Andrew, What do you need from the producer or director to get you started on a project?
In an ideal world l like to work to a version of the show/film that contains as much finished and approved material as possible. This means a locked picture edit, full FX, actual & ADR dialogue along with any narration. That’s the ideal of course , but all too often the reality is that many of the post-production elements are being created at the same time which means that as a composer l can’t get the full benefit of the rhythm of the dialogue and FX. Also in the absence of FX there’s sometimes the urge to try to tell more of the story musically than is actually needed. I am not a big fan of the wall-to-wall music approach and believe the story is often better served by thoughtful music placement, in which l am aided by knowledge of FX, dialogue etc.
How much ongoing guidance do you like? The more the merrier actually! Any little thing that helps me create the right textures and sound palette is good. I’ve worked with temp tracks ranging from Mozart to Green Day and Brian Eno to scratchy snippets of ads hastily recorded on a mobile phone from the TV. If it helps the producer or director articulate their musical needs then bring it on.
Some producers/directors find it hard to put across their feelings in a technical way but can demonstrate the emotional requirement with pictures or pieces of music or bits of films or TV shows. It all helps to build up a better understanding of where they want the music to go. Of course it’s not always like that and at the other extreme are the helpful instructions handed out by a particularly hard-pressed director – “It’s 10pm. Do what the **** you want, just make sure you have it here tomorrow at 8am”. NOT so helpful.
Does getting the composer involved earlier on help?
Yes, If l am lucky enough to be involved in the project from it’s earliest stages then l will have a deeper understanding of the way it has developed in terms of script and characters. Coming in later on in the process it becomes a much steeper learning curve. And of course there’s always the last-minute project where there isn’t even time to think.
l do enjoy the back and forth of producer/director notes – picking up on things that l thought worked really well, but not picking up on things that l would have put good money on being chucked out at the next round. A wonderful mystery! In Teletubbies the first complete episode was titled ‘Ned’s Bicycle’, and we must have remade that one ten times over before it was right. The other 364 episodes were a piece of cake after that.
Once the music is synched to picture l welcome notes/comments/general feedback – anything that means l can get closer to the ideal music for the project whilst hitting all the production briefing points. Sometimes it works like a dream, other times it needs a bit of coaxing, and once or twice it’s a complete nightmare. Bit like life really.
And would there be any advice to give to a first time (or relatively inexperienced) director/producer in making it work with the composer?
It’s not so much advice but an observation. The great thing is that we all listen to music, have a massive list of favourite songs and pieces of music stretching back to when our age was measured in single figures. Music plays a bigger part in peoples lives than almost at any other time in history. And everyone has an opinion on how well a particular piece of music works with a particular scene. It’s all down to hearing it with the pictures. When audio and vision click it’s verging on magic – my job is to make that happen every time. And l love making it happen.