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Anybody ever wrote for film?


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As part of my final year in my music degree I have been asked to compose music for moving images of my choice, may it be a scene from a film, a time lapse video of the environment, anything really. This has to be performed live with the footage played on a huge screen in a theatre environment.


So, I basically need to decide if I'm writing a traditional song form, or go for a more incidental track in which I would have to use more time based (min:sec) approach where timing is key to the atmosphere.


It'll be this type of layout physically in the theatre.




Or, do I go for this type of affair, using more min:sec for fx




Bearing in mind I need to perform this live, and will probably use Ableton. I'd just like to hear from guys writing music for film if your out there.







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I've done 2 short films.


These days a variety of software platforms offer the necessary video syncing options.


I've used ProTools and Digital Performer, which 10+ years ago was pretty solid for aligning hits and had all the smooth tempo adjust stuff built in, to make, for example, 4:23 fall on a 1 beat, while the tempo increased by 20 bpm in the 30 seconds or so leading up to it... good times. Not very familiar with Ableton, but I'm sure it'll be fine.


Patience is the key. I'd also same get your skeleton/framework all set up before getting too deep into the musical details. The last thing you want is to have stuff tracked (especially if using live instruments) and then find out something is out of sync- (or in my case, that the director cut a few seconds from a variety of scenes for his final cut RRRRGGGH!!!)


As for your question- (and I don't know the video you are tracking to)


the more spacey and etherial, the easier your life will be. if you want to make it easy, go that way.


If you are an idiot, like me, and want to go full retard and showcase your various style backgrounds and tricks and techniques to have a finished product that you feel really represents your abilities... get yourself a good bottle of scotch and book a vacation after the project is done.

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I write music for video all the time- not full length films, but corporate videos, TV spots, etc. I've also done many live performances with videos at my church. Here's my method of madness:


Writing to video: (I happen to use Sonar, but I think any pro DAW is up to the task these days)

1/ Make a list of markers for "hit points"- things I want to accentuate musically.

2/ Play piano free hand to video to develop some basic ideas (mostly concerning myself with appropriate feel & tempo).

3/Create a tempo track based on "2/" that allows me to hit "1/" in musical places. (Tempo changes & odd time measures, subtle or obvious are common).

4/Start writing

5/Adjust as needed

6/ etc., etc., etc.


Here's an example using this approach:



For playing to live video, I embed a click track into the video (based on the music written for the piece) and feed that to our In Ear Monitor system. If there are any pre-recorded parts to be played live (mechanical things like loops or synth-arpeggiated fx) I'll embed that also, hard panning them to one side with the click hard panned to the other.... then feed the track portion only to the house. Depending on the complexity of the piece, I might overdub some spoken cues in the click track. Things like a one measure cue in: "Vocals, two, three, four" or "double time, two and three and four and". The video file is exported with click & any audio, loaded into & played back from worship software (we use Easy Worship).


Here's an example of an arrangement I did that we played live to the video (warning- Christian content):




I like working with a click because it allows some pretty dramatic hits that you'd have a very difficult time pulling off without it. Click tracks can vary tempo, but that's extra complicated & requires a bit more rehearsal. YMMV.


Hope that helps.

Custom Music, Audio Post Production, Location Audio



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Over the last few years I've done a lot of composing for, and accompanying, silent films. My last gig was writing music for, and accompanying, 15 silent films by George Méliès ranging from 2 to 15 monists each (If you saw the Scorcese film Hugo that's the Ben Kingsley character). Here are a few things I've encountered:


1) Find out if the theatre can provide a monitor so you don't have to crane your neck to see what's happening on the screen. My monitor was set up next to my music stand and made life much easier.


2) If you have the choice, pick a film that you respond emotionally to. Your writing will reflect your connection to the visuals.


3) Map out the points where you want to highlight changes in mood or transitions. Watch and play along with the film until you can feel the pacing in your bones.


4) Remember that you can indicate those points in a lot of ways. Sometimes dropping a part, slowing down, or changing a timbre can be more effective than adding parts or introducing a new theme.


5) Theme and variations, theme and variations!


6) If you're accompanying live leave room for your performance to breathe.


7) Sometimes silence or a single note is the best choice. Less is, indeed, more.


8) Remember that your music is there to focus and guide the audience's attention on the film, not on your writing/playing.

Instrumentation is meaningless - a song either stands on its own merit, or it requires bells and whistles to cover its lack of adequacy, much less quality. - kanker
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I did music for a film back in '97 or '98 I think. It was a trash kung fu movie and I was asked to add music and effects in postproduction.

"Postproduction" in this case ment I had my keyboard (Roland JW-50) connected to a recording device and "director/cameraman" had a screen where the movie was running. I was literary seeing the movie for the first time (scene by scene) and playing effects (punches, bird tweets etc) and composing/playing music on the fly. I would get a short tip "now there's gonna be a fight" or "now there's gonna be a romantic moment" and that was it. That went on through the entire movie with maybe one or two repeats for those few moments I really didn't know what to play.


I remember playing riff from "Money for nothing" on a electric guitar patch in the scene which had the main actor beat the sh*t out of a biker gang using a pair of nunchucks. It was a trash kung fu movie, nuff said.


Too bad I don't have a copy of that movie, that was so much fun! Or maybe it is better I don't have it, some things should be left preserved just in memory :D


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Thank you guys, that is some very helpful advice. The performance is 15 minutes. I'll edit together my own video when I decide what topic. Soundscapes seem to be one idea presented - I'm just not sure I can maintain my interest, but I may be wrong on that. Ideas so far are the chase scene in Bullitt, lots of scope there, or I'm thinking of editing together a tribute video to F1 race driver Ayrton Senna - so many possibilities I need to pin one down soon and run with it, especially as I have the technical aspect to learn in these 8 weeks before the performance.


I'll be using an IPad 2 next to me connected to an HDMI projector, so I can use that as a monitor.


Thank you again for some great information guys.

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If you are making your own video as well it is much easier to make the sync really tight if you do the final cut of the video against the finished soundtrack rather than vice versa.


Yeah, but that's not really scoring, that's making a music video. ;)

Custom Music, Audio Post Production, Location Audio



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I'll be using the editing video process pre-scoring - its just to get 15 minutes worth of good footage together before I write music for it. Ideally I'd like to get one clip that lasts into the required length for the performance. Just checked the Bullitt chase scene and it's under the time required sadly - shame all that testosterone filled Mustang, Charger noise would have been great to work with!





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Yes but the difference between a score, and a film and song just playing at the same time, is that the sound relates to what is being shown, and a way to reinforce this is to sync video and musical cues from time to time. I like your Bullitt or Senna ideas very much - in fact I may have a go myself for fun - much better than playing a few pads over rolling landscape shots! If the score is to sound like music, not just sound effects, then it is easier to sync the film to the music rather than the other way round, which you can do if you are the director. Exactly like a music video, as mcgoo points out. No reason you can't extend the Bullitt chase video by repeating or looping a few shots anyway, or maybe cut in some slo-mo. Anyway, I'm sure we'd all like to see the end result.
"Just a tad more attack on the filter, Grandad!"
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Surprisingly, I have not yet been asked to sync to film. Instead, the director has asked me to do snips or insert extra measures at certain timestamps. This has worked well and has never resulted in more than two iterations beyond the original.


I think if the people I was doing film music for were delivering for Hollywood vs. webcasts and local/indie film circuits, it might be different. And fortunately Digital Performer is one of the best DAW's for film-syncing, should it come to that.


So, I am relieved that I can take a time based approach for now. But I should point out also that I am rarely if ever given film footage in advance; the general concepts and flow are described to me.


I was nervous about this at first, but I now have come to understand that even the big names have to work this way for the most part. You get used to it, and end up writing songs, compositions, incidental music and soundscapes that can be adapted to different links rather easily.

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I've done several film scores and even some for my own productions. I use Sonar 8.5 Producer currently (although I have Sonar X1 now but not installed yet) along with various plug-ins. Sometimes I improvise to picture, other times have cues written that I fit to various "hit" points in the timecode.

I almost always get the picture to score to at some point; perhaps after a general description which I'll draft a theme to.




Synching to video on the computer is SO much better than the old days (1990s) where I had to use an external MIDI to SMPTE box (MIDIman) and make sure your videotape copy had VTC time code on it. Sheesh! I remember fondly though!!

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