11. Different Release Media Need Different Film Scoring Approaches

Posted on Oct 19, 2011 in The Directors/Producers Guide to Working with a Film Composer


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 while surfing facebook in another window.

Of course the platform everybody wishes for is the cinematic release but only few movies make it there. However, when a movie is set for release in a cinema, the composer will do a few things that work specifically for cinematic releases:

– the use of the full dynamic range from the softest string tremolo to the loudest orchestra tutti has its full impact only in cinema. There is practically no background noise the music has to compete against (apart from the one in the movie itself) and can do massive dynamic outbursts where needed

– the very low frequencies, like low rumbling, drones and pulses – the kind of frequencies that you rather feel than hear – can be used very extensively in cinema. While most tv sets and computer speakers will not be able to reproduce them, the sound systems in cinemas are equipped to shake the cinema floors when needed which of course is a fantastic (and by the way emotionally manipulating) effect when used properly

– same goes for any kind of surround effect. While many listeners have a surround sound system at home, they shouldn’t be taken as granted.

– dramaturgical details can be shaped way more subtle as the whole attention is at the movie, you don’t need to smack it into the face of the audience so they still get it while they’re distracted as they usually are in front of the tv/computer

The following things are to be taken into account when producing movies specifically for TV or internet release:

– dynamic limits: most people have neighbours who get very angry when there might be a space battle sequence from next door shaking the walls. Additionally, there usually is a lot of background noise in most flats/houses so very soft things get lost. Effectively most people put the volume of their TV/Computer speakers at a level around speaking volume when watching movies. Very soft music gets lost in this situation as well as very loud music will probably cause the audience to turn down the volume. With this limitation, certain impacts that are based on dynamic don’t work like this anymore.

– sometimes people watch movie even on laptop speakers or tv sets with a mono speaker which limits the range of musical expression even further

– internet speed: while broadband is available in most households, many people don’t bother changing the stream resolution to a higher value and therefore not only image quality but audio quality gets lost as well

– distraction: only few people watch a movie with complete dedication at home so they might miss subtle details whichneeds to be compensated for at a certain degree.

So the bottom line is: apart from the technical differences concerning the actual quality of the musical perception, music concept for “non-cinematic” generally need to be “drawn with a thicker pencil” in order to create a compareable effect with the audience. Of course you can always decide against this compensation on any level but you need to count in to losing a potentially big part of your audience for that.

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