On Film Scoring

The collaborative relationship between a director and composer is one of the most vital yet mysterious aspects of the entire filmmaking process. Why? Because music is, by its very definition, something that can be very hard for the non-musician to express in words. In fact, music’s role in the world of film is SO powerful specifically because it is the only element of a movie that the audience experiences on a purely emotional level. Music doesn’t depend upon or get filtered though words or language, numbers, ideas or even images in order to create the visceral impact it does on the viewer. You don’t sit there thinking about the score, you just feel it!

The process of bringing a filmmaker’s vision to life with the perfectly-suited score then must begin with a dialogue about, essentially, everything but music itself. Directors know how to communicate well with actors, so I always tell a director to think of me as the last actor who is a character throughout the whole film.

  • What is the arc of the story and of the protagonist in particular?
  • Is the score interior or exterior?
  • What do we want the score to achieve as far as dialing up or down the pacing and overall tone of the film?
  • How extreme are the dramatic highs and lows of the piece?
  • Above all else. where do we want to take the audience in terms of an emotional journey?

The composer’s job is not only to enhance what is there on screen, but to inform the viewer on a deeper sensory level and to bring to the experience aspects that may not be fully apparent or emotionally available within the visual world of the picture. That synergy between the images and music (as well as sound design) – that is to say when it all culminates in a sum that is greater than the individual elements – and is experienced as a “whole” expression of story, is the biggest thrill for me and it’s the thing that makes movies magical, because it really is born of a kind of magic fusion that is unique among artistic and entertainment mediums.

Working with a talented filmmaker and collaborating to explore and mine the “gold,” the thing that makes a film tick in terms of its unique essence and individual identity, is the most enjoyable part of the process for me. Every film, no matter how big or small, should have its own sonic character. No two films were born to share the same score. A memorable theme or musical personality is something every film deserves and requires to stand on its own as an object of art with its own voice.

I would like to publicly thank the many legendary composers who have shaped my own voice as a composer of music for picture, though it is impossible to include them all. I have a deep love for the greats of the golden and silver ages of scoring and have been fortunate to have met or have personal friendships with many of them who are no longer with us such as Neal Hefti, Earle Hagen and Vic Mizzy. Cheers and thank you to John Williams, Henry Mancini, Jerry Goldsmith, Max Steiner, Alfred Newman, John Barry, Lalo Schifrin, Pat Williams, Roy Budd, Dimitri Tiomkin, Miklos Rosa, Sergei Prokofiev, Hugo Friedhofer, Ennio Morricone and Elmer Bernstein… to name but a few of the geniuses who have made the movies what they are!