There's a lot that goes into being a good film composer, it's more than writing good music and having expensive equipment. This is the first of a two-part list where I'll give you a few ideas on how to be a better film composer. This is not a "how-to" post, but rather a list to inspire you to take a critical look at yourself as a musician and address areas you can improve upon. When you're confident in your abilities, I also have an article for 10 Ways to Make Money as a Film Composer!
A great movie is one that pulls the audience into the story, and makes them care about the characters. The story could be the most fantastic thing you've ever seen or heard of, but a great movie will make you believe it's possible. So what does studying people have to do with any of this?
Studying people can teach you how people act and react in situations, how emotions are triggered, and what a natural escalation of an event looks like. You can use these observations to your advantage when scoring a scene. You should ask yourself questions like "where is the most realistic point of escalation in this scene?", "how does this character really feel right now?", or "what are the underlying emotions or memories that are driving the events in the scene?"
Watching movies, reading books and studying the history of story telling is a great way to understand how stories are formatted. Believe it or not, most (some might argue all) stories are derived from very standard formats and archetypes that were developed and mastered thousands of years ago. You don't need to be an English major, but you should be able to identify character archetypes, act sequences or story arcs, where a climax is, etc. Knowing these things will help you to properly develop your score at an appropriate pace for the movie.
Practice Active Listening
This applies to both your film team and the movie itself. When you're meeting with the director, you need to actively listen to what they're saying so that you and the director are 100% on the same page. It seems like a pretty obvious point to make, but it's not a good situation to be in when you send a demo of a scene that you scored with dark tension, and the director replies with "this is suppose to be sad..." Really listen, and understand what the director is asking of you; if you have questions, be sure to ask for clarification instead of assuming you'll get it.
This one kind of goes with active listening, but can be applied to everything in the project. Empathize with the director, editor, post-supervisor, etc. - understand that they are all under a lot of stress to make something incredible under tight deadlines and wallets. Empathize with the people in your team, they're often under the same kinds of stress.
On the dramatic side, empathize with the characters in the movie - if you can't feel what they're feeling, how do you expect to score to that emotion?
Try to find something about the film that inspires you, it's really not enough to fake it and after all the hard work that the director has gone through, they deserve someone who is as excited as they are. Not all projects are going to be as easy to get excited about as others, but there should always be at least one thing that inspires you - even if it's only the idea of writing some great music.
What are you working on improving? Tell us about it in the comments!
Film | Music
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