Finding Our Sound
Having already written music for two basketball documentaries (The Dancin’ Bulldogs and Farewell), it was important to me that the music for Be Legendary was differentiable from the other two films. Ultimately, this led to me crafting a much more electronic, synth-heavy score than my past sports documentaries.
While the Kobe documentary (Farewell) featured an almost entirely orchestral score, it was important to the director that this score sounded modern and contemporary, and we found that sound through the use of hip hop synths and beats. This decision was founded in Devin’s character. Devin is a modern NBA star, and while he borrowed his foundational skills from past NBA legends, his play style is completely his own.
The primary instrument in the score is a nylon string synth guitar. Almost every time Devin’s theme plays, it’s played on the guitar. In addition, this guitar is used as a texture during action scenes, often playing quick riffs and ostinatos underneath other instruments. The second main instrument that forms the texture of the score palette is a modified dynamic swell synth (you can find the base model of this sound using Logic Pro X). The dynamic swell played any sustained chords used throughout the film, including Devin’s theme, and complimented the thin sound of the guitar with its thick synth sound.
When it came to writing Devin’s theme, I decided to go for a chorded approach, rather than a melodic one. This made sense within the established sound palette, since the nylon guitar would be perfect for playing chords alongside the synth. So after sitting down and working through several different chord progressions that I wasn’t happy with, I finally arrived at this for Devin’s theme:
It’s not an incredibly complicated progression (largely revolving around vi-V-I-IV), but the simplicity allowed me to vary the chords and the instrumentation in a number of ways. In addition, altering the melody as I repeat the progression masked the fact that it was starting to repeat. So even though measure 1 and measure 5 have the same chord, the melody we’re hearing is different.
Secondary Themes & Motifs
While Devin’s theme is the primary recurring element in the film’s score, there are several others that recur in the film.
First is the “Overcoming Challenges” motif, which often serves as a B section to Devin’s theme. This motif is often associated with Devin getting past challenges, and as a result, changes modes to slightly throw the listener off. It shouldn’t be completely disconcerting, but hearing the sudden transition to this motif should be an alert to know that something is changing.
Second is the “Devin’s Hope” motif, which signals Devin (and his fans) looking to the future with hope and longing. It first appears after Devin is drafted by the Suns and is driving to Phoenix, and recurs several times, including the film’s finale. It features a very common I-V-vi-IV chord progression, and is meant to work well when paired with Devin’s main theme or the “Overcoming Challenges” motif.
Music of the Mamba
This documentary was my first chance as a film composer to revisit one of my prior movie themes and bring it back in a new way. Kobe Bryant was a huge influence on Devin Booker, literally telling Booker to “be legendary,” the title of the documentary. As a result, Kobe has a crucial scene in this film, and it made sense to me and the director that we would bring back his theme from Farewell: A Kobe Bryant Documentary.
The scene begins by revisiting Kobe’s death, and the piano solo from “Mamba Out” comes in, a nearly identical version to what plays during his death in Farewell. Then, as Devin and others discuss what Kobe meant to them and their careers, Kobe’s main theme plays.
However, I didn’t want to merely rehash music I’d already written for Farewell, so I made some small tweaks to differentiate between the two. Careful listeners will notice in this scene that Kobe’s theme, instead of being completely orchestral, is a blend of orchestral and synth-instruments. The best way musically for me to show Kobe’s influence on Devin was to literally combine their two musical styles: strings and horns for Kobe, and synthesizers for Devin. Devin is discussing how Kobe changed his life, and so we literally get to hear that influence as their score palettes combine.
In addition, we get to see the two themes intertwined. We start with Kobe’s theme, then switch to Devin’s theme as Kobe passes on advice, and then end with a soft version of Kobe’s theme, quietly remembering the impact he’s had on Devin.