Friday, August 7, 2009

Guest Blog from Composer Christopher Brady: The Spotting Session

Chris Brady is a wonderful composer and this is his guest blog. Thanks Chris!

The Spotting Session

Composing music for film is my life’s passion.  Yet, it seems almost every day brings challenges which I never anticipated before I actually started working professionally.  When I was a young lad dreaming of becoming a film composer, I had no idea what a spotting session was, much less how important these meetings are in determining the musical course a film will take.

Spotting a film is the process in which the composer, the director and the producer sit down, watch the film, and decide where music should start, where music should stop, and what kind of music should be created for the film.  If the film’s budget allows, a music editor also participates in this meeting by taking notes and creating a cue sheet which lists the timings and brief descriptions of each music cue.  If the budget does not allow for a music editor, these spotting notes are usually written by the composer.

One of the most interesting and tricky tasks which every composer faces is simply communicating with the producer and director.  It sounds much easier than it usually is.  Commonly, the producer and director are extremely knowledgeable, many times even experts, in the various areas film production such as screenwriting, casting, cinematography, film editing, etc.  However, more often than not, music composition is not a subject within the director’s or producer’s areas of expertise.  This can lead to a somewhat interesting and many times hilarious language barrier, which is primarily the composer’s responsibility to transcend.

Here are a few of the more comedic quotes from spotting sessions I’ve been a part of:

· “Can you use a sexy instrument here, like a xylophone?”

· “Make it sound like snow falling on the roof of a small cottage on a cold winter’s night.”

· “Have the music be happy-sad, happy-sad, happy-sad, until this spot right here, then make it suddenly turn into sad-happy. 

· “I would like the music to sound something like crushed ping pong balls taped to the underside of pigeon wings.”

· (referring to a solo violin in the temporary score) “I really don’t like that guitar twang right there.”

I’m relieved to say I was somehow able to navigate the spotting sessions these quotes came from, and was able to create music that the director and producer were happy with.

Frankly, there is no “love” chord, or “sexy” timbre, or “happy” instrument.  Sometimes I wish it were that simple.  But, despite the funnier and frustrating moments of music spotting, I love that feeling I get when I’ve been able to successfully translate the director’s and producer’s descriptions of what they want the music to accomplish in their film.  When the music I’ve created amplifies the emotion on the screen and captures the film makers’ vision, that is what I live for.


Michele said...

I just saw Broken Hill, for which Christopher Brady composed the music. I liked the film, but I loved the music. I'm hoping to find the soundtrack, and I'm looking forward to hearing more.

Unknown said...

There's no soundtrack, apparently. Perhaps direct communication with M. Brady or through his agent would yield a result? I suppose it must depend on who owns the score?