Composers and ghost writers

Discussion in 'Working in the Industry' started by MoonFlare, Jan 3, 2013.

  1. Rctec

    Rctec Senior Member

    Jun 14, 2010
    ...I haven't had time to read the whole thread, but just some random and incomplete thoughts from the battlefield...(in bad English)

    Giving someone a credit on a big movie is always a huge negotiation with the studio. Basically, the studios are trying to keep the end crawl as short as possible, because it actually costs them money in film stock, prints, etc. There is a really awkward 3/4 bar in an endtitle piece in a Disney movie I did, because they had an absolute rule about length of end credits. That extra beat just had to go :) There was a mathematical formula about how much they where going to safe a year by keeping their end-crawl on all their movies a certain length. We managed to change that, but it took years...

    I try, when ever possible, to give everyone a credit. I try to be fair, but sometimes it's just not possible. The "additional composer" credit inevitably means that someone in some other department needs to give up their credit.

    The legal departments are very strict about the type of credit one can get. For example, "producer" means something quite different in the record business then in the film business. ...And yes, I was reminded by an executive once that it's called "show-business", not "show-friends". You are stuck with things like "Music Supervisor". John Williams once said to me that the words "music" and "supervision" should never be uttered in the same sentence. Of course he's right, but that doesn't mean that there aren't a whole bunch of very creative individuals contributing to the score as "music supervisors"...

    I never hide my collaborators. But as the composer, I'm the main architect. That means being responsible for the intitial idea, the style, themes, orchestration and instrumentation. The Big Idea. But in a two hour-plus score, especially the way I work, you need a bit of help. Writing with pencil and paper is far more efficent and fast than programming every note and doing complete mock-ups. But a pencil and paper score means that you can never have a truly informed conversation with the director until you get to the orchestra session, and I don't like making changes with a whole orchestra sitting there, twiddling their thumbs. The orchestra sessions for me are about giving the score energy through performance, and you can't do that if the composer and director are arguing about the notes or orchestration. Plus, I like the hybrid sound. Call me crazy...

    And the easiest - and fairest way in my oppinion - is to have everybody present at all the meetings with the director. No ghosts. Ghosts are devoid of souls, egos and oppinons. Ghosts have no emotional investments in their work. But at the end of the day, I have the final responsibility, I take the blame if the score doesn't work out. Financially and creatively. And with 200 mill budgets and impossible deadlines, that's quite a weight on anyone's shoulder, and it takes a while to learn how to think freely and creatively out of the box under that sort of pressure.

    I've been a ghost myself (on really big movies). Sometimes, you just have to chip in for no credit, money or royalties. And it's actually quite liberating to not have the big credit and all the exposure to critisism that comes with it. (cue-sheet is far to big, complicated and fraught with pitfalls a subject for my little post right now, so I'm ignoring that part of the discussion on purpose..)

    I think there is a certain amount of learning that has to happen before you can solve a big movie's problems - which is what writing a good score ultimately is all about. It's not writing a symphony or concert music. Apples and oranges. By having all the programmers, arrangers, assistants, additional composers - whatever you want to call the team - in the room with the director, the editor and the music editor, they get to be part of the process. They contribute, but - like everyone else there at that moment - they get to learn and explore. Ultimately, that time, that apprenticeship in filmmaking - that hanging out with some of the great directors without the distraction and pressure of carrying the can - is going to be as valuable to advance their craft and their career as a credit.
    I could go on, but then i wouldn't get any music written :) But, yes, it's a big, complicated subject.

    Oh, one more thought...My scores - for better or worse - always sound like "Zimmer" scores, no matter who else works with me. But I really try to be fair and give credit where credit is due...and, like everything to do with this subject, I've just scratched the surface.

    ...Lastly, to misquote the great Hunter S. Thompson:

    "The movie business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."

  2. dannthr

    dannthr Senior Member

    Actually, I think it's admirable that you are open about the collaboration and the true scope of these sorts of productions--I hope that it can encourage progression on recognizing how much work actually goes into a score.
  3. OP

    MoonFlare Active Member

    Jan 12, 2012
    Are you serious? This sounds completely weird to me. It may be that I misunderstood. You're actually saying that when producing a, e.g. $25+ million film, it's not possible to include all people that deserve a credit because it costs too much to include some lines of text at the end of the film?
  4. It has to do with taxes. A work for hire means you're not an employee. So if you're brought in as a work-for-hire, that means before Jan 31 of the year following you did the work (2013 for 2012) you receive a form called 1099 IF you earned more than $600USD from that client.

    Work for hire is another phrase for freelancer which is another way of saying what most don't want to hear - entrepreneur which is what composers are. You are running your own business out of which you must calculate your taxes, social security, and being self-employed your own matching employers contribution to your social security (called FICA over here).

    Since the majority of composers are not employees (unless they're tenured at a college or work for a game company, etc) you're also required to have your own med ins plan, retirement plan (pensions in British speak) etc.
  5. Rctec

    Rctec Senior Member

    Jun 14, 2010
    That is exactly what I'm saying. Think about how many departments there are, how that number has increased with cg...a seven minute end title isn't that unusual. When we hand in our full list of credits, the first thing that happens is, the department at the studio in charge of endtitle credits, plus the legal department, cuts it way down. Some departments have union contracts that guarantee them their credits. thats why catering always does better then music. "Additional Composers" dont have a union to stand up for them. We then have to negotiate, beg - whatever, to get as many credits as possible on. It's not how much the movie cost to make, it's how long the print gets. If we are on IMAX, like TDKR, we have absolute physical limits to how long the film can be, to the second, since the platter that holds the film can only take a very precise amount of wait before it spills off the end, before it gets to heavy. This, of course, doesn't apply to digital. But still - it's seven minutes of music someone has to pay recording costs, royalties, etc. if I had taken just two names off on "Inception", you'd have known if he really still was in a dream. But, alas, we ran out of space on the IMAX reel :)
  6. Rctec

    Rctec Senior Member

    Jun 14, 2010
    I was responding to Moonflare's question...
  7. Tanuj Tiku

    Tanuj Tiku Senior Member

    Mar 16, 2008
    Mumbai, India
    Fascinating! Always, wondered about the end credits in terms of them going to so much length to cover credits and so much additional music.

    However, most scores just cut paste the main themes or cues from the movie itself which is completely fine of course.

  8. Markus S

    Markus S Guest

    And you have to admit : food IS more important than music.

    I was always shocked to see that you can have an instrumental soloist playing all along the movie and not getting a credit for his work at the end. Comparing this to the credit an actor gets, it is quite weird.
  9. Rctec

    Rctec Senior Member

    Jun 14, 2010
    Ah! But that is where the agent comes in! I had no problem getting Joshua Bell a credit...
  10. Kejero

    Kejero Senior Member

    Oct 5, 2008
    Hey, I have noticed that! :D Never quite got that. :)

    I KNEW they should've gotten John Williams instead! :)

    This whole subject makes me wonder though about what's happened to opening credits? Are they just out of fashion, or is it possibly as simple as budgetary reasons there too?
  11. OP

    MoonFlare Active Member

    Jan 12, 2012
    I have never thought of including additional end credits as being that problematic. Will this problem propagate to CD soundtrack releases too? That is, can additional people be credited in the CD booklet for a soundtrack, even though these persons were not credited as part of the respective film?
  12. Inductance

    Inductance Active Member

    Jan 13, 2012
    Wow, I didn't know that. I suppose there's always the soundtrack album for credits, huh? Or the Hal Leonard sheet music book!

    btw, thank you for your in-the-trenches insight. I always enjoy lurking and reading. Also, I don't think anyone can rightfully accuse you of not giving credit where it's due (eg. Lisa Gerrard in Gladiator), so thanks for that as well.
  13. mverta

    mverta One with the Force

    Jul 10, 2008
    Los Angeles
    Having one's idealism and naivete slowly drained from one's soul is part of the benefit of working in Hollywood. They get replaced with wiser, more useful stuff.

  14. Markus S

    Markus S Guest

    Luckily so, this is one of the most beautiful moments when Joshua Bell plays the theme of "demons & angles".

    However I have already read all the film credits in some films to know who was playing in vain..
  15. dgburns

    dgburns splunge

    Nov 4, 2012
    agreed.the business of show.

    There have been times when I got bumped even after having a Head Credit clause.

    I have to say I've witnessed that Head Credits DO get noticed,and it does help.(even in TV land)
  16. Rctec

    Rctec Senior Member

    Jun 14, 2010
    So Mike Verta! I put my cynical Hunter S. Thompson thing in, and he responds with grace and wisdom. But he's profoundly right. You get past the cynicism and end up with these relationships with directors that are very creative, unbelievably encouraging - and best of all - they help you write new and differently, make you dig for something good inside yourself...and, best of all, encourage you to shoot the demons of self-doubt and neurotic criticism dead.
    Yes, within reason, you can put all the names on to your cd. I try to credit all the players there. I always put the other composers that work here at RCP in to the "Thank You's" . Most of the time they won't even have seen the film or heard the music, but they are part of our "Band" here, and a credit on a "Thank You" on a successful movie has never hurt anybody.
    But who buys CDs? Credits are getting eroded on ITunes and every other form of digital media. I think Chris Nolan actually mentioned Lorne Balfe in the "TDKR" liner notes (I can't quite remember...he mentioned him somewhere)...but I have never heard anybody say anything about it.
  17. germancomponist

    germancomponist Senior Member

    Jul 11, 2007
    I like it to read this!

  18. OP

    MoonFlare Active Member

    Jan 12, 2012
    Thanks for sharing your insight! Well, the true passionate music listeners do - those who care. :)
  19. gsilbers

    gsilbers Part of

    Oct 5, 2008
    Los Angeles
    you should see the syndication rules for end credits.
    networks want 30 second end credits. (unreadable - realy fukin fast)
    but there is a legal clauses that says that the big name poeple have to stay for a longer period before the 30 second credits. which each artist negotiate in their contracts.
  20. MacQ

    MacQ Senior Member

    Lots of great posts here.

    For what it's worth, and at risk of sounding like a shill, I personally love ghosting! It's entirely what I've built my new company around. StudioWeapon is a hired-gun operation for other creatives who need a specific sound, or a chameleon to churn out wallpaper cues, or to embellish/rework existing themes so they'll shoehorn into a new, last-minute cut revision, or to add fuel to the creative embers.

    I get a lot of pleasure out of collaborative work. Being the magic bullet at the 11th hour is a nice feeling, as is not having to carry the entire weight of a major endeavour (like a feature film) on your back for 6 months. And I love the variety and lack of long-term commitment. It appeals to my short attention span. :)


    Oh, and ... I'm on Cubase, and I'm fast. :wink:

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