Being a composer this may come across as self-serving, but filmmakers should not overlook the importance of a composer, which for various reasons they do more often than not.
I often notice in filmmaking forum posts that all sorts of crew members are mentioned as required or at the least suggested when creating a decent film, no matter the genre or length of the production. What strikes me as curious is the bypassed role of the composer, which is rather odd, especially given the common believe that music makes up almost 50% of the movie. So, why is it then that the role of the composer doesn’t have a higher ranking on the priority list?
In talking with filmmakers, it seems to me that most thought patterns follow one of two directions:
1) A composer for original music is not required, since we are using 'canned' music (for the uninitiated, this is pre-recorded music that is edited to fit the film.)
2) The score is almost considered an after-the-fact item, many times hastily put together and rushed into production, missing the impact it could have if carefully crafted into the production from the beginning.
There may be other reasons why an original score is not considered higher on the priority list, the financial aspect being one of them, of course. However, of the later of the two above, I wish film producers and directors would learn to rearrange their priorities when approaching the filmmaking process.
May I humbly suggest involving a composer from the earliest point of a production? There are a number of reasons why you would want to do that.
Composers look at your production with different eyes. Great composers are able to express the story you are telling on another dimensional level, thus adding to the impression your movie has on the viewing audience. Lest we overlook the word ‘audience’, it’s origin can be found in the Latin word ‘audentia’ or ‘audire’, which means to ‘hear’.
Subsequently, when a composer is brought in early in the production process, he or she can contribute to the production in ways that are often difficult to achieve when the film is already fully edited and almost ready for release. Time pressure builds and you simply don’t have the luxury of playing with different concepts to test the impact of various musical ideas.
Even worse is the length of time temp tracks are being used during the production process. It is hard not to become married to a particular sound and musical movement, which essentially is so familiar that it limits the range a composer may have when wanting to contribute a potentially great musical idea.
Music has ways to find the depths of the soul that words or pictures alone may have a hard time reaching. That is how we are wired. As a composer I attempt to tap into that potential by analyzing what’s on the screen and adding impact to it with the musical score I create. Giving me a chance to participate in the creative process early on benefits the overall quality and impact of the film.
This may be a bit over the top, but bringing in the composer for creative input even at the stage the script is developed (and not even necessarily with musical cues right at the start) will have a positive impact on the final product. The music should be so completely married to the story that the viewer won’t even notice it, but instead is impacted by how well it underlines what is on the screen.
When the composer is engaged early on, there is a chance for dialog between the director and the composer, which helps a composer understand what the director essentially wants to achieve. At the same time, if the director is open to the contributions of a good composer, it can impact the way particular scenes are developed and shot.
Here is an example:
Let’s assume that there is an emotional scene in the script that shows someone dying and we want to display the reaction of a loved one. You could stick some dialog in the scene that spells out everything the two people have on their minds, essentially robbing the viewer of a chance to experience the scene on a deeper level.
Instead, you could skip some or all of the dialog and let the music express those thoughts, giving the viewer an opportunity to be involved in the emotional event unfolding on the screen.
Keeping a good balance is indeed a craft. The important point is to allow the composer to contribute from his/her unique position in more ways than just laying down the music tracks.
So, my advice to filmmakers: Engage your composer early and often throughout the production cycle. You may even want to consider bringing in your composer before you capture your first images.
Your movie will turn out to be of much greater quality - I promise.