When should a composer be brought in? As soon as possible!
Usually a composer is hired when the film is nearing the first rough cut. This is the common scenario and personally, I don’t mind it. It can be fast, brutal and fun.
However, let’s face it, musical creation takes time, just like writing a script takes time. Can you really expect to write something great in just a few weeks?
Well, it does happen, but let’s consider this:
A composer can aim to write between one and a half to two minutes of score a day. (It’s not just music, you know, there’s the scene to consider, the story, the timings etc…) There can be more music written per day if necessary, but let’s just use that figure which most film composers tend to agree on.
(Note: if you have a big music budget then the composer can have a team around him of orchestrators, music editors and copyists which allows for a higher output of music. If you don’t have a big music budget, then the score takes more time.)
That means that working seven days a week the total amount of music will clock in between 11 and 17 minutes per wekk. If your film needs 50 minutes of music then the composer needs 3 to 5 weeks to write it.
And it would be a great idea to give a week or two before that for the composer to come up with the themes and other musical ideas based on talks with the director and the current rough cut. (This is where there is flexibility. More on that later)
What about allowing some time for rewrites? Not a bad idea. How does one week sound?
And let’s not forget the music preparation, another week? And the recording session which requires some preparation on the part of the composer and his team, add a few days. Finally, the recording session if using live musicians. At 2 to 3 minutes recorded per hour, plan on three days minimum. Longer if the music is complex.
So now the total time to write the score comes down to roughly 7 to 10 weeks.
You could always bring in the composer even earlier than that. Let’s say, before you even start principal photography?
This would allow the composer to come on set, see some dailies perhaps, start playing around with ideas and establishing a dialogue with the director. This gives the score a gestation period that can only be beneficial and result in a higher quality product at the end.
For the director, it means that musical ideas become an integral part of the filmmaking process, rather than something tagged on at the end.
Trust can also be established early between the composer and director, all the concepts are clear before the actual scoring is set to begin, making what is usually a stressful time become a creative time.