Composing : Try A Short Score by Joel Irwin

Try A Short Score

We all work on many sized projects when we write music.  For those of us who concentrate on shorts and features, we often write a significant amount of music  - often over 100 bars.  That gives us enough time to create a 'motif' or a 'mood' and we often get to 'develop' the music and have it both tell a story and move and support the action in the film.

I do not currently write for TV or commercials but for those that do, they are used to write music that has to make a statement in a very short time - for commercials, less than a minute/sometimes as short at 15 seconds.  Or it could be a TV theme which again usually is about a minute.

I have been writing long scores these past few years.  For example, my first scored film this year called "The Best Film Ever Made" was about 30 minutes of music and covered almost 800 bars of music.

So when I was asked two weeks ago to score a 1 minute promotional video for a feature film "Unbridled" which is coming to theaters on April 27th, I took it on as an opportunity to work outside my comfort zone.  Not only was I restricted to a minute, but the promotional video had three distinct parts: (1) an introduction (9 seconds), (2) narration on top of clips from the film (30 seconds), and (3) testimonials (21 seconds).  Each required a different type of music.

The first part had no dialog and I created an 'introduction' which started with a simple piano and high violins.  The bridge to the second part was a harp 'glissando' in a major/dominant key.  Harp glissandos are often used as bridges at the end of introductions.

The second part was the focal point of the music.  I decided since the film was about horses, I would use outdoor type music.  This often entails a melody with woodwinds and strings and heavy support with the brass.  When we think 'outdoors' (or wars, fighting, etc.) we often hear french horns and trombones.  I had time for two rounds of a themes of 4 bars each.

The third part were the testimonials.  Firstly, I knew the music would be mixed in very low so there was no need to get fancy and complex since it would not be heard and shouldn't be heard (it was merely there to support the testimonial dialog).  So I went back to single piano notes (not heavy on both hands) with string backup.

Now what about structure and feel?  The key was in D. And the feel was Dmajor though the third bar of the second part modulates through G, F, and C.  But it has a major feel.  The testimonial section goes into a minor feel.  Why not major?  It actually started as major, but the final testimonial was somber/sad and the director requested the feel to be minor.

If you want to watch the promotional video and see how the above discussion on creation works:

To listen just to the music while reading the above:

So have you ever tried writing a complete short score of say a minute?  If not, try it out - your experience will come in handy eventually.

Nationwide Release, APRIL 27th. Here's how to host a screening of "Unbridled" at a theater near you. Reserve today at 919-437-0001.
Jonathan Price

Yeah, I think trailers can be an opportunity to get to the heart of a project. I scored the trailer for INOPERABLE ( before seeing the movie. I was planning on composing new music for the film, but it turned out that the music I composed for the trailer was perfect for the main title, with some conforming (

Linwood Bell

That was great Jonathan! I had to turn my headphones down because I was frightened.

Dana Solomon

At that point with what you're doing, you're pretty much scoring a trailer. Difference however, is that you're composing to a picture that's already locked, in your case. Normally with a trailer, it's the reverse; the editor, director, production company, ad/promo company, etc. are editing to your trailer score you've already composed.

Either way is a good opportunity to diversify yourself as a musician and film composer. I will tell you that trailer scores have a certain format that usually works, and is different from how you would approach scoring a short, feature, or documentary. But, I will say that if that's something that interests you, like it now does myself, you'll be surprised at what you can come up with in 1, 2, or 2:30 if you follow the K.I.S.S. principal.

- Dana

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