Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Writing for Film

There are three types of music in a film...

1. Score
2. Needle Drops/Songs
3. Source


Score is the composer's responsibility. It's the music under action and dialogue that's compose specifically for a movie. It is a very powerful tool to create a mood. Joy, fear, drama, can be enhanced by the properly chosen melody or orchestration. Usually this is the responsibility of one composer. Could be orchestral like John Williams' Star Wars or band-like like Lyle Workman's funky Superbad soundtrack. Or anywhere in between. No Country for Old Men, with the exception of the closing credits, had no score and it really added to the intensity of the film.

I've worked on many scores for TV and film. In this case I'm hired by a composer to play one or more of the many instruments that are in my closet. Sometimes I'm playing with a band or an orchestra, but usually I'm added after everything else has been recorded. As an overdub. I've done everything from a solo classical guitar, every note written out to a session of just making noises on a Fender bass with bottles and slides and random pieces of metal.

Needle Drops

Many movies are practically wall to wall needle drops like your typical Adam Sandler movie. Think the film "The Waterboy" - "Born on the Bayou" - John Fogerty, "Let's Groove" - Earth, Wind and Fire, etc. Famous songs can be quite expensive. Ten well known songs can cost a small fortune. But it's a great vehicle to take the audience to an era or decade. 

I'm currently working in an unofficial capacity as a music supervisor on an animated film. They don't have a budget to fill the half a dozen or so slots in the film with major songs so I was asked if I could help them find songs with lyrics that fit the scenes. That's basically the job of a music supervisor. 

I'm using this opportunity to work with some other songwriters and write some songs for placement in the film. And submit works of friends. I've gone through a lot of music and only submitted songs that are quality and also fit the spirit of the scene and the whole film. A time consuming job. Though I can often rule out a song in the first two bars. The ultimate decision falls on the director and/or the producer of the production.

For every Adam Sandler film with a $10 million budget for song placement there are fifty low budget films that have small or no budgets that afford opportunities for unknown artists and songwriters to get a song in a film. The reward? Maybe a token sync fee, some exposure and if the film airs on TV or cable some nice royalties. And a little encouragement to stay in the game.


Source is the music heard in clubs or bars or coffee shops, on radios or elevators or TV's that's like score in that it's usually under action and dialogue, and like needle drops in that it can help to transport you to a time or place. It's often added in post production. Like foley. It adds realism to a scene if there is a radio in the room to have music coming from it. 

I've gotten many songs in films or made-for-TV movies in this capacity. One as a country instrumental tune in a car radio. One as a background visual when I replaced a song that a band was playing in the background of the scene, but it wasn't quite right. One a Hawaiian song emanating from a cassette deck. To name but a few. Usually there is a sync fee plus royalties on the back end for these placements.

Some other cool soundtracks - 

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