How does scoring music in a film work?
February 21, 2004 8:21 AM   Subscribe

Has anyone ever scored or recorded music for a feature film? How does it work? I just got a gig to do a film soundtrack and I am totally clueless about the process.
posted by zaelic to Media & Arts (6 answers total)
You might find this book useful.
posted by dobbs at 10:15 AM on February 21, 2004

You must run, not walk, to get Fred Karlin's book On The Track: A Guide to Contemporary Film Scoring (Disclaimer: affiliate link). It's a massive book that talks about not only the styles and instrumentation of film music, but includes a 200-page clickbook and instructions for how you calculate the precise timing you need to record live music to film.

Amazon's page links to other books that look good (such as one by Earle Hagen of Harlem Nocturne and The Andy Griffith Show musical fame), but On The Track is pretty much the definitive tutorial and how-to for music for film. I picked up a hardcover copy at a local music show about 12 years ago, but since it's only an interest for me (and not a paying gig), I've never gotten through all of it. If I needed to do it, though, I'd turn to it immediately.

[On Preview, since MeFi gave me errors for about an hour after trying to post this: the other book looks good, too, but I'd still go first with On The Track, since I know it's comprehensive.]
posted by mdeatherage at 10:35 AM on February 21, 2004

What ever happened to Alexander publishing? He (can't recall his first name) used to have myriad books of incalculable value. At some point he sold out (alas!) and that was that. His tutorials were great, and I know he had some on film scoring.
posted by Goofyy at 12:28 PM on February 21, 2004

If you're in a low-budget situation -- and given that you've got the job without any experience, that seems a safe bet -- then you probably don't need to worry about the complications of live recording, precise synchronization, and so forth, because you can't afford it anyway. Your main concerns are going to be getting the overall timing right, and getting the mood and feel the way the director wants it; if you can get that far, much of the rest can fall into place surprisingly easily -- the audience's brains will do a lot of the work for you.

The following has worked for me:

First watch the edited footage with the director, and talk in general terms about what should happen where. Take good notes.

Put together a temp track -- basically a rough score for the film, but using existing people's music in the same general style. Watch through the movie again, with the director, and talk about what worked and what didn't work. Depending on the time and budget available, you may go through this a couple times, starting to fill in your own music as you go.

When you're ready to start composing, get a dubbed copy of the final edit with time code, and take very careful notes about the time cues you want to match. (This is incredibly tedious, but your other choice is to trust the editors to slice and dice your music to fit.)

If you're putting your music together digitally, one good way to do it is to first set up a track the length of the whole project, with audible markers placed at each of those cue points. Fill your music in to match, then remove the cue points when you're done.

Give the finished audio to the editors, with any start and stop points marked in the audio file, and a cue sheet listing how those markers match up to the time code in the footage.
posted by ook at 12:45 PM on February 21, 2004

I'd say you're pretty lucky to get the job, being a first timer is always fun on that kind of project. A general piece of advice would be to let your imagination run wild, but remember in the end that your job is to suggest and enhance, not to dazzle and amaze (at leas tthe whole time)
posted by chaz at 9:26 PM on February 21, 2004

Response by poster: I ain't lucky. I have been fulltime in the european world music biz for many many years, but I play things like mandolin and goatskin bagpipe, so you may not have heard my music for reasonable aesthetic reasons. Worked on small indie films and avant gard stuff, but never a full budget film. Well once, but that was real weird crap. Thanks for the advice. I will
posted by zaelic at 10:03 PM on February 21, 2004

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