Thoughts of communication between director and composer.

Speech held in Cannes at the launch of NOPA´s website 

To use an old cliche, selling music to the film industry is a bit like trying to sell sand in Sahara. There is definitely no shortage of supply. Nevertheless, you will need sand in the cement if you want to build a good house, and since sand comes in different colour, texture, grain size, and weight, you will find it worthwhile to search for that perfect component for your foundation. You will also spend a lot of energy finding the right composer for your film. You can be a film maker without having a film in production, you will always be working on what will become your next. Likewise, you can always be a composer, writing for orchestras, bands, your computer-rig or desk drawer, but you can not be a film composer without an actual film to work on.

Still, film composing has emerged as a specialized art form. It requires a skilled composer, formally trained or self taught, who will shift his first priority from music composing to filmmaking. Like a good accompagnateur his (or her) contribution will be essential, but the soloist will be the star. The utmost effort, knowledge and fantasy will be used to set a tone for the film, and to fulfill it´s dramatic requirements.

To be able to serve a film in the best possible way, the communication process between director and composer must work well. I scored a film some years ago, the romantic comedy “Kvinnen i mitt liv”. There is a childbirth scene that I, in my first sketch, scored as a dramatic struggle for new life, with an expressive english horn representing the new world inhabitant. -Directors response: “Oh my God. This sounds like one of those rural english veterinary series where the calf dies in the end.” At first, I was puzzled, but this was actually an excellent piece of communication. Firstly, it is very clear that trying to fix the music is pointless. Completely new music is required. Secondly, it communicates the emotional impact of the music. It would have made the audience feel the wrong way. He then steered me in the right direction simply by telling me that he wanted something funny.

The most valuable thing a director can tell us is what he or she wants the music to achieve, both in the film as a whole, and in the individual scenes. Any information is good, of course, but specific musical language should be avoided, as it most certainly would be misinterpreted. References are used extensively. They can be both helpful and misleading. It is not uncommon for composers to to stray off course and cultivate the “wrong” elements of a track. What all composers fear is the “temp track syndrome”. The director, editor and producer fall so much in love with the track they are using during the postproduction process that anything the composer comes up with is doomed. That temp tracks often consist of brilliantly recorded masterpieces by people like Ennio Morricone or Thomas Newman, or Richard Strauss or Igor Strawinskij for that matter, puts the composer at terrible odds when he shows up with his little computerized, as yet unproduced sketch.

That a film composer is in command of a high quality computer-rig to make demos, and sometimes finished scores, and also is able to efficiently produce music to be played by an orchestra is taken for granted these days. What many film people fail to understand is that a composer’s sonic palette is a lot larger than that. We can communicate with folk musicians and singers from all over the world, give verbal instructions to non-reading rock musicians, give jazz players just the right amount of direction to sound uninhibited and still serve the film.... And obviously, when extensive collaboration is taking place, we will share composing credits.

The point is that it can benefit the film to work with a composer who understands film dramaturgy, even if “typical film music” is not what is wanted. In most cases, the film will be much better served than if a famous folksinger or rock act is on their own with the score.