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Author Topic: Filmmakers What are you looking for in a Composer?  (Read 14827 times)
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Studio Padank

« on: January 06, 2006, 07:38:02 AM »

(Jcazmusic Logged in on old account)

I'll dive right in- I would love to know what you Director/Filmakers look
for specifically when looking for a composer to work with?

We know historically that Directors tend to find someone they click with
and hang on to 'em.

What are the most important elements, for you?

« Last Edit: January 06, 2006, 07:49:36 AM by Studio Padank » Logged
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« Reply #1 on: January 06, 2006, 12:13:11 PM »

The most obvious element in a composer would be the ability to be completely original-every good composer has great creative abilities.
1. Ability to be creative
2. Ability to conform to the directors vision
3. Someone who knows how to read and write many styles of music.

We know historically that Directors tend to find someone they click with
and hang on to 'em.

-Yeah like M. Night Shyamalan and James Newton Howard
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« Reply #2 on: January 06, 2006, 02:54:27 PM »

Or George Lucas and John Williams.
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« Reply #3 on: January 06, 2006, 03:27:35 PM »

While creative attributes are great, I think one of the very most important qualities is the ability to meet a deadline.  I know of one project that has been  complete since September, but still has not been released because the producers are waiting for the composer to finish the music.  Since composing often ends up being one of the very last things to be completed, it's important for a composer to be able to accurately estimate how long it will take and to be able to manage their time accordingly.


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« Reply #4 on: January 06, 2006, 06:09:25 PM »

1. FREE. I know it sounds lame, but after spending all the money on the actual film it's really nice to find someone who can do it for you for nada. Well, in looking for a free dude you should try to see how good quality their work is first. Just because they're free doesn't mean they're quality material. That and if their style matches your own.

2. COMITMENT.  You should find this in every single one of your actors, crew, etc. This is an essential requirement. I've been through a lot of instances where a crew member isn't commited enough and not giving you what you want when you want. This is horrbly annoying and it's a huge bullseye on your back to get you kicked out of the production. COMITMENT IS KEY.

Just two things I think are essential in any crew member for this kind of film.

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« Reply #5 on: January 06, 2006, 06:19:27 PM »

I really agree with everything above.

I like a composer who has a genuine interest in a project.

I have worked with people (not really composers) who have gotten tired of helping... and that's just stupid. Its a pain for me to make them finish and would be more of a pain if they didn't 'cause it would have to be redone.

As for free, I agree. I think that the composer should get a very fair share of the profit, but for most of us, the biggest profit we'll have is maybe a DVD from this site.
(When I won the 90hr contest and got $100, I gave $25 to my composer as that made sense... he helped, and I DID make a profit.)

In short, a composer needs to be able to finish on time, be nice to talk to, and be responsible.

Communicate. If you're gonna be late, then make it clear. If you're  gonna be on time, but dissapear for a while, then its kinda scary. Just let us know.

As for musical stuff, its very cool if a composer has real instruments (even just for some of the music), but that's not really key.

A cool sound, and timing to the movie can make music that isn't great work well.

I'd say its timing more than sound, but they are both very important.

Music in a film is the mood. It makes you scared, happy, sad, etc etc. A composer needs to do one heck of a good job. Hard, if you ask me.

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« Reply #6 on: January 06, 2006, 07:23:47 PM »

Personally, I like composers that can do different genres well, and if they can't they know it. I have a friend who can really only write in one genre (or mood), and he volunteers at times to write music for scenes with that particular mood. It's awesome. But I've also worked with people who really always write one of a few varied moods, but think they can do a bunch of em, and are always offended when I try to mention that the moods really don't fit.

Although, in general, I trust the composer on what fits the mood far more than I do myself.

In fact, that might be key. A composer who can identify, then write something that fits with, the mood.

Nice to have you back, Jcaz. Smiley
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« Reply #7 on: January 07, 2006, 12:46:12 AM »

A couple more thoughts... quick anecdotes:

(I'll be mentioning my films by name. They are available to dload... h as most of them. Ask if you can't find it... my site is under construction.)

1. I worked with David Jones on "Surfing, Bored". Its probably one of the best experiences I've had working with a composer because the film required so many different styles. There were, I believe, over 10 completely different styles that he needed to compose to what were SUPPOSED to sound different. He did each one quite well. Each of the genres was also well composed. That was nice.
Bottom line: Variety... its great.

2. Generally, I've had projects really close to the end. "Surfing, Bored", "Proximity", "Be Right Back", and "Anything" are great examples. the composers for those were able to put something together incredibly quickly. That was awesome.
Bottom line: Speed. Its essential with time constraints. Composers can't start until the film is done, and it is frequently done late. (Rough cuts can help, but that is still limited time)

3. I've worked with Mackan Andersson on a couple projects ("Mirrored Image", "Be Right Back", and the best example of this is the teaser for "the Portfolio") and its been very interesting. He's swedish and has a unique style with music. I like that. (Though, I'd also like to note that I've heard some other work from Mackan that has an eerie resemblance to LOTR, so he's also very capable of working within set styles.)
Bottom line: New, interesting styles are cool. The really have a voice.

3. I worked with Jeremy Krakowski on my last film (well, trailer), "Anything", and one thing that was cool was that he also does video production himself. I'm not saying that its bad if a composer doesn't, but it really helps if they have an idea of how it works so that its easier to integrate the music into the process rather than having it be an extra, independant thing.
Bottom line: Its great if a composer knows what's going on with the rest of the production as well.

4. For a few projects, I got some early tests back. ("Hit Me" from Wilbert Roget, II, and "Proximity" from Brent Smith, to name a couple) That was great. It really got me in the mood. Even the mood to write the script. I love hearing hte music. It sets the mood and its  nice to have that to refer to when thinking about it.
Bottom line: As above, its great to have the composer active early and not just removed from the production.

5. Reliability. For "Proximity" I left Brent Smith with very very little time to finish. He said he was going to and I assumed he would. But I didn't hear anything from him from early Saturday thru mid sunday (it was due at midnight). He came through with great music, but it was kinda worrying. I understand 'cause his internet conflicted with his compsing software and he was too busy composing to waste time chatting anyway. Note: I don't blame him at all. It was just the first time I'd worked with him under pressure, so I wasn't sure how it was going to work out. It turned out great.
Bottom line: Updates are very important. Even if its just "there's nothing new yet. check tomorrow" 'cause that's SO helpful to plan. Also, it really helps to know who you're working with... composers and everyone else.

In the end, I've probably worked with more than 10 composers. At this point, its really hard to pick a favorite or go-to guy that I'd ask first for each project. I'm very happy with nearly everything that I got back (if not everything... can't think of anything against that right now).

one more note: It's also important for a composer to have an understanding of the filmmakers situation. If there is no budget, then its rediculous to expect money.
I got emails from a very nice guy who found me through versusmedia. He said he was a great professional guitarist. And from his samples, sure, he was!
When I said that paying him wouldn't really be an option (this was hypottical about any random upcoming project), he said, no problem. I won't charge  my normal rate of $400. I can cut you a big break. But even $100, or even $50 is a whole heck of a lot for our budgets.
I have yet to make money on a film, rather than lose it for whatever reason. (Now, I suppose that Hit Me might be the exception from the contest, but... yeah.)
Bottom line: All crew members need to understand what the budget it. You're a jerk as a filmmaker if you don't pay your crew and you're making a profit. But if you have no budget, its rediculous to try to pay anyone.

Ha, and a "last" "one more note":
I got into discussions with a composer friend about money at one point. And about contracts. It was hypothetical (and about other projects than mine) about how he felt cheated by not being paid what his music is "worth".
And his music is great. no question there.
The thing is... I do this for fun. composers should too.

It's like being a rotoscoper (frame by frame image editor, like in photoshop) and expecting to be paid a lot.

If you like what you do, then you need to do it, and usually on someone else's terms if your hobby isn't being director.

Composes NEED films to compose to, so it kinda sucks, but they must cator to the filmmakers usually. (If they don't want to, then they should start making songs/albums rather than soundtracks. Just how life works.)
I'm not complaining or anything, but just putting that out there for thought.
« Last Edit: January 07, 2006, 12:47:04 AM by djr33 » Logged
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« Reply #8 on: January 08, 2006, 03:32:20 AM »


(Though, I'd also like to note that I've heard some other work from Mackan that has an eerie resemblance to LOTR, so he's also very capable of working within set styles.)

I guess you are referring to the soundtrack to "Beyond the Gate" or some such?  Cheesy And I guess more people have heard the music to Inside Report, which is another example. But anyway.

I can just give you some feedback from the other side of the table here:

It is REALLY nice if, as a composer, you are included in the loop as early on as possible. It gets your creative juices flowing and it makes it SO much easier come crunchtime and everything has to be finished. This means that I, as a composer, can be inspired by costumes, props and all that. Storyboards are wonderful. Scripts are great. Even drafts. Even if the actual scoring is post production, the more I know, the better it gets.

OTOH, it's hard to give production level results "just in case you might need it", before the actual scoring. I have shared ideas (often as MIDI-files and/or wrong instrumentation) with directors at times, but often the director is more or less offended if what s/he gets is not "finished".

You get the finished product, when I have scored YOUR finished film.
« Last Edit: January 08, 2006, 03:32:59 AM by mackan » Logged
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« Reply #9 on: January 08, 2006, 12:59:33 PM »

... the director is more or less offended if what s/he gets is not "finished".

That's rediculous.

I've sent rough cuts to composers before and no one has complained. I don't see why rough music wouuld bother anyone. I'd be really annoyed as the composer in that scenario.

I agree about including the composer... its really important Smiley

Yeah... the IR soundtrack does also fit that.

MY PREFERRED METHOD when working with a composer:
1. We talk about the film. Before anything happens.... even the script.
2. From that we get ideas... both of us. Then the composer  takes some time and can create a few 5 second samples.
3. We discuss those, I veto a couple, he sees that another doesnt fit, and suddenly, we have the basic mood/style for the soundtrack already done. And we can fine tune it. Maybe its too low or too slow, but sounds good. So... we can fix it, rather than trying to fix the entire soundtrack. We can also decide that for scene 4, sample clip 3 fits really well. And for scene 5..... you get the idea.  Its a really nice way to work.
4. The composer can work on some stuff, like the music for the credits, while production goes on.
5. The film is completed, timing wise, probably without the FX. The composer then begins. FX work begins.
6. Hopefully, the music and FX are done at the same time. That's it. Add them into the video... just pop the soundtrack in there and the FX on top of the video. 'Tis done.
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« Reply #10 on: January 13, 2006, 11:20:54 AM »

Really good feedback from you guys! Lots O good info.
Let me add a few general comments:

Most (good) composers are doing what they love "with a plan".
They do free projects to gain experience and hopefully meet
up and coming filmmakers that will hopefully hire them when
they become successful. This is a very typical approach for composers.
Once you get to a point where you
are charging $$ you have to be careful about doing free projects
because  it could lower your worth in the eyes of your next
employer.  The Pro version of this scenario might be Thomas Newman
doing a Feature for scale+some future royalty because he really likes
the film/director. To say it another way, when your first staring out, it
can be good training to do everything you can. As you get better and more
established you might say; "hmmm no money but I think this has a shot at
Sundance so, I'll do it." Do a few of those, then hopefully move up to the next
rung. When your starting out I certainly think it is fair to say: (as many of you have)-
"There's little budget but, I am going to sell these for $10.00 a pop and I will
give you $2 for every one sold (or something like that)

Quick history; Originally, directors would be on to another picture after
shooting. The Editor would finish and then the Composer would start his job.
There may have been a studio producer keeping his eye on the film to
make sure no one drops the ball but largely, each specialist was trusted
to do their job well.

Now, it is not uncommon for the director to have his hands in every element
of the film. Even to the point of making significant changes to an orchestral score.
And of course there is everything in between. Some famous directors say "your the composer, unless something really bothers me (musically), do your thing." This is a dream gig for the composer. The other end of the spectrum might be a director that is insecure about the film and makes lots of changes just because he can and because he is unsure about the film. This can be the Nightmare gig for the composer.  :bangHead!:

The ideal for me is to work *together* with a director that trusts me. This takes time to develop as you've gotta earn trust. Directors can have a unique and complete vision of the film and it is great to get feedback from the person that can see the big picture!

Also, I agree with Mackan; it is usually bad news to give unfinished demos to the
filmmaker. Most people want to be Wowed and are not able to imagine what the finished product might sound like. (sometimes, no, oftentimes, The Composer does not know either!!-) There are exceptions.

Thanks again for all of the great feedback from everyone, I've learned alot!

I am gonna go start a new thread that relates to this one....  Cheesy

P.S. An article below on this very subject!
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« Reply #11 on: January 13, 2006, 01:10:25 PM »

Sweet! yeah, I think Jeremy and i have a pretty good thing goin' on. He's writing the score for the finished (excluding music) movie, I get a free soundtrack that fits the movie perfectly, and HE gets a soundtrack to sell. (he's good at marketing Wink

I think he knows WAY more about music than me, so I'll probably run over what I envisioned for the scene mood wise, then leave it to him. yeah. I'll ever only really tell him to change something if it really bothers me, or cancels out a key point.

I think it works well. Smiley
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« Reply #12 on: January 13, 2006, 01:26:12 PM »

The ideal for me is to work *together* with a director that trusts me. This takes time to develop as you've gotta earn trust. Directors can have a unique and complete vision of the film and it is great to get feedback from the person that can see the big picture!

I agree!  Until that day comes, it's great to gain as much experience as possible with a variety of smaller projects.  I still haven't even taken film scoring at school, and I can't wait to study it!
Logged' border='0' alt='user posted image' />
An IMDb user praising this "diverse" and "complex" music:
"Look at the incredible variety of themes he does - from Gladiator, a masterpiece, to Matchstick Men, a fun, jazzy style, then Pirates - a theme that moviegoers (however musically inclined they may be) will never forget. These scores are not only more diverse, but more complex as well."    :-\
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« Reply #13 on: January 13, 2006, 06:41:27 PM »

Music isn't my thing. I love just  handing it off to a composer.
The one exception was "Hit Me", where I had a (imagine consecutive piano keys from 1-4) 1-3-2-4 rhythm. Wilbert (composer) took that and made it really cool. It was kinda fun having some input.
But... yeah... composers... do your thing, totally.

I do, however, like to get, as i've said before, a few tests of just general feeling for the music. Then I can pick one, the composer can go with it, do his thing, and it'll be cool and fit my vision.

About sending unfinished samples... there are two sides:
1. If you don't know the composer, you might think they're bad. Hopefully not, though.
2. If you know them or just feel like trusting them (which I try to do, think I do) then its a very good way to communicate:
Its just like sending the composer a rough cut to work with. No fx... looks horrible. Its great when they understand (its  never been a problem, just saying its great).

Again, communication is key. If you're fun to work with and you're responsible and keep me updated, then even mediocre music ends up with me happy.

note: I may be an exception, but I'm always surprised and happy. Its like opening a christmas present when I pop the music track into the timeline and press play. Wonderful feeling.
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« Reply #14 on: January 16, 2006, 01:52:48 PM »

I attended a seminar by Ron Owen, the man who just composed the score for End of the Spear.

It was very interesting, but he made a great comment that stuck with me.

"Just as the music's primary job is to support the film, the composers primary job is to support the director.  Try to support the emotions already in a scene, don't dictate them."

I thought that was an incredible piece of advice.  Granted, I'm not a composer, but ya know.  Whatever.  ;-)

He did one piece of music with female vocals from Lord of the Rings and Blackhawk Down that was simply fantastic!  I don't know their names....

I have the CD though.  I should find out...
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