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October 09

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I t's a daunting task.You're producing a film, using temp music that works somewhat de- cently in places and is just horrible in others, and now it's time to talk to a composer. Many producers are really quite good at communicating with composers, but there are many who treat music as if it's a tap dance through hot coals. But fear not, help is on the way. I have scored films for over 30 years, and a recent project had me thinking about what can go wrong with that commu- nication. A producer must deal with a sched- ule and a budget. Maximizing both is vital, as well as the hope that there isn't a compro- mise on the music. S TA RT E A R LY Too often the very first time I see a film is in an editing suite while spotting it with a producer. That puts me in a position of try- ing to make musical suggestions without having had the chance to spend some time to analyze the film and take some notes. And after that I might get fed the film in small cue by cue segments and never have a complete dub again until the final cut or pic- ture lock. That complete cut is essential to gauge how well the music flows from cue to cue and how it paces the film. Music is sup- posed to make a film better and it's difficult for me to evaluate that if I only have the film in pieces. So it's important that I get a rough cut or even an assembly cut dub early on in the process, cer tainly well ahead of a spotting session. I like to see the visual uniqueness of the film and get a feel for its style and flow. A phone discussion of the basic storyline and premise of the film should precede the spotting session. At this stage I would star t writing themes and melodies. Nothing too specific in terms of segues, transitions or length, but a musical identity should start to unfold. And obviously this music would help the editing process as the producer or edi- tor would have music to cut to that is their music. Additionally, pieces would be written that have some built-in elasticity.These could be simple and fairly non-specific evolving concepts that would be developed as the film matures, or even ideas that only end up evoking a verbal positive or negative re- sponse.This is a stage in the production that producers should take complete advantage of. The early stages of editing matched with evolving musical concepts promote a suc- cessful creative symbiosis. T E M P M U S I C Temp music is that dual-edge sword that composers accept as a necessary evil, but it can be ver y useful in that it can illustrate what a producer likes or dislikes. However, because you (the producer) edited to it, it will be so tied to the film that you can easily fall in love with it. And then a composer will be asked to write a version that wants to be that piece but will end up being its poor cousin in reality. The most successful way to approach this is to discuss why the temp music works and then be prepared for an entirely different composition that includes all of the positive aspects that you liked, but is definitely not that piece. In this litigious world, no one wants to leave a door open for a lawsuit. If there are cuts on CDs that have potential in terms of feel, orchestration, melody, mood or even just a single musical phrase, these can be quite helpful in commu- nicating something that you might have trou- ble describing in words. It ultimately might be the wrong path, but because you sent a rough cut early on in the schedule there will be time to take a few experimental paths. C O M P O S E AWAY So by now you should be knee-deep in music that is being composed for your film. It is imperative that you comment immediately as compositions are sent to you. Be as spe- cific as possible, with both criticisms and pos- itive aspects. For example, things like tempo, instrumentation, repetitiveness, melody, where and how the music enters and leaves. The composer should organize cues so that they have specific names or numbers with specific version numbers. Keep all of the music in a folder and don't be afraid to tr y placing pieces in unintended places. Until you hear music against visuals, it's impossible to tell how it will affect the film. I've written many pieces for one section of a film that were not used as I intended but ended up working wonderfully in a different section that the editor tried just as a hunch. R A N D O M N OT E S Sometimes the best music for a cue is something that plays against the obvious, ei- ther in tempo, density, mood or genre. You won't know until you put the music against picture, but the result can add another di- mension to the scene that didn't exist before. Don't be afraid to take that chance. As for the evolving nature of the length of cues, it is generally much more difficult for a composer to add 10 seconds into the middle of a piece How to get the right score The soundtrack for this Nature film evolved through clear communication with the producer. Early involvement and constant communication is key. 44 Post • October 2009 P O S T P O S I T I O N S A U D I O By TOM PHILLIPS Principal/Composer OBT Music Boston continued on page 53

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