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#1252116 - 08/19/09 05:59 PM Film Scoring
steinwaymaster Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/18/08
Posts: 52
Loc: New York City
Hi, does anyone have any suggestions for good books that teach film scoring? Also, any tips, advice, or techniques to study film scoring? What good films to watch, what good soundtracks, etc.? Thanks!

Edited by steinwaymaster (08/19/09 06:18 PM)
“Music . . . can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.”
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#1252129 - 08/19/09 06:39 PM Re: Film Scoring [Re: steinwaymaster]
eweiss Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/28/09
Posts: 2393
Loc: Beautiful San Diego, CA
I hear Berklee's got a pretty good program. As far as online resources, I'm not sure.
Play New Age Piano

#1252282 - 08/19/09 11:30 PM Re: Film Scoring [Re: eweiss]
Kreisler Offline

Registered: 11/27/02
Posts: 13837
Loc: Iowa City, IA
A lot of it is getting to know the tools of the trade - Logic, Finale, Sibelius, ProTools - and learning how the video and timing features work.

I'd suggest spending a lot of time looking for books on using those software packages. You don't need to learn them all, but get used to either Finale or Sibelius and one DAW package.
"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)


#1255750 - 08/25/09 10:57 AM Re: Film Scoring [Re: Kreisler]
Johnny-Boy Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/06
Posts: 661
Loc: PA
Kreisler is absolutely correct. DAW (digital audio workstation) is the place to start.

I purchased Logic Pro 8, added sample packages (East West Quantum Leap Symphony, Xtreme FX's, Native Instruments, etc). I use the Motif ES8 as a contoller keyboard. Good speakers; if you can't afford the best in speakers, buy the best headphones to start with. You'll also need a computer with tons of memory and hard drive. Logic can only be used in Mac.

If you buy a new Mac and Logic Pro, you can sign-up for one-to-one training sessions at the Apple Store (an enormous help). However, there are several other DAW's that will do the job just as well.

These DAW's have the ability to view .mov files, .wmv files, etc. - so you can view the film while composing/recording music to it.

I hope this helps.

I've been working on a lot of short cues for film. Here's one I did yesterday using the above set-up: "Cutthroat" - http://schicksville.com/Music/Cutthroat.mp3

I'm sure going to film composing school would be a good option also. More expensive than the DAW though.

Good luck! Best, John
Stop analyzing; just compose the damn thing!

#1257041 - 08/27/09 07:37 AM Re: Film Scoring [Re: Johnny-Boy]
Mankeh Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/14/08
Posts: 86
I recommend listening to James Horner, Hans Zimmer and of course John Williams. They're definitely my favourite film composers. Clint Mansell writes some incredibly emotive music but I'd class him as more minimalist than John Williams and co.

#1257291 - 08/27/09 03:21 PM Re: Film Scoring [Re: Mankeh]
J Cortese Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/20/09
Posts: 357
Loc: Los Angeles, CA
Vidding songs you already know to things you like could help, as well. It helps you recognize how to cut, various different cuts ... and how they interact with the music. You won't be learning music per se, but you'll be learning the timing of how music interacts with film editing, and I'd imagine that a good film scorer is one that knows film editing as well.
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#1257388 - 08/27/09 05:55 PM Re: Film Scoring [Re: J Cortese]
MrsCamels Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/18/09
Posts: 178
Loc: Los Angeles
As a means to learning the programs - i'd suggest picking a score/theme, etc and rebuilding it as best you can in your chosen program.
Teaching since 2004
Private studio owner since 2008

#1257690 - 08/28/09 07:40 AM Re: Film Scoring [Re: MrsCamels]
DragonPianoPlayer Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/12/06
Posts: 2462
Loc: Denver, CO
No idea how good this book is:

Complete Guide to Film Scoring
by Richard Davis

Book: $24.95
HL #50449417
ISBN 0-634006363

Berklee Music offers an online Arranging program that includes Film Scoring 101.


You can get Film Scores (especially some John Williams scores) at



#1257703 - 08/28/09 08:21 AM Re: Film Scoring [Re: DragonPianoPlayer]
RogerW Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/10/08
Posts: 441
Originally Posted By: DragonPianoPlayer
No idea how good this book is:

Complete Guide to Film Scoring
by Richard Davis

I have that book, it's very interesting as a history lesson about how film scoring techniques have developed, but that's mostly what it felt like to me. There was not very much new useful information about how to actually create the music, how the music may ineract with the picture and so on. But I didn't find it a waste of money anyway, quite a good read.

#1257939 - 08/28/09 02:03 PM Re: Film Scoring [Re: RogerW]
Johnny-Boy Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/06
Posts: 661
Loc: PA
Here's an interview with Jeff Mona you may find interesting. It came to me today in an ASCAP email:

Practical Advice on Composing for the Screen - An Interview with Jeff Rona

Jeff Rona's impressive composer credits include Ridley Scott's White Squall, contributions to Traffic, Black Hawk Down, Mission: Impossible 2, and Gladiator as well as Chicago Hope and Profiler and even music for the 2008 Olympics. In the newly expanded edition of his book The Reel World, Rona details the technical, business, and creative aspects of becoming a successful film scorer. Jeff Rona recently spoke to ASCAP with some great advice and inspiration for aspiring composers and songwriters and film lovers.

For those who don't know… briefly explain the process a composer goes through when composing film music?
Step one is to actually get a job! That comes from either submitting a demo of music similar to whatever the film is looking for, or through some kind of word of mouth from someone involved. Agents are helpful but by no means the only way to find projects.

Once you've been hired, and the business is settled (contracts, fees, budgets, deals and the such) a composer will meet with the director and others to 'spot' the film. That's a meeting to discuss the placement of music in the film, and to articulate as best as possible what each piece of music is to achieve. Music might be in a scene to add tension, make one character more sympathetic (or less), or help convey to the audience any of a wide range of emotions. From the spotting session comes the master list of cues to be written for the film.

After the film is spotted, the composer will go hide away in his or her studio to create some sketches of themes for the film. For me, this is often the most exciting part of the process. Not working to picture, but developing the essential sound and feel for the score. Eventually these sketches get presented to the director for approval. Some directors are open to listening to music on it's own, but if not, then a scene or two can be scored to show the music in context to the picture.

Then comes time to score the film, one cue at a time. Computer mock-ups of each cue are written to picture. As handfuls are completed, they are presented to the director for approval or notes for changes. As the score is close to being composed and approved, comes time for orchestration, copying, contracting of musicians, engineer, studio, mixing and delivery of the music for the final sound mix. That takes very careful planning and time management.

And of course, after the mix is complete, a 'cuesheet' that lists every piece of music in the film with it's overall length is submitted to ASCAP so the composer can get paid royalties for the film's performances!

Your book focuses on maintaining individual creativity while also working with other professionals within the film industry. What traits would you say a film composer should possess?
There are many. The first is open-mindedness. Good composers need to think on their feet and assume nothing. We are often taught so many 'rules' as students, and it can be a daunting task sometimes to try and forget many of them. Film music is a purely emotional art form.

After that come musicality, talent, perseverance, ambition and the very important ability to communicate well with the rest of the creative people involved on every project. Directors and producers count on a close relationship with their composers. We speak different languages in many ways, but emotionally it must all come together as one idea.

Composers must often deal with stressful and less than ideal situations. Low budgets, short schedules, finicky or indecisive directors, last second re-edits. If you are not prepared to deal with all of that at one time or another, and do it with some grace, this job will kill you.

What advice would you give an aspiring film scorer?
Learn about the field as much as possible. I'm often invited to speak on panels and seminars on film music, and it amazes me how many false assumptions and myths there are. The guidance of an experienced and knowledgeable composer can be a huge help. There's theory, and then there's the real world. Seeing a film score created from start to finish is a great learning experience. Even if it goes poorly!

Start listening to music from the perspective of that person in the audience hearing your music for the first time. There's no room for emotional ambiguity in film music. Good film scores say a lot with the least effort possible, and that takes a real sense of both craft and purpose. Film music comes from the heart, not the head.

Composers need to have as much range and flexibility as possible. The styles and genres used in modern scoring are broad beyond belief. Successful composers can integrate elements of classic orchestral writing with electronica, beats, rock, you name it. Young composers need to be able to write modern sounding scores that are hybrid in nature. That's the main approach to films today.

Finally, film composers must also be film score producers. Filmmakers look for composers with the technical ability to create excellent sounding demos and final masters as well. It's all part of the process. Merging samples, live players, and getting a sound that is top quality at both the sketch and final phases of production is essential.

What inspires you when making music for a film?
I am, like every film composer, a story teller. Every project has a different entry of sorts - a unique way into the heart of it. It often begins with some good conversations with the director, whose vision I am there to help fulfill. There might be research, such as listening to music from different cultures or periods or styles - though I do that all the time. I listen to everything from Persian folk music to ambient electronica to blistering metal.

I believe strongly in giving myself time to experiment. To try ideas out and discard things that don't fit. There's a huge difference between good and right in film music. You can write something absolutely terrific, only to have it get utterly lost in the context of the film itself. Film music is, to me, just as personal as any other form of musical expression, but it does pass through a filter of collaboration and destination.

In many cases the directors, producers and editors on the films I do have contributed great ideas and vision that become the springboard for the music. And I'm not just talking about temp music tracks, though even those can be a great start for a kind of 'wordless conversation' about how musical choices change the emotion of a scene.

I also love to collaborate with great and creative musicians to bring unexpected elements into the music. And because I've worked so extensively with music technology for as long as I have, I've learned how to use my music system as a great 'playground' for new sonic ideas I can blend with the themes and other elements of my scores.

Lastly, name your favorite piece of music used in film and why?
Oh my, I think there are too many. But I'll name a few favorite film music moments (not the same as my favorite film scores, by the way):

The baptism scene in The Godfather is near perfect in how it begins as a simple organ piece from a church and becomes the accompaniment to one of the greatest bloodbaths in cinema. The scene in The Day The Earth Stood Still when the spaceship is first landing, simply because it is one of the stillest pieces of music imaginable for such a tense moment. John Williams' use of "When You Wish Upon A Star" in the last scenes of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. The use of Arvo Pärt's music in There Will Be Blood, Krzysztof Penderecki's music in The Shining, The Propellerheads music in The Matrix and Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" in Wayne's World.

But there are so many more.
Stop analyzing; just compose the damn thing!


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