“I’m the composer- I’ll write what I think is best…”
Is there truth to this statement? Yes. Most of us, save songwriters who are accustomed to collaboration, are the masters of our universe. We spend a HUGE amount of time alone…we even talk to ourselves or our muse. One famous composer friend even has a name for his muse. He calls her Shirley. Long durations of muteness (being wrapped up in the moment) can create problems. When I was young I would spend hours upon hours, by myself in my studio. When I would take a break if the phone rang it felt like I had a mouth full of cotton balls. Long hours spent alone is something we all face in different ways.
I’m going to assume that you have already gone through the interview process, made a deal, spotted your project and are now left alone in your room to begin work. An empty canvas waiting to be filled with paint.
Early on in my career I had the attitude: “I’m the expert. I’ll make the musical decisions. I’ll be in charge of what music the direction the music takes. After all, I’m the one who has spent a lifetime becoming an expert. Right? WRONG!!!
Film is a collaborative medium
It became apparent to me almost immediately that I was uncomfortable and ineffective in a collaborative environment. I didn’t know how to ask questions.
More importantly- I really didn’t know how to listen.
I was so used to making decisions by myself I was a fish out of water. Sure, I was confident that I could write great music. But to be an effective film composer there are a couple of things to consider:
- The director (or producer) will not only have an idea about what the music should be- they will have strong opinions.
- Chances are if the director could do it themselves, that would…and you wouldn’t be needed.
- Directors are control oriented people. Talking about something they can’t control (music) can be very intimidating
- We, as composers, are not hired to be “right” about our opinions. We are hired to serve the vision of the director/producer.
- Arguing with your boss about this lick or that sound is career limiting. It works for some…but they are the exception
We are hired to bring our expertise….but our experience and expert opinions must always be expressed in a way that supports the director/producer’s vision be it correct, misguided or flat out wrong. I’ve heard it expressed in these analogies:
“I layed a lot of carpet today”
Where do you want the couch? The same place it was before we moved or where it is now?
Making a movie is a study in collaboration and compromise.
The quickest way to get fired is to argue about your vision being better than the director’s. I am not suggesting that you be entirely subservient (although it can be that at times). I am suggesting that you learn how to communicate in language that the film maker understands. Learn the language of storytelling.
If you express yourself by extolling the virtue of this chord progression, or the incredibly clever musical solution you’ve come up with…chances are the response will be a blank stare. If you learn the language of the film maker: plot, protagonist, subplot, character development, story arc, spine, backstory etc. you will be easily understood by the director and thus be able to communicate effectively.
The art of the film composer is this to:
- take direction
- understand the story that is being told
- bring the sum total of your experience and talent to bear to serve the direction you have been given
- collaborate with those you are working with effectively
- fashion a creative compromise that is satisfying to those who are paying your bills.
To paraphrase Carter Burwell: “I’m in the business of making people happy”.
The biggest challenge for the film composer is connecting the dots….learning how to integrate all of these non-musical elements successfully into a piece of music. (Yes…you ARE being paid to write music…not wallpaper as some might suggest).
Learn to identify all of the different pieces of the puzzle, serve them jointly and independently, and you will on the road to becoming a competent film composer (which means you are a “safe” hire).
Tip of the day will come on Thursday.
Next week: Top 10 Myths About Being A Film Composer-#7 “I don’t have to have any technique…I can hire someone to do that”
If you are interested in a private lesson or consultation via Skype email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Next week: “I don’t have to worry about technique”