Written By Kristen Baum DeBeasi
What is a temp score? The term temp score is short for temporary score. It’s a type of score that’s often added before an edit is given to a composer. Why is it common practice to create temp scores for movies? Because it’s a way to crack the creative code on what a director would like the music to accomplish for their project.
How to Handle Temp Scores
So, you’ve just landed a job composing a feature film. When you get the cut, it has a temp score. What do you do? How do you handle temp music in a film?
The first thing to do is ask yourself a series of questions.
Here are 10 Important Questions to start with:
(#1) Is the music effective?
(#2) How is it working?
(#3) Why did the director pick this piece of music for this scene?
(#4) What aspect of the temp is working within each scene?
(#5) Is it the narrative part of the music?
(#6) Is it the melody?
(#7) What about the harmony?
(#8) The instrumental colors?
(#9) How about the rhythm?
(#10) Is it the tempo?
Of these elements, which do you feel you will help you in creating your own score?
Your goal will be to make the score your own and still have the music communicate what the director wants. These are the things to consider.
When the Temp Isn’t Working
What if you don’t think a piece of temp score works at all but the director thinks it does? It’s important to open a dialogue with the director to find out what they like about each piece of music. You might be surprised what the director tells you. You might learn that they just kind of like it or that it has always simply filled a spot because they couldn’t find anything better. Or they’ve tried many different tracks only to find that nothing really works, that is, it doesn’t satisfy what the director hopes to accomplish musically in that particular scene. If you don’t have a conversation, you may never find out what the director really thinks about each temp cue. Explore this and above all, keep the communication open between you and your director.
After the Director/Composer Conversation
Always ask, “What if?” What if the music did this? What if the music did that? What effect does it have on the scene? What if the scene doesn’t need music? Or less music is more effective? Musically, there are many ways to approach each scene, so understanding the scene for what the director wants it to say is of the utmost importance. Evaluating the temp music with a sense of curiosity can give you deep insight into what the director might be thinking, which will help as you compose your score.
Kristen Baum DeBeasi is a Sundance Fellow and LA-based film composer. She works on a broad range of projects, frequently creating hybrid scores that incorporate computer-based sounds with live instruments. Her music is on soundcloud.com/kristen-baum, her website is kristenbaum.com, and her film credits are at imdb.me/kristenbaum.