A video of John Williams conducting the Train Chase from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade live with an orchestra.
This one is especially insightful as we get to see the streamers and punches used for synchronizing the music to the film during recording sessions.
This requires a very good sense of rhythm and solid baton technique.
This is something I did for a good many cues for my “Legend of Silk Boy” score, conducting the Evergreen Orchestra with streamers and punches to guide me. It was a challenge!
this is called “free conducting”, when not using clicks, and this is great for when the music is very rubato in feel and you wish to achieve a musical result. The click, when it comes to rubato, can make things feel very stiff.
However, for a rhythmic scene like this train chase, where the tempo is pretty steady throughout then clicks would work just as well I would imagine. On the other hand, free conducting allows orchestral musicians to listen to each other the way they normally do, to achieve intonation and phrasing. And if you use a group of musicians used to playing together then that is a real advantage.
So here’s the video!
How often can you change moods and how quickly?
That was the question that I posed myself as I worked on this film, and so I looked at the master John Williams for advice, especially his cartoony Indiana Jones scores, including my favourite of the four Indy scores: The Temple of Doom.
The answer is: pretty damn quick.
There are some scenes, like that one in the airplane when the pilots and leave them to crash, or when they are leaving the Indian village to start their journey to Pankot Palace, where the music there is fragmented, changing from theme to theme very quickly, only presenting a bit of one theme then a bit of the other.
I have also realized that this type of fragmented, stop-and-go music happens in scenes that are preparation for action.
And so yesterday I scored a scene that presented many things quickly; running, despair, sadness, reunion, meeting and comedy, all in the span of like 40 seconds or so.
It was a transitory scene that is leading to the longer sections of the ending.
At first I admit I tried to play through the scene and it didn’t work. But when I watched the completed cue with the image, I knew it didn’t work, but I also knew why and how to fix it.
So I followed every part of the scene; started quick and breathless and a bit funny, sad and h0llow winds, then romantic strings have a quick swell (presenting two themes in counterpoint) and then a quick descent into humour before stopping right before the punch line.
This might sound schizophrenic, but here’s the paradox;
- the first cue which was more melodic and musically coherent totally stuck out
- But this more active, “roller coaster” cue with all its ups and downs actually blends seamlessly with the scene since it follows it so well, disappearing in the story even if mixed in loud.
How cool is that!
So what does a composer do after the spotting session?
Well, spotting notes are written up by the music editor (or composer on smaller projects) and then a copy is given to the composer and the director.
Here’s an example of spotting notes from a film I scored called “The Citizen.”
The important elements of spotting notes are; start and end timings, the duration of each cue to calculate the amount of score to be written, and a short resume of what was discussed during the spotting session.
From the spotting notes detailed timing sheets are written up by the music editor (or composer), which will then be used by the composer as a reference for all his timings.
The timing sheets provide a detailed description of the scene to be scored including all elements which might require a musical response (cuts, actions, dialogue etc.) along with the related timings in the hundredths of a second.
Here is an example of a breakdown sheet from a film I scored called “Say Yes.”
Now, I don’t know how many composers still use timing sheets, especially since many of them don’t even write a single note on paper, usually just playing right along to the image.
But personally, I find a lot of benefit to actually writing out my own timing sheets whenever I can. (And I also still write the vast majority of every score on paper first.)
In order to write a timing sheet for a given cue, I have to pay attention to everything that is significant;Â looks, dialogue, subtext, plot points, cuts, pans, actions, whatever, and then I slow it down in order to get the exact timings!
Nothing can get you into the heart of a scene more than writing some spotting notes!
Another reason why I like spotting notes, as you can see from the scan above, is that I like to jot down notes on the timing sheet itself – notes, ideas and thoughts, and I also use horizontal lines to find the form of the scene which will give direction to the musical flow.