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film composition

Timings Part I: Breaking it down

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;  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.



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