How To Use Silence In Your Soundtrack

Field Notes Interview #25: Stone Alvaro

Let's go with the notion that silence is perfect. With that said, every sound in a film—including the soundtrack—should be intentional. Filmmaker, Stone Alvaro takes this idea very seriously. 

In each of Alvaro's films, silence plays a role in supporting an intensity that sticks with you. A soundtrack with a lot of space can let the pacing breathe a little more while lending emotional weight to a scene. Stone allows room in a soundtrack to establish strong characters, moods and intentionality within every moment.

We caught up with Stone Alvaro about his use of silence, his philosophy as a filmmaker and how he captures the emotional essence people and place in his recent films.

M: When did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker?

SA: My passion for filmmaking is rooted in making videos during family vacations. It began when I visited Hong Kong, China in 2001. During that time, I was 11 years old, and was intrigued by my father's JVC video tape camera. I was fascinated on how video tapes were able to capture moments that could last lifetime. I thought that it was just a season of my childhood that would eventually pass away. In 2008, when I visited New York, I borrowed my father's canon powershot point and shoot camera to take pictures. However, I did not feel the same joy staring at pictures than I did when I was video recording. After this experience, I received my first camcorder from my father, and started to film.

M: What's your favorite moment of the filmmaking process?

SA: My favorite moment in filmmaking is the process of observing available light and using it to add emotion to my images. I am an aspiring cinematographer, and as an artist, I am trying to "paint with light". My cinematography can be referrenced to the paintings of Carravagio. I  value how painters used light in their paintings, and I am applying this technique in my videos. Most of my shoots are outdoors, and I usually depend on the sun's illumination. I usually go for a "chiaroscuro " style of shoot, which is low key lighting.

M: What do you think defines a filmmakers' "voice"?

SA: My voice as a film maker is the freedom that I have to create and share a story. I think artists abuse that freedom to create because they're limiting themselves with gear and content. We grumble because we don't have beautiful equipment or beautiful stories. A filmmaker should have limitless freedom when it comes to creating a film. We have the freedom to make anyone laugh, cry, or smile. Our voice shouldn't be silenced, and I think that is the voice of a film maker..

M: Do you always have a clear vision in mind when filming?

SA: I usually have an ideal vision in my head when I shoot. The ultimate goal is to communicate my story visually, and majority of the time, my vision is altered. It is usually altered from being late on schedule because of the Los Angeles traffic, which hinders my movement from one location to the next. Light is always changing throughout the day, and my plans get altered as I search for places where lighting is best. I praise God for the change in my plans though because his leading is always better.

M: Are there ever any happy accidents when filming?

SA: Yes, there will always be happy moments during shoots. I am working on an online video series called "#thesocialmedium". It is a series about photographers and cinematographers who I have met through social media, and interviewing them at a deeper level. In the first episode, I was documenting my friend Carlos, and we had met a homeless man who started singing out of nowhere. Then, I quickly panned left to our friend Tracy and focused on his singing that expressed an inner  joy, pain, and sorrow rather than focusing on photography too much. We shot it at the La river, which starts with Tracy singing one of his favorite gospel songs.

M: What role do you feel music has in film?

SA: Music plays an immense role when it comes to video. What is interesting about music is that it can be either silent or loud...I am a fan of Martin Scorsese's use of silence in his films. He has used silence to give more of an intense feeling from watching it. It is a numbing feeling that we get when we hear no sound, and to me, that is an amazing art form.  

Talking about music, I choose my music in films according to how I interact with subjects during the shoot. I have shot my friend Carlos in a somber tone because of the experience we shared that day with our friend Tracy.

M: When do you know that you have something ready to show the world?

SA: I know when a film is ready for the world to see when i ask myself, " If this is the last video I have produced in my career, have I outdone myself, and had given it 100%?" If it's a yes, I will definitely be posting it. Praise God that so far this is not the end of my career, but we don't know...

M: How do you feel music is misused in projects?

SA: Music is usually misused when the tone and the mood of the visual story doesn't coincide with the visual. I personally feel that music should be just as important as a cinematographer framing his compositions and looking at light. It needs time, and filmmakers should take it seriously when choosing music for their films. Many times, music tracks have been saturated ,and have been overused in many projects. This makes the visual project lose its taste and emotion. I think that it's  misusing that style of music because a soundtrack is usually specific to one genre of film. I could be wrong, but I have done it before where I have misused music.

M: What's coming up?

SA: I am still working on my Online video series called "#thesocialmedium". I hope to shoot two artists a month, which will challenge me since i am in school and getting married. Also, I am working on other projects that i have shot abroad that is away from my work station here in California. I'm pretty stoked about it.