Teaching film composers

May 22, 2008


A new responsibility has now been put on my plate as a teacher of composition. Now that UCLA has an MA in Visual Media and I am part of the faculty, we train young film composers. We expect them to know as much of the same things we expect of our traditional composers.

Part of the new reality is that students come into their lessons with the locked print imported as a Quicktime video within Apple’s Logic 7 or 8. We turn down the lights and watch the movie in progress on the laptop. Laptop speakers are notoriously lousy, so I invested in a headphone splitter, so we both watch the film on a laptop with headphones. This is the same technology I am using for providing the orchestration for HOMER IN CYBERSPACE. I also used it for the various POSSUM DEATH SPREE movies as well as CAGES, so I know the software well. Sometimes the students are using the electronic libraries they own, and sometimes it is a mock up for a live session that will be taking place soon.

The mockup is primarily used to show the director how the music lines up with the film for his/her approval. Gone are the days where the composer sits at a piano emulating an orchestra with tremolo chords at the piano in a dark smoke filled room with the projector showing the film in progress. A composer can put the mockup on a private website where the director can access it at their convenience. They can meet in person, video chat, or talk on the phone. Email is even better because you have a record of everything.

The other day Nick and I were working on a film he is scoring, and the solution to one passage was to move the music up an octave. For a whole variety of reasons, that seemed to be the best solution — it was out of the range of the room tone as well as the dialog. Often a solution for an awkward passage will be to “do what you did back here; you set this up to mean this here, and it still means this now, so do it again” and this organic solution works.

I love this brave new world!

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