I stumbled across this blog post on Documentary.org while wandering the Web. It’s an interview with six film composers about the peculiar art of scoring documentary films. They talk about the idiosyncrasies of the music in documentaries, when they typically get brought on board, schedules and budgets, and much more.
By being involved earlier I had a longer time to conceive of the music…. You can’t speed up the process of just ruminating on something creatively.”
As a composer currently working on two docs, I found numerous bits of wisdom to take away. One of my favorite parts was the lengthy discussion of the pros and cons of temp music and how best to deal with temp scores (always a hot topic). They also talk a lot about the power of music in documentaries and what it can bring to the table—great fodder for your next negotiation with a client who’s balking at your bid.
While geared toward documentary composers, there’s plenty in the post for dramatic composers and filmmakers as well. Much of the discussion centers around the composition process and every film’s need for great music. These are universal topics, and the composers in question speak eloquently about the subject. All in all a worthy read.
Here’s an interesting post from KonsonantMusic on how to get the most out of the composer/director relationship. Whether you’re a composer or a director, it’s well worth reading. The post details exactly what composers need from their directors: video and time code specs, picture lock, schedule and timing, constructive input and direction, and perhaps most importantly, clear communication.
So much of the composer/director relationship comes down to communication. This of course works both ways. If a composer is silent for weeks and doesn’t keep the director informed about what their up to, it should be obvious that that would be frustrating for the director. Likewise, if the director isn’t clear about exactly what they need the composer may end up having to make needless revisions. This may not seem like a huge deal from the director’s standpoint, but unhappy, overworked composers rarely do their best work.
Take a look, and see if you can find ways to improve your relationship with your composer or director on your next project.
I saw The Descendants a couple of weeks ago. It’s an excellent film, and much has been made about the fact that it uses no score. Instead, the soundtrack employs music by Hawaiian artists, much of it featuring existing recordings by some of the greats of Hawaiian slack-key guitar. This is entirely appropriate given the film’s subject and locale, and this strategy has been praised by Hawaiian musicians tired of Hollywood’s overuse of surf music and hula dancing to portray the islands. The music is beautiful and quite effective in the film, but I couldn’t help but notice a few of the disadvantages of creating a soundtrack using only songs.
I’m still working my way through the contenders for the best scores of 2011, but I wanted to post an update. First off, thank you all for your recommendations, both in the comments and offline. I’ve seen a lot of great movies and heard some wonderful scores. Here’s what I’m liking so far:
Hugo, by Howard Shore: A beautiful and moving score to an amazing film. Shore is absolutely at his best here, marrying music to picture in an almost magical way. I found Hugo to easily be one of the most rewarding scores I’ve heard this year.
Jane Eyre, by Dario Marianelli: I love the way this score rides a balance between a period Classical sound and a more modern minimalism and dissonance. Marianelli is exceptionally good at this, and has carved himself a unique niche in the contemporary film world. His score for Jane Eyre is dark and brooding, like the film, but it’s also quite lovely. And in a time when scores sound more and more alike, Marianelli has crafted a truly distinctive-sounding work here.
It’s the end of the year, which means it’s time for the annual parade of “best of” articles. I’ve been pondering a post about the best scores of 2011, but I’ve actually found this past year to be a bit lacking. There have been quite a few good scores, but not many that I’d consider great.
I thought I’d throw the question out to you, my humble readers, and see what you lot think of the past year’s soundtracks. Is there anything that stood out to you? Anything you absolutely love? Anything you think deserves an Oscar or a Golden Globe? Post a comment below and let us know your thoughts. In the meantime I’ll work on my top five scores of the year and publish the list in a week or two.
Great film music can do a lot of things, but one thing it can’t do is “fix” a broken film. Yet composers are often asked to do just that. I suppose it’s bound to happen—we’re typically one of the last people to touch the film. Sometimes a project’s problems don’t really come to light until the editing phase, and music is often the next stage in the assembly line. Money is tight at that point, and there aren’t many other options available. So the director hands his baby to the composer and says, “Is there anything you can do?”
When asked to repair a director’s terribly flawed film, Bernard Herrmann famously said, “I can dress the corpse, but I can’t bring it back to life.” Music, as wonderful as it is, can only do so much. It’s great at enhancing what’s already there. A great score works with great writing, acting and cinematography to intensify the audience’s experience and pull them into the drama. But if the movie is weak, the score may help distract from the badness at times, but that’s about it. Imagine a poorly-paced car chase that’s obviously happening at 20 miles per hour. Putting super-intense action music behind it isn’t going to make it seem that much faster, and in fact it may make the scene more ridiculous. Audiences are savvy, and if what they hear doesn’t match what they see, they’ll feel manipulated and may even turn against the film.
We’ve all experienced it, struggling to sit through the uneven, incomprehensible film offerings of our compatriots. To quote local film maker Geets Romo, “If that was a fight, they would have stopped it.” But there is so much good stuff coming out of the Seattle indie film scene it’s clear that indie film does not have to be lame.
Music is an integral part of movies. As proof, the list of successful films without scores is quite short: Annie Hall, Catch 22, Network, The Birds, Dog Day Afternoon, and just a few others. Why? What is it about music that makes it so common in films?
Music provides several elements in a film that are difficult or impossible to achieve in other ways, and it is of tremendous importance in reinforcing other aspects and strengthening their impact. Here’s just a partial list of what music can add:
One of the most common uses of film music is to heighten or enhance the emotion of the onscreen action. Ideally, the actors will deliver much of the emotional impact of a scene, but the score can help the viewers connect more directly with the characters and their feelings.
I’m in the middle of redesigning my website. In the process, I’ve been looking around at other composer and musician websites to get some ideas and inspiration. And I noticed something interesting: film composer’s websites are, by and large, far less impressive and less engaging than those of bands and performing artists. Even those of famous, world-renowned composers look as though they were designed 10 years ago by a graphic design student or they have big “Coming Soon” notices on the home page. In this post I’ll show you some affordable options for improving your own website or creating a new one so it stands out from the crowd and hopefully gets you more work. (Filmmakers, this post focuses on composer websites, but much of the advice will work just as well for your sites.)