Writing the first note of the score is usually the last thing I do. I’ve always strongly felt that the process of composing a filmscore has to be much more than a simple reaction to what’s happening onscreen in order to make a substantial contribution to the filmmaker’s vision. I therefore go through an extensive preparatory stage involving detailed project and musical research, defining the musical world of the score, and laying down the musical foundations.
That’s why I research the heck out of the subject of the film. Even as a composer, I’ve always identified myself more as a filmmaker who happens to use music to tell the story, so I have to know as much about the world of the movie as anyone else involved. I draw out every single note of the score from the movie, justifying it dramatically and thematically. In order to do that, I need to get inside the heads of the main characters, understand where they’re coming from, why they make the decisions they do. Is there a historical, cultural or geographical context to the film that’s relevant? Often I can get this information from the director, scriptwriter or actors who have done this research already. But I like to dive into it myself, as seeing things from the composer’s perspective can often uncover conceptually interesting ideas that can play a major role in the direction of the score.
This may involve talking to musicologists, studying the music of the culture the film is set in, consulting with expert musicians, reading music books, analyzing scores, and referring to recordings. This provides the opportunity to expand my musical horizons beyond what would automatically spring to mind during the creation process.
This stage includes a period of experimentation. Taking the time to explore the new musical directions, sounds and techniques uncovered. How they might be used dramatically and combined with other musical elements. This leads to the development of the project’s musical language; what type of chords and scales will be used.
This stage involves creating the musical world that the score will inhabit. Of the information compiled during the musical research, which ones are going to be useful in expressing the ideas behind the film. Is the score going to be mostly orchestrally based? Will it feature any instruments? Am I going to incorporate any electronic sounds? Am I going to record new sounds? Every single of the core sounds I will use in the film is loaded up and made instantly accessible at my fingertips.
Perhaps surprisingly, this stage is more about limitations and outlining boundaries. The more strongly defined they are the stronger the identity of the score will be. In order to maintain unity throughout the score, there has to be consistency in the sounds used. Therefore, there will have to be dramatic justification for make any drastic changes to the musical palette.
Sometimes the theme is a soaring memorable melody, other times it might be a unique texture or a single musical sound. Either way, it’s a sonic signature identified with a character, emotion or idea, that helps carry the audience on their cinematic journey. The process of composing the themes usually involves a fair amount of revision and polishing, and it’s not unusual for me to go through 10 to 20 different versions of a theme before arriving at the eureka moment. The themes are going to be the building blocks of the entire score and have to perfectly capture the essence of the intended aspect of the film, in order to be able to carry that burden.
Next, based on dramatic considerations, I map out which themes are going to be used in each cue throughout the film.
Once the themes are composed, I create an overture that is the blueprint for the score. This contains full blown realisations of every theme as one continuous piece, which then becomes my musical bible, functioning as a reference work throughout the scoring process.
The Adventure Begins
Now…to compose the first note of the score…