Any leader”s goal should be to get the best out of his team, for each of them to perform to the best of their abilities to achieve the highest quality and most profitable end result.
Composition requires a high amount of cognitive clarity, we can agree on that. So check out this quote.
“Research by the US military has shown that losing just one hour of sleep per night for a week will cause a level of cognitive degradation equivalent to a .10 blood alcohol level. Worse: most people who’ve fallen into this state typically have no idea of just how impaired they are. Itâ€™s only when you look at the dramatically lower quality of their output that it shows up. ” Link
It’s common for composers to be given such schedules that they end up with very little sleep for extended periods. So how much better quality creative material could we deliver with more generous music production schedules?
I personally want to give 100% to the project I am on for two simple reasons:
1) it’s best for the film and for my relationship with the film makers
2) it represents me better for future work and for those who listen
So scheduling sleep is part of the equation, simple as that.
Being a film composer requires some technical know-how that’s for sure, and don’t wait to learn this on the job with huge deadlines. Make sure you learn ahead of time.
I have just completed composition work on a local feature and this is what I am doing now as I prepare for the recording sessions and mix.
- Preparing the MIDI and audio tracks for the recording engineer. I am doing a once over of the MIDI tracks to make sure I have the performance I want from each of them.
- Cleaning up the MIDI to import into Finale. You need to know what will translate well and most clearly into the notation software, and that means seeing the sequencer’s piano roll as notation and not caring about the actual music result.
- Have a solid system to keep track of your progress. My spreadsheet has colums for demo/approved/cleaned/mixer/score/parts/delivered and I add and removed columns as needed. I also use colour coding to keep track of everything, very easy to do and see at a glance. Much better than crosses and noughts, for examples.
- Preparing scores and parts in Finale.
Right now I am hugely pressed for time and just thought I would take two minutes to post this. If you are not fast at any of these steps and don’t have a system in place to keep track of your work, don’t wait.
Now back to work.
Pick any two when hiring the composer for your score.
If you want it good and fast, it won’t be cheap.
If you want it good and cheap, it won’t be fast.
If you want it fast and cheap, it won’t be good.
As a director you have to be a storyteller, yes, but also a leader. And to be a leader who gets the most out of the people he leads, there is nothing better than walking a mile in their shoes.
That doesn’t mean I suggest you have to sit down and compose, but listening to what composers want and need, their desires, what they consider the best working environment for them, understanding those things will go a long way in building a productive and creative working relationship with your composer.
Here is an interview with 5 established composers published in the Hollywood Reporter . A lot of important subjects were discussed, some of which I will address here.
But first, here’s is the link to the full article. Oscar Roundtable: The composers [N.B.: requires subscription.]
Today I will comment on some answers by Howard Shore and Danny Elfman, which I quote below.
Shore: It’s important to make films in a linear way. It’s the most productive way to do them. You wouldn’t start shooting a film if the script wasn’t finished.
Elfman: It’s a contemporary problem. Thirty, 40 years ago this wouldn’t have happened. It’s something we deal with now that our predecessors didn’t have to. They didn’t have to reconstruct things in the eleventh hour the way they do now.
Shore: It’s a good discussion point, because here is a group of composers sitting here saying that the best way to make good films — which is what we all want to do — is to allow that the postproduction process be linear. It’s like what Danny said: Films used to be made like that, and look at all the great films that were made.
They are talking about the last minute changes that happen now because of the new digital editing revolution. Now everyone can have a say in the final cut and it keeps on going and going and going.
Sometimes the changes are minor and a composer can rework his cue, or the music editor can nip and tuck the music, but if the changes are big enough then the whole cue goes out the window.
During the editing you may not feel the changes are big ones, a few frames cut here and another few added there, no big deal, right? But suddenly none of the hits in the music cue work anymore and it has to be redone!
What these guys mean by a linear postproduction process is that the final cut stays final while the sounds and music are being created.
And the bottom line, is that redoing cues hurts the quality of the music overall, since the energy spent on reworking something that was already done takes away time and energy from music that still needs to be written.
Like Mr. Shore said, we just want to make good films!
Today’s topic: Should the composer read your script? Well, sure, but not to write musical ideas from.
You know how it goes, you read a book and then you go see a movie and the movie is never like you imagined it. You had completely different ideas of what the characters looked like, etc…
A composer reading a script is no different. He/she will surely have a very different ideas than what the director had in mind.
John Williams actually refuses to read scripts, he will only write when he sees the film. The late Jerry Goldsmith was the same. When discussing writing for “Alien” he recalled being in the theater watching a scene and being scared out of his mind, telling himself “it’s just a movie.” And that’s how Jerry liked it, basing his music on that first gut reaction he got from watching the movie as an audience member, not as a composer or film maker.
Furthermore, you know as well as I do, a lot can change between script and the final cut.
Here’s a personal example.
I worked on a feature called “The Impossible Life of Martin Pranks” early on in my career (sadly it was never picked up). I liked the script and started writing as they were shooting without ever seeing any dailies.
When I finally saw the first rough cut, the tone was much more dramatic, emotional and tender than I had envisioned. Actually, I did not interpret the script as being that tender at all, and the director never mentioned anything during our talks either, not that I recall anyway.
So none of the musical ideas I had fit the tone of the movie at all and all that work was wasted. And you know how hard it is to change your mind on something, too! I really liked my ideas!
If I had worked watching dailies instead of the script then that would have been better for sure.
So reading a script is not enough of a basis for music composition, we got that, but can a composer still start writing music before the first rough cut?
I remember Danny Elfman talking about going on the Gotham set of the first Batman and soaking up the Gothic feel of the film. That gave him the information he needed to start writing music with the right feel
So inviting the composer on the set is a good idea, but let’s face it, it all depends on the set. If the set is a simple run-of-the-mill house, it won’t do much to visit!
Visiting the set when the actors play out a crucial scene might be good.
Oh, and I didn’t mention the most important of all: discussions with the director his/her vision for the film.
But remember, first impressions are hard to let go of. Make sure that if your composer gets the right impression of the film right from the get-go, that everything is clear and all will be well.
Happy New Year!
When should a composer be brought in? As soon as possible!
Usually a composer is hired when the film is nearing the first rough cut. This is the common scenario and personally, I don’t mind it. It can be fast, brutal and fun.
However, let’s face it, musical creation takes time, just like writing a script takes time. Can you really expect to write something great in just a few weeks?
Well, it does happen, but let’s consider this:
A composer can aim to write between one and a half to two minutes of score a day. (It’s not just music, you know, there’s the scene to consider, the story, the timings etc…) There can be more music written per day if necessary, but let’s just use that figure which most film composers tend to agree on.
(Note: if you have a big music budget then the composer can have a team around him of orchestrators, music editors and copyists which allows for a higher output of music. If you don’t have a big music budget, then the score takes more time.)
That means that working seven days a week the total amount of music will clock in between 11 and 17 minutes per wekk. If your film needs 50 minutes of music then the composer needs 3 to 5 weeks to write it.
And it would be a great idea to give a week or two before that for the composer to come up with the themes and other musical ideas based on talks with the director and the current rough cut. (This is where there is flexibility. More on that later)
What about allowing some time for rewrites? Not a bad idea. How does one week sound?
And let’s not forget the music preparation, another week? And the recording session which requires some preparation on the part of the composer and his team, add a few days. Finally, the recording session if using live musicians. At 2 to 3 minutes recorded per hour, plan on three days minimum. Longer if the music is complex.
So now the total time to write the score comes down to roughly 7 to 10 weeks.
You could always bring in the composer even earlier than that. Let’s say, before you even start principal photography?
This would allow the composer to come on set, see some dailies perhaps, start playing around with ideas and establishing a dialogue with the director. This gives the score a gestation period that can only be beneficial and result in a higher quality product at the end.
For the director, it means that musical ideas become an integral part of the filmmaking process, rather than something tagged on at the end.
Trust can also be established early between the composer and director, all the concepts are clear before the actual scoring is set to begin, making what is usually a stressful time become a creative time.