Peter Baert, a Belgian-born composer is a talented encompass orchestration, electronic music, and music production. He has been a composer for Belgian TV shows and movies since a long time, and The Water Man is one of his first mainstream Hollywood Ventures.
He creates stunning atmosphere and eeriness with his score which deserves to be felt. We talked to him about his process and the things he did differently in order to achieve that atmosphere in The Water Man.
Hi, Peter. I am Hardik Agarwal from The Movie Culture. How are you doing today?
Peter Baert: I’m fine. I’m doing well. How are you doing?
I’m great. So starting off, I watched The Water Man, and it’s such a heartfelt movie. So congratulations on what you’ve achieved with the essence. It really finds the adventure, innocence and the bonding of the characters in a really atmospheric and enriching manner. What is the approach towards a project which had both the elements of an innocent adventure and the feeling of coping with a chronic disease and you know, that eventual loss?
Peter Baert: Well, I kind of had to look into my inner self, you know, when I was a kid, I always play in the forest near where I live. So that’s a part of the adventure. My whole youth, I was gone on that adventure. But I also in 2008, I lost my mom, she had a cancer, she was going in six months time. So that’s also present in me. And this film was like an ideal still, to explore these both sides. One side is more grief oriented, but also like this more adventure like, thing. And I thought it was important that both sides are part of the same movie, you know? And for that I made more instrumental choices, working with a lot of wood instruments, little percussion things. And that’s partly even in the emotional parts. But that’s also part in the more adventurous parts. And that connects the sound of those two worlds a bit.
I was curious, were you the one who approached David Oyelowo for this project? Considering how eager you were about the entire premise of the movie? Or was it the other way around?
Peter Baert: Now, I met David in my studio, he had to do a vocal recording session for Penguin Books. And when I saw the tagline on IMDb, about this movie and he produced this movie, I sent him an email and explained that I feel that I should be a part of it. Can I pitch on this? Can I make a demo. And then he sent me the script. And I wrote eight cues, half hour of music, and sent it to him. And then he kept saying that he really liked it. But at some point, there was another composer involved. And so I had to let it go, you know? And then, nine months later, he came back and he said, Look, we’re coming back to your demo all the time. Can you do this?. Look, I’m waiting 20 years already for this telephone call. So yes, I can do it.
So yeah, I mean, obviously, David Oyelowo is such a critically acclaimed actor. But The Water Man was his first directorial venture. And even you entered the Hollywood spectrum with this movie, right? You were only involved in Belgium Cinema before this. So were there like a lot of new perspectives in terms of the score and the overall atmosphere on the set, both from David and from you?
Peter Baert: Well, it was really a work between me and David. We weren’t bothered too much with with producers interfering. I really had a dialogue with David about the movie. And I feel that he gently guided me through this process. He was really kind with his feedback and he gave some ideas and then I gave some ideas. That was really a conversation that we had during the process. And that was really nice.
I learned that you rooted for a motherly essence in the theme of The Water Man, that was sort of a priority for you. And judging by the atmosphere, the score and the fantastic performance by Rosario Dawson, I would say that you more than achieve it. What were the things that you did differently in order to bring this motherly essence into the movie?
Peter Baert: Well, at first, when I was in Los Angeles, and I saw the film, I had this idea of making a Water Man Synth, and then I did the takes with the actor who pkays The Water Man. Through processing the layers we made this Water Man Synth and then David asked that he would really like to have a motherly presence through the movie. So I work a lot with a vocalist who lives in Brussels. And I got her to the studio because her voice is really close to Rosario Dawson. And we recorded some long notes, some vocalizations some little words. And with that, I also made the Mother Synth, so through the score, and through the movie, I always have the choice of either putting in some Water Man energy or putting in some motherly energy. And that gives that key that binds everything together. And it works well if I find.
Yeah, so I really wanted to talk about the Water Man Rhyme the song inside the Water Man movie, because that was the first song I actually went back to listen on Spotify. It’s so eerie and haunting with its chorus. And yet the vocals of Amiah Miller flowed like a soothing lullaby. It sort of summarizes the entire aura of The Water Man. And so what was the process behind creating that mystical element of the song which resonates throughout the entire movie?
Peter Baert: Well, when I read the script, the lyrics of The Water Man rhyme were in the script. So the moment that I read it, I said, I have to make a lullaby. A haunting lullaby sound of it. So I sat at the piano, and I wrote some things, and I had this little melody, then I recorded it with a singer in Belgium. Just for the demo. And actually, when there was another composer involved on the project, they called back to buy the song because they really liked it. And they needed it for Amiah Miller, to sing it in the movie. So at that point, I was already happy to have the song in the movie. Little I knew what was going on, of course. But it’s really in the script. When I read it, I really felt like I have to combine this childlike melody with some haunting atmosphere. And that’s the whole movie, actually.
Yeah the entire atmosphere is based around that. So I would like to come back to the Water Man Synth and the Mother Synth that you mentioned, and I was really intrigued when I learned that you incorporated actual sounds from the movie and from the characters, and you incorporated that into the store itself. I haven’t really seen this happening that much in the Hollywood scene or in the entertainment scene in general. So I was really curious about how that came into process. And is it something that you’ve previously done in Belgium too?
Peter Baert: It’s part of my music. I’m more trained as a sound engineer. And later in life, I reconnect to my classical upbringing that I left at some point. So for me, it’s really a mixture of both. I have more artist work which is really, electronic music that comes from sounds that I made. And then the classical side is really the side that I inherited from my dad. So the mixture of those two is really what I want to do. You know, I really like this melody lines and strings. It’s really beautiful, but I like to mix them with something else, something that comes from the movie. Because if you have something authentic for the movie, like the shouts of the character in the movie, or you make an instrument of that, you have like the ultimate feedback loop going on.
So coming back to David Oyelowo. I want to know, what were his his inputs on the score and the atmosphere? And how much did they resemble your inputs and your vision for the score?
Peter Baert: Well, when I watched the film with him and then he invited me into his home where I stayed a couple of days. So I just followed him wherever he went. I was eating a lot in the car with him. So we talked a lot during those moments about our shared love for the Spielberg films.
That’s a given!
Peter Baert: Yeah. And that’s, that’s also present a bit in the movie. But it was like a common thread that we found and not to copy that sound, totally not. But to take some inspiration from it. Yeah, it’s organically grew to what it is now.
So obviously, this is your first Hollywood venture. And you really nailed that debut. So what’s next for you after The Water Man? Have you been working on any new exciting projects that we should be on the lookout for?
Peter Baert: I’m now working on a primetime Belgium TV series. The story is about a fictional series on the terrorist attacks in our airport in 2016. So that’s one thing. And I’m talking to some agents. So we’ll see what what will happen with Hollywood of course.
Is it something related with David Oyelowo’s next directorial venture, whenever that happens?
Peter Baert: We’ll see, I’m open to anything. As long as the story is a human and interesting story, in whatever universe, you know, but as long it’s a great story, and you can write for the story, then anything can happen.
Again, thank you so much for interacting with me. I saw The Water Man. And I instantly became a huge fan of its journey. I wish you all the best for all of your future ventures.
Peter Baert: Thank you. Thank you and all the best in India because I am aware what is going on over there, during this Corona Pandemic.
Yeah, we are coping somehow.
Peter Baert: Okay, all the best, and thanks for having me!
Thank you very much.
The Movie Culture Synopsis
The Water Man is currently available on Demand and its every bit heart-warming and nostalgic.