and if you like it, that's great. The award is great, but I think that was the main thing for me.”
When he first won the RTS Award, there was a brief sense of anxiety; a fleeting thought of “I hope I haven't peaked,” but with scores for three more films in progress, including music for a dark fantasy film, another documentary and a psychological thriller that “tackles themes of postnatal depression”, Ethan and 2b13 Productions’ body of work seems only to be getting stronger.
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If you're like Ethan and have a passion for both sound and film, check out our Music & Sound For Film & TV undergraduate degree!