Strategies for Writing Music to Unfinished Edits
Unfortunately, there are quite often situations where you need to start writing music to an un-locked cut in order to be able to hit the deadline. While this situation is far from ideal due to picture lock dates being pushed more and more to the back in the post production schedule, you might need to decide for working on unfinished scenes before the picture lock and adjust them again once the final cut arrives which in worst case could mean a complete rewrite or losing the cue all together.
Most of the times however, the adjustments will be rather small so you might be able to adjust your cue without needing to completely write it once again. Of course that means that you write it a little differently right from the start to allow for adjustments later on.
It might be quite helpful to write it quite “modularly” meaning to write blocks of musical ideas (4-bar sections etc.) instead of one long musical arc which would lose its musical logic when adding or removing parts of it. Ostinatos are also great in such situations for obvious reasons. Also, write in some “expansion gaps” that you can easily adjust later on. Things like sustaining string chords work well for this as you later can extend or shorten them without interrupting the musical flow.
Once you have the picture lock on a well prepared cue, adjustments shouldn’t be that tricky. Work with slight changes of tempo to adjust for new hit points, adjust musical phrases by inserting bars for example at the end of thematic ideas (e.g. it works quite well most of the time to extend a 4-bar melody (in 4/4) by adding for example a single 2/4 at the end and just let the last melody sustain over that bar).
Of course, none of that is ideal from the composer’s perspective but it might help you getting through such a job.