Sound vs Score III: Melody and Voice-Overs
In last week’ s post, Scooby Doo showed us that melody is still an important asset to a production at any level.
One of the challenges is when to present your melodies and when not to. A common fear among directors is that melody will interfere with the dialogue.
Of course it is crucial for the dialogue to be well understood, but melody doesn’t get in the way like you would imagine when you are first listening to a composers demo or when doing the final mix, times when you focus your attention too much on the music.
Here is a recent example.
The great film “Memoirs of a Geisha” opens with a narration, a voice-over by Sayuri as an old woman. Under this voice-over her theme is played on cello with a light wind accompaniment.
The Sayuri theme is beautiful, melodic and distinct, yet it does not interfere with the words. (And music with voice-overs is a particular challenge since the audience does not have the lips and gestures to reinforce the words.)
Ask yourself, did any of you notice the music there when you were first watching the film? Did it detract from the narration? Of course not, since you were listening as audience members.
But now that I have drawn your attention to this, if you were to watch this scene you would listen to the theme more and start focusing on it with a film maker’s ear, and might say “there should be no melody here, I am listening to it instead of the narration.”
What decision would you have made if you had heard this melody as a demo from the composer or during the mixing session?
I asked my wife after she watched that opening scene if she heard the music. She said yes, sure. Did she hear the narration? Well, yeah… of course.
Melody under narration and dialogue works prefectly well. The audience’s mind can take both in simultaneously.
As filmmakers, it is important to listen to the music being put in your film from the audience’s perspective. It is wise to not focus on the music entirely either during a demo presentation or during mixing, but on the dialogue or the action, because that is always where your audience will be focused as well.
And when in doubt, put melody! A good melody makes music more memorable, approachable and likable, all of which can only make your film better.