Blow Them Away

I watched Battle Los Angeles last night (good film; intense and fun). In the extras there’s a doc about the director, Jonathan Liebesman. If you haven’t heard of him, that’s not surprising. Battle LA was only his fourth feature. He wasn’t exactly an unknown in Hollywood, but he was still in a place where he needed to hustle to get this choice assignment.

Initially, the producers had no idea who would direct this $70 million blockbuster. They interviewed lots of directors, most more qualified than Liebesman. His knew this going in, so he decided to blow them away in the interview. He brought in five black bags filled with props and goodies he’d made. He had drawings of the soldiers and aliens, models he’d built, before and after photos of the soldiers in battle, storyboards of various scenes, and even a ten-minute computerized previsualization of one of the action sequences. He worked incredibly hard on these materials, but it paid off. None of the other directors could touch his presentation or his passion. The producers hired him immediately.

The next step was selling the studio on the choice. Since Liebesman was relatively unknown, Sony Pictures wasn’t convinced he was their man. Liebesman and the producers decided to try another unique idea. They asked Sony for the budget to spend a day shooting. Liebesman called the film’s star, Aaron Eckhart, and asked him to come in and shoot for a day with a squad of Marines. Liebesman had created an impressive rubble-filled set, and the team spent the day running around with guns in a simulated battle situation while camera crews filmed them. There were fires and explosions going off, smoke and dust filling the air, and plenty of zeal from the cast. Liebesman got exactly what he needed, and cut together an impressive “sizzle reel” demonstrating his vision for the film’s look. He clearly established the hand-held, pseudo-documentary intensity of the final film and won Sony over. From then on, they were 100% committed to the choice.

What on earth does all of this have to do with film scoring? I haven’t even mentioned Brian Tyler’s score (which was fine, but didn’t really stand out for me). Mostly it got me thinking about how most of us approach a prospective job: we’re perfectly content to send someone a resume and a link to our website, assuming that the awesomeness of our music will sell itself. But guess what? Like it or not there are a s**t-ton of equally awesome composers out there. If you really want to stand out from the crowd you’ve got to go above and beyond. You’ve got to blow them away.

What this means will depend on the project. If you have access to a rough cut, perhaps you could score a five-minute scene. Maybe you can even talk your friends into adding a live instrument or two to improve the recording. If there is no cut for you to work with, you might want to find some pre-existing footage similar in style to the prospective film and score that. Perhaps send a package that includes toys or photos or other physical objects that remind you of the film. Go crazy. Let your imagination run wild. This is not the time to be conservative, because that’s what everyone else will be doing. You likely won’t be the best composer they’ll hear from, so you might as well be the most memorable.

Granted, you won’t be able to put this kind of effort into every single prospective gig that comes along. You’d never have time to get any actual work done. But when you hear about something that you really want to land, think about how you can emulate Jonathan Liebesman. What can you do that will get you noticed above all the chatter? How can you demonstrate not only your skill, but also your passion, your creativity, and most of all, your uniqueness?