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Movie score mixing - lower levels these days?

mathis

Active Member
well, anyway. Still the question remains *why* music is nowadays less preferred than sound effects. At least in those genre movies we obviously talk about.
 

Guy Rowland

Senior Member
But Mathis - I'm not at all sure that, overall, they are getting quieter. True Lies was quiet, Jurassic Park loud. How To Train Your Dragon quiet, Inception loud. Picking individual examples is kinda meaningless I guess... any evidence of an actual overall trend?
 

Rctec

Senior Member
Random Thoughts and Ramblings at 4.00 in the morning:

Just came from an extensive meeting with the sound designers on the movie we are working on. We've all agreed on sharing the work, matching tempos to music on mechanical, rhythmic sounds, etc... They are cutting to our click track.

Played them an idea. Blew a big speaker. Director liked where this is heading. (I'm not making this up...)

...Finished "MOS" a month back. Chris Jenkins, the mixer, asked if he could listen to the score in my room, sitting in my chair where I write, so he could get a true picture of my intention and sound before he started dubbing the film. His idea. Great Dub!
Actually, nearly the first thing that happened on that project was hearing a sound design element that was so great and gorgeous, we asked if we could 'borrow' it and include it in the music....

Richard King and I are forever trading sounds on the Chris Nolan movies.

Lee Smith, Chris' picture editor comes from music and sound editing.

The editor on one of my current projects went to the Royal Academy. He knows a thing or two about the power of music...

Editors run the dub.

Gore Verbinski knows his lenses, his mics and his amps. His dubbing philosophy is really simple: If you stop tapping your foot, or can't follow the tune - you're doing it wrong. Lower something.

I don't go to the dub anymore. The director knows what he is doing. My music editors have a lot of authority and knowledge. They know how to run things on the stage.

I only care about the movie.

Since we've usually been through a few screenings with my music temped in (the score as a synth demo, not music from other movies as temp), we pretty much know what works emotionally by the time we get to the final mix.

We try to have meetings about music with the sound designers present.

...It's all about the story. It's all about the style of the film. It's all about the sensibilities of the director.

Mike is very, very right when he talks about the time it takes to play with the effects, and then it becomes the shiny new toy on the dub stage. But I find that I'm working more and more with filmmakers who can hang on to their original sonic vision and resist the temptation of all those new toys. Believe in the movie.

We've started to do away with the idea of a final dub. We start building elements for a final dub the day they start cutting, or me writing. Both the last two Dark Knights had the first reels finaled at least 6 month before the movie came out.

You have to be a fairly good recording engineer, or work with one. The sound effect guys know how to make something punchy and big. You need to be able to have tracks that can stand up to the scrutiny of a massive speaker system in a big room.

Make your score essential to the emotional arc of the movie. But maybe give way to the viceral impact of great sound design.

It's all noise, it's all music, it's trying to create a logical sonic world that is cohesive and singular for that project. And yes, it's really irritating if that gets destroyed by a timid approach to the mix.

Comedies are a thankless task for a composer...the rhythm of the dialogue is always going to win, and you might as well forget about the surrounds. They just distract from the specificity of the scene. Comedies are little contained math problems for me. Or, to put it another way...I'm no Henry Mancini. Elegant, witty, genius.

But action movies...Crank the surrounds! Be immersive with the music. Same goes for Terry Malick pictures :) But don't make the audience want to turn it's head away from the screen. Use a solid center channel. Otherwise the music will pull too much to the sides on a big screen.

Always write with surround in mind. Who cares about stereo? Orchestrate for a 360 degree landscape. Never rely on the subwoofer (I don't even have one). If it doesnt hit you in the chest on just your main speakers, you're doing it wrong. (And it gets really messy with Imax). And if you really cant resist and can't help yourself - at least resist putting pitched stuff into the sub. Do you know what the crossover point in the speaker system in your local cinema is?

The more kinetic the action (and therefore the sound effects) get, the more you need a long tune, with long notes.

Contain your dynamics. Write a mezzo forte/ forte action piece with really commited players. All that triple fff stuff virtually guarantees that they are going to pull it back on the stage if it sounds harsh. If it's any good, they'll instinctively bring the sound effects down a bit (the "Joker" thing is really quiet. It makes you want to lean forward a bit, as an audience...then, of course, I clobber them.)

The more "Orchestral" and reverb-y you get, the more you become part of the wallpaper. It might be really pretty wallpaper, though.
Conversly, "Sherlock" was a really tough dub. All those solo instruments are like having another actor in the scene, it doesn't matter how much you turn them down.

But, bottom line...the only thing worth fighting for is making a great movie. Sometimes you, the composer, have to say "...bin the music. The sound design is much more appropriate."

Oh, I forgot...this video explains EVERYTHING you ever need to know about filmscoring: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvaszet0-WA

-Hz-
 

woodsdenis

Senior Member
Peep show, brilliant.

Great post HZ, interesting what you say about Sherlock and solo instruments. I had the opportunity of working with Elmer Bernstein many years ago. Mid 80's, pre Protools. Music mixes were done in surround onto DA88.

Anyway, he always had solo instruments for the the movie mix way down when dialogue was present. maybe -5/6db from the CD stereo mix. Sounded weird on its own, but in context was perfect. If left at normal level, an oboe for example is right in the dialogue frequency spectrum. If mixed correctly behind dialogue, all the rest of the orchestra would be lost.

If I had written a fantastic romantic orchestral oboe piece for a scene, my first reaction is to feature it! Not always the right thing to do in the context of film music with so many competing elements.
 

Inductance

Active Member
...Finished "MOS" a month back.

Excellent! As a comic book geek and film score nerd, I am really looking forward to this. Specifically, I'm looking forward to this new musical interpretation of the Superman character.

Great post. I really enjoy reading these "in the trenches" accounts.
 

mathis

Active Member
But, bottom line...the only thing worth fighting for is making a great movie. Sometimes you, the composer, have to say "...bin the music. The sound design is much more appropriate."

Chapau. Brilliant post, Hans, from beginning to end.

(I loved the idea of giving the click tracks to the sound designers.)
 

dgburns

Leg Ahh toe / Shpeig haw too
I really need to compliment rtec on his post,cause it's really answering the fundamental issue at the heart of the initial question.

I was going to answer Mike's last post,but felt I had nothing more to add.

I feel this is one of those times someone else has put into words such things as I would have liked to write,should have written,but simply did not.

well done (and I'm having one of those kick myself moments)
 

EastWest Lurker

Senior Member
The only thing I can say to Hans' post is that he is working with a much higher caliber of directors, sound design guys, and picture mixers than most of us get to. It is easier to swallow your music getting buried under those circumstances.
 

mathis

Active Member
Jay, I don't think that's the point of Hans post. In every sentence he makes clear that it's all about communication. Getting everybody involved and being transparent with ones own work. And that's surely not dependent on budget size...

In my own sound design days I was always looking for good communication to the composer. I can say that there are only arguments or even fights on the dubbing stage about music vs. fx if the composer was secretive.
 

Guy Rowland

Senior Member
Jay, I don't think that's the point of Hans post. In every sentence he makes clear that it's all about communication. Getting everybody involved and being transparent with ones own work. And that's surely not dependent on budget size...

I agree it was a terrific post from Hans - lapped up every word. But I also think Jay has a point. In my humble workaday UK TV experience, it's quite rare for there to be any contact at all between composer and dubbing mixer beyond sending the files, still less for a composer to attend a dub. That's not to say it wouldn't be a good idea, mind.

Also as a side issue, while the higher profile stuff is 5.1, most day-to-day stuff is still boring old stereo.
 

Rctec

Senior Member
Dear Guy, I remember my days working for the BBC. And getting told I'd never work for them again. They where right, just not quite in the way they meant it...Or the dodgy game show tune that all you Brits seem to never let me forget (had a journalist only today asking me about it). The one other reason I mentioned the 5.1 thing is that I really regret not having done things at the most future proof way back then. I'd love to remix "Lionking", for example, as a proper 5.1 soundtrack. I think surround in one way or the other will become a more standard music format in the future, and I don't want to not have the ability to do a proper rerelease.
For me, part of this conversation is just the simple fact that the music has to go through so many generations and distractions before it ends up in a theatre or tv, and that - to safeguard yourself against an indifferent sound - you have to preserve as much bandwidth, both in the performance and the recording as possible. Music is fragile. A single decibel makes a huge difference, sometimes to a profound shift in how a scene feels. Should you not be able to enforce with the director the "Mike Verta Law" (he's so right!) of getting rid of all the background atmosphere tracks that, without fail, shroud your music in a veil of mush, you'll have to at least give yourself a chance by slightly overdoing and hyping your music. We don't do concert music. The reason I do hybrid scores is partly to do with giving the music a chance to survive the sonic onslaught of the enviroments of the modern world. Plus, I actually enjoy the racket I get to make with all those synth (may god forgive me for my synth:) ). None of us will ever be in John Williams' position where the decade long partnership with Steven S. means that Steven will already be planning his soundscape with all those years of experience with John's music in his subconcience.

I attract different directors and different types of movies. I fail at television, unless its a project where the director is fully in charge, not a committee of producers.

But I disagree with Jay that I have access to a more high caliber of directors, sound designers and mixers. I think there are amazingly talented and original thinkers in any part of this industry. It's not about the budget or the size or the medium. Ultimately, it's not even about getting the job, but about attracting and forming lasting working relationships with brilliant filmmakers that push the envelope and challenge you into writing great music...And just think how many of those came from tv. There used to be this stupid , misguided snobbery about tv in Hollywood that I never got. If you do film, you cant do tv and vice versa.
Well, as far as I can tell, most of the great story writing is happening in television. But while television seems to be a longform medium for developing character arches, it seems to do the opposite for composers, who have to always rush to get the next episode done. Film composers usually get to have a little time to think. Ridley used to direct live television for the BBC. He's got great war-stories about those days. But all those funny stories about disasters and mishaps are actually about him learning how to get better at doing what he loves, how to get his vision as intact and un-compromised from his mind up onto a screen in front of an audience. And yes, some of these stories feature dodgy sound and music :)

Best,

-Hz-
 

mverta

Probably Dead from Corona Virus
Hans -

I'm glad you mentioned the sound-design-y aspects of your stuff, because I've noticed on absolutely tons of occasions that I couldn't be sure whether the scene contribution was coming from you or the sound editors. 9 out of 10 times, I'm pretty sure it's part of the score, which makes sense both creatively, and to carve out that bigger chunk of the landscape for everything else you're doing. You sly devil, you.

I also noticed somebody poking at Nolan's perhaps-too-music-heavy mixes, but to me, he's the new Spielberg in terms of respect for the music, in a refreshing way. Your work shapes the film right from the edit; like music does for T.Schoonmaker's Scorcese's stuff, so it's inextricable from the final product, perfectly apt, and forwardly present right from the start. Composing Nirvana.




_Mike
 

Rctec

Senior Member
Ah, Mike, the not so secret bridge between Richard King's sound design and the music is Mel Wesson. We invented a new title for him: Ambient Music design. I've known Mel since we where kids. He really was going to be a painter - and that's how he thinks of sound. You should have seen Ridley and him using Metasynth on "Hannibal" ...two painters painting with sound. They came up with this great sound/image. Ridley wanted to use it as the poster for the movie. Than the computer crashed and they hadn't saved....oh well. We still had fun. That was after all, the best romantic comedy I ever worked on.
But seriously, Mel is the surrealistic bridge of darkness between the music and the sound design.
He's part of our music team, even though he strays over to the other side some times.
I now try to write stuff for Chris to have on his iPod while he's writing the script. He hears the music that loud when he conceives the scenes. So I suppose in a way that's not that dissimilar to how Steven has John's sound in his mind when he shoots...
We all try to make it a cohesive emotional experience. There are no sides to take other than the movie's. Chris - just like Terry Malick - will always try to look for a way to substitute music for dialogue. They are interested in what lies at the center of things. Music exposes the heart of the thing and - as Ridley once said to me - is the wings of the film.
 

bryla

Orchestrator
The one other reason I mentioned the 5.1 thing is that I really regret not having done things at the most future proof way back then. I'd love to remix "Lionking", for example, as a proper 5.1 soundtrack. I think surround in one way or the other will become a more standard music format in the future, and I don't want to not have the ability to do a proper rerelease.
Yet we still enjoy great music in mono on our home stereo setups, because it still is great enjoyable music.
 

Rctec

Senior Member
Bryla, best drumsound: "Let there be drums", Sandy Nelson, because I love the performance. Yes, but if you asked him, would he have liked the option of re-mastering in 5.1 20 years after he recorded it? This is an apples and oranges argument. The musician is great, giving a monster performance. but the recording? He had no choice. You do. But go ahead - do your next score in mono. It's a bit like deciding to stick a tattoo on your privates with your first girlfriend's name on when you are a teenager...One is forever. No choice. Or very painful...
But I could be wrong...
 

Guy Rowland

Senior Member
I vote it thread of the month, in all its glory.

Hans, I'm very lucky in one regard - I sometimes get to be sound designer, dubbing mixer and composer on the same project. When I'm not doing theme tunes beds etc (and don't begrudge Going For Gold - it gives us minnows hope!) I'm probably scoring comedies. Sound, music, dialogue - it's all storytelling, and it that's what I'm passionate about. Using music to make a gag work is incredibly satisfying (Alf Clausen is a hero of mine). Usually the turnaround is super-quick, usually there's little time to think, but I'm lucky enough to work with some great producers, and the autonomy is a rare luxury. Being able to essentially decide where score leads, where sound design leads etc is terrific.
 

ryans

Senior Member
but the recording? He had no choice. You do. But go ahead - do your next score in mono

Kind of off topic but one of my favourite soundtracks is Traffic where everything was mono except the music. Whenever the music came in it had an incredible impact!

I believe Alan Meyerson was involved there, could be wrong...

Ryan
 
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