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How composers are NOT like actors

In some ways, a composer is like an actor.

To do his best work, the composer needs to understand the story, the structure, the characters and their motivations, and that’s how I prefer to talk to a director as well – like an actor.

However, unlike an actor, a composer can’t do multiple takes so easily.

“OK, now play it a bit sadder at the end. Great! Now do one with more hope. Perfect! Now…”

We can’t do that, at least in the minute it takes to read the lines. Composition is not interpretation.

Interpretation is when you take something that is already written (music or a script) and then give it various dynamics, inflections, tempo changes to bring out certain qualities that give it a different meaning or colour.

Interpretation is what a musician does with the notes on his page and an actor with the words in his scripts.

Composing a demo for the director to approve requires many more steps:

  1. Thinking of the idea and forming it.
  2. Writing the melody
  3. Writing the arrangement
  4. Orchestration
  5. Performance and sequencing
  6. Mixing

So you can’t expect the composer to give you multiple takes of a single scene. Well, you could if you had a six month post-production schedule and a huge music budget!

But we all know such schedules don’t happen too often, if ever. So there are important things to remember to make the composition process efficient and effective.

1. Have a productive spotting session.

As a director it helps if you have an idea where the music should be and what it should do. (Not necessarily what it should sound like.) Be able to explain to the composer what purpose the music serves in a given scene, what is its goal, the structure of the scene and whatever else is dramatically relevant.

2. Have daily talks with the composer.

It’s a good idea to have a chat with the composer in the morning to discuss what music will be written that day. This can refresh what was discussed during the spotting session or bring out new insights that had not been thought of before.

3. Respond quickly to composer’s questions.

As much as we try to cover everything during the spotting session, many questions arise during the actual writing of a cue. And these questions can lead to doubt which lead to a reduced output.

Imagine this, the composer is writing, all is going well and he has his groove. Then he reaches a pivotal moment in the scene and he thinks “OK, the music could go either way here. I could go very quiet or build it up loud.”

So the composer calls the director, they talk it over really quick, come up with the decision to go really loud and dramatic and the composer falls right back into his groove and finishes the scene.

On the other hand, if the conversation does not take place when the composer calls (or shortly after), then the composer might stop writing this scene and lose the momentum he had gained on it.

If it’s your composer calling, I suggest you take the call, take a minute or a two to talk over the problem and it will save a couple of hours of work for sure.

That’s a take!


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