Adventures in Scoring – Part I

Dave Business, Cracked Up (Blog), Creating, Music/Audio, Tech 3 Comments

Alright, I know it’s been a while since my last post.

I’m going to plead the typical excuse – being busy!  Ever since the kids have gone back to school, it seems I’ve been pulled into either music projects or home projects that took a back seat over the summer.

Besides a substitution stint for a couple of weeks, I haven’t even been teaching this fall.  Well, that kind of changed this past week as I’m now teaching a compressed, mid-term start of the “101” theory course at the Art Institute.  Which actually came about at a bit of an unfortunate time with respect to my schedule – which I’ll get into …

Documenting the Scoring Journey

I’m about to start scoring a feature film for a fantastic director I’ve worked with in the past – albeit on smaller projects.  I’m currently at the spotting stage, but before I get ahead of myself, I may as well say what I’m up to here.

While falling asleep last night, I was kind of lamenting that I haven’t been able to find a good excuse to update this blog.  … And then it hit me – why not do a series of posts that documents my scoring this project?

That brain fart turned out to be unproductive … sleep-wise, as I was then awake for longer trying to plot how I was going to accomplish this feat.  I hope to do something somewhat regularly that mimics a “diary” of what’s going on while scoring this film.

Rewind and Recap

How’d I get here? Well, as I mentioned above, I’ve worked with this director previously and we’ve gotten along quite well.  He’s a younger dude, but is quite mature in his style and working methods.  He knows what he wants and is not one to dance around if things aren’t what he’s looking for.  Which is something I like and encourage when I’m working with others – I don’t want or like it when people “beat around the bush” to get to a point.

I don’t have an artistic ego or get emotionally attached my creations anymore – that’s not the business I’m in – so right off the bat, I make sure to let my clients know that they won’t hurt my feelings if they say they don’t like what I’ve done.

Enough of that – I got a call a while back as he was starting his post-production to see if I wanted to score the film – which I enthusiastically said “yes!”.

He sent me the script and a few stills along with a short description of what the film was trying to achieve.  This was cool in that it gave me something to chew on while they got some editing done.  I threw out some ideas in terms of styles and such and started thinking of a “sound” – initially settling on a kind of quirky Danny Elfman (Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory) kind of sound.  The scripts kind of got me visualizing what’s termed as a “dramedy” (drama/comedy) in the vein of Desperate Housewives and the ilk.  I sent a couple of examples of musical sketches I was working on and after discussing it a bit, we decided that this wasn’t really the direction that seemed to fit his vision.

Once some of the initial edit clips started coming out, we ended up abandoning that direction and have, for the time-being, settled on a more traditional sounding orchestral-based score in the vein of Rachel Portman (Legend of Bagger Vance, Manchurian Candidate, Chocolat) – smaller orchestral sound with strong melodies.  The execution of the script was less “hammed up” and more serious in nature.

Schedule Surprises

We put together an agreement and initial schedule.  In the agreement, we settled on a maximum of 45 minutes of music and about 15 working days (3 weeks) to score once the locked edit was released.

Well, as typically happens in projects, unforeseen things happen and the locked-picture date slipped a couple of times.  But, surprisingly (for me at least), they accommodated the scoring timeframe by pushing back the mix date!  I was actually expecting to get into some negotiation on music scope, but in the end, didn’t need to.

One of the first things I did was import the film into Logic and test out the synchronization.  I found that they’d burned a drop-frame (23.97 fps) SMPTE time code into the picture as I saw a five-second drift by the end of the 80 minute film.  After we’d cleared that up, I locked the picture and audio to the SMPTE grid and started into the spotting.

Spots and Stuff

So, now, we come to the current stage – “Spotting” the film.

I’ve watched the film about three times straight through and am now in the middle of doing a first pass at identifying where I see candidate areas for music cues.  At about 1 hour in, I’ve identified over 50 possible cues.

I’m planning on finishing identifying all the possible cues and then drafting up an initial Spotting Notes document – a list of music cues with associated specific SMPTE starting and ending points for each cue.

We’re going to be meeting via GoToMeeting or WebEx tonight to “Spot” the film: review the list of potential cues while watching the film.

What will come out, will be, most likely, a culled list with additional details on what the music will sound like for each cue, what it will highlight and what it will “hit” in each scene.

It’ll be fun!

Comments 3

  1. Dave, looking forward to this series. If I could start all over I would think seriously about working full-time in music and composing. Too far down the engineering road and the home and family road to switch gears now, but I’m living vicariously through you.

    Thanks, Rob

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