I wanted to create some informative blog entries that discussed the topic of how as a film director or producer, one could accurately convey their ideas to the composer.
Communicating with a composer presents a number of challenges for filmmakers who have yet to embark on this endeavour. Today it is generally regarded as being in good taste to hire a composer to score your original film or television project. While stock music can be used to supplement original music, there are always going to be moments where the unique and metamorphosing touch of a live composer is going to be needed. In this blog I would like to go through some ideas that I think could be very helpful for directors, producers and composers themselves.
How can a director really show a composer what they want without using a temp track to show it? To answer that we have to look into the role of music in film itself. Music in film is essentially the emotional guide for whatever is happening on film. If everyone on the screen is happy, at a party and the music is celebratory, the party is on and its happening. If everyone is at the party and the music turns low and brooding, you know this party is about to get crashed in one way or another. Of course you could always have bizarre juxtapositions of fun music with horror and such, but for the sake of this point, we will stick to the more obvious examples.
The fact that music is often the emotional guide for a film means that the director needs to have an extremely clear vision of the emotional lay of their film. This is something the director needs to start thinking about when he or she is in pre-production. How is the dialogue reflecting emotion? Which characters are really the emotional cornerstone of any given scene? How is a montage moving the film forward emotionally? What is not being shown to the audience that needs to be made apparent? These are just a few of the questions a director needs to know before going into production. Once production starts the film can often take on a life of its own so it is important to always be keeping in mind how any choices are going to effect the emotional arc of the story. How are the performances effecting it? The cinematography? The set design? A clear direction with all of these things is really going to help to establish a clear emotional direction for the film.
Why is all of this emotional query so essential? Because it is going to form the basis of what you want from your composer. At this stage you have selected a composer who you like. You like there sound palette, their taste and generally have a respect for their work. At this point all you really need to do is explain to them all of your emotional intentions. Use multiple descriptors to try and build some depth into what the composer needs to do.
Example 1: Foreboding
The scene with the guy riding a horse. Its going to be really epic, but it needs to also convey the sorrow that the character feels over losing his father earlier in the film. Towards the end of this scene, the sorrow transitions to anger. I would like the music to become much more aggressive and loud at that point to convey what the character is thinking about.
Example 2: Quirky
Two girls discussing are discussing past relationships. As the one girl discusses her ex-boyfriend. The other girl is realizing that he is her current boyfriend. As the camera looks at her making this realization, the music should start to take on a bouncy, playful and cheeky character. This is not sad or serious, its more so a hilarious realization between friends.
Example 3: Sad
A man and a woman are talking near a playground. The conversation is light and easy. There is no music. As the woman talks about her son, a dark drone is brought in. We look at the man and know that his thoughts have turned to the son he lost in a car crash many years ago.
Example 4: Humorous
Two male characters are chugging beer. When one of them picks up a forty of malt liquor and says he can chug the whole thing, the other doesn’t believe he can do it. He start drinking and miraculously is succeeding. Music should come on now. It is angelic and uplifting as if a miracle is taking place.
As you can see. We are giving the composer a tonne of creative freedom here. Most importantly the music is being described not in the language of music but in a language that is mutually understood and appreciated by both parties. Some directors are actually musically confident themselves. This can be great for communicating specific ideas to one another. However this can often hinder the creative process as the the composer might be thinking of how to make the film feel cinematic, while the director is potentially musically more in tune with things like rock and pop music. Of course this leaves many things open to the composer, and this could potentially create some disagreement over ideas in the process. In my next blog I will be tackling the topic of using a temp score and descriptions of instrumentation to communicate ideas. Love it or hate it, it is an essential part of the process.