Composing : I just got my first job offer, what do I do? by Laurent Detaille

Laurent Detaille

I just got my first job offer, what do I do?

I just got an email from an amateur filmmaker who said he was interested in working with on a short, 6-minute long film. The shortfilm will mostly be showing fighting scenes, but that's about all I know. He also told me he couldn't afford to pay me (but I'm mainly looking for experience, so that's okay). I also want to add that I'm really interested in working with him, but what further information should I ask him for? Thank you for your answers

Joel Irwin

Read the standard textbook that most composers read in school about scoring (or at least used to :) ) - "Complete Guide To Film Scoring" by Richard Davis ( ) Also like your material on soundcloud - here is something to consider (especially mention it to your teacher/mentor if you have one). Those who start off, especially if they came from the keyboard world (incl. yours truly), write orchestral music by playing piano and then 'mapping' the notes - which is still 'idiomatic' piano music and does not take advantage of the orchestral instruments. Also, they write 'vertically' thinking merely of melody and backing chords turning the rest of the orchestra into a 'rhythm section'. You need to think each instrument 'horizontally'. Each instrument should have something interesting to stay and contribute. For example, don't 'assume' your bottom instruments must always play just the bass note (the 'tonic') of the chord.

Laurent Detaille

Thank you Joel

Samuel Estes

If you want to use this as a learning experience - here are the first steps: 1) Have the filmmaker "Burn-in" time code to the picture. usually starting with 1:00:00:00 or 0:00:00:00 (Hours, Min, Second, Frames) 2) Come up with a standardized format. 24 frames per second (or 23 drop, 30, etc) 48k/24b sample rate, etc... 3) Sit down for a spotting session - or have a cue sheet made as to when music should come in and out, and what "style" it should be (driving, mellow, etc) There are pleanty of spotting note sheets online you can search for. 4) Stay organized with what versions of each cue you are on, and make sure that it stays pretty rigid to the spotting session. Last thing you want is wall-to-wall music when there should not be wall-to-wall (although a 6min film, it may be wall-to-wall) 5) Every cue you send, make sure it is always labeled the same. Such as "m1-Fight1-1_01_03_14_v01.wav" - Deciphered: Music Cue 1, "Fight Scene1", Timecode start @1 min, 3rd second, frame 14, FIRST VERSION. 6) With properly named files, you can always assure the film maker they are dropping the wave file on the right spot in their timeline. 7) When you get "fixit" notes, always assume the filmmaker is correct, it is their film! If you feel its entirely wrong, approach from a "what if we did this" or "what do you think about this" attitude. Never, that's wrong, or but that's my favorite part, or but the music is so important there... listen to what they have to say - if they are any good they can communicate what they want, even if they don't know the right terms to use. 8) Undoubtedly there will be a new picture edit because something is not working, so make sure your workflow in your sequencer is solid and you have a consistent template made up so you can quickly edit your midi and slow down, cut and do changes. There are about 10000 other tips to give, but start here and you will start getting a feel for working with a director on your first project. Most importantly have fun, and try to learn everything you can.

Joel Irwin

Great suggestions Samuel and here is one more that just happened to me. Was working a 'book trailer' - I sat down and spotted with the producer and we got it to sound exactly the way she wanted. Turns out there was a second stakeholder who was out of town who I 'mistakenly' thought she was representing. He came back after I finished and listened and decided one of the cues (used twice) was not 'cute'/'Disney' enough (i.e., Nickelodeon style is not Disney! :) ). So onward to 'round 2'! Point here - when you spot - try to get ALL the stakeholders together at the same time if you can. That will minimize the number of reworks due to missing people.

Christopher Weatherwax

Great suggestions from both Joel and Sam! I need to think more "Horizontally", been thinking too "Vertically" myself lately, stupid piano brain. 1) Yes I would definitely say take the offer if you have the time and want the practice. Hans Zimmer got his career's start as a Composer by the Director Barry Levinson's wife hearing one of Zimmer's songs on a movie he scored for free called "A World Apart" and now Zimmer is one of the best and most well known Composers in the world. That is how it works, if you put in the hard work even if you don't get paid, or get paid pennies, into making a really good technically sounding and compositionally creative score to show you have the skills, you should get noticed eventually. :) 2) It can be really annoying and frustrating having a great idea for a perfect sound and score to match the video they want you to do, then sending your score bits over to them and getting "No idea what you're talking about, why are there synths/drums/whatever in this part with the strings?" replies, as well as sending all the cue times and hoping the other person has some kind of imagination to envision what's in your mind, and doesn't mess the cues up in the proper order you sent them in. Because of this, it can be a huge pain, but I taught myself the current most commonly used video editing software so I can just patch my scores into their videos myself in work in progress stages and send those out in low res quality so they can see the vision I had in my mind. That way you will be much more on the same page with the producer/director/whomever you are collaborating with. Then when you are done you can send the whole video file to them in HD along with your .wav's and they have the whole thing right there with cue times already set up if they like it to put together professionally themselves. Most video editing software isn't so bad to learn really, it's actually quite similar to most modern DAW's once you get the bare basics of them down. #2 is only applicable if you are an insane perfectionist like me and can be ignored. :) Good luck! -Chris

Joel Irwin

Actually that is a great idea and I do it all the time including the two I am working on concurrently. All you need is software to do a 'mockup'. It is just a matter of taking the mp4 they send WITHOUT the temp tracks (just the dialog) and then placing the cue or cues in the correct spot. Leave the volume of the music a bit high for them to hear it. The mix comes at the end. And keep the resolution low - its just a mockup - that way the file can be small and left in dropbox. All my mockups so far have been 20 to 50 MB each. My mockups use half 720p - 640x360. And I use a very simple tool which has amazing functionality. No need for final cut, premiere or even Vegas - way overkill. I use and its currently $80. I even use it to create MP4s from my multi-camera shoots (I'm also a wedding videographer). The only restriction is it is limited to stereo (and I shoot in Dolby 5.1). On point #1 - I draw the line at features. I do shorts at no charge - my first 6 IMDB entries have been unpaid (two of which have won competitions). My current short (very long short - 37 minutes), has been a great vehicle for me to work certain genres that I needed practice on (but don't tell that to the filmmaker! :) ) I am about to (fingers crossed) negotiate my first feature docudrama which if I get it will be a paid gig. P.S. - fyi, the deadline for the ASCAP Film Scoring workshop competitive entry is next Thu.

Chris Hind

Congrats Laurent! Funny that said filmmaker had money to make the film and now he has none! lol I understand wanting to score the film and getting the credit and I also understand the financial struggles of indie filmmaking. Just throwing it out to you but why not make this a truly professional gig and get him to through some money your way? Even if it's just 50 bucks then at least there is an exchange of energy - money for talent. In any case, best of luck and keep us posted! Cheers, Chris.

Laurent Detaille

Thanks Chris and thank all of you great people for your answers! Fantastic community! I'll send you a link to the movie once it's done :)

Matt Milne

Since Joel has covered the teaching aspects, I'll give a career perspective: Do you want to score it? Yes? Then do, everything else is academic.

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