MFG member Brent Holland has been composing music professionally for over 20 years and has had the privilege to create music for all major network broadcasting companies in North America including: CBS, FOX, NBC, ABC, NASA, PBS, Cox, Clear Channel, CBC, Radio Canada International, SRC, CTV, TVA, APN, CHUM, CORUS, RDS, Global, etc. Credits include feature films and international broadcasters. Mr. Holland holds to his name, two Bachelors of Fine Arts, one in of them is in music, and the other in Theatre Design. Contact info below.
Putting Music to Picture is a series of articles derived from my real-world-guerilla-grass-roots 22 years of experience scoring for film, TV, docs, etc. coupled with my work in composing for and operating a stock music library. In short, these are articles for the rest of us who make a living everyday in the business of the non-Hollywood world. These are not “how to” articles, but instead, they are “try this” articles interjected with stories and anecdotes of my everyday experiences in the trenches.
-Collaborating with a Composer-
Eureka! There’s Actually a Budget to Hire a Composer… Now what!?
So, you’ve just finished editing your film and now its time to think about music. Wrong. A music score is just as important to a film as all the other disciplines that went into its creation. A preferred time to think of music is while lighting a scene and setting up camera movements. You are already asking yourself what “feelings “do I want to evoke with the light, dolly movements, etc. so you are already well emerged in the decision process. Jot down your feelings and what points led you to your direction.
Sometimes a friend with that new Wal-Mart synth in their bedroom may not be the best choice to score a film. Just because a friend owns an amazing camera certainly doesn’t qualify them as a great DOP either. If you’ve got the budget, hire someone qualified. Don’t mess around. This is your film, your vision, your art. But, where do you go to find a composer and where do you look?
How to Choose a Composer
By far the fastest and the most common way to choose a composer is word of mouth. Chances are, your film maker friends have used someone before or you may have spotted a name in the credits of someone who’s score you admired. However, if you haven’t liked any of the music you’ve heard on these films; then don’t be complacent. Try someone else. It would be tantamount to going back to the same restaurant that serves lousy food and expecting to get something good on an off chance. Try a different place to dine. Jot down three composer’s names and the films they scored. This is so you can reference and associate the name to a film.
Grab those names of the composers and do a search on the net. If you don’t find a web site for the composer, move on to the next name on your list. These days all serious composers have a site complete with examples of their works. You can listen to their demo reels right away online. As of late this method is now replacing the old snail mailing of demo reels. What’s more, with the advent of the internet, don’t feel you are locked in and forced to get someone geographically located in your own town. Geographical location and distances are no longer a concern…at all. Today, with free ftp sites such as “yousendit.com”, you can send your composer a Quick Time or .wmv of your scene. They score to it and send it right back to you. Talk over the phone to discuss the scene and what you’re looking for. This will enable you to get some of the big gun composers working for you who tend to be in bigger media centre cities. Don’t be afraid. In today’s fast paced and frenzied turn-around world, this is the preferred method and is used all the time. It is tried and true, so be happy, sit back and smile.
But, always, always, always… audition samples of their work or a demo reel.
The Ubiquitous Demo Reel
Why put so much emphasis on the demo reel and samples of the composer’s work? Because you want to make sure the score you heard in their film isn’t a fluke and that the composer can present a catalogue of high quality work right across the board. After all, you’re hiring them to compose a new score for your film and not the old score you heard in that other movie. You want to be assured that when it comes to scoring your film; they can deliver a consistently high level of music scores. This demonstrates skill and capability that they indeed, know what they’re doing.
A word of advice though, don’t get fooled into believing that if you don’t hear the exact music you’re looking for, for your own film, in the composer’s demo reel, that the composer can’t do it. Instead, look for competency. Is there a variety of styles that the composer displays ability in? A big plus is if they can compose orchestrations, even if you’re not looking for that style of score. A composer who can score for orchestra usually has more skills and training than those who use pre-assembled loops. This is not to discount electronic scores, not at all, but it takes competence to arrange strings, brass, wood winds as opposed to putting a few pre-assembled break-beats back to back; and competence is exactly what you’re looking for.
Fall in Love – But Not with Your Temp Track
Temp tracks or temporary music tracks are terrific starting points to identify and convey to the composer what you’re looking for in terms of feel, style and tempo. Some editors even do “first cuts” to them. There is danger here, however. Sometimes you become so accustomed to hearing the same temp music for weeks on end that when the score is presented, you balk. “What is this!?” Relax. It’s normal, welcome to the human race. Even though your new custom score probably works better in context of the whole film, you’re frustrated because you’re just not hearing the temp score song that you’ve become so accustomed to. You never will. This is new music, created explicitly to your specifications. To counter this phenomenon, think more in terms of the feelings the temp score evokes. Aren’t these same feelings present in your newly created score? Most probably they are and then some. It’s sometimes difficult, but go back to that initial creative vision and spark you had with this scene. Most likely the new score will start to fall in place and the doubts will leave and you’ll fall in love all over again.
Ok, you’ve allotted four weeks for post production including the composition of your 90 minute plus music score. During the upload transfer of the film to computer, the editor tells you that they should have at least one scene ready within a week to send the composer. So, really the composer has only three weeks to score the complete 90 minutes. But, it’s decided the scene is not quite there and a re-edit is required. The scene is late by another week, but its coming, and the editor is now in the “groove”. Two weeks left. First scene is delivered and the composer gets going. A day later the first scene is scored, only 13 days left to go. The next three scenes come in a flurry; things are rolling. Three days later the music arrives completed for all three scenes, great! But, , after working with the first four scenes and the editor now has a better perspective and feel for the movie and wants to re-edit that first scene all over. Unfortunately, it is going to affect all the hit points that follow in every one of the other scenes your composer has just submitted. Only ten days left and the composer is starting over. Several days later the post production facility has been over booked on the weekend, not only interrupting the flow, you’re unable to gain access for another three days. There is now only a week left; yikes!
We all know far too well that the creative process takes time; to say nothing of the orchestrations and recording and mastering the composer will have to do. Having just dedicated eight months of your life busting your butt on this film, now, only to be forced into compromising on your music score? Seems like an intolerable situation.
A much preferred solution is to ask the composer upfront how much time they think they might need before beginning post production scheduling. Also, try to give an additional full week leeway at the end (trust me, it will get eaten up). Allotting the composer the time to create will ultimately transfer itself into the music score. “And the winner for this year’s best film score is…:” Why not yours?
B&H Gold Production Music Library
the power of music
if there were words for it
we wouldn't need it
the Montreal Film Group with permission from Brent Holland.
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