FILM COMPOSING: Finding the Emotional Ark of Each Scene

By Steve Myers

Every time a director approaches me for original music, I get a little nervous. Whether it will be a pre-score (music before any picture is shot) or a post-score (music after the picture is locked), the first round of conversation either revolves around something they have heard and might think will work, or something they have not heard…yet. If it’s the former, I know that the end product cannot sound like something that already exists. If it’s the latter, how do I get in the director’s head and join in the vision for the project so I can extract a sense of the musical direction? I prefer to pursue both directions at the same time.

I’ll encourage the director to bring in samples of anything, and I mean anything: music photographs, sound effects, YouTube clips, old scratchy slides, an interesting-shaped piece of wood that washed up on shore – anything to start a conversation. I will also bring something/anything into the meeting. Once there is a small seed of an idea, I can record something. We’ll listen and either throw it out or save it for another scene. Either way, the process has started.

Next, I’ll keep track of what the director likes and dislikes. Eventually I will have some kind of musical pallet to start with. After I’ve produced a few scratch tracks (with digital sampling instruments), we can line them up with scenes, and I can start to get an overall vision of what the director is thinking and the emotional arc of each scene. There will still be give and take and many revisions, but that is the process.

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