When I was a wee lad trying to figure out how to get into the film scoring business I had met an amazing woman named Else Blangsted. I used to walk with her in Coldwater Canyon near her home. A feisty, wiry woman with piercing blue eyes, one day I asked her: “how do I get into the film business?” Without hesitation she said:: “read a lot of books” and “getting hired is like dating”. The first comment was about craft. The second was about getting hired. Today I’m going to talk about craft. We can get to the dating part another day.
What in the hell does that mean? At face value it has nothing to do with music. At the time my mind was full of orchestrations, arrangements, writing songs… anything and everything you can imagine. I didn’t need a practice room. I lived in one in my head 24/7. I loved to read though… so I kinda knew where she was going with her comment. But I wasn’t quite sure.
For musicians it’s easy to lose sight of the purpose of filmmaking. It’s not about fancy special effects or A-list actors and great camera angles. It’s about the story that is being told. Period. It’s the power of the story that will keep an audience engaged. Not tricks of the trade or perfunctory filmmaking technique. If the story is compelling the audience will buy in. If the story is not, well, the movie will fail. Now, back in the day once someone had bought a ticket and popcorn they were locked in so the pace of the story could be slower. Now that people watch movies online or on their phone the filmmaker can’t rely on the fact that it is hard to walk out of a movie theater. This means that the story MUST be compelling or else the viewer will pick up the remote and change the channel or close the browser.
Filmmaking is ALL ABOUT THE STORY.
So how does this relate to writing music?
If you read a lot of books, preferably by great writers, you’ll discover that there is a predictable form in all great stories. It’s the structure of the story that gets us locked in. The single protagonist story structure has been used for thousands of years. So much so that once we become aware of the main character in a story we almost instinctively expect the character to reach their goal. So, in short, a story is all about a character who wants something (the holy grail for Indiana Jones) and encounters obstacles along the way that increase in danger until the final life or death challenge. If you look at Joseph Campbell’s “monomyth” story structure imagine Luke Skyywalker as the protagonist (in Star Wars).
Again, so what does this have to do with writing film music?
The role of music in film is to support and help tell the story. Period. It’s not about what type of music you like. It’s not about a fancy sound or plugin. It’s not to seek approval or to have someone tell you how talented you are. Most definitely it’s not about showing off.
Read a lot of books. Discover how great stories are structured. And then use music to illustrate what is not seen on screen.
I’ll get into that more in future blogs.
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