This guest blog entry comes from Stage 32 member Timothy Andrew Edwards. Timothy is one of the most diverse and accomplished composers and music supervisors working in entertainment today amassing nearly 75 film and TV credits. You can hear his music on shows such as Sons Of Anarchy, The Vampire Diaries, Keeping Up With The Kardashians, The Bachelor, TMZ and The Ellen Show to name a few. He also is the Chair for the Composer Advisory Committee for the Production Music Association, as well as a Voting Member of the Recording Academy (Grammys) and an expert contributor to the #1 selling book Guerrilla Film Scoring.
In this entry, Timothy pens an open letter to all filmmakers about what to look for when putting together their team. More importantly, asking and identifying what a person you're considering hiring really brings to the table beyond their surface skills. Drawing from the personal experience from projects he's worked on, Timothy provides invaluable advice that I recommend you take to heart.
I thank Timothy for his contribution to the Stage 32 Blog.
When you are in the process of putting your team together, who are you hiring and what are you hiring them for? Think about that for a minute.
Sure, you hire a color correction person to make your film pop and give it that indescribable, visual and cinematic impact. You hire a cast to lift the words off of the writer’s script and bring the story to life, elevating it in a very immersive and believable way for your audience.
But I want you to at least consider one other question and that question might be: “Do you know what else they can really bring to the table?”
Stay with me.
I am a composer and music supervisor so I can truly only speak from my experience as a, you guessed it, composer and music supervisor. This is, however, applicable to most all of your team. It translates but for our purposes I’ll use composers just to illustrate. Remember to start thinking of ways to apply what you are about to read to your whole team, but for now… composers.
When you hire a composer, what are you expecting? You are hiring someone to score your film, that is; write music for it. Simple? Sure. But let me tell you what else you should be looking for in a composer.
Stay with me.
What is sensibility? Sensibility is that intangible thing telling your composer what emotional triggers to look for. It instructs them when to musically stay quiet or even silent. It also clues them in as to when they should take the music over the wall and into battle with great bombast. It makes your composer listen visually, to not come in too heavy in the beginning unless it needs to. It is a knowing that signals them when to build tension and provide release at that very precise moment… to know the exact frame in your film when that release should happen... when it is right.
One’s sensibilities cannot be taught to them, it usually starts with an inner voice already in place that can only be nurtured through direct experience. Want a gauge of their sensibilities? Look at their reel or past work against picture. Listening to music on it’s own is tricky. Film music is program music, that is, it is music FOR something. It is not intended to be listened to on it’s own, although it often is. You have to see how the music works up against the scene.
Are they hired over and over again? Have they worked on any mainstream projects that absolutely demanded the highest level of professionalism? I cannot count how many times I have had conversations with newer filmmakers who might politely say “Oh, I wish I had met you sooner but I have a composer. He’s in a band and he’s amazing!”.
That may work out for them; however, being a musician does not mean one has the skill set to be a composer. A virtuoso violinist (or the local band’s guitar player) has to practice and develop their technique within a very focused and defined scope. A composer must do the same. The difference being both skill sets are very different from one another. The easiest way to make my point is with a bad analogy, so forgive me. You don’t want the coach to teach calculus and you certainly don’t want the calculus teacher coaching an otherwise winning football team. But, they are both instructors right? Well, yeah… but… Follow?
To translate this to other members of your team, there are similar qualities to look for in an editor. Look at their past work. Is it well paced? Do the shots and transitions really move the story forward in a meaningful way? Do they constantly work as an editor? Go check them out on IMDb.
Ever meet someone who says “We’re shooting on RED so it’s going to be AWESOME!”? Maybe it will be, but who’s behind the camera? Do they know how unforgiving RED can be? Have they worked with RED before? Does your lighting crew understand how to light for RED?
It can be exhausting, but I promise you, it is worth the research. It may mean the difference between getting your project distributed or… not. Keep this in mind.
EVERYTHING is important. Distributors see so many films, and films that are made at a very high level. The second they hear music from a “royalty free” library, or that it’s not quite hitting how it should, it’s game over. Remember, they see a lot of films and hear these same libraries over and over, and because you skimped on music they have to start wondering, “…what else did the filmmaker skimp on?” and they start looking for flaws instead of getting invested in your story. The same can be said for poor editing, color correction or anything… if it has anything at all to do with your film, it’s important!
Now to get to the heart of something I really want to talk to you about... Remember what I asked you earlier: “Do you know what else they (your team) can really bring to the table?”
Yes, I had to include everything mentioned earlier because all of those things are things we should all be thinking about and they are important, but I also wanted to save what I consider the best tip for last. Again, you may be able to apply this to members of your filmmaking team.
When the score is finished, do you know who I sit with (sometimes for days and days) in the post production house when I am there to oversee the score mix? Who comes in to see the final process? Who wants to be there to see and hear the results of all the time, energy, money, blood, sweat and tears invested in the film?
I’ll tell you.
The Director: That’s a given. I have already forged a relationship just by working with the Director. Because of this, I know a lot of Directors now.
The Producer(s): I have probably already met them casually on set but now we are in a close, working environment where we are interacting and getting to know each other. As a result, I know a lot of Producers now.
Investors: If the project has become this undeniable, box-office worthy, thing of beauty (isn’t it always?) the Producers may want to invite the Investor(s) to be there to witness how well the Producers used the Investor’s money. They want them to invest again so if they have another project starting soon, they want them to jump in and contribute. Oh, and everyone likes music and I’m friendly so as a result… I know investors now too.
The Distributor: From my experience, Distributors often come to these sessions. Yes, I’ll cut to the chase… as a result, I now know a lot of Distributors.
The Post Audio Engineer: These people are, like many of the people behind the scenes, the unsung heroes in my book. They make the films soar sonically. Film is an audio/visual experience. Sound is 50% of the equation. Truly. I know most everyone making films sees it as story and visual, but really, it’s everything. Everything is important in your film. But I digress… The Post Audio Engineer’s job is very hard and takes great knowledge and organizational skills, so why would I not want to help them make their job easier?
We’re working toward a common goal! Delivering the audio in the format they have requested, labeled as they have requested, on a hard drive or via the web and BEFORE they need it (among a million other little details) is greatly appreciated! If they also like your music you can, as I have, receive a lot of referral work from them. They work on a lot of projects they don’t want to. Great work and people get stuck in their minds. Remember, good word of mouth can translate into golden recommendations for future projects. Filmmakers, I can also tell you, as your composer, where you’ll have the best post audio experience. I can recommend one or several based on your budget and project.
Does this mean you should not hire less experienced composers (or crew)? Absolutely not! Some fresh faces can be extremely talented, and should absolutely be considered… just not anybody, new or not, especially when it is based on them simply saying they can do the job. There is no excuse these days to not be able to research and read someone’s credits or hear/see someone’s work.
When is a composer not just a composer? When is an editor not just an editor? When they may be able to refer you to other critical resources, relationships or options you will need while giving your film a cinematic sound, look and feel.
Getting what you need to serve the film, first and foremost, is your priority. Successfully getting it into the marketplace is also your priority. Look at your cast and crew, and let them help you not only do the job they were hired to do but possibly elevate your film to another level. Don’t overlook anyone; you never know who your interns know. It’s also a nice way to really get to know and build your team. Be loyal.
Oh, and remember to hire early. We composers work mostly in isolation so a visit to the set is always appreciated. Remember it can actually be helpful to hear and see the director’s vision, or see it in action on the set!
Timothy will be teaching an upcoming Stage 32 Next Level Webinar on 7 Insider Tips To Becoming A Working Film & TV Composer on Saturday July 18th at 11am PDT. You can read more information and sign up here.
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As always, Timothy is available to respond to comments on any of the content above in the Comments section below...