Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Sound of Music: Scoring your Film with a Flesh and Blood Composer



When I went into pre-production for my last short film, Middle of Nowhere, I decided that I had to have an original score. Sound is at least half of the movie watching experience, and the score is at least half that. Think of your favorite movies. What are their themes? These things go hand in hand, and if you want to be a real filmmaker, you have to have a real soundtrack.

I appreciate the availability of computer programs such as Acid Music, Cinescore, SonicFire Pro, and Soundtrack Pro that make music without a knowledge of composing. These programs are ideal when you are in a pinch, or when you need a short piece of music for specific applications (like a looping DVD menu). For my movie, however, I wanted a real person behind the wheel.

Filmmaking is a collaborative art form. You can’t do it all by yourself, so you surround yourself with gifted people who are great at specific things. Your movie will only be as good as your weakest link, so it is wise to find specialists who know (or want to learn) various elements of production that will make you look really good. The best people will also have lots of ideas to throw your way, many of which you will never think of. It is still your job to sort through all this input to find the stuff that works, but more creative data is always better than less.

So it goes with composing. I had no idea who was going to do my score until one of my actors told me about cousin Seth Neuffer who had a Masters Degree in Film Composition. After poring over his impressive website, I emailed a copy of my script (which he liked), and then gave him a call. We had a long conversation about what mood I wanted to convey, and he had some great questions for me. What published soundtrack most resembled what I wanted? What style of music was I interested in? How soon could I get him a video file to work on? It was very exciting to bounce my ideas off him, and I couldn’t wait to see the first results.

After I had achieved picture lock, I encoded a file and sent it away. His email couldn’t handle the large file, so we went through Yousendit, a free service that allows the exchange of large files. Once Seth had the file, I waited with baited breath for the music that I hoped would invigorate the piece that I was quickly tiring of.

When the first sample came back, it was very, very exciting. Suspense was created and mood was enhanced a hundred fold. I anxiously emailed Seth back with copious notes, and waited for the next update. This process continued for about a month, as Seth and I worked together (not always agreeing), until we had hammered out a score that worked very well for me. I have to give a ton of credit to this guy, because when I felt something didn’t work, he created something new that worked better. It was a happy, reward-filled collaboration, and I look forward to working with Seth again.

If a composer doesn’t fall into your lap as one did mine, do a little looking. Talk to your people and see if they have connections. Post an ad on Craigslist. Contact local bands. These music maestros are out there, and they want to help you, as well has expand their resume. Give them a good movie and they will make it better, and make you look brilliant.

1 comment:

Rob Gokee said...

It's nice to come across a director who appreciates the benefit of a live composer.

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