When to get a composer involved – when to hire?
There are three critical stages of a project when you should have a composer:
- When you are applying for funding – Having a Canadian composer helps a production qualify for tax credits and secure other sources of funding as composer is one of the craft categories for calculating Canadian content.
- In pre-production – depending on the needs of a production. For example, if you have a scene where you need an actor to play an instrument, it’s important to have the music written before the shoot! Likewise there are often moments in other productions where there might be a sequence which needs to be animated to music and getting a head start on this music is important to the team’s timeline.
- During the editing process – A composer will want to have some time to complete research and create a pallette of sounds to be used in the film. Once the picture is locked, the composer is able to write music without the timing of the film changing and it is at this stage that they are able to complete their score. If you hire a composer early in the project, they are often able to provide music examples for a temp track from material they have previously written.
How long will it take to write my score?
Every composer has a different process and score production times may vary. On average it takes 5 hours per minute of music to write and program a demo for approval. In addition to writing a composer needs time to set up their template of instruments, music research, attend meetings and spottings with the creative team, make any changes based on feedback from the creative team, hire musicians, create music sheets for the musicians, supervise the recording session, final mix and master, attending final sound mix… A feature film may take a minimum of 1 month to complete, a tv series may take one week per episode. There’s no hard and fast rules so talk to your composer and create a schedule that works for both the creative process and meets your delivery timeline.
Communicating with a Composer:
What do I need to know about music to communicate with composer?
Contrary to popular belief, filmmakers do not need to know a special musical language to communicate with a composer! In fact, most composers would prefer producers and directors not use musical terminology, but rather, speak in emotional terms in order to communicate their ideas about the film, and how they think music might enhance it. It is part of a composer’s training to interpret these directions and compose music accordingly.
It is often said that a score conveys at least 30% of the emotional content of the film so it’s very important that the screen media creator has a clear vision of their project and how dialogue, characters, performances, set design, cinematography, lighting, etc effect the emotional arc of the story. When discussing the emotion with a composer, try to use multiple descriptors and identify what to relate to on screen or what needs to be communicated to that is not shown on screen as well as key points in each scene where the emotion, action, or power shifts.
The Spotting Session is when the film composer, director and others watch the movie and decide where each segment of music should start and stop in the film, why it’s being included and how it should sound. On many productions sound effects, and sound design may also be discussed at the same meeting because these elements need to work in relation to each other. How to prepare for the spotting session? Review the emotional arc of the story and decide what the role of the music is going to be for the scene. Do you want the music to play with the action, support the underlying emotion, empathize with a particular character, or support the audience experience what isn’t present in the picture?
How does the music get delivered to my film mix? And does a composer do any additional sound work in a film?
It is the composer’s job to provide you with final, production quality audio files of their score as per your specifications, or those of your sound mixing studio. However, unless there’s a special arrangement between a producer and composer, it is not in the composer’s job description to do further sound work such as sound design, music editing, creation of “source” music, ADR, film mixing, etc.
Where can I find a composer?
The Screen Composers Guild of Canada hosts the FIND A COMPOSER directory of composers which is searchable by musical specialty, location, and even citizenship – helpful for co-productions. This database is designed to help filmmakers find the right composer for their project, and often has links to individual composers’ websites with samples of their work.
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