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Taking the Cue in Context

OK, you are a filmmaker and getting ready to listen to a cue from your composer. This is not an easy thing and many filmmakers listen to demos the wrong way.

Here are some important things to remember as you listen.

1. This is a demo

As a filmmaker, how do you listen to a demo?

Listen to the melody and the mood, not the quality of the recording. Clarity and expression will come later, as will live instruments to sweeten, or even better, a live recording date. Trust that the polish will come.

Demos are like layouts in animation (stick figures walking through a gray world) when compared to using live instruments.

You can discuss instrument choices, density of textures and anything that is pertinent to the story-telling and the mood of the scene. You will not be able to get in your composer’s head and imagine what the final cue will sound like, so you have to take that leap.

Once a cue is approved, it is fine to ask how close to final the cue is and what work is left to do on it.

2. Take the cue in context

Consider the music that comes before and after. Just like scenes and other story elements, music is experienced in the context of what precedes it and what comes after.

For example; the start of a film can have lighter, slower music which on its own might appear too slow. But the musical plan is pick up the pace and intensity gradually from cue to cue, creating a great buildup that would have been impossible had it started too fast too soon.

Consider the cue’s place in the story. This is related to the first point, but while that was from a musical point of view, we must always consider the story and the effect the cue will have on the story-telling.

The story should have an arc, so should the music. For example; the first action scene should sound different than the last. If the music is the same for all action sequences, it homogenizes the story and creates no sense of forward momentum.

So consider a cue in the context of what will happen later or earlier in the story.

Consider other audio elements. Are there sound effects to be added later that are not present in this rough cut? Perhaps the music feels too thin and piercing, or even drops out to make room for the explosion all together. That’s a good thing but may feel empty when you listen on its own.

Share your thoughts: Any other ideas and considerations for filmmakers to properly assess a demo? Leave a comment.

Thanks,

Alain

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.

Cheers,

Alain

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