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Making Good Movies, Pixar Style

Pixar is doing something right, we all know that. I mean, 9 movies in a row that are big financial hits?

So what are they doing? Lee Unkrich, director of Toy Story 3 put it best right here.

“It’s important that nobody gets mad at you for screwing up,” says Lee Unkrich, director of Toy Story 3. “We know screwups are an essential part of making something good. That’s why our goal is to screw up as fast as possible.”

See full Wired article here.

Creativity, or the act of coming up with something new and good, requires that you play around with ideas without the fear of making mistakes.

So how does that translate to the whole purpose of this blog: getting the score?

  • Allowing for mistakes means giving more time for the score. Leaving only a couple of weeks for 2 hours of music means that the composer will always play it safe. Giving more time gives the freedom to experiment and explore and the start of the writing process.
  • Give freedom to explore. Locking a composer within the confines of a temp track will not lead to new, creative avenues.

I can’t think of anything else right now and I have work to do, but I thought this was a great, great article with a very great message about creativity.

Movies are expensive and people get tense, and the more tense you are the less creative you get because you worry about it being good.

Pixar understands that, they allow their people to be creative and that means making mistakes. It is part of their process and the result? $500 million average gross per movie.

AND happy employees!

Helping composers be creative

As a director, part of your job is getting the people around you to function at the peak of their creative powers.

So what do composers need to be as creative as possible? It varies for everyone, of course, but I will speak from my personal point of view here,both in terms of the pure creative process and also as it applies to film composition.

Relaxation: Everyone works best when their mind is at ease. Ideas flow when the mind is clear. What can create relaxation for the composer?

Deadlines: Perhaps a deadline may appear as source of stress, but I don’t think so. It is very hard to get self-motivated to compose a lot of music and that can create stress. Having a manageable deadline is a great motivator and actually relieves the pressure of being self-driven.

Of course, a crazy deadline does create stress.

So how much music per day should your composer be expected to write? 1 to 3 minutes. (Action cues are 1 minute, slow moment will be more per day.)

Trust: We are more creative if we feel that our ideas are trusted even if they differ from the temp, that we have an input, that we are not micro-managed. In other words, that we are seen as the expert.

Artistic license: That we are given the opportunity to create and not just imitate. Remove the temp track, please. Artists work hard to forge their own voice! And yes, that can be bent to the needs of the film. Having you own musical voice and serving the film are not mutually exclusive.

Communication: If a director can explain to us what the film/act/scene is about very clearly, we can then compose with confidence that we are both aiming for the same vision.

For pity’s sake, don’t say: “I don’t know what I want but I know when I’ll hear it.” (Yep, I’ve heard that one before.)

Feedback: Feedback is important, focus on the positive. If the music is not coming out right, look for what works and what doesn’t but be specific.

Don’t just ask for another take without guidance. Look for ways to make sure the composer fully understands what you have in mind.

Also, keep an open mind to new ideas. Listen a lot before you give feedback if you are locked into a temp track. Get someone else’s perspective on it, someone who can approach the cut from an audience’s perspective.

Friendship: A composer is only human. If he feels that his input is important and appreciated, that you trust him and his ideas, and that you like him as a person, then he will give you 110%.

I would be interested in hearing your experience, both from the director’s and composer’s perspective.

Cheers,

Alain

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