I’VE COME TO THINK of my composition process on a film as being similar to an actor’s in some ways. Let me explain by talking a bit about my process for “The Performance”, the film I am scoring starring Nicholas Campbell and Nick Mancuso.
I first analysed the story by using the script (normally I’d use the rough cut, but didn’t have it at the time.)
I had a preliminary talk with the director about his goals, his ideas, his thoughts, his view of the story and the characters. Jotting down key words in my notebook (pictured here) and asking questions along the way.
My first goal was to decide where there would be music and where there wouldn’t. Because this bit of information is obviously the first step in identifying what role music could take.
And then comes the fun part: digging in to the story and the characters to discover the function of the score.
I read the script over and over, watched what scenes I had to view, jotting down thoughts in my notebook (see the picture? That’s my notebook). Words. Sentences. Whittling it down, looking for that POV, looking for the essence. The center.
On the surface, the main character is sad. Sure. Fine. But I refuse to just say “I’ll write sad music”. I want to do more than that.
I want to tell part of this man’s story as we accompany him on this emotional journey. Something that is specific and unique to HIM. Something that tells the audience something about him. Something that only music can bring.
And that is when I become an actor in a way. I ask myself this simple question: “why is he sad.” Understanding his thoughts. His point of view. Trying to think his thoughts. But also to psycho-analyse him. What’s his reasoning, but also what’s behind his actions. Digging deeper until something starts to emerge, words pop out, a POV clarifies. I reach that point where in a few words I can describe what my goal will be for the score and I think “of course”.
Because the right solution should always make you think “of course.”
With the understanding of the character and the function of the score I am then able to get to work and write with a clear target in mind.
I set to work writing my themes knowing exactly what to aim for. No throwing notes at the screen like spaghetti on a wall.
And there you have it, a view into my process and why I consider myself an actor with notes.
Just had my first successful meeting with the director of “The Performance”. Ideas hit the mark and now it’s time to get the actual writing of the cues underway. And I just thought of all the different things I do during those initial days of building a concept for a film score.
- Seeing what’s there in my mind already, always the starting point. I do this multiple times a day after a break, a bit of silence.
- Reacting to the surface elements – my first impulses to the story and the images.
- Foraging & Collecting: my ideas, others, words, thoughts, concepts, anything.
- Finding models – musical and films
- Interpreting…the story, the director’s ideas, my own ideas etc…
- Breaking down the story, understanding it 110%, bringing it down to the essence, for which I often collect key words and sentences
- Figuring out the role of the music in the story, what could it add, how can it help and not just be redundant.
- Juxtaposing – I love that word and it could mean anything. This time I am juxtaposing my three themes.
- Collecting ideas and collecting sounds – as a I build a binder filled with ideas and my DAW template.
- Seeing different angles – digging deeper to make sure
- Finding structure and function in the score so I know what my music should aim to do
- Deciding how many themes and musical ideas I should use for the genre/type of film it is
- Spot the film, looking not only the ins and outs of music but for structure, symmetry, repetition, development, arc
- Spot the film again, once the themes start to form, see where they fit and spot the film again
- Review, rewrite, look at different angles
- Sketch, mockups, improvise, be open, let it happen, think it through
- Over-thinking is good – it is like asking a question…and you need questions in order to find answers
- Take frequent breaks – nothing set in stone. Go with the flow to retain high amounts of focus.
- Don’t get excited about any one idea until the next day
- Play with the image, play away from the image
There is no one order I can put these things in, you need to flow with the process, so I wrote them down, things I do and things I tell myself as working. I didn’t go into very big detail, but it’s important that things that guide you should never bind you either, and if you are too strict in your descriptions of steps you take it may backfire.
So over the years I got to know what works for me and have a pretty good handle on my process at this point which allows me to flow with the demands of the picture and achieve a good momentum and reach my best ideas.
Now back to work!