No two composers share the exact same formula or workflow when it comes to scoring to visual media. I'm always adjusting my workflow to meet the needs of each individual project I'm on, it's just necessary in order to keep growing as a composer and as a professional. Although I'm always trying to do something a little different, there are a few questions I ask myself that, for the most part, stay pretty consistent from project to project.
What Are My Limitations?
Whether it be a budget, a deadline, or a director that hates the sound of trumpets, every project will have some sort of limitation. Can I afford an orchestra? Maybe a small ensemble? Maybe just a soloist? How much time am I going to be able to spend on each cue? Some times I'll even give myself limitations as a way to force creativity; for example, maybe I'm getting too comfortable with a certain sound so I'll decide not to use a certain chord progression or instrument, or I'll force myself to use a certain chord or instrument that I don't usually use. For me, the best way to start writing is to first set limitations.
What Aesthetics Are Consistent Within the Film?
What dramatic themes are present in the movie? What dramatic tone is consistent throughout the movie? What is the dialogue like? What colors are used in the color correction? That last one seems like an odd question, but it is something I'm often aware of. If the movie is dark and uses a lot of blues, it makes me think of different musical aesthetics than if there were more warm oranges or yellows for example. Maybe it's just me, but regardless, you should look for visual and dramatic aesthetics so that your musical aesthetics are aligned with the movie.
What Is My Ensemble?
This goes hand in hand with limitations. Think about where and when the movie takes place - is it in east Asia or west Africa; or midwest farmland or New York City? Does the movie take place during the baroque period or is it modern day? Are the characters complex and dramatic and require an orchestral underscore, or are they light and carefree and need a rock ensemble? Maybe a jazz ensemble is more appropriate? These questions will tell you which instruments might be more appropriate than others.
Does This Scene Play Better Without Music?
This is really important, you do not want to score the wrong person or emotion in a scene. Be aware of who is spotlighted in a given moment - are you scoring the anger and disappointment of the woman storming out the door, or the sadness of the lover who realizes his mistake? Or maybe it's the eerie sense of danger as the villain crawls closer versus the carefree naiveté of the oblivious victim.
Whose Point of View Is Most Prominent at the Moment?
Sometimes (in fact, often times) a scene plays better with little or no music at all, be aware that you might be saying too much. Sometimes I find that a sad or tense scene is made even more profound when you're left with only the silence between the characters. Imagine a devastating fight between two lovers, then a break and it's just silent - you can just sit there and feel the heartbreak in deafening silence. It doesn't always work, but when it does it can be very affective.
What questions do you ask yourself when watching a scene? Tell me about them in the comments below!
Film | Music
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