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Jerry Goldsmith

Write After Reading?

Today’s topic: Should the composer read your script? Well, sure, but not to write musical ideas from.

You know how it goes, you read a book and then you go see a movie and the movie is never like you imagined it. You had completely different ideas of what the characters looked like, etc…

A composer reading a script is no different. He/she will surely have a very different ideas than what the director had in mind.

John Williams actually refuses to read scripts, he will only write when he sees the film. The late Jerry Goldsmith was the same. When discussing writing for “Alien” he recalled being in the theater watching a scene and being scared out of his mind, telling himself “it’s just a movie.” And that’s how Jerry liked it, basing his music on that first gut reaction he got from watching the movie as an audience member, not as a composer or film maker.

Furthermore, you know as well as I do, a lot can change between script and the final cut.

Here’s a personal example.

I worked on a feature called “The Impossible Life of Martin Pranks” early on in my career (sadly it was never picked up). I liked the script and started writing as they were shooting without ever seeing any dailies.

When I finally saw the first rough cut, the tone was much more dramatic, emotional and tender than I had envisioned. Actually, I did not interpret the script as being that tender at all, and the director never mentioned anything during our talks either, not that I recall anyway.

So none of the musical ideas I had fit the tone of the movie at all and all that work was wasted. And you know how hard it is to change your mind on something, too! I really liked my ideas!

If I had worked watching dailies instead of the script then that would have been better for sure.

So reading a script is not enough of a basis for music composition, we got that, but can a composer still start writing music before the first rough cut?

I remember Danny Elfman talking about going on the Gotham set of the first Batman and soaking up the Gothic feel of the film. That gave him the information he needed to start writing music with the right feel

So inviting the composer on the set is a good idea, but let’s face it, it all depends on the set. If the set is a simple run-of-the-mill house, it won’t do much to visit!

Visiting the set when the actors play out a crucial scene might be good.

Oh, and I didn’t mention the most important of all: discussions with the director his/her vision for the film.

But remember, first impressions are hard to let go of. Make sure that if your composer gets the right impression of the film right from the get-go, that everything is clear and all will be well.

Happy New Year!


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