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Old July 27th, 2004, 09:51 AM   #1
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Film Scoring of "Yesteryear". . .

22+ years ago I obtained a Bachelor of Music degree in Film Composition. Now this means absolutely nothing except to me. I'm very fond and sentimental of that period of my life. And I'm very proud of that particular achievment, although I never persued film composing as a career.

Last night, my wife and I went to the movies (which we do quite often) and saw "Bourne Supremecy". It's one of the action-packed "spy verses spy" type of films. We liked it and hold no regrets in see this movie. Of course, I listened to the film score. It captured the action and mood of the moment. But it wasn't brilliant. Sadly, a lot of film scores for much of the "modern" commercial movies are not brilliant. Adequate and functional? Yes. Brilliant and masterful in the art of film composition? No.

This morning I did something that I haven't done in over 22+ years. I opened and read (skimmed through, actually) two text books for film composing. One book is titled, "Music Editing for Motion Pictures" by Milton Lustig (Copyright 1980) and the other titled, "Scoring for Films - A complete Text by Earl Hagen" by Earl Hagen (Copyright 1971). As I sat reading (skimming) through these two text books, I marveled on how much technology has changed and grown since my graduation from music college in 1982. Both text books showed pictures of the Movieolas used (both upright and flatbed) to sync sound & music to film. And both text books talked about click tracks (out of audio tape), film speeds, converting frames (and partial frames) to seconds, the use of picture cue sheets, scoring music to picture cue sheets to the 1/3 of a second, the art of slicing audio tape in the music/sound editing process, etc, etc, etc. . . As I gazed over these two books, I recalled critically listening to the film scores presented to us in class (way back then). We listened to a number of scores by Earle Hagen and discussed how he applied the techniques of film scoring to his music. He really was quite good. His scores seemed to be intimately married to the films and television shows both in capturing the emotion and action of the moment as well as the tight synchronization of the music to film. Many other film composers of that time period (and before) also seemed to write music which was just as "intimately married" to the film.

Then along comes midi. And not too long afterwards comes the whole digital audio/video realm of the "film" business. If midi and/or digital audio existed in 1982, the year that I graduated from music college, I never knew about it. It most certainly was NOT taught back then. It most certainly is now! I can only imagine that the music college I attended 22+ years ago has "moth balled" all of those upright and flatbed movieolas!!! I think everything is being taught using ONLY computers and associated hardware and software programs!!! And that is very cool to me!!! With the exception of several external tone generators and my Mackie 24*8 mixing board, heaven knows my modest little home audio/video studio is nearly all computer-based!!!

But there was some big-time hands-on techniques used in scoring music for films pre-midi and pre-digital era. I remember figuring out to the partial frame how long a particular film segment lasted. And I then figured out to the partial second how long a potential film score segment would be to that film segment. And then I would figure out the tempo(s), and get ready to create click tracks when appropriate. Finally, I would utilize all the compositional and film-scoring techniques taught us in attempting to "intimately marry" the music to the film. O. K., I'm no Earl Hagen or John Williams, but I did a pretty darn good job for my first few film scoring projects. At the very least I can say that I "hit" all of the points to the film that I was aiming for once the music and film were played together on the 'ol movieola.

But that's not the case for much of the modern music scored for films now-a-days. Yes, there's a certain amount of intimacy between the music and film. But it is not "intimately married". No where near, actually. The movie, "Bourne Supremecy" is one example of this. There's a lot of pop-sounding, beated music to this particular film. It works. It captures the modern "spy verses spy" of the 21st century. But the film scoring and the music editing is a bit sloppy; maybe even lazy. I can see the musical composer of that particular film sitting at his computer, watching the film on the monitoring screen and playing some music off the top of his head on the controlling keyboard located just below the computer keyboard used to start and stop the digitized film. What I don't see and what I don't hear are film scoring techniques used that might have made his scoring just a bit more "intimately married" to the film. Heck even writing out the music on manuscript paper by hand BEFOREHAND would have helped!!!

Ted Fiebke, RN
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Old July 27th, 2004, 10:14 AM   #2
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Do you think that composers now have less time to work with the films than before?
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Old July 27th, 2004, 10:35 AM   #3
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Re: Film Scoring of "Yesteryear". . .

<<<-- Originally posted by Ed Fiebke : I marveled on how much technology has changed and grown since my graduation from music college in 1882. -->>>

Wow, and I thought *I* was getting old! ;-)

Seriously, you raise some good points here, but I don't personally expect a lot of art in these action/adventure flicks personally. However I suppose you're talking about technique as much as art.

I have a musical background myself, although have managed to let quite a bit of it slip away over the years. We didn't have MIDI when I graduated from college (in 1971, about 90 years after you ;-) either. A few weeks ago I decided it was time to start digging back into music, if for no other reason than creating free scores to use in my video work. So I got an 88 key MIDI controller and am experimenting around with Apple's GarageBand software. This has been a lot of fun for me so far: in the past I could only play the piano and guitar, but now I can play the flute, violin, horns, drums, saxophone and every other instrument in an orchestra.... all at the same time even!
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Old July 27th, 2004, 11:12 AM   #4
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Keith - I honestly don't know how "busy" modern film composers are. I don't know what type of time constraints that exists for the modern film composer to compose and score the music, record the music and finally edit the music for a commercial film project (or any film project, for that matter). It does take a lot of time to "dissect" (or analyse) a film to specific minutes, seconds and frames. I don't even know if "modern" film composers even think this way when they view film projects. In listening to the movie's film score that my wife and I saw last night (and a number of films scores of this "digital hi-tech" era), it seems like lots of "short cuts" are taking place in film scoring the film; certain steps in preparing used to prepare the composer to write music to film and utilizing composing techniques that can better "marry" the music to film are not being utilized. Heck, I don't even know if many of the modern film composers even physically write their compositions down on paper (with corresponding movie cues on the manuscript) before recording their music. This one "technique" of film composition alone seems to be dying. But if short dead-lines are preventing film composers in using some of the basic techniques that I was taught oh so long ago, it shows in a diminished product presented to the public. Good question, Keith. Like I said, I didn't go into the film composing field (I'm a nurse). I would sincerely LOVE to read a full-time film composer's points of view on this subject!!!

Boyd - Honestly, I love my modest midi/audio/video studio. I've been doing midi sequencing since 1987/1988. It's just a wonderful way to hear those flutes, violins, horns, drums, etc, etc without the HUGE cost of hiring those musicians to play your composition. And I love being the "bass player" and the "drummer" and the "Piano player" and the "string player" when I sequence, too! In fact, I call that Playing with Myself! (My wife hates it when I say that. <chuckle, chuckle> )

But you know what??? Despite the hours and hours and hours of sequencing that I've done since 1987/1988, I have come to one conclusion: There is absolutely nothing more rewarding and nothing more fun than playing with real musicians!!! Sadly, I don't have the opportunity to play with other musicians often. But when I do, I'm in heaven!!!

For your information, now that I have video editing capabilities (using Sony's Vegas 5 program), I have yet scored music to a DV project the way I was taught 22+ years ago. I've only edited video footage (is that the correct term?) to pre-existing music that I composed. I've just recently started to prepare myself to score music to a DV project that I edited not too long ago. I purposefully FORCING myself to sit down and utilize techniques learn long ago. Its a slow process!!! I'm using compositional and film scoring "muscles" that have 2 decades of atrophy!!! But I can finally say this: I now have the capability to score music to film!!! Thanks to computers and modern technology, it's nice to be able to have this capability! It's a "Dream Come True" of sorts. And it's all to the wonderful world of midi and digital audio & video!!

Cheers! :)

Ted
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Old July 27th, 2004, 11:34 AM   #5
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Ed, it was my thought that films are edited almost to the release date these days with audience testing and last minute changes. So this must really effect the composer's ability to tweak their scores. Granted, they must already be given time to develop certain themes, but when it comes to an action film, especially, they must be flexible and able to change.

I thought the music in "The Bourne Supremacy" had a vital feeling and helped drive the action. I don't think you were meant to notice the music so much. The only thing I remember was the Moby end titles song not the score.

Dramas usually get the best scores because the music and emotion is driving the action rather than the visuals. Other than that, films where there requires a lot of establishing. You would think that would be the case in a film like the "Bourne Supremacy" where they are globe trotting but the establishing was always in quick edits helped along by titles: "Washington. DC...."
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Old August 1st, 2004, 08:57 PM   #6
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I recently saw a movie that I thought was terrible- The Village. I should say the script was terrible but I thought the score was really quite beautiful. If you get a chance to see it when it comes out on DVD (I wouldn't recommend paying to see it at a theatre) you should. I would love to know what you think. The cinematography and score- the only thing in that debacle I enjoyed.
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