Creating the underscore for a film is very time consuming, to put it lightly. The time frame for production isn’t really set in stone either, it’s relative to the production of the film itself. I’m sure it’s no surprise to anyone that the movie releases get delayed all the time, nor should the reasons why escape anyone. Since the score is the last step in making a film, production delays explicitly control the composers’ schedule. If a composer feels he is being jerked around, or being asked to compose an unreasonable amount of work in an unreasonable amount of time he has two options; Quit (if the contract permits), or suffer.
There are two key-terms here, the score and the cue. The score is the entire music for the film, the cue is an individual moment of music. Those are just two definitions I felt I had to get out of the way. Typically, for most film composers in Hollywood, writing 2 minutes of music a day can be considered a success. With that in mind, one could reason that if you were scoring a typical 90-minute movie, you could probably expect to take 6-8 weeks to compose the music. This number varies remarkably from composer-to-composer, this is just an average time frame.
Most of the time the composer enters the process during post-production of the film, after shooting and editing is done, when it’s locked in. Why, you ask? First of all, it comes down to the cue itself. How can you can time a timpani hit to strike at the exact moment of a gunshot in the film? The answer; the film already has to exist lol.
Anyway, So now you know, the composer enters typically in post-production. Soon after he/she receives a copy of the film to score, the composer will attend whats called a spotting session. This is a meeting between the project leaders of the film, notably the director, and producer. This is where ideas about the score and the film are discussed and passed around, and decisions are made as to the nature of the music. The composer then takes the rough-cut of the film, goes home and writes up his spotting notes. These are a list of cues and notes about whats happening in the film and what music should/could accomodate. This is when the composer gets down to business, and starts actually composing. The music editor prepares the technical aspects of synchronizing the music with the picture during this stage. The composer is probably freaking out about the deadline at this point, as it pretty much controls his/her life. Once the composing begins, many other things start to happen; the orchestrators come in and do their stuff, studio musicians are scheduled to record at the studio which also has to be booked and so on.
Here I will demonstrate an ideal schedule for the entire process.
- Week 1: The composer receives the rough cut, attends the spotting session, and the music editor prepares timing notes.
- Weeks 2-5: Composing begins, gives rough copy of music to the orchestrator who orchestrates it, and sends to the copyist.
- Weeks 7-8: Dubbing music with sound effects and dialogue.
- Week 9: Film goes to lab for answer prints and color correction.
- Week 12: Film is delivered to theaters for wonderful fun time for all
Obviously, this is the ideal, but often not the reality. Stuff happens, and it doesn’t always go so smoothly. I hope you gleaned at least a few tidbits from this article, this is the first in a series I’ll be writing about Film Scoring in general, as well as other subjects I’m studying at Berklee. Follow my blog for more articles about stuff I learn in class!