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Podcast – Caitlin Yeo: composing the score for New Gold Mountain

Screen composer Caitlin Yeo on writing music for film, television and documentary and how she crafted the score for the SBS revisionist western series New Gold Mountain.

Caitlin Yeo headshot spliced with a still from New Gold Mountain.

Caitlin Yeo (centre), New Gold Mountain

Find this episode of the Screen Australia Podcast on iTunes, SpotifyStitcher or Pocket Casts

For screen composer Caitlin Yeo, that first meeting with a director, producer or showrunner after seeing a script or early idea, holds so much potential.

“You talk about what it could be,” she says on the Screen Australia Podcast. “And that's always the most amazing a moment in time because nothing's set yet, so the world is your oyster. You can think as widely as you can.

“Then the great puzzle is the tension between everything it could be, and then the budget and timeframe you have to make that happen.”

On New Gold Mountain, that first meeting was with Goalpost Pictures producer Kylie Du Fresne, who had contacted Yeo after hearing her work on the score for Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan.

“She came into my studio and we had a chat about it and sent me a script, and I was just blown away immediately by the script. It’s a revisionist western set in Ballarat in 1857, gold mining days, pretty much from the perspective of the Chinese gold miners. It's essentially Chinese cowboys, and it's fantastic.”

In New Gold Mountain the discovery of the body of a white woman on the doorstep of the Chinese camp becomes the jumping off point for a mystery that unravels across the epic four-part series, which is airing on SBS and SBS on Demand from 13 October.

Yeo says it wasn’t long after her meeting with Du Fresne that she met director Corrie Chen, and despite never working together before, they immediately clicked.

“The initial conversations were how we were going to push this revisionist western idea,” she says. “The biggest thing that Corrie said to me was that she wanted drama, but she didn't want it to be melodramatic. And so that was great: we can write a score that's going to be big and bold, but it doesn't necessarily need to be over-the-top.”

Throughout the latest episode of the podcast, Yeo talks about the process of screen composition through the lens of working on New Gold Mountain including how she worked with Chen, how they used Chinese and Western instruments alongside gold pans as percussion, and also how much personal resonance the project had.

Yeo also breaks down the title sequence music from New Gold Mountain in detail, and discusses her career more broadly, talking about getting her start, how long composing a score can take, and general advice - both for composers and for people wanting to work with composers.

Yeo has been in the industry since 2003, with her work spanning genres, formats and styles, including feature films such as The Rocket, television series such as Wakefield, documentary series like Ms Represented with Annabel Crabb and feature docs such as Valerie Taylor: Playing with Sharks, Bomb Harvest and Getting Frank Gehry. She has been awarded five APRA Screen Music Awards and has held roles including President of the Australian Guild of Screen Composers and as a member of the Gender Matters Taskforce.

Find out more about Yeo’s work here, and watch New Gold Mountain on SBS and SBS On Demand when it airs across two weeks from October 13.

Subscribe to Screen Australia Podcast on iTunes, SpotifyStitcher or Pocket Casts


[00:00:05] Caris Bizzaca Welcome to the Screen Australia podcast, I'm Caris Bizzaca, a journalist with Screen Australia's online publications, Screen News. On this episode of the podcast, we are joined by screen composer Caitlin Yeo, whose latest work can be heard in the new four part epic drama series New Gold Mountain, set in the Wild West era of the Australian gold rush. Produced by Goalpost Pictures, all four episodes are airing across two big weeks on SBS and SBS on demand from October 13. Multi-award winning screen composer Caitlin's work spans genres, formats and styles from the epic war feature Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan to ABC series Wakefield to documentaries such as Valerie Taylor: Playing with Sharks and 1850s Westerns with New Gold Mountain. She has been awarded five APRA Screen Music Awards, amongst others, and has held roles including President of the Australian Guild of Screen Composers and as a member of the Gender Matters Taskforce. Throughout this episode of the podcast, Caitlin talks about getting her start in the industry, at what point she comes on board a project as screen composer, how long the process of composing a score can take, and general advice - both for composers and for people wanting to work with composers. Caitlin also talks about her work specifically on New Gold Mountain, including how she worked with director Corrie Chen, how she used Chinese and Western instruments alongside gold pans as percussion, and also how much personal resonance the project had. Set in the Victorian goldfields of 1857, New Gold Mountain brings to light the untold story of the Australian gold rush from a Chinese perspective. In it, the discovery of the body of a white woman on the doorstep of the Chinese camp becomes the jumping off point for a mystery that unravels across the series. This episode also features something a bit different, where Caitlin will talk us through the title sequence music, which you can hear now, and which, along with the rest of the soundtrack, you will be able to stream from October 13. Remember, you can subscribe to the Screen Australia podcast through places like Spotify or iTunes, where you can also leave a rating and review. Any feedback? Send it to [email protected] . And subscribe to the fortnightly Screen Australia newsletter for all the latest news, funding announcements and videos. Now here's new Gold Mountain screen composer Caitlin Yeo. 

[00:02:34] Caris Bizzaca Can you tell me a little bit about your background in the industry and maybe some of the projects that you've worked across? 

[00:02:51] Caitlin Yeo I've been in the industry since 2003. I went to AFTRS in 2002-2003 and did a graduate diploma of screen composition. I was the first cohort to go through with Martin Armiger - may he rest in peace, legend he was. And since then I've been writing for screen. It was really quite amazing. I came out of film school and did my first doco only a few months later, which was brilliant actually. And I pretty much cut my teeth writing music for documentary. t I was lucky to get doco jobs. I did one and then got another and got another. So yes, some of the projects that I've worked across, there's been many. I mean, just heaps and heaps and heaps. It's hard to kind of recall them all in one tiny little sentence, but I guess a few highlighting projects would be The Rocket, which is a great feature film by Kim Mordaunt, and I'd done his previous doco called Bomb Harvest. Also, Danger Close with Kriv Stenders, Getting Frank Gehry with Sally Aitken and recently Playing with Sharks the Valerie Taylor story with Sally as well, and many others. The House with Annabel Crabb and recently misrepresented with Annabel Crabb. So yeah, that's some of the jobs I've done. And Wakefield! Wakefield, of course. 

[00:04:11] Caris Bizzaca Well, quite a few even just this year that have released. And you said you went to Australian film, television and radio school (AFTRS) and studied there. So was it always screen composing that you were interested in? 

[00:04:27] Caitlin Yeo I was always interested in music. I didn't quite realise when I was young, when I was a kid or when I was a teenager, that screen composition was actually a career. It's a funny thing when you write music for screen, you end up like writing music that's essentially background music for most of the time. So kind of your job is to craft music that adds to the poetry, the meaning, you know, adds an interpretive layer to the to the film or the TV series or the vision that you're working on. But alongside that, you're essentially writing underscore and it's often music that's not consciously heard. So a lot of people don't even realise there's such a job or back I didn't realise there was such a job as being a screen composer. But I was very interested and did all the music through high school and played in every band and orchestra and choir and singers and all that, that I could. And did, you know, three unit music at high school and things like that and studied classical piano and classical flute. But the whole time, I never thought I could make a career out of writing music for the screen or even writing music. I always knew playing music, writing music was a great big passion of mine, but I always saw it as a hobby and actually started a degree in science when I left school.

[00:05:47] Caris Bizzaca Oh wow. And so, you know, in terms of screen composition, can you think of, whether it's like a film or television show or something where you were aware of screen composition and the impact that it can have? 

[00:06:00] Caitlin Yeo I think in terms of that, I definitely spent my childhood playing film music themes on the piano. I was quite obsessed with that and I actually remember the very first album, like as in record, that I bought because this is analogue days. It was something like 17 Great Film Scores Played on Piano, and it had classic, hilarious film scores. I mean, of course, it had Chariots of Fire, which everyone learns when they do piano. It's a classic piece that you want to learn, and I used to play that round and round and also things like The Greatest American Hero. Do you remember that piece of music? What a great theme that was. And things like that. And of course, Star Wars and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and all that kind of all those themes were my favourite themes and actually had sheet music like a book that was TV themes written for piano as well that I used to just play around and around and a funny story. I remember when I was in primary school and I was like one of the only people who played piano in my primary school, and they wanted me to do a performance in the primary school assembly. And I was a little bit nervous and I said, 'Oh, OK, I'll do Chariots of Fire, I'll play Chariots of Fire'. And I remember playing it so slowly because I wanted to get all the notes right. And I remember coming off stage thinking 'that took SO long' because I was playing it so slowly. I feel sorry for everyone who heard that still today. 

[00:07:31] Caris Bizzaca So with screen composition, you were saying how a lot of the time it can almost be kind of music that the audience isn't aware of. Do you think that there are any big misconceptions about screen composition? 

[00:07:49] Caitlin Yeo I think people often think my job - it's interesting, when I meet people and they go, 'What do you do?' And I say 'I'm a screen composer'. And they said 'that sounds fantastic. How artistic!' And they always think - when they hear what my job is and they don't know me - they think I'm this sort of aethereal like classic image of an artist that's not very organised around the edges has these grand ideas in the middle of the night, pops them down, and then sends them off and they go straight into the film. Well, that couldn't be further from the truth for a screen composer. It's actually a highly technical job. And you use a lot of technology to actually create what you want to do or to demonstrate your ideas and demos to the directors and the producers and the showrunners. And so I think the thing about screen composition is it's not just, simply coming up with an idea and popping it down and sending it off and it goes in. There's just such a massive step between the idea to realisation stage that I think a lot of people don't understand just how long that takes and how difficult it can be and how detailed it is in terms of not only crafting the score to the picture, but also in terms of all the technical aspects of writing that piece of music to the film. And managing that programmes and managing the samples and producing the players and engaging the players and recording the players and all of that kind of stuff. In fact, I often call it a dark art because I think people don't really quite understand how one gets from that idea to the very end. And they often think because, you know, many people might just have a little app on their phone where they can loop up a couple of ideas. And voila! They've written a piece of music. Well writing music for screen, if you want to do it properly to a high professional standard, is a lot more than just looping up a couple of ideas. So I think that could potentially be a common misconception for screen composers and the job of a screen composer that a lot of people think it's a lot easier than it actually is. 

[00:09:54] Caris Bizzaca And so, you know, you mentioned there working with a director or showing samples to a director - in terms of the process for the role of a screen composer at what stage are you joining a project? Or you know, looking at scripts or studying those conversations with the director? 

[00:10:14] Caitlin Yeo There is sort of a general process that you can apply to every single project or that I apply to every single project that I work on. But I think that that process is a little bit fluid depending on the show you're working on. Some shows do require you to come on at script stage, especially if there's a piece of music that's written within the script that needs to be shot with a character. Or, you know, like the character might be playing a piece on the piano or something like that, and you need to write a piece of music that goes in before the shoot. That happened in the case, certainly of Wakefield, there was a number of pieces that needed to be written beforehand for the dance sequences. And also, in New Gold Mountain, there was a great dance sequence as well that I had to write a burlesque piano piece that needed to have something choreographed to it and then go into the shoot. But the general process is a wonderful thing actually. It's like you have this great meeting at the very beginning of it all - after either reading the script or seeing some ideas, if it's a doco or some archival or whatever - with the director and the producer and say the showrunner. And you talk about what it could be. And that's always the most amazing a moment in time because nothing's set yet. So the world is your oyster. You know, you can think as widely as you can. And then the great puzzle is the tension between everything it could be and then the budget and the timeframe you have to put that in to make that happen. And then after sort of coming up with a sort of a general tone or a brief or a treatment or a way that you want to treat the score, it becomes a bit more detailed after that and you sort of go into after it's cut or sometime during the edit stage, you might then have a spot session. Usually after it's locked, but sometimes before it's locked, depending on who you're working with. And if I've worked with the editor before, I often like to stop putting pieces into the edit prior to the lock, if possible. And then you spot through all the pieces of music that you need within that show. And you talk about where they start, where they end, how they function, where they might rise, where they fall. Whose point of view they might be. Which character you might be playing. Or is it going against the drama or with the drama? And then I make this what I call a roadmap, but it's essentially a very detailed Excel spreadsheet that lists all the cues - where they start, where they stop, the durations, and what I want them to do and maybe what theme they might be relating to if there's any certain themes we want to have for the series. And then I take that and I start working. For me, I like to work chronologically through the show. And I just start writing my stuff. Normally I would have written a theme beforehand, like a basic melody or chord progression or something, which becomes sort of my main building block for all the pieces in that particular series or show or film. And then I sketch up all the ideas using fake instruments. And then often, if there's the budget for it, I'll replace all that with live musicians and then record it all and mix it all, and then it'll go into the show. 

[00:13:16] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, wow, OK. So it's a huge process. And when I then think about music scores, like even when you're just saying, you know, sometimes there's fake instruments and then you bring like people in to record it live, but that could be multiple, multiple different instruments. A whole orchestra of instruments. 

[00:13:38] Caitlin Yeo That's right. And I guess the funny thing that happens with all of that is when you're using virtual instruments. I mean, they're incredible these days, the virtual instruments, but essentially you're stuck with the articulations that are provided within that virtual instrument and sometimes you want to go beyond what that virtual instrument can do. So often I find my job is this tension between creating a demo of my idea for the producer or the director of the showrunner that's very indicative of what the final thing will be. But also communicating with them well enough that actually this will then take a different leap once a player starts playing and actually puts in their own nuance. And even taking those ideas and writing them on sheet music - turning them into sheet music is a very detailed process in itself just to make sure you've got all the dynamics in the articulations and the phrasing and all the notes and the pitches and durations correct so that when the player comes in, because all of this happens so quickly, because the time frames are so squashed for film and TV that you need to get great players in who can read what you've written nearly perfectly immediately. So it's very, very detailed all that stuff so that you can make sure you can get high quality in a short amount of time. 

[00:14:58] Caris Bizzaca And so I mean, you're talking kind of time frames can be squashed with screen composition, but also needs to be very detailed and it can be a long process. Like how long might you have for a project? What's kind of like a ballpark figure? I suppose it changes. 

[00:15:16] Caitlin Yeo It's really project dependent. However, I will say that there's sort of a general yardstick that most people in Australia kind of follow. TV shows like dramas will be, for a one hour ep, usually around two weeks per ep. That's what I like if I can, particularly if I'm recording players, but it can get squashed down to one week per ep once you get sort of down the pointy end of the schedule. Documentaries - feature docs can be anywhere from five to six weeks from go to whoa. Feature films like dramas? I generally write one reel a week, so if it's five reels, it's five weeks of composition. But then you need to add one extra week after that for creating the sheet music and getting ready, preparing for the recording. Then you usually need to have another week after that on recording. Another week on that and then delivery. And usually I like to add a contingency week in around that. So feature films are anywhere from the eight to 10 week mark, if it's ideal. Short films are anything. Short films can be anything. And all that is also dependent on your working relationship with the director or the showrunner or the producer or whoever is, you know, calling the creative shots, let's say. Because that person, you might have a very quick shorthand because you've worked with them many times before. So some of those steps in the process can be condensed. Whereas if it's someone else you may not have worked with before, it's always good to try and build in a little bit more creative to and fro time. 

[00:16:48] Caris Bizzaca Yeah. And on that point, you know, if there's someone listening that maybe is going to be working with the screen composer for the first time or a new screen composer they haven't worked with before, do you have any advice on that relationship or what are some essential things perhaps to make a screen composer's life a bit easier or anything? 

[00:17:11] Caitlin Yeo I definitely think a lot of feedback and communication is done via email these days, and I don't always think that email is the best place to discuss something as large and creative as an aethereal or untangible piece of music. One of my the parts of my job is actually describing music. I always say this to people who want to become screen composers. I say, 'you can write music, yes, but the other part of your job is describing music' because before you even write it, you need to be able describe to whoever you're working for and with, what you plan to do. And the better and more articulate you are at describing what you're doing and why you're doing that. I think that can open up conversation and make it much faster down the other side because everyone kind of has a clear idea of where you're going. If I said to you, 'I want to write a sad piece of music that has a little bit of hope' that really could mean a gazillion and one things and there's an infinite number of possibilities and outcomes for that particular descriptor. So for newcomers to the industry, I would say definitely get on the phone with the director and the producer whenever you can or even have them in your studio. I understand that right now with COVID, you can't, so get on a Zoom, do whatever you can to make that connection that you have with that person that you're working with as close as possible, because trust is sort of the number one thing you need between the two of you so that you can trust that what you're doing, you'll give to them and you'll trust that they'll listen to it with open ears, understanding where it will go because it might be in demo form, and that you can discuss the music in a way that it will benefit the film. 

[00:18:53] Caris Bizzaca And so one project that we could talk about to kind of illustrate some of this is New Gold Mountain, which is the new four part SBS series and which you obviously did the screen composition on. How did you first come to, you know, hear about this and then work on it? 

[00:19:16] Caitlin Yeo I am very grateful that I got to work on New Gold Mountain. It's a fantastic TV show and I can't wait for everyone to see and hear it. I got a call from Kylie Du Fresne, the producer from Goalpost [Pictures]. She said she'd seen Danger Close. I think it was on the aeroplane coming back from somewhere. So thank you, Qantas for putting Australian films on aeroplanes. Not that we're flying anywhere right now, but keep that up! [Laughs] And she said she really loved the music and she's got this show coming up called New Gold Mountain and she wanted to chat to me about it. So she came into my studio and we had a chat about it and sent me a script, and I was just kind of blown away immediately by the script. It's for those who don't know, it's a revisionist western set in Ballarat in 1857, gold mining days, pretty much from the perspective of the Chinese gold miners. It's essentially Chinese cowboys, and it's fantastic. And so that's kind of how I sort of came to be attached to it. They then got Corrie Chen on board as the director, and I'd never worked with Corrie before. But immediately, as soon as I sort of started chatting to Corrie, I felt like I was speaking to one of my cousins and it was I was like, 'oh, I completely can get this girl immediately'. So that was really fantastic. 

[00:20:40] Caris Bizzaca So you met with Corrie? What were those initial conversations then about?

[00:20:46] Caitlin Yeo The initial conversations were how we were going to push this revisionist western idea, how we were going to play the music from the Chinese perspective, what kind of music we needed. The general overall approach for the score. The biggest thing that Corrie said to me was that she wanted drama, but she didn't want it to be melodramatic. And so that was great so we can write a score that's going to be big and bold, but it doesn't necessarily need to be over the top. The very first thing I needed to write for her was the scene where there's a burlesque dancer and she does a show and it was a piece of piano music for the shoot. And that was a really positive sort of first piece. The other thing I had written was a theme for Annie, one of the characters in the show after reading the script. So I sort of sat down and just started playing on the piano, trying to nut out a general, very simple melodic theme that would sit for Annie throughout the show. I didn't actually share it with anyone until much later on because I just wanted to sit with it because I wanted to see,  because I wrote that after reading the script, but without seeing any vision, and I just didn't want to colour the way the music went at that moment in time. So, yeah, I wrote that then, but interestingly, at the very end of that particular piece that I was sort of playing out and writing out there was like thise sort of eight note melody and that became the main theme for Annie for the whole series. The rest of it was kind of just waffle, essentially. But the end was where the gold literally was. And then Corrie, in her brilliance, had this fantastic, wonderful idea of playing Chinese music for the Western characters and playing Western music for the Chinese characters and that ended up being a great way to create antagonism across the both camps. So that's sort of what we did. And then the only other thing that ended up happening for New Gold Mountain was that after I read the scripts and when they went to shoot, I started realising and thinking about how we could use percussion in the series and particularly Chinese percussion. And I started thinking about the fact that they're all gold mining and they've all got a gold pan. That's the one instrument that everybody, no matter what race they are, is using to mine gold in Ballarat to get their fortune, to find, you know, their life, for opportunity. And so I wrote to Kylie and I said, 'I don't know if this is too much to ask for, but do you think you could bring me back a gold pan from set?' And she said, 'Of course!' And I said, 'I think we need to use it as a percussion instrument'. So she brought me about this fantastic gold pan and we took it out of the box, and she said 'It looks like a cake tin, an oversized cake tin'. But actually, I brought in a great friend of mine and radical percussionist called Ben Walsh. And before we even started writing music, I said, 'Let's just do some test recordings'. And I kind of mocked up a very small version of Annie's theme and just did some test recordings with the gold pan, with him playing the gold pan with water in it, with no water in it, with mallets, with his fingers, scraping it, bowing it. And that became a very strong timbrel element across the whole series. 

[00:24:12] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, because one of the other things that's really interesting about the New Gold Mountain score is you were saying how when there are Chinese characters on screen that there's more Western music playing and that contrast, but the use of instruments was, I thought, was really interesting. Could you talk a little bit about the specific kind of instruments that you used to really push home those themes? 

[00:24:42] Caitlin Yeo So the general instruments that we used on the score were, for the Chinese characters and in particular, Shing, the main character, the main cowboy. We ended up using guitars like Western guitars just to really hammer home that. And that worked really well. For some reason you put a guitar with Shing, it loves it. It just worked really well. And for some of the Western characters, we end up using Chinese instruments such as the pipa, which is a bit like a Chinese banjo. And it's kind of why I liked it, because it sort of had that slight... It's got a bit of a twang to it as well, like a Western twang, even though it's a Chinese instrument. And the guqin, which is like a bass zither, which has this sort of low, beautiful bendy tones which are really close miked because it's actually a very quiet instrument, but with close miked it and just gave it a lot of beef. And also what we did with the Western instruments such as I bought in a string trio of violin, viola and cello, and with in particular with the cello, the cellist Rowena Macneish, who is an unbelievably wonderful, gorgeous and extraordinary player, wrote sort of a lot of Chinese ornaments within those melodic lines to give that Western cello sort of a bit more of that Chinese lilt, if you like, to it. So there was a blending across the two. We used string trio, the Chinese instruments and a lot of percussion and a mixture of percussion, a mixture of orchestral percussion, Chinese percussion and just like hand percussion. 

[00:26:16] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, brilliant. And what's kind of been like, do you have any particular takeaways from this project? 

[00:26:24] Caitlin Yeo I hope people love it. That's one take away. But I guess one takeaway for me was working on something that I deeply loved and believed in, that I felt like I was working with my own tribe and my own people. That was quite... I didn't realise that would happen. Actually, I didn't realise I would feel so at home with that and with Corrie, and that was it forced me to reflect on my own culture and my own background. I'm half Singaporean, Chinese-Malay and half white Australian, and I've always spent time with my white Australian side, particularly growing up in Australia and, you know, experiencing racism in primary school a lot as a child. You sort of spend your life, I sort of grew up not acknowledging my Asian heritage at all really, publicly. Certainly privately, you know, all the little things that happen at home, of course. But you know, when you're out with your friends, you sort of never, you think, 'oh, they don't, nobody sees that'. Because I'm half it's like less obvious in my face. But that really was a great experience to make me embrace that and see myself on screen, and I was really quite shocked to have to experience that because I did not expect that to happen. And so it's really given me the opportunity to stop saying, and here it is, I was saying I was half, but I'm trying to stop saying that I'm half because actually, I'm Asian and I'm Australian, so I'm not half anything. And that was probably the biggest realisation. 

[00:27:59] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, wow. It had like massive personal resonance for you. 

[00:28:03] Caitlin Yeo Exactly. Thank you for saying that in such a nice way, it did. It had massive personal resonance. 

[00:28:15] Caris Bizzaca So we're going to do something a little bit different now. There was a piece we played at the beginning of the podcast and that you can hear now, which we're going to break down a bit more. It's the title credits for New Gold Mountain, which Caitlin, Goalpost Pictures and SBS have allowed us to play here, and which really gives a fantastic sense of what we've been talking about up until now, from the instrument choices to the tone. There's a whole visual side to this title sequence, which we touch on a little bit, but which you can see for yourself by watching New Gold Mountain when it airs on SBS from October 13. Now back to the chat and to Caitlin talking about this particular piece of music. 

[00:28:56] Caitlin Yeo The title sequence from New Gold Mountain was one of those pieces that couldn't be written till we got to the very end of the show, and it was sort of, we kind of needed to know all the themes in the whole show and then wind them into this sort of one minute title sequence. So the title sequence has two of the main themes in the show. One of them, which is Annie's theme, which can be heard at the very end of the title sequence when the title card comes up, and that emerges out of a intricate tapestry of instruments and sounds and timbres of the world of New Gold Mountain. Prior to that, we hear the other theme sort of floating in and out of the tapestry, which is the 'search for gold theme', which Corrie often referred to as the adventure theme. But its actual name is the 'search for gold theme', and that is heard just by the the the lightest, thinnest sounding violin, which is just sort of placed very gently on top of all the other layers. And the idea for that particular theme within the title sequence was that it was this sort of untouchable thread of gold that everyone was wanting to grab onto, but couldn't every time you try and grab it. It sort of floats away. And then other things pick up that theme and then they float away. So there's these textures of Chinese instruments and Western instruments that sort of float through this mysterious texture because it had to hold a lot of mystery, a lot of poetry. It had to be somewhat... not abstract, but certainly just sort of broad and mystical until they all sort of culminate to a very, very, very large, dramatic rendition of Annie's theme at the end. 

[00:31:18] Caitlin Yeo The first time they hear it in the first episode, they'll probably recognise Annie's theme at the very end because they will have heard it in the previous scene and then retrospectively in episode two, three and four, they will have heard also the 'search for gold theme', and they're very, very identifiable licks from those themes. And Corrie and I were very, very specific about trying to use the themes a lot so that they become very recognisable by the very, very end. So you only have to play small amounts of it and you get a lot of emotional weight from them. 

[00:31:55] Caris Bizzaca The visuals that accompany the title sequence, I feel like also add this additional layer because as you have kind of it, maybe it's 'the search for gold theme', but there's kind of like little pieces of gold that are dropped into the shot. So it's kind of like the visuals and the music are working together to to make that theme come about. 

[00:32:19] Caitlin Yeo That's right. Yes. Well, the gold was supposed to be like untouchable. It just keeps rolling away, right? And the whole title sequence is a wonderful mystery. You don't know what you're watching or looking until the very end of that sequence, which is extraordinary. And so that's what the music had to do as well. It had to kind of tease people into thinking, What are we seeing? What is this? 

[00:32:38] Caris Bizzaca Yes, which is where the mystery also kind of comes into it because you think that you're looking at one thing at the beginning of the title sequence and you realise about three quarters way through that, it's not what you think and then it's a reveal at the end, which is exactly what the music's doing at the same time. 

[00:32:57] Caitlin Yeo That's right, yeah, it had to do the same. And it's interesting because I started my first version on a different... because obviously I was writing the music and the title's crew were doing their vision and we were sort of both working on it simultaneously and feeding back and forth to each other. And so it sort of started in one way, but then evolved into that way. 

[00:33:16] Caris Bizzaca And you know, what is it like for you to then, view a final piece of work like watch the whole episode or a whole series beginning to end and hear all of this composition kind of come together into this one thing?

[00:33:35] Caitlin Yeo It depends on how much time I've had between me writing all of it and watching it. [Laughs] There's always that, just after you've written it and you go to the final mix, it always sounds great, but you always know those little bits that you wish you could have like nipped and tucked or changed or evolved or just gotten one more performance out of the player or whatever it might have been. But then usually after a few months have passed and then often when I've seen it on TV or watch it on iview or whatever it might be or in this case, it would be SBS on Demand... I am usually quite pleasantly surprised because I've got a lot of distance from it, and when I write music for film and TV, I might be very in it when I'm writing it and completely 120 per cent invested in it. It's very immersive job. It's very, all consuming job. It's one you kind of just put all your focus to when you're doing it. The whole outside world disappears for me when I'm writing music. And then once I get some distance from it, it's like I become detached from it. It's like, I give it away. It's like it's now been part of the film. It's not even me anymore. I have no, you know, sort of sense of, 'Oh, I did that'. That sort of just disappears from it all and I just sort of watch the show as an observer. It's really great to become an audience member again, and that's when I love it. 

[00:34:49] Caris Bizzaca Just lastly, you know, we were talking about advice for people, wanting to work with who might be working with a screen composer. But do you have any advice for people wanting to find a screen composer to work with? 

[00:35:06] Caitlin Yeo I guess, obviously there's the Australian Guild of Screen Composers, and, you know, the membership there is is basically most Australian screen composers. So you can always hop onto the Australian screen composer website and just have a look at all the Australian screen composers that are there and have a look at their works and then sort of choose that way if you want. And if you're an Australian filmmaker looking for an Australian screen composer, well just watch a lot of Australian films that use Australian screen composers and take note of how they treat drama because that's something that's very, very idiosyncratic to the individual. I think that's one thing that defines the thumbprint of a screen composer: how they treat drama and how drama plays out through the music. Some screen composers might see a scene, and every screen composer will look at a scene and solve that musically differently. And so when you're thinking about the film you're making. Think about how you want your music to to function like, how you want it to work, to tell the story and then watch a lot of Australian film and TV, or look in the IMDb and a few composers you're interested in and watch at some of the shows that they've done so that you can understand what they might have done in terms of treating the vision with music. And that's one creative way of finding a composer so that, you know, a) know the breadth of their work and what what they do. But b) how how they might look at your vision and add an extra layer of meaning to it. 

[00:36:45] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, brilliant. And just one last question, one final question, another advice one, but this one flipping it. So for people who want to become a screen composer, what advice do you have for them? 

[00:37:01] Caitlin Yeo Well, I think if you want to become a screen composer, it's about 99 per cent sweat and one per cent glory. It's not as it's not glamorous as it might look from the outside. And it does take a lot of blood and sweat, and there's a lot of time in a studio by yourself tearing your hair out, writing a lot of music in a very short amount of time and then having to make changes at the last minute. However, now that I've given everyone that caveat, so that they knwo what they might be in for. Definitely make sure you've got a good foundation of just music itself, a good foundation of technology and understanding of the technology, but also of composition. I think that a lot of great scores are those ones that are compositionally sound, and you take the vision away and the piece of music is still, it still stands upright. It's still constructed well from a compositional point of view. So I think a music degree of some sort is always a good foundation for screen composers because you do need to have an ability to write in a breadth of genres and styles. And then in terms of finding work and getting into the industry, it's I've always said it's survival of the keenest. I think everyone has a different path as well. Not everyone will follow the same path to get in and you have to carve your own path. I can tell you what happened for me, and it was basically going to film school and then coming out and getting my first doco. I basically sunk all the fee of that doco back into making the score and recording live players, and I just made sure that every single film that I did, I ensured that I turned over as high qualit as I could within the the budget that I had. Find your tribe, you know, find people who are at the same level as you making films and learn to make films together because those people are the ones that end up being the filmmakers you work with. One of those will then go and make something big and they'll take you along with them. And my final kind of piece of advice for anyone wanting to become a screen composer is always value what you do. A lot of young screen composers work for nothing, and I know I say I sunk the money back into the score, but I also paid myself a wage when I did that. You need to make sure that all your decisions are sustainable and viable decisions for the long term. This is one of those industries where it's a long way to the top if you want to write for the screen. And I really mean that. There's no fast tracking to the top in this particular industry. It's one of those things where you need to build up your 10,000 hours and so you'll need to make sure you make sustainable and viable decisions. And that means holding on to your rights where you can and charging fairly for what you do. 

[00:39:46] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, fantastic. All very practical advice. Well, we will leave it there, but thank you so much for joining us on the podcast and talking to us all about screen composition. 

[00:39:57] Caitlin Yeo Thanks, Caris. It was great to chat to you as well. 

[00:40:03] Caris Bizzaca That was screen composer Caitlin Yeo. And thanks to Caitlin, Goalpost pictures and SBS for access to that excellent title sequence. Hear it all in full by watching New Gold Mountain when it airs on SBS and SBS on Demand from October 13. To catch all the latest episodes of the Screen Australia podcast, subscribe through places like Spotify, iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts and subscribe to the fortnightly Screen Australia newsletter for all the latest news from the local industry. Thanks for listening.