https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_8t2VlwK4w It turns out that Hans Zimmer wrote the central themes in Interstellar's score before he even knew anything about the movie.
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That is very 'typical'. All I need to write a film theme is a genre (and sometimes a synopsis of the plot). In fact, as you may or may not know, when a team competes in a the '48 hour film project', they have to pick a genre at the beginning of the competition. So last year, since music is the ONLY thing that can exist for a film before the competition, I decided about 2 weeks before the competition to write a bunch of themes (usable also for the end titles). Each theme, if used, had to be under 1 minute. I did one every two days and ended up with 8 - majestic/outdoor/presidential, who dun it/mystery, horror/scary, film noir, love, love, nicolas cage style, comic. Listen at: http://www.icompositions.com/music/song.php?sid=202759. When the competition started they picked film noir.
Joel took a listen...you seem to do better with lighter...liked 2,4,5,6
it's more typical for games for me, often writing the main themes months before the rest. However for film, I prefer to work to the footage directly, as it is converted to music in my head. I feel it creates more effective timing, and a closer emotional connection.