My 2 cents on writing music and everything that goes on around it.

20 questions for writing film music cues 23 Apr 2014
While working on the score for Nicht Schon Wieder Rudi, I'm finding it helpful to have a number of questions nearby in order to clarify the process and help remove blocks when scoring a scene. Often the schedule is very demanding and there is a need to clear away muddy thinking as quickly as possible. I found this list helpful.

 1. How do you define the sequence, i.e. when does the sequence begin and start?

2. What is the place of the sequence in the dramatic arc?

3. Does the sequence need any music at all? If the director wants music, does it really need any? If the director doesn't ask for music, does it need some anyway?

4. What is the overall purpose of the music in the sequence?

5. Where does music need to come in?

6. Where does it need to drop out?

7. What tempo suits the scene/intention? Can a musically meaningful structure be plotted along significant events in the sequence, e.g. two repetitions of a thematic phrase or chord progression, followed by a B part of similar length, then a breakdown, followed by a reprise of the A part in a different instrumentation and intensity?

8. Whose/which theme is the best fit for the intentions for that scene?

9. Does the music need to run counter to the action or does it need to go hand in hand with it? Are there places where it does one and places where it does the other?

10. Where can the music starts and stops be placed to cause either seamless integration or else maximum dramatic/humourous impact?

11. How big does the music need to be? If there is a buildup, is that a buildup through instrumentation and volume, or through modulation, harmonic change and counterpoint/complexity?

12. How can the theme develop musically in the sequence in the chosen idiom? Is it through cycling between instrumentation groups, through breakdowns and starts, through tempo increases?

13. When a director says, it needs to get faster, do they mean that or do they mean that it needs to be more dense and with more moving energy?

14. At any point in the score, ask this question: is it supposed to be noticed, or is it supposed to influence subliminally? If part-noticing is the answer, how exactly is the perception of the score in that moment intended? Is the viewer party to a narrator's secret? Does the music distance the viewer from the story world? Does the score help immerse the viewer in the story world?

15. If the score serves to heighten the story, what part of storytelling is it? Making explicit a character's interpretation by the narrator?

16. Who is the narrator in a scene? Is a character in effect the narrator, i.e. are we seeing the film moment through the eyes of this character? Does this mean that we are hearing how that character perceives another character, in the same way that a friend or lover may notice someone else's mood when they enter the room? Are we in effect playing out someone's psychology as observed by another story participant/observer?

17. As an example of the foregoing, consider Shawshank Redemption, a story told from the viewpoint of Morgan Freeman's character Red, but really about Tim Robbins' character Andy. The score that speaks of resilience and triumph is partly a reflection of Andy's experience, but it can only exist because there is a witness. Music can be the gateway to witnessing to the central drama. So, who is the witness?

18. What other factors, external to the story and visual requirements, are being brought to play? For example, are the filmmakers worried about a particular perception of their film? Are they concerned about overplaying an emotional/mood aspect of their story and if so, what were their demands initially? How were those demands stated? As a general preference? If so, are there maybe scenes where this worry does not apply and the demands can be flouted?

19. If there are no strong instinctual reactions to a sequence, what other thoughts, ideas can be used for inspiration or to get the process started? Are there any potential barriers to instincts coming to bear? Is it possible to work without relying on fickle energies like instinct? Is it possible to follow a more mechanical, practical route? If so, is there a series of steps that can lead to a useful result?

20. What appears as the hardest task or decision to make right at this instant? Is it possible to face it head-on without dodging around? Is there maybe a need to talk more to the director? Older Post Home Newer Post