Thursday, August 14, 2008

Large Project Thermodynamics

In the midst of any large project where you have many minutes of music to compose, there is always that one cue that kicks your ass. You know the one.

I can't say how many times this has happened to me in over twenty years of composing, mostly because I forget (probably due to the beauty of selective memory- where you block out traumatic events such as abuse, emotional upset, and where you left the car keys). What I do recall is I've always found a solution to whatever
cues have given me grief over the years. Here are a few examples:

Starting with the most recent, I'm just finished a big cue for a funeral scene and I wanted to do a requiem. That means counterpoint! This cue took me four days to get right when I needed to do it in two. This may not seem like a big deal at all but when you have to maintain a certain number of minutes per day to meet your schedule, you can't be taking extra time to do what one of my old teachers from Berklee called, "musical masturbation."

Here's the rub. I know, even if I spend more time doing one important cue, I'll make up the needed time and get everything done. How? Because of the "secret law of the logarithmic curve of schedules" which states that ALL gigs have a certain pace to
them which starts out slow and ramps up to a frenzy at the very end. It is, as Mr. Smith from the Matrix would say, "inevitable."

Being a creative professional is knowing that some things take longer to gestate than others. I did this film once which had a scene that was edited twice as long as it should have been. How do I know this? Because in the work print I was using to score to, I could see the actor staring into space, followed by someone feeding him a line off-camera, then I'd see his performance, followed by a cut to the other actor staring into space waiting for his line, hearing that off-camera, followed by his performance and so on for three frikkin'minutes! The director's exact words were, "Can you help us out here?" And so I did.

I had 4 weeks to score 80 minutes of orchestral music on this project and after 3 weeks I hadn't found a solution to this scene. I watched and re-watched this scene at least 10 times every day and when I couldn't think of anything, I'd move on to scoring another cue or two from other scenes. In the last week I found my solution. Forget the bad editing; this scene was about the death of the Mayor's daughter! Once I knew that I wrote an adagio of the Mayor's daughter theme and slapped it up against picture and viola! I'm a genius! Or at least that's what the director said.

All projects, large and small, have a unique dynamic to them in the pacing of the schedule. They each have their own challenges which, as a professional composer, one needs to meet with a calm mind and plenty of pencils, erasers, and sketch pads. Remind yourself that you KNOW what you're doing. You ARE the music authority on this project. Then step up and hit it out of the park.

In the end, you have to trust in yourself, your craft, and your experience to know that that bastard cue will get done and it will be great!

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