The Fellini-Rota working model.
In response to last week’s post, director “Kevin Bottomley” wrote me:
I am reminded of the great relationship of trust that Fellini had with his composer Nino Rota. They had a unique style of working, I think. Fellini would sit on the piano stool with Rota as Rota played some melodies. Fellini rejected many of them and often, just as it seemed that nothing was working, Rota would play another melody and Eureka! There it was, the melody they were searching for.
It seems to me that this is a great way to find what you need in an organic way. Perhaps this is not to every directorâ€™s taste, nor to every composerâ€™s, either, but it certainly worked for them, and attests to the great trust that Fellini had for Rota.
I remember seeing a video of Angelo Badalamenti explaining how he came up with the love theme for “Twin Peaks” with David Lynch by his side. Here it is.
This reminds me of a director-actor relationship.But is this a good way of working? Overall, I would say yes.
Here are some thought and some suggestions.
A melody is not usually perfect upon first draft. I am reminded of Beethoven working out his “Ode for Joy.” In his notebooks there are many, many revisions of the themes as he worked out the details, some seeming very minor, but all necessary to reach that balance, that seeming easy perfection. This is difficult to achieve off the cuff. If Beethoven had to work it out like this, so will everyone else.
Improvisation can be one of two things: Regurgitation or experimentation. When a musician improvises he will either play variations on what he knows, which will be safe and not truly new, or try new things or make lots of mistakes on the way to discovery. Keep that in mind.
The piano is not an orchestra. A melody may seem wrong played on the piano if it is meant for voice or another instrument. If you choose to sit by your composer as he plays the music on the piano, you will have to imagine all that is missing and that is a challenge. Actually, you will not be able to do it, and it will require trust in your composer for sure. (See previous post.)
So just focus on mood and if you like the melody, the sounds, that is the way to go.
But the good thing is that the composer is not expected to create a full orchestral rendering of a melody or cue, and that is a very, very good thing! Making a high-quality orchestral sequence is very time consuming and to be able to avoid that and go straight for the approval of the theme, that is fantastic time saver and stress-reducer for the composer. For that reason alone I would choose this method of working.
The last project I worked on was a film musical and we approached the writing in a similar fashion. The director would come to my studio, and when there was no melody to work with, I would sit at the piano and improvise as he reacted. (My improvisations were based on his descriptions of the scenes, character and other pertinent story elements.)
Once we had something that was on the right track, I would often have to work it out as he sat there, playing with his iPhone, waiting for me to be done.
Once completed, I would play the fine-tuned melody and chords and it was always perfect! Easy! He would then leave and I would work out the orchestration and the sequence and record it.
Then one day the director got sick with a nasty cold, so we did the same thing but via Skype. This went very well, as he was able to hear everything and respond in exactly the same fashion as before.
Once he got well, we just continued doing the melody writing via Skype until the project was done since it saved him lots of time in transit and allowed me to turn off Skype and work out the details of the tune by myself, which was better for both of us.
So this Fellini-Rota approach can now be done even if the composer and director are not in the same room, state or country! Thank you, internet!
In conclusion, I would say that this approach is a good one although not suited for everyone, every project or every cue in a film. This will make the composer more secure in his choices, reduce guess-work, save precious time and it will show in the quality of the music.