Creating The Score: Rhapsody

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As a filmmaker, what should you expect when getting your film scored? If you’ve never worked with a composer then it can be a daunting, albeit exciting, experience. The aim of these Creating the Score posts is to help introduce you to the process and know what to expect when you first work with a composer.


First Contact

“When I sought out to make Rhapsody, one of the biggest notes I received was: ‘it all depends on the music’. I couldn’t keep shaking the notion of finding the perfect composer for the piece. We entered post-production without a score or composer in mind. I wanted to make sure that we had an edit locked in before the track was created, that way the music would react to the image organically. After seeing Tom’s inspirations and previous works, I knew he was talented and could execute exactly what I wanted; despite this film not necessarily being akin to the previous scores he’s made.”

S. Christian Roe (Director of Rhapsody)

When director S. Christian Roe first got in touch to ask about creating an original score for Rhapsody, I knew that it would be a fun but challenging task. Firstly, Christian and myself live 5,000 miles apart (him in Los Angeles, myself in the outskirts of London). I’ve done a number of projects with similar degrees of separation and often found them to run very smoothly. They can, however, present a number of difficulties to overcome – projects can take slightly longer due to delays in communication, and it can require communication to be clearer as it can be easy to misinterpret directions. Then there was the fact that this was a silent film – a challenge in itself (although definitely a fun one!).

Lastly, Christian was looking for a score in a very specific style of music – based heavily around jazz piano. As I specialise in synthesized and textural scores, this was a little different to my usual work. Fortunately, I do have a background with piano, and have previously written some music for adverts in this style, so that helped greatly. Having discussed the film with Christian through a series of emails, however, it was clear he felt I was the right person for the job, and that he trusted me to deliver.

During our initial emails, Christian discussed a number of his influences, both cinematic and musical. These were diverse, with musical influences ranging from The Social Network to George Gershwin, and cinematic influences from Lost In Translation to Fantasia. With this information in mind, I got to work on the score.


The Scoring Process

The first stage of any score involves digesting the influences of the director and experimenting to come up with a style that will work in harmony with the film. It’s always crucial to understand both the cinematic and musical influences of the director, as this helps to establish both the musical style they see working, and the overall vibe of the film that they’re looking to create. Christian sent me a final cut of the film (always great to have a final cut, more about this in a later post!) and I used this to decide where to place certain ideas, what the style of music should be and what should happen where in order to compliment the visuals (a process known as spotting). I approached Christian with these ideas, and we began a dialogue discussing them in great detail, comparing my ideas with his vision.

After this, it was time to start scoring. The first draft of the score wasn’t quite right – through discussions with Christian we decided that the music I created was 80% The Social Network and 20% George Gershwin, whereas he felt these splits should be reversed. I went back to the drawing board with these thoughts in mind, and, after an initial rewrite in which I managed to keep some of my favourite parts from the first version but change a large portion of the score, the bulk was complete. From here, we went backwards and forwards a number of times making several revisions in order to fine tune the small details of the score. It often happened that we’d miss each other – with my day ending just as Christian’s began due to the time difference between LA and the UK. So while the bulk of the score was done within one week, the revision process actually took a good couple of weeks to complete. These revisions ranged from the small (slight changes in timing) to large (rescoring sections of the film to make the score more in line with Christian’s vision for those scenes).

Scoring film is always a collaborative process. It’s easy to think that the music can just be handed off to a composer to complete, but at the end of the day the composer’s only job is to interpret the director’s vision and bring it to life. It’s easy to misunderstand directions, so the revision stage is incredibly important in ensuring the director’s vision is met.


Completing The Score

“People who have listened to the score and seen the film exclaim that there is a beautiful life breathed into it and I couldn’t be happier. Tom is a dedicated, powerful creative force that takes direction and still brings in his own bit of magic.”

S. Christian Roe

With Christian’s approval on the final score I set about mixing the music. This stage is often best done by a mixing engineer, however a lot of the time I complete this stage myself in order to help clients cut down on costs. As the film had no dialogue or sound effects, there was no need for a final dub, so I sent the completed score to Christian directly, and he was able to put this to the film himself. From Christian sending me the cut of the film to delivering the final score, a total of 7 minutes of music, it took one month. I had a great time scoring this project, which allowed me to flex my creative muscles to the max. More importantly, Christian was extremely pleased with the score, and that’s what matters to me most!

Please leave a comment below and let me know how I can improve these posts to help you most. Be sure to visit again soon, as I’ll be posting a number of other articles in the future designed to help you, as a filmmaker, maximise the scoring process with your composer and get the best possible score.

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