Composing a Film Score


When writing a film score, composers become musical dramatists; their thoughts are on the story and how it is told. The most distinguished composers possess genuine theatrical talent and imagination. Also, the ability to translate their thoughts into musical sounds and gestures. While it takes a great deal of effort, concentration, study, and experience to develop this gift, having it is indispensable to composing for film.


The Process


Once the spotting session has been completed, and the precise timings of each cue determined, the composer will then work on writing the score. The methods of writing the score vary from composer to composer. Some composers prefer to work with a traditional pencil and paper. They write notes by hand on a staff and perform works-in-progress for the director on the piano. On the other hand, other composers write on computers using sophisticated music composition software such as Digital Performer, Logic Pro, Finale, Cubase, or Pro Tools. Working with software allows composers to create MIDI-based demos of cues, called MIDI mockups, for review by the filmmaker before the final orchestral recording.

The length of time a composer has to write the score varies from project to project; depending on the post-production schedule, a composer may have as little as two weeks or as much as three months to write the score. In normal circumstances, the actual writing process usually lasts around six weeks from beginning to end.


Musical Content


The actual musical content of a film score is wholly dependent on the type of film. A film score can encompass thousands of different combinations of instruments, ranging from full symphony orchestral ensembles to single solo instruments to rock bands to jazz combos. It can also consist of a multitude of ethnic and world music influences, soloists, vocalists, choirs, and electronic textures.

The style of the music that composers write also varies massively from project to project. It can be influenced by the period in which the film is set, the geographic location of the film’s action, and even the musical tastes of the characters. As part of their preparations for writing the score, the composer will often research different musical techniques and genres as appropriate for that specific project. It is not uncommon for established film composers to be proficient at writing music in dozens of different styles.


The Tone


When an audience watches a movie, they have certain expectations, for the most part, associated with specific genres of film, which are based upon successful films within that genre. This is true with the music as well. Any film music is about tone.  If the composer misreads tone and attitude, the score will misrepresent the director’s intentions and seem misplaced. Sometimes the filmmakers themselves have a blurred misunderstanding of the film’s tone. In those cases, the composer may find it extremely difficult to find an appropriate concept.

Whether you are writing an arrangement or composing an instrumental work, starting out with a sketch has great advantages. First of all, it is written in concert pitch, which has obvious value. Secondly, in condensed form, it gives an overview of the entire piece’s form. Lastly, it makes it much easier to check harmonies and notes that might be suspect.


Famous musicians as film composers


There has always been a close relationship between popular music and film. Since the 1950s there has been an increasing number of popular musicians composing for film. It is undoubtedly true that musicians use composing for a film to revive a lagging pop career. However, there are also examples of newer, younger artists that made a move as well as those who still have a successful career. While there is a relatively long list of pop musicians who have composed scores for the occasional film, there are fewer who have developed a career out of this (for example, Clapton, Knopfler, and Sakamoto)


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