Animated Feature – getting things done
Part of the skills of a film composer has to be time management. Creativity on demand, that is the name of the game, and for me it is something I am constantly adjusting and getting better at.
Almost every day I do a little post-mortem; I take note of what went well what didn’t go so well during my writing day. Based on that I try to adjust my approach the next day.
Why do this? It’s in my nature to analyze first of all, but also because it really helps.
Listen, I have to do almost two minutes of music per day, completely orchestrated using pencil and paper on short score.
In order to make sure that the copying of the score goes as smoothly as possible, everything has to be as clean and clear as possible. I also want to make sure I don’t overlook anything on the score; instruments, sections, textures, whatever, it’s easy to overlook details if you don’t have a good work approach.
Having a certain order to my work flow helps me keep the music in focus and avoids me getting lost in the notes.
What’s my approach? Well, today anyway, it looks like this.
- Watch the scene to score as I build a mental image of the cue as complete as possible. I also split the cue where needed at this time for ease of composition and recording.
- Set the metronome marking I wish to use while watching the scene, then using my click book I check to see if I can hit easily what I need to hit.
- Then I play around a bit with the music, usually in my head as I watch the film and once I have a good idea, I play it out on the keyboard roughly still while watching.
- With a good idea of the music I head over to my paper, lay out my timings and then proceed to jot down the melodic line as quick and neatly as possible, assigning it to the instruments as I go. I might also start sketching the rest then, but only if it comes easy and quick.
- I do a quick check of my timings with what I wrote. I used to do a quick mock-up at this point using piano, but I have now started to just turn on the metronome, start the scene and sing my music along. That works well and is time efficient. (Also, singing allows my imagination to be more vivid than hearing the timbre of the piano.)
- I then arrange and orchestrate the cue. Here as well I have laid out some steps to make sure that I do not overlook anything. But I need to get back to work now, so I’ll leave that for another day.
- Once the cue is written, I do a mock-up by playing each part through.
There you have it.
As you might notice, this approach involves a lot of silence, letting the music grow inside my mind rather than by noodling with sounds at the keyboard. This is quite efficient for me, as I find that the noodling alone is time-consuming, sort of like pecking around to see what works.
It’s funny how it goes; by being patient and not going to the piano or the keys right away, but rather taking the time to listen to the music in my mind, I get things done much, much faster. I mean, it only takes between 5 and 20 minutes to imagine the music, which then allows the process to go pretty quick after that.
Of course, this approach may not be for everyone and certainly not for every project. This is an orchestral score to be played by live musicians, so everything needs notating.
And also, I love the look of a hand-written score on paper. It’s gorgeous!
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