3. Call early

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Working with a composer

It will allow the composer to plan his schedule around, to estimate the amount of time needed for the project, and to decide how to spread the work over time.

In films, the music process traditionally happens at the very end along with visual effects and color correction, before the final sound mix. Even though the finalization of the music is best placed when the cut is locked, it can be awesome to have the composer start writing music earlier, i.e. right when the first images are ready, or right before the filming, on the storyboard, or even on the script. Not only can it help the filmmaker finding the right tone, but it also could give enough musical material to play around with the edit. Even though I fiercely advise against editing films and videos around temp music, why not trying around music that you feel strongly about and know for sure will make it to the final cut? Besides, the composer will thank you dearly as it will remove the stress of finding the perfect motive/theme/sound a couple of weeks before the sound mix. In 2012, I worked on Jonas d’Adesky’s Twa Timoun (Berlinale & Toronto International Film Festival). Right after he called me, I wrote a few minutes of music and did some research on local music of Haiti. Of those tracks, one made it to the final cut for an entire two minutes of featured music (no dialogue), providing a break in the narrative and a sense of time passing.

The ideal timeline would go like this: after you decide the nature of the project and which composer would be best suited for it, call them, they will show their interest for the concept, or pass if that is not in line with their career goals. After the project is funded and the budget written, now is a good time to get them involved. Provided that they accepted the fee, ask them what their favorite work practice is. Some will say that they only start working on a locked cut, to minimize the amount of versions of the same cue. They want to have their full brain power on one single project at a time for a shorter time. Others will say they prefer starting the process before any image is recorded yet, so they get more time to feel in line with your vision, and together you’ll spend the proper amount of time selecting the ideas that will make it to the soundtrack.

More time for writing does not mean paying more. As soon as the composer estimated the number of days needed for a project, either they will want to allocate all those days at the end, or spread them over a longer period of time that will free up time to work on other projects simultaneously. Yet, they will have your project running in their head for longer.

As for other discipline, those that do not require working on existing tracks, the more back and forth collaboration there is, the more fun everyone is going to have.

Even though composers like to pretend they only have good ideas, there is always quite a lot of rubbish that never makes it to the ears of the commissioner. If you are looking for that one minute of pure genius music, have them write more. And the best way to keep them happy is by letting them decide how long they will need to write the perfect quantity.

Comments, suggestions, experiences you had with composers, and consequent advice for others are encouraged.
This blog will be updated with new experiences and illustrations as they occur.