Friday, March 16, 2007

Being a composer for the movies

Years ago, when I was living in England, I knew this guy who was supposed to be making a movie – a very low-level production with amateurs filling all the roles and off-screen positions. (Maybe five of us in total.) I was going to be the composer of the film score. The whole thing fell apart fairly quickly, to my relief, because even though I enjoyed composing music, I had no real idea how to fit music to images and all the technical side of things that involves, and I lay awake at night (on and off) worrying rather as to how I’d do.
I’m a very slow composer at the best of times, and you always read about film-score composers writing at white heat. I’m sure they do a lot of cut and pasting, but even so, it’s no mean feat to compose a score of up to an hour long, and make it fit someone else’s vision.
My closest real encounter to film-scoring was when I did some music copying in London for a full-time copyist. He worked in a virtual basement, could talk and copy at the same time, and could copy accurately at great speed. It was just about the time the photo-copier was beginning to make an appearance and he was making full use of it for parts that were basically all the same. I hate to think what the musicians who had to read my copying thought: it had an extraordinarily amateurish air about it!
I never actually caught up with the film; it was a version of Alfred the Great. David Hemmings was the star, and I think the film was panned pretty heavily, in spite of having some great actors in it, including Ian McKellan, Michael York and Vivien Merchant. The film score was by Raymond Leppard, who isn’t exactly well-known as a film composer. Lord of the Flies seems to have been his only other attempt at the medium.
These days, of course, anything to do with movie-making has been brought down to the level of the common man, woman and child. There are sites on the Net, including one called fliptrack.com now where you can download music to fit whatever video you’ve already produced, and make it fit – because there are also programs to download. I missed my generation really: fascinated by the movies when I was young, but in no position to make use of my interest, because movie-making was an expensive process far out of reach of the average joe like me. How times have changed.
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