About Me

My photo

I live in Brooklyn, NY and I love it here.  I came here for my career in 2009 and haven't once looked back. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The process...

I love what I do.  For a multitude of reasons but mostly because film scoring is a collaborative art.  You can't do it without a filmmaker or group of filmmakers with whom to collaborate.  I find the challenge of collaborating to be so much fun, and generally rewarding.  Granted, it can be frustrating and harrowing at the same time but that alone has never been a deterrent for me.

After my second try composing music for this scene, the documentary filmmaker I'm hoping to work with is giving me yet another go at it.  But it occurred to me that it would be madness to dive back in without getting some kind of bigger insight into the mind of the filmmaker here.  So, I suggested a phone conference this evening and we were able to chat and hash some things out.  It was my aim to figure out what, specifically, about the music was intrusive and disruptive to the interviews.  To some extent, though, my instinct helped me to determine this on my own but I hoped to gain a window into her thoughts on the music I had written as well.

Whether or not I get this job I hope I can learn something about the process of writing for a documentary. It's an area in which I have regrettably not had much experience yet.  As I had mentioned, my instincts have been helpful and certain things have occurred to me without having to do much research and the research I have done (articles and actually watching a few documentaries and paying particular attention to the music) has basically confirmed what I've been thinking.

First of all, it's been obvious to me from the start that this is a different animal than scoring for a feature length narrative.  When scoring a narrative, the first thing that occurs to me that there is a suspense of disbelief by the audience.  The implications of this are that the audience (and of course the filmmaker) will be a lot more forgiving of the overt presence of music in the film.  With a documentary, not so much.  These are generally real people and none of it was scripted so there's an element of realism and music just can't behave the same way.  It has to assume a different role, one of quiet support.  It's not there as another character in the film, like one might consider it in a narrative film, but rather as another dimension of the overall mood of the film.  It does provide emotional support but not by telling you how to feel.  Of course,  a lot of filmmakers will tell you they don't want the music telling you how to feel in a narrative either.  I guess the simplest way to put it is that with a documentary, there's less you can get away with as far as indulging yourself and writing the music however you want.  When I first attempted to write something for this, I was too focused on writing good music and writing it the same way I would for the concert hall, I forgot to consider a myriad of things that come into play when you're scoring.

Specifically, I pinpointed several things that were going wrong with my music, beyond the fact that the cues were "disruptive" and "fighting with the interviews," two direct quotes from the director.  I composed a reverent, majestic, overture-sounding piece for the opening where the nuns talk about entering Hong Kong harbor for the first time.  A string trio plays a feather light, pianissimo chordal figure that goes through a progression of 7 different chord changes but at a pretty slow tempo (Grave, one quarter = 56 bpm).  What the hell?  Your take away from that, if you're not musically inclined is that the instruments change 7 times.  That's distracting.  I had hoped that the stupid composer trick of writing slow sustained notes would not cover the interviews too much but apparently I made a few mistakes.  The way the director described it was the the music, while beautiful, sounds like it's leading us somewhere…meanwhile, we're staying in one place with the interviews.  They're talking about coming into Hong Kong harbor and seeing it for the first time.  I was trying for something that would convey the same emotion of experiencing beauty and majesty for the first time.  There are beautiful old stock footage shots of Hong Kong harbor and the surrounding mountains spread throughout this sequence as well, so there's plenty of imagery as well.  The mood of my music was right for all this but with the music seeming like it was a thing unto itself it took attention away from the all important thing, the interviews.

I guess you could say my music should be playing the same role as the b-roll footage.  They're talking about Hong Kong, so the director shows Hong Kong.  Their mood is reverence for the beauty and majesty of it all.  My music should sound majestic.   And that's all.  It doesn't need to necessarily lead anywhere.

The secret to doing this?  There are a number of stupid composer tricks for achieving these ends.  My plan is to scale back the chord progression to only a few changes and also, something else I didn't mention, the music has rests (pauses) between each chord change.  This kind of halting feeling also draws attention to itself because it's an unnatural rhythm that doesn't exist in the pacing of the cuts or the rhythm of the interviews, so it is incongruous to the scene.  So, I plan on removing those somehow.  Additionally, higher pitches or pitches that are in a similar register as the speaking voices of the interviewees can also stand out or interfere with the audio of the interviews.  This is something I may try as well.

So, to some extent the solution is logistical and not necessarily creative.  But there is a certain amount of creative work to be done.   One of the other cues, later on in the sequence I was given, was a bit too "sad" for the subject matter.  While "sad" is a very generalized observation, I get what she means.  That was my gaff.  I think the original version was probably okay but I took some notes out because the melody was too busy, I thought, and was sure that was what was going to fix that particular cue.  On a second listen, I realized that, indeed, by removing certain melodic notes and stripping it away to only a few elements of the initial chord progression, I had changed the mood slightly.  So, for this I'm going to be writing a whole 'nother cue.

This process is what I'm all about though.  It's probably the funnest and most interesting part of the job, up until you actually start rehearsing the performers and recording to picture.  With any luck I'll be blogging about that process in a few weeks.  Meanwhile, it's back to work tomorrow afternoon.  I won't get much done tonight, because it's back to the score for the sci-fi short.

No comments:

Post a Comment