With this diary it was my goal to write about the process of composing the score for Silk Boy, including all the ups and downs in such musical creation.
Here’s the thing; I have not started the orchestral underscore yet.
I am still waiting on the first act to get going, and have not seen any of the other animation.
Now, I am not blaming anyone for this. Without going into details, let’s just say they had some problems and are running behind schedule.
So I have laid low and let them work things out, doing whatever work I could in the meantime: working out themes and doing some work with the rough cut of the first act. I need to be a help, not a hindrance.
The way I see it is simple; I am a member of the film making team and I am in charge of making the score an asset to the film. That means making a great score that is delivered on time and on budget.
So now, in order to deliver on time and to have the score ready for the recording date of January 18, I cannot lay low any longer. I am already behind schedule!
There is a lot of music to write and it’s all cartoon action fantasy stuff. That means lots of orchestra and lots of timings to hit!
Just to give you some perspective; Carl Stalling, the composer of most of the great Warner Brothers Cartoons, wrote the music for one 6 minute short every week for 22 years. That averages to about 1 minute of writing a day, and he already had all the timings and wrote only for piano!
I am not Carl Stalling, I do not yet have his experience and if I start this Monday (Sept. 28) I will have to do 1’30” everyday, fully orchestrated music ready for the copyist, including a mock-up for the director!
This amount of music is still something I can manage, but if things start getting much later it will be difficult to deliver a score of consistent quality.
So, as a member of the film making team, it is my duty to make sure that the rest of the team is aware of the music production schedule. I have drawn up a calendar with the important dates and a countdown, which is now in the hands of the director and production manager.
Actually, this role of “music production manager” is something I have never had to do, but animation is a different beast altogether. So it makes sense to me to do this, and I actually wish I had done this sooner. (In my defense, I was supposed to get the first act in final cut a few weeks back.)
In big Hollywood productions, films go over their production schedules consistently, which shaves time off the music side of things. But they have money for orchestrators and music editors and an army of copyists.
On this film, I am composer and orchestrator and I have one copyist. (Something I am quite proud of, actually. No Remote Control Productions here! It’s Golden Age all the way for me!)
So it’s time to kick it up to Warp 9!
If fluency comes in part from making your share of mistakes, then I need to factor that into my writing.
Actually, any time kept for editing and rewrites is a good idea, and too often I have not factored that in to my daily schedule.
But now I am doing that. Here is how I plan my writing schedule right now.
Cues written in the morning, bare-bones with indication of chords rather than writing them out fully. I will indicate whatever orchestration comes, but if not I will not spend time on that then. The goal is to get the music down quickly.
From this sketch I do a quick and dirty piano performance of the cue to check against the image.
Then, after lunch, I do all editing and rewrites I need before I start filling out the orchestration.
After the orchestration is done I do a mock-up to send to the director.
This is a tentative schedule, of course. The writing I am doing now is a very rough cut, but because things are running a bit behind in the production I had to do some work ahead of time so that things go faster once I get the film!
I can guess that it will be a race to the finish – I will be one busy body come November and December to get ready for the recording date in January!
Well, I talked to David and the first bunch of themes have been approved.
I had sketched them using piano only and given him options, (including pointing out my favourites) for the following three themes:
- The bad guy’s theme
- The main theme
- The family theme
He agreed with them and that was it. On to the next subject of discussion. (We had a lot to talk about.)
So, on to the next batch of writing for me!
As I continue this journey into animation scoring, I am very thankful for the internet!
Here as some things I have been reading:
Wow, things have changed…
What is fluency?
You have to be in touch with your muse, of course, know how to call her at will, and have the musical knowledge, skill and experience to do something with it.
Like Brahms said:
“Without craftsmanship, inspiration is a mere reed shaken in the wind”
But an important and seldom discussed aspect of fluency is the ability to self-edit on the spot.
I enjoy reading about copy writing because there are many parallels between copy writing and composing for film.
I have gained many insights reading about copy writing that I have applied to composition, and also to my writing of words, which I also enjoy doing.
And of course, fluency requires that you put your nose to the grindstone, as the saying goes, which is where I should be right this minute instead of writing this post!
So off I go.
Note: I will be writing shorter more frequent posts to keep track of what is happening.
It’s official, the orchestra is booked for January 18, 2010 for one week of recording! We will be recording with the Evergreen Orchestra in Taipei Taiwan! This will be a unique experience, for sure!
But that means I have to have the music done by then, and right now I have no final animation to work with, just a rough cut.
In Hollywood, a composer would do mock-ups and the music editor would conform the music to the new edits done to the film. That would then be sent to orchestrators.
However, here, I am a one-man-show. No budget here for a team behind me. Just a mixer, a copyist and me and I like it like that, but that means I have to plan ahead.
So I am doing piano-only cues for the first act’s rough cut. That way, when the final cut comes in, I will have all my material ready to fly. I’ll just have to edit it to the new cut and orchestrate, which will take a much shorter time than starting from scratch.
The director, David, is aware that his budget did not buy a whole music production team and he has to send me a final cut pronto.
David’s a fantastic guy to work with, by the way, and I really feel like we are on a team together to make this a great movie!
So on to composition I go!
Themes, themes, themes. I am days away from embarking on the score (I hope…), so I am now finding the final versions of my themes, when possible.
You see, it’s been really, really hard to write themes that match the film with any kind of certainty, because all I have to go on is the script and early character designs.
I didn’t get to see how they move, and film has a rhythm to it, something I am more aware now than ever, this being animation and all.
It reminds me of John Williams explaining what he and Spielberg talk about during their spotting sessions, and he said a big subject of discussion is rhythm. (Or perhaps I should say tempo, I forget which word he used.)
I received the animation for the first act last week. The editing needs to be tightened up, but now I get to see what the characters look like and how they move.
I had written many bad guy themes, and had great concepts for his personality, but they didn’t work, tempo-wise. Too fast or too slow.
So I went back and wrote something based on the tempo of the footsteps when he first appears, and things clicked perfectly.
The tempo, or rhythm, calls to mind a certain kind of melody, so it makes sense to start with the tempo!
I admit that, years ago, when I saw that documentary and heard William say that they spoke about the tempo of a scene, I thought it was an odd thing to talk about.
But now, it makes complete sense to me.
However, I still have many characters that I have yet to see, and I have to write some kind of themes for them.
But that’s OK. The general mood and musical materials used in the bad guy’s theme were on the nose, so I applied them to the new tempo and it all worked great! (Well, it was not that simple, but that’s the general idea.)
Now off to write some more bad guy themes; my favourite! I sent the director a ton of stuff today for him to review. Gotta get that score started!
The animation is supposed to arrive any day now. I have spent the time since I completed the pre-production music studying related scores and classical pieces, writing tons of melodic sketches and also scoring a short film called “Lazy Susan”.
But now that the time is coming to start writing the underscore for ‘The Legend of Silk Boy”, I need to get the final themes chosen. The first one was the main theme, of course.
I woke up yesterday with new ideas in my head and went out for a walk in the park with my homemade music notebook to write them down. (It was sunny and cool, I love weather like that. Today it’s pouring.)
This little writing session added to the 30 pages of melodic sketches I had, mostly of the main theme. It was time to choose from this melodic bounty, and it was not easy.
I chose 15 (!) potential main themes and then proceeded to do little piano mock-ups in Cubase, with string on the melodic line.
Doing this allowed me to just sit back and listen, experience them as a listener. I was not able to do that while playing – I tend to think everything sucks.
But just listening to them I was very, very happy with all of them!
That is great, it made me feel really good about myself and that my efforts at molding some solid tunes yielded excellent results, tunes I can be proud of.
But that didn’t help me in choosing the ones to send to the director. I can’t very well send him 15!
So Sophie (my wife) came down to my studio to help me with fresh ears. I explained what the mood was and what the requirements were for the tune and away we went.
From the 15 we narrowed it to 4. Much better.
Now I have other themes to write, but I don’t think it will be so hard. Because this is such an important project for me I really wanted this main them to be world-class, and that pressure made it harder to be objective about it.
That pressure, though, yielded some really good themes! I can’t wait for the orchestra to play them; it’s going to rock in a huge, huge way!