Scoring a Documentary: A Theme Song About a Woman’s Story

Published November 16, 2017 by Eric O'Connell

Finding the Tone for a Fitting Soundtrack

Capturing the right mood in the dark.

This post may not seem relevant to movie music right away. But you’ll see the connection after a little story about one of the most inspirational people I know. 

In March of 2017, I met a woman with a unique story. She was diagnosed with a rare disease called von Hippel-Lindau (VHL). As she divulged her story I learned some horrific details about this tragic disease wrecking havoc on innocent families. This disease, in short, shows its ugly face rather abruptly and spreads cancer like wildfire often requiring emergency surgery for any kind of “relief.”

Her name is Cari Pisano and she became more than just a connection – she became a friend. She has everything in the world to complain about, and has every reason to be mad, angry, and justifiably vindictive for her misfortune. Yet, she’s one of the most positive, grateful, courageous people I’ve met in a long time.

She wrote a book called “All in Her Head,” an autobiography that she regularly contributes to as her life story unfolds.  She delivered a speech about her inspirational story at a Fireland’s Positive People meeting held at Sandusky Yacht Club where she met Northeast Ohio filmmaker Buddy Candela. There, he presented the idea of filming a documentary about her life. They had all the content needed for the film. But they had one problem – they didn’t have music for the documentary. When they asked me to compose a theme song for the movie I was both thrilled and humbled.

It wasn’t the easiest task in the world; I couldn’t empathize with her 100% since I wasn’t personally diagnosed with VHL myself. But after listening to her stories and reading her book I could empathize with feelings of helplessness and frustration- facing personal battles head on. I knew if I approached the writing of this song from her perspective I might capture a taste of the victorious battle song that Buddy and Cari were looking for.

One of the most difficult things about being a composer is putting oneself in the shoes of another. It’s so much more than imagining the emotional pain or elation of another. It’s about spiritually occupying the space of another, seeing the world through his or her eyes, and feeling the rush of emotions that run through their veins. Not a single note (or lyric for that matter) is penned without this process of asking thought-provoking questions using the power of sensational imagery to personally live in their reality if just for a moment.

After a time of reflective contemplation, I wrote a meaningful song I hoped they would find powerful and inspiring called “Knock Me Down.” It’s an emotionally heavy piece written to convey not only the gut-wrenching turmoil of life-threatening disease but also the intrinsic force that drives the human spirit to keep getting back up in the face of adversity. The first time I played the demo for Cari she shed tears of joy and thanked me for telling her story so eloquently. I’d never experienced such a direct connection with someone whose personal struggles were so vastly different than mine. That moment was one of the most overwhelmingly fulfilling, defining moments of my career.

You can hear the song “Knock Me Down” in 2018 when the documentary “All in Her Head” is finished. If you can’t wait that long you can check out the music video here: Knock Me Down Video. The song is sure to provide an empowering tear of joy to anyone who’s ever faced any kind of overwhelming, challenging circumstance. The video has touched thousands and will hopefully inspire a cure one day.

“Any day I’m not having brain surgery is a good day.” –Cari Pisano

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Happy filmmaking!… Love and Blessings!