The Directors/Producers Guide to Working with a Film Composer


Depending on the budget and size of the production, there will be a scoring session. This could be from having a soloist for an hour in the composer’s studio up to a full symphony orchestra for several days in a big recording studio. Depending on the size of the recording, there will be quite a few people in the studio apart from the musicians which you as a director/producer haven’t probably dealt with directly before but...

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After the spotting session is done and all details concerning the music are fixed, the most common procedure is for the director/producer to get back to other post-production issues and for the composer to go home/to his/her studio and to start working. What happens now is highly dependant on the personalities and working procedure of both parties, but the most common thing would be for the composer to find the material for the movie....

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Communication is essential between the director/producer and the film composer and bad communication often leads to misunderstandings and conflicts. As a director/producer, you should have a rather clear vision about what you want the music to do. It is NOT the most comfortable situation for a composer when he/she’s been told “Well, I don’t know, just do your thing.” and getting complete artistic freedom over...

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The function of music in the movies is a very wide field. Music can serve several purposes that are either important on the emotional side of the movie or help/enhance the storytelling. It is not only helpful but essential for any director/producer to keep the music in mind when planning/shooting the movie. For example collages that practically don’t work at all without film music can have a fantastic effect later with the...

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The way a movie is released heavily influences not only its production but also the film music. There needs to be a clear understanding of what the primary release of the movie is going to be as there are still quite different ways of perceiving a movie depending on whether you watch it in a big cinema, in a dark enclosed space with dozens of other people, at home on your television while cooking dinner or in front of your computer...

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The so-called spotting session is the meeting between director and composer where both watch the movie together. Usually, this is a great chance to find a concept and ideas for the film music in a mutual way and to avoid any misunderstandings in the actual working process. You as the director should take the lead in this. Also, often the composer gets to see the fine cut of the movie for the first time in this situation so it is also...

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Having a basic idea of what your movie needs musically is a very important thing when you enter the dialogue with the composer. There is that common misconception between directors that composers are happy when you just let them do their thing without giving much directions. However rather the opposite is the case. In such situations your composer gets thrown into cold water. Many movies offer the possibility to approach them...

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The worst problem most composers suffer from is the tight schedule on their projects. Many composers sleep not more than 5 hours per night when there is crunch time which of course doesn’t allow to write the most creative music. The main problem often lies in the fact, that originally the time frame for the music might be set quite comfortably but due to the natural delay of most departments before the music (as music is quite...

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Even when you are best friends and the project seems too small to bother, you should always set up a contract with your film composer. This does not only protect the composer but also yourself as director/producer and just saves so much potential headache and argument. The form of the contract is of course very dependant on the country of the production company and as soon as it gets to a slightly bigger project you should have a...

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Before you budget for the music, you should be aware that a music budget always consists of two to three factors. The first is the composition fee, the second the costs that are necessary to produce the score music and the third are the licensing fees. I’ll split up these figures here to create an understandable transparency.   1. Composition fee First of all: there are thousands of composers out there who work for free and...

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There often is a misunderstanding about what is part of the film composer’s job and what isn’t which often leads to irritation and arguments and can also torpedo the whole financing concept of a movie if the composer’s job was defined wrong in the calculation. A film composer usually is hired to write all  original dramatic music for your movie. Any scene that has “score music” is part of what the...

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It happens quite often that inexperienced directors want to add music to their movie simply because they like it. For example they try to hire one of their favorite rock bands for their drama just because they think it is cool music that would be cool to have in their movie. However, often this music doesn’t serve the dramatic purpose of the movie. You as a director might be happy if you hear your favorite music in your movie...

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Before you hire a composer, think about what your movie needs. Watch movies in roughly the same genre/style as your own movie, listen to what the music does there and get a basic understanding of the musical stylistics of this genre. Also, know what the task of music in general is. It is NOT to help slow editing or bad acting. It can help there but it is not the task of music in the first place. Also, it is not the main task of music...

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If you have worked with a film composer before and you were happy with the result, the first thing would be to ask him/her again if he/she feels up to it and has time. If – for whatever reason – you need to find a new film composer, there are several ways. Depending on what kind of size your project runs, you can directly contact composers whose music you have heard in other movies which you like. If you’re need someone more...

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The process of creating music for his/her movie usually is for a director a bit different than working with any other film department and often involves a lot of nervousness. The reason for this is the lacking control over the whole process. Usually, the director has a basic or advanced understanding of how every department in the process of making a movie works. He/she has a specific idea of how the editing of the movie needs to be,...

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