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  • Andrew Pritzker

Sounds Like You Need A Composer

Greta Garbo and John Gilbert in Flesh and The Devil.

Silent films were never meant to be silent. A live piano or organ accompanied a theatrical film often without a score. Music alone, not sound effects, not dialog, conveyed the energy and emotional intent of a film. It enriched the audience experience. It was an essential part of the film.

Film schools don’t teach you how to work with a film composer. They’re more concerned with film craft than film scores. Music is considered an afterthought, a completely separate element, some other guy’s job, something to be canned and downloaded at your convenience.

“Music is the final piece of filmmaking—the essential element that pulls emotion from an audience and puts the goosebumps on the screen.”

- Artie Kane

Music as an art form is meant to be felt, to be experienced. It’s meant to move you. Music permeates the subconscious and conveys the emotional context of a story. Long story short— Music sells the heart of your film.

“I’ll get hold of a film and look at it 20 times. I’ll spend one week just looking at the time - once in the morning, once in the afternoon - until the film tells me what to do.”

- Elmer Bernstein

Your edit is done. Your picture is locked. Enter the Film Composer, a non-visual artist with fresh ideas and interpretations, a different cultural language and understanding of your film. So who is this alien being?

DEVIL'S FOOD CAKE composer, Daniel Stein, recording with his band, Charlie Good.

Working with a film composer is a matter of patience and trust. So what’s the key to understanding how a composer thinks? How does he or she approach writing a score? With the rare exception, composers are not trained filmmakers. They don’t think in terms of angles and lenses. They are, however, story-tellers. They speak to an audience with rhythm, character, and emotion aimed at the human soul.

“If I weren’t a director, I would want to be a film composer. “

- Steven Spielberg

To understand your film, you need to understand its heart. So what is the emotional intent of your film? Who has the final say? Is it the director, writer, or editor? Maybe it’s the composer. Collaboration is the key to filmmaking. Musical scores are not just heard, they’re talked through, discussed, debated, and massaged. The language vital to communicating with your composer is emotional content, the emotions within the scene, the emotions of the audience.

“I want to write and feel the drama. Music is essentially an emotional language, so you want to feel something from the relationships and build music based on those feelings.”

- Howard Shore

Pictures and music go together. They’ve always gone together. There’s something primal and visceral between their interaction. Primitive cultures painted images on cave walls. Our primitive ancestors knocked sticks against logs while chanting around a fire, shadows dancing on the wall. Cinema is a universal language that contains that same primal energy and emotion.

Both art forms are expressions of the human experience. Both art forms are universal languages. In short, your film isn’t finished until it sings. Enter the Film Composer.

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