Composing to a Script

Composing to a Script

In the past, when composing music for a film, I have always been able to load the video into my DAW (Cakewalk by Bandlab). I would set up markers in DAW, and compose while watching the video. At this point, I have spoken with the director, and learned his preferences about emotions, moods, styles, and the general approach to the film.

But now, perhaps for the first time, a director has challenged me to compose the music before the film has been shot. I had not yet discussed the film with him. All I have is the script for a scene. This is challenging, for a number of reasons: 

  • First, without a visual cue, I can only guess what the mood should be.

  • Every scene has a natural rhythm. Whether it is obvious or not. It is generally a good idea to match the music’s rhythm to the scene’s rhythm. But without seeing the film, I can only guess the natural rhythm for the scene.

  • It is a good idea for music to complement the dialog, and never a good idea to mask the dialog. But this is difficult when there is no dialog. Moreover, it is guesswork to tell how long each scene will be!

Nevertheless, I was up for the challenge! The first thing I did, was to read through the script, and estimate the duration of each scene “beat”. 

So, I took a stab at the various components of the scene, and marked out their durations, like this:

It’s sort of a timeline, with each little block indicating what I assume will be a scene beat.

Then I listened to lots of my favorite sounds and grooves, and decided which ones might have their place in the music cue. I started the composition journey, as you can see here:

Each row in this figure represents an instrument track. The different colors in the track pane represent different musical clips.

I gave two distinct instruments to the two characters; the father and the son. For the most part, I assigned a trombone to represent the father, and a trumpet to represent the teen-aged son. This is not a strict correpondence, just an idea. The first half of the cue is a set of flashbacks. I set these in 4/4 time, while the son flies through one flashback after another. I played a series of harp glissandos, indicating the beginning of the flashbacks, and a single glissando preceding each individual flashback. About midway I switched to 3/4 time, to allow a more playful response to a “playground” scene.

With the timeline all mapped out, I continued to guess what moods and emotions the director might have in mind. The finished product is in the video, below.


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