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Chapter 1 Contents

Anchor 4

Getting started 


Research is a critical part of creating the cue.  This may require looking at what has been done in the past with similar films and researching other ethnic or period instruments if they are required for the film.  Most composers may have not had experience with instruments other than those that they have used in the past.  Films that take place in other geographic locations may demand the use of these instruments to assist with setting the time and place.   

Ideally, but is rarely the case with small independent productions, the composer should be hired at the beginning of the production so that they may review the script to get a sense of the overall narrative, tone and psychology of the work.  Some composers prefer not to study the script while others do.  The creation of the music for Monster’s Ball, Directed by Marc Forster with music by Asche and Spencer began based on the script and massaged after the seeing the dailies.  A documentary of their approach appears later in this eText.   


Although the composer may have access to dailies, which is the footage from the prior days shooting, it is most likely that they will be working with a rough cut made during the editing process.  This is perhaps the best time to start composing to get a first impression including the acting, color, sound effects, movement and overall ‘feel’ of the film.  Rough cuts will change during the editing process so the composer should not be too committed to timings. 

Temp Tracks 

Filmmakers think imagery, much like we all do, when they hear a piece of music and may have a particular existing piece in mind that captures the emotional and dramatic effect they desire.  They serve as ‘role models’ that are mixed into a rough cut.  The composer then has the option of basing their scores on the temp track.  While this may be a great means of communication between the director and composer, this approach can limit the creative imagination and eliminate possibilities that may be more effective.  The decision, of course, lies with the director. 

Cue Study 

It is of great importance that the composer views the cue numerous times.  This will provide the opportunity to experiment with ideas.  Improvising against the scene and trying a variety approaches using different timbres and musical ideas will help in narrowing the focus to what may actually work.  These experimental miniatures could then be shared with the director to see if they are on track and in alignment with their expectations.  It is important not to invest too much time and production with these miniatures since they may not be used.  The ideas are more important than having a completed production at this stage.  Keep it simple but keep it effective. 

Instrument and Color 

The choice of instrument or instruments can have a profound effect on the emotional connections we make with the film.  Different instruments imply different psychologies and choosing the correct ensemble, collection of timbres, is critical in creating a strong marriage between what is on screen and the music.  The closer the relationship the more effective this marriage becomes.  For example; a military scene may utilize a snare and bugle horn to make the connection; a French horn implies distance; an oboe can suggest loneliness; percussion creates direction and energy; high string and low string pedals evokes a panoramic scene; while a trumpet represent strength.  These are just a few examples of how instrumental color can cause the viewer to connect the music with what is on the screen. 

While these pre-existing human connections or ‘clichés’ are often effectively used, technology has the potential to create new events, textures, and colors that have not been used.  They provide the opportunity to create a score that is uniquely designed to make newer connections and bring an overall sensation to a film that has not been hear of before.  Samplers and synthesizers can add colors that make us feel just as connected to the film as the historical techniques used in the past.  Choosing sonic colors can be just as important as the motives they serve. 

Presenting Your Work 

Presenting your work to the director can be either an exhilarating or frustrating experience.  It is rare that your work will be the perfect solution to the scene.  There will always be numerous solutions to every cue and it is just about addressing a number of questions; does it work with the concept and style; is there the right amount of emotional connection; and, does the music serve the film and the directions expectations? 

The magic of film music is that you will intuitively know when it works.  Your director’s response will also let you know if you ‘nailed’ it.  However, you should expect revisions or even having to revisit the cue or, hopefully not, starting again with a different approach.  That is why constant communication with the director throughout the collaborative process will help in avoiding an uncomfortable situation.  If you are a student presenting to your class, expect constructive feedback, receive it and reflect.  It will make your work better and in the long run, it will be better for your career. 

No doubt there will be a positive energy and excitement in the room when all goes well.  This is the goal and what makes creativity an invigorating and rewarding experience. 

Exercise 1.2


A starting point for discussion of the importance of music in film, as described by the Ennio Morricone quote at the beginning of this chapter would be useful in hearing students’ perspectives especially considering that there have been films made without a score.  For example, No Country for Old Men, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, relies solely on the excellent acting, coupled with the intense and suspenseful drama to carry the film. 

No Country For Old Men | Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen | 2007 



The following questions could be used to initiate the dialogue: 

1) How do you decide-music or no music? 

2) Doesn’t the music often carry the film? 

3) What types of films demand scoring? 

4) Have you ever seen a film without music? 

Creativity on Demand 1.1

By means of introducing music design for imagery, we begin with our first COD exercise.  Create an 8-10 bar motive or musical idea that represents the emotions of fear, loneliness, joy and surprise.  Use only one instrument per emotion.  You have 20 minutes to create and then share with the class and let others interpret which emotion you are trying to represent.  Discuss in detail effective ideas versus less effective.  Offer constructive suggestions. 

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