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Music From the Deep

Alumni filmmakers Collin Davis ’11 and Matthew Valdez Litwiller ’11 call upon Northwestern student musicians to record original music for their in-progress film, Down Below.

Down Below director of photography Travis LaBella operates a camera while Northwestern student musicians perform original works.
Northwestern student musicians record original works for the forthcoming feature film Down Below in Galvin Recital Hall. Travis LaBella ’11, director of photography for the film, operates the camera. Image: Alex Knapp

By Ella Kuffour
Spring 2024

A film director knows that music has the power to take viewers on an emotional journey. For independent filmmakers Collin Davis ’11 and Matthew Valdez Litwiller ’11, this rings especially true. Music is integral to the plot of their in-progress feature film, Down Below. 

The film follows Alex, a classical composer experiencing writer’s block after a career-ending public meltdown. Seeking inspiration, Alex visits her family’s Midwestern lake house, where she hears a mysterious sound emanating from the bottom of the lake. As the sound grows louder, she begins to lose her grip on reality.  

Davis and Litwiller, the film’s co-writers and directors, say the sound functions as “an important character in the film,” providing not only an “unearthly context for the story” but a metaphor paralleling Alex’s own journey to a creative breakthrough. 

Once they developed the script, music was their top priority, an unusual next step. (Music is typically added in postproduction.) “Because our main character is a composer and her music will be played on screen, that music needed to be composed ahead of time,” Davis says.  

Co-writers and directors Collin Davis ’11, left, and Matt Valdez Litwiller ’11. Photo Credit: Alex Knapp

In October 2023, Davis and Litwiller called upon Northwestern student musicians to record two original works for Down Below. Bienen School of Music professor Alan Pierson conducted the ensemble in Galvin Recital Hall. “It’s cool to have this music exist before the film does, because it’s going to inform the [film’s] tone and feeling,” Davis says. 

The Down Below team also includes executive producers Scott Williams ’12 and Nathalie Rayter ’11, director of photography Travis LaBella ’11, producer Alex Schwarm ’09 and composer Zach Robinson ’12, all of whom Davis and Litwiller met during their time as radio/television/film majors at the University. “[Northwestern] is a collaborative environment, which is part of why we walked away with such strong relationships,” Litwiller says. 

Filming for Down Below begins this spring, and Davis and Litwiller hope to premiere the film at festivals by the end of this year. 

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