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Film-maker decisions ruined my score!

Drundfunk

Member
Posting this anonymously as I don't want to badmouth in public, but needed a place to vent (...)
For some reason I thought "What if this guy is actually Hans Zimmer?!" and the sillyness of that thought made me laugh for 5 minutes straight.

I have one story like that. It was a project where I got on last-minute and it became very clear soon that the director was an absolute amateur, especially with regard to audio in general. Constantly made me change things for the worse, because he simply knew better, until a point where I said "F*ck it! Can't have my name attached to this" (It was just bloody awful). I finished it and the director was happy with it. I made them delete my name from the credits and told them to never call me again. Usually I'm very lucky tho. Most of the time I doesn't feel like I'm working for someone but with someone on a vision. Makes the process a lot easier, with a lot of respect towards the work of the other person. With that also comes a lot of trust and healthy discussions about stuff, and most of the time I'm probably more involved in the project as a whole, than I should be. But it's fun and I like it that way.
 

AlexRuger

Senior Member
I’ve dealt with much worse on projects where people REALLY ought to have known better. Unfortunately this thing is par for the course, and yes, it’s utterly maddening.

I’m gonna go ahead and disagree with the people who suggest that you don’t become too emotionally attached. I tried that for years, I read the War of Art and internalized it, I told myself that “I’m a professional making a product,” as if that means I shouldn’t have strong opinions about my work. All that happened was I lost emotional connection my music entirely, and guess what? That results in shitty music.

Sure, don’t remain attached to a cut and always conform to the best of your abilities. Make the new cut work and don’t be afraid to throw out something from the old cut that just won’t work with the new. Don’t be attached to the old at the expense of the new, I suppose I should say. It’s the job and there’s no way around that.

But absolutely remain emotionally attached to your music. It’s music! How can you not? Remaining “emotionally attached” is just another way of saying “you give a shit about making good music,” and if one of the filmmakers is tearing the score to threads, you have every reason to (kindly but firmly) put your foot down. Explain to them that they’re destroying the music and thus the film, perhaps even more so. Propose a fix.

Yes, they’re often dumbasses. There’s idiots everywhere in every position at every level, in every industry, in every country. There’s also a lot of really talented people who just don’t have an ear for music and will think what they’re doing is just fine, when to someone with even a modicum of musical common sense will hear that, no, a hard cut on a reverb tail or an unprovoked modulation or etc etc etc sounds terrible in 99.9% of cases.

Endure the necessary evils, be proud of your work and make it as good as possible, and don’t be a dick (unless it’s one of those exceedingly rare moments where you know it’ll help get the point across, and yes those do exist). That’s the best you can do as a composer.

Oh, and always make the soundtrack exactly what you want it to be. With indie films, it’s what most people will hear anyway.
 
OP
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badabing

New Member
Thanks everyone for the replies, really interesting perspectives here and my experience certainly doesn't seem to be unique. There's too much to respond to individually but just to come back on some things which stuck with me as I was reading through:

I definitely don't think I'd want to be creating music that I wasn't emotionally engaged with, at least at the early stages, although I recognise that at a certain point I have to let go and that the film-makers are going to do what they think is right. For me I discovered that during the writing stage I have to be emotionally engaged with the characters and the story in order to 'feel' my way around the music, that's my guide. Obviously I'm not still feeling like that when I'm on my 600th version of the mix! But emotion is effectively my initial map as I sketch out the score.

Part of my frustration in this case was really that I think their decisions have weakened the overall work, not just my part in it, they really threw away some of the opportunities they had in the edit, and as a result the critical/audience response hasn't been great which is a shame for everyone who was involved in making it. I suppose having dabbled in film-making myself I'm probably frustrated that I didn't have more control over the end product!

Another composer I was speaking to recently who's just scored a film was saying that they had a showing of the final edit to the creative team where they were all able to feed back on the final product, which I think would have been a great idea here, alas I think the film-makers being quite new to the process haven't got that stuff nailed down. Maybe there was also a lack of confidence in making last minute changes and being nervous to ask for feedback in case it was negative, but I think it could have saved the film really.

All that said I do have huge admiration for anyone who can get a film or series finished though, it's a daunting task and when all the moving parts are taken into consideration I'm not sure I could do any better. The film-makers in this case are really good people and I'm still incredibly grateful for the opportunity they gave me. The final result was a disappointment but I'm kind of over it now, it's a shame that it won't be the worldwide smash hit that would have put us all on the map but I've dusted myself off and am ready for the next challenge!
 

Wolfie2112

Senior Member
I definitely don't think I'd want to be creating music that I wasn't emotionally engaged with, at least at the early stages, although I recognise that at a certain point I have to let go and that the film-makers are going to do what they think is right.
You need to just write what the director/producer wants, and leave any type of emotional attachment at the door.....right from the get-go. Remember, it's about their vision, not yours (unfortunately). At the end of the day, we are just work-for-hire, and are a fart in the wind in the big scheme of things. Just enjoy the craft itself. One thing learned early on is that you need a really thick skin if you want to succeed as a composer for film, tv, etc. This a reason I prefer composing for live theatre; to me it's much more organic and there's a lot more breathing room when it comes to creative input.
 

X-Bassist

Senior Member
If the OP is still reading this, I want to offer him a different point of view.

Personally, when I take a job it’s less about the money involved, more about the deadline. The reason is I ask them to lock the cut before I work on it. Yes, live in LA and yes, this is unusual, but I have yet to have someone turn me down. Now if this is a huge film with a tight deadline this might not be possible, but recuts should be less as well (ok, sometimes they still recut). I let them know they should keep cutting until they are happy, then lock the cut, but I would need it by (calculated date) to make the deadline (if there is one). If they don’t know the deadline ask them about what festivals or premieres they may want to submit to, them find out those submission deadlines. In most cases you can get a date or timeframe that is a cutoff.

The key is to talk about all this when your first approached. Find out the deadline and really watch the film (and take notes) so you know how much time it will take you. Then subtract the former from the latter. Let them know the amount of time and effort a locked cut will save. Whether SFX, Music, or Mix (I do all three) your efforts will always sound best on the first pass, and get worse as you recut. So it’s worth it to wait. Sometimes I porposely take a lower rate film just so I can say “There is no MONEY for recutting tracks, so it needs to be a locked edit”. AND, every time, I define what a locked cut is “A picture cut that does not get edited again and is locked down for the sound mix”. I have gotten clients that keep sending another locked cut, and another locked cut... no joke. Define what your talking about right at the beginning so there is no question.

Except for bigger films I’ve usually found they have the time, they just don’t realize how much it helps to lock the cut. Also I tell them NOT to watch the film while I work on it- so that they can be “fresh” for the mix “like the people going to see your film who are watching it for the first time”. They usually like the idea and agree they need to be fresh for the mix (which IS important) BUT also keeps them from making changes (if they don’t watch it, they usually don’t start doubting the edit, but the more they watch...).

Watching a film with bad/no sound over and over is one of the worst things a pic editor/producer/director can do. It causes doubt in the mind and makes them nervous, which all goes away when they hear good sound, which speeds up the film and makes it all come together. Encourage them to take a break after the pic is delivered and do something else, even work on another film or watch their favorites, it will get them more excited for the mix and keep them from doubting themselves. Then when you get them to the mix, and that first pass, is a wonderful experience for them... and for you.
 
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Wolfie2112

Senior Member
I have gotten clients that keep sending another locked cut, and another locked cut
I've done a ton of shorts, but only three feature-length films.....two of which had cuts/edits even AFTER the declaration of the final cut. It can be very frustrating, especially when the final product has cues that aren't even in sync with what was intended.
 

John Judd

Member
When I was first starting out, a co-writer of mine that had worked on a bunch of short films used to tell me: ‘make the idiot assumption’. He used to preach that you make the best piece of art you can, hand it off, and then somewhere in the process there just might be some person that makes an idiotic decision regarding your music.

Sure enough, immediately after hearing this advice I worked on a fixed tempo track for a short. I was really thrilled with the outcome. The final cut of the film was amazing and I know the music was a perfect fit. The whole thing was top shelf and I was proud to be a part of it. Everyone was thrilled at how it had turned out. Fast forward a month: after all seemed complete, someone in the process decided that they wanted a slower vibe. They took my fixed tempo track of 132 and stretched it to almost 100. Oh the humanity. I was horrified. You could hear artifacts + warbling in the time stretching they had applied. The overall energy of the track was destroyed and I was totally crushed.

Trust me: make the idiot assumption.
 

StevenOBrien

Active Member
I had an incident while I was scoring a show once. The editor, producer, and I spent several days hashing out how the music for the first five minutes of the show would go, and after working through about ten sketches, we got to a point where we were all happy with the outline of the music, and I got the go ahead to do the final version. The deadline was very tight, so I stayed up until 2AM that night finishing everything up, delivered the mix, and went to bed, ready to move on to the other cues.

The next day, I got an email from the editor saying that the director had reviewed the cut with the music, and suddenly decided he wanted a drastically different direction to both the cut and the music. Less emotional, more comedic, which would involve completely rewriting (and recutting, which meant rewriting while it was being recut) the whole five minutes.

Very frustrated by this, instead of immediately starting work on the intro from scratch again, I decided to take a break from and spend some time working on a different part of the show (with the editor's blessing). It's a good thing I did, because a few hours later, I got another email from the editor saying that the director had come back into the room while he was recutting the intro (again), and started giving yet more contradictory instructions which were now more in line with how the intro was originally cut.

At one point, the director suggested "And we should probably cut back to a more emotional piano track here", at which point, the editor pulled up my original cue and said "why not this?", to which the director replied "Yeah, that'll work. That's great. Why didn't you want to use that?".
 

Symfoniq

Active Member
At one point, the director suggested "And we should probably cut back to a more emotional piano track here", at which point, the editor pulled up my original cue and said "why not this?", to which the director replied "Yeah, that'll work. That's great. Why didn't you want to use that?".
I'm 99% sure I know this guy. :grin:
 

JEPA

Senior Member
I had an incident while I was scoring a show once. The editor, producer, and I spent several days hashing out how the music for the first five minutes of the show would go, and after working through about ten sketches, we got to a point where we were all happy with the outline of the music, and I got the go ahead to do the final version. The deadline was very tight, so I stayed up until 2AM that night finishing everything up, delivered the mix, and went to bed, ready to move on to the other cues.

The next day, I got an email from the editor saying that the director had reviewed the cut with the music, and suddenly decided he wanted a drastically different direction to both the cut and the music. Less emotional, more comedic, which would involve completely rewriting (and recutting, which meant rewriting while it was being recut) the whole five minutes.

Very frustrated by this, instead of immediately starting work on the intro from scratch again, I decided to take a break from and spend some time working on a different part of the show (with the editor's blessing). It's a good thing I did, because a few hours later, I got another email from the editor saying that the director had come back into the room while he was recutting the intro (again), and started giving yet more contradictory instructions which were now more in line with how the intro was originally cut.

At one point, the director suggested "And we should probably cut back to a more emotional piano track here", at which point, the editor pulled up my original cue and said "why not this?", to which the director replied "Yeah, that'll work. That's great. Why didn't you want to use that?".
...when people think they know better than the composer...
 

JEPA

Senior Member
I think the worse case in the history of film music was between Alex North and Kubrick in "2001 A space odyssey" where the whole score was rejected... what a pity
 

X-Bassist

Senior Member
What's the story with Johann and BR2049? I really loved Hans and Ben's work on that.

Johann apartently tried something different and they didn't think it worked. So they wanted something closer to the original's Vangellis music. This is often the response of producers that don't know what to do when the music is not working for them (go back to the last thing that did work). Pretty typical. After seeing the film, it sounds like they got what they were looking for.

And this is the difference between a film composer and a music artist, the producers and directors always have the final say. Everyone in production and post are serving that vision, even if (like actors) they don't realize it. ;)
 

TimCox

Active Member
It happens. It happens a lot! In the best of situations they have a very talented music editor to make it all work, in your case, well...! At least they gave you a new cut, I worked on a film that has all manner of bizarre decisions including fading in an end credits pop song in a completely different and conflicting key over my wonderful "swell to end credits" moment. There's also messed up timing for several cues due to cuts but I was never given another cut to fix them! It's bad. It happens. Don't let it get to you, it's a creative whole and chances are they know they fumbled
 

Dave Connor

Senior Member
Continuous picture edits are very common and the production team will often push things to the very end. What is unusual and highly unprofessional would be not notifying the composer of any (let alone last minute) changes. That serves no one and would normally result in heads rolling since the music is found to be out of sync on stage (the last place you would want that kind of major surprise.) Any composer would be furious about that but the director would go ballistic. Sound people would hardly figure in the discussion unless they were directly responsible.
 
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