Community Spotlight with Ed Hartman

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Community Spotlight with Ed Hartman
Award-winning Film/TV Composer & Producer


As the Earth TurnsWork and Current Projects:

I am a composer, scoring features, documentaries and shorts, and I’m a producer. I have music in many television shows and films. I write a variety of styles of music including jazz, Latin, world, classical and electronic. My music may be full score, or “diegetic” – when the music is part of the actor’s universe (like coming out of a radio). This week, I had a 50s piece placed in “The Twilight Zone”. It was a make-believe commercial. Pretty intense scene, too!

I recently started to produce, as well. I was hired to score a never seen 1938 silent sci-fi film, “As the Earth Turns”.  I became extremely involved in it, including editing in missing footage, having the score mixed in post-production studio, and then promoting the film to festivals. To date the film has been in 121 festivals, and has won 135 awards/nominations, including 34 for best score. I took over the LLC and own the film-estate of the director, Richard Lyford. I recently put the film in distribution, and it is on Amazon and other platforms. The film will be on Turner Classic Movies starting in the fall. I’ve created a mini-doc about the filmmaker and have scored others of his films. I am now working on a script for a biopic and assembling a team to produce it. The film, “The Filmmaker” about Richard Lyford’s life, who made 9 films and wrote 58 stage/screenplays by the time he was twenty-years old! Lyford went on to work for Disney and directed an Academy-Award winning documentary. All of this came from my co-producer seeing an old Buster Keaton scene that I put a Danny Elfman style track to on Youtube!  You never know where anything you do will lead! Keep putting things out there.

Ed Hartman film scoresFilm Composing Creative Process:

Features and shorts are similar. You meet with the director, talk about the musical direction of the film, and ideally, have a “spotting session”. That means going through the film, scene-by-scene, and seeing where you want music. I may take time to come up with themes or melodies that might work throughout the film. I divide the film up into scenes, and start scoring. I use “Logic” a “DAW” (Digital Audio Workstation”), insert the video and typically put a piano track as a beginning outline. If the director approves, I then “orchestrate’ it, by adding other electronic instruments, including orchestral sounds.

If the final score is all-electronic, the score will be mixed, and added to the film as is. If the score needs to be recorded by live players, the electronic “mock-up” that has all of the instruments needs to go to another program, like “Finale”, and parts can get generated for players. That session would then be recorded to picture, with a conductor watching the scene to synchronize the music. This is a very expensive process and is only for films that have a budget to do it. Nowadays, electronic scores can be quite effective. You can save a lot of money by mixing in a few live players with electronic instruments. The audience’s ears tend to go to the live instrument, like a violin on top of the electronic strings. My recommendation is to have a budget for at least a few live instruments. I can have players come in to record in my studio, or remote record the parts by professionals around the world. I send them files to sync with, and they send back their parts. A marching band track of mine that was all electronic with live percussion – I am a percussionist – has been used in “The Blind Side”, “Scooby Doo the Mystery Begins” and other shows and films.

Television is similar to films, except the “cues” or pieces you record are typical pretty short 15 to 90 seconds. There may not be that much music in a TV show. An entire series may have about the same amount of music as a feature film, even though it can be many hours longer.

Ed Hartman film scoresFilm Composing Challenge and Solution:

For the silent film above, the music was end-to-end, and the director was deceased. I did have a co-producer to guide me, she is the great niece of the director, and left me a pretty open-hand in composing. I did find out about half-way through composing that the director experimented with records, early vinyl disks, and had synced dual-turntables to a 16mm projector! Hollywood had sound by the 1930s, but no-one had ever done that with 16mm, and certainly not outside Hollywood! This was astounding and scary. I had started to get to know the family and did find out generally what kind of music the director favored. It was actually quite similar to my score, so I did feel I was staying within the directors overall scoring choices.

I also had a recent short film that took about 5 times through scoring it. The music was not really typical score, but more pop style tracks. It was “diegetic” as heard in a coffee-house, but the director did want it to not just be background music. It needed to carry some emotion of the scene. The music would also start and finish the film over the credits, so it set the mood throughout.

Ed Hartman film scoresTop 3 Tips for New Directors Working with Film Composers:

(#1.)  Licensing the score. Regarding the short I scored above: Because it wasn’t a WFH (Work for Hire), but a “licensing” arrangement, I own the tracks completely. All music I created, including tracks that didn’t fit the movie became part of my ever-growing catalogue (many-many hundreds of tracks).  By licensing music, rather than trying to buy it outright, you can save a ton of money. Most indies really can’t do anything with music, like collecting royalties. You need to set up your own publishing, copyright, etc. The only reason for a production company to own the score, is if it is iconic, like Star-Wars, where you don’t want other films to use big musical themes. Most score is designed for a scene, and really can’t be used in other films, at least easily. It isn’t like a completed piece that you might hear streaming or on the radio.

Composers do have their own publishing and can collect the back-end though a “PRO”, BMI, ASCAP, etc. The producer of the film does not pay for royalties. That is paid by broadcasters like NBC, HBO, etc. Of course, unless a project gets distribution, especially on TV, royalties may be very small or non-existent. Basically, I recommend “licensing” the score, whenever possible. It can be perpetual – forever – so you never have to worry about the music licensing expiring.

(#2.)  Be open to the composer’s ideas.  Many filmmakers come to a composer with a pre-existing idea of the music. Usually, there are “temps” or tracks placed in the film to give a composer an idea of music to create. This is both good and bad. If the filmmaker is absolutely sure they know what they want, this can help direct the composer to the style, genre, instrumentation, tempo (speed of music), emotion, etc. On the other hand, there is such a thing as “Temp-Love” or “Tempitus” where a filmmaker actually falls in love with temp track. It is remarkable how fast music will adhere to a visual scene. Some part of the music will inevitably sync itself to a moment of action. Temp tracks are usually popular and can be extremely expensive to license. My recommendation is to let the composer play with the score for a while and come up with something unique. Every composer has their own voice, just like a filmmaker does. Hire the composer for their voice, not to mimic another piece or composer. You will get a much better and more interesting score.

(#3.)  Give the composer time to compose! I have done 48-hour films that had zero time to compose. The only thing I could do was come up with a bunch of related tracks and let the filmmaker hopefully find something that worked for each scene. I do love working on a deadline – great motivation! I’ve done orchestral tracks in a few hours, and tracks that were put in internationally released films overnight. In the end though, it does take time to compose, record, and mix a score. Many productions will go for months, and then give a composer a week or two to do the score. If you can involve the composer early, even during pre-production, they can get an idea of the story. Send them a script. Show them story-boards, PR, etc. Treat them as collaborators. Music and sound are 50% of the audience experience in media. It is worth every penny you spend just like on the visual elements. If you need proof, turn off the sound on a film, and see what happens – nothing. Music can be the emotion, the driving force, and quite possibly the most enduring part of a film. Films can be remembered as much by their scores and their images. Of course, hire them and pay them a reasonable fee! A good composer can be a life-long collaborator. That requires respect by both parties. Look up the relationships of famous directors and composers, like Alfred Hitchcock/Bernard Herrmann, and Steve Spielberg/John Williams.

(#4.)  Bonus tip: Become your client. I became a producer, and I have learned so much more about what filmmakers need because of this experience. I have much more sympathy for what filmmakers have to do to get a film created, shot and distributed. As a filmmaker, learn about everyone else’s role in production. Don’t assume you know it all. Richard Lyford, the 1930s filmmaker, knew everything about making movies, including acting (live and film), make-up, costumes, editing, directing, special FX, graphics/animated titles, and even had to develop his own film!  All of those experiences got him into Hollywood. He was great to work with and always gave credit to everyone involved (and that means onscreen as well) . Be a student forever, then teach and give information to others. You will be repaid in ways you cannot imagine. Go out there and shoot something!

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