MICHAEL RICHARD PLOWMAN
Michael, what do you need from the producer or Director to get you started on a project?
You know apart from the bible and all the other available materials the very best thing a producer can give me is his or her time. I really like to get to know a producer personally and find out what the project means to them. For the way I like to work I find this the very best way of finding out what the project really means to them – and that is the key. Let’s face it this is the producer’s baby and has often been worked on for years and I need to know how they want that child to grow up! Being completely in tune with what the show means to them is the best way to start. And although that might seem simplistic you’d be surprised how often the composer and the director are actually working on two different shows in their heads because they haven’t connected.
It’s also important to understand of course what the producer likes and doesn’t like musically. So, while the bible, scripts and environments are wonderful for understanding the components of a show, understanding the producers musical approach is crucial. Believe me it saves me going down paths that may hinder the project or even write myself out of the job.
Being given musical references is also very important – as many as they need. For me this process can be a real eye-opener and creatively very stimulating. There has been many times where I am introduced to a style that I am unfamiliar with. It can be a breath of fresh air, the perfect antedote to the overused music that everyone is using simply because it’s flavour of the month.
Of course there’s always the danger that the client wants the music to be exactly like the reference they’ve given. But then, that’s my job to take the reference and balance that with what I think is musically needed to support to the project.
What level of guidance do you like thoughout the project?
Regular guidance and direction throughout the process is essential in getting to a place where we are both happy with the music. To be at this point means that not only are we in agreement about where the music fits technically with the picture but more importantly how it is meant to make the viewer feel emotionally at all those various points.
When I start any project I like to write handfuls of sketches. Short and long. Trying different melodies and instruments. For example on Tree Fu Tom I think I wrote 50 test pieces before writing a single note to picture. Whether I use these or not this process really helps get a relationship with the team and also what I call “getting all the bad ideas out”. I do believe small amounts of music with small amounts of feedback help the bigger picture once you start what can be a very long train ride.
Are spotting sessions invaluable?
Well, spotting sessions can be very useful in moderation. Sometime a great conversation about the overall musical ideas for the project can be much more beneficial though. On a movie I like to have a spotting session, but on a television series there never seems to be enough time to sit down. When The train starts on a 52 episode run sometimes you only check the tickets once, not at every station! Normally the notes on an episode will help you develop the sound of the show and become a somewhat spotting session for the next episode and so on.
Regarding notes. I really don’t care how many notes a client gives, especially when they are helping the project. At some point of course you run out of time. It is my job as a composer to help guide the client so that giving notes are never stressful for them and he or she feels like I am listening to them. Never say no to a client, there are always better more constructive ways to disagree.
What advice can you give to producers to get the best results?
It’s simple really: “Get to know me”. I want to really enjoy the project. This can be a very long process that takes the team on an emotional roller coaster and can last years. So “get to know me” is really important. Why? Because when things get tense the relationship and trust hold it together. When things are great the relationship celebrates together. So “Get to know me” ! I want to get to know them and them to find out what sort of guy I am. I want to have a personal relationship with them. This way you get a high degree of trust. In fact the founding basis of my business is that clients, producers, directors know they can trust me.
In my book a good composer has to have two skill sets – one the ability to create great music but just as important is the ability to relate to the producers and help interpret their ideas onto screen with as little stress as possible.