Spitfire Westworld Competition SPINOFF - Composition Discussion, Advice and Examples

Mike Greene

Senior Member
Moderator
The Spitfire Westworld Competition thread started off as a debate on the ethics and validity of such a competition. Totally valid, and there's some good stuff in there, especially some must-read posts by Charlie Clouser. (Oh, and I guess Hans knows a thing or too as well. ;) )

After a few pages of that, though, people started talking about how to handle the actual composition, starting with advice and opinions, then some people even posted examples for critique.

This is really great stuff, because it's rare to have an opportunity like this to discuss, collectively, how to score a specific scene. But ... the discussion gets a bit lost in the original thread, buried amongst all the other posts, so I've created this new thread and copied those posts here. This way, people interested in the composition discussion can more easliy see them. (To maintain context in the original thread, the posts are still there as well.) Let me know if I missed any. Scanning 16 pages of posts turned into a blur at some point. ;)
 

NoamL

Winter <3
Also I went back to the Bleeding Fingers competition and found the winning track.

Remember, they gave us all these stems:


I remember my entry wasn't very creative. I did some things like chopping the singer's audio to make a 5/4 rhythm but other than that it wasn't anything that would impress someone who had to listen to a thousand contest entries... it was just an orchestra track.

Meanwhile the winner made this:


my favorite entry was this one. Absolute mad fun:


I think the winner of this competition will be someone who does something that #1 is creative and unexpected, #2 has flawless production, #3 does something cool or impressive in the first 30 seconds. It may not even be the best "score." Maybe a little bit of showing off is in order. But I wouldn't bother at all with, like, a traditional orchestral score. You're gonna get lost in the 1000 entries and the first impression will be "lack of creativity, same as everyone else."
 

josephwmorgan

New Member
I've hesitated to post this because it feels like a great idea BUT I'm curious if it would even be allowed. SO if this IS allowed and someone steals the idea and wins, this post will serve as my "aw man that was my idea and they did it better!" and if it isn't allowed then I'm glad I asked!

It feels like the most inventive/Westworld approach to this would be to do a really cool interpretation of a pre-existing song. Ramin has so many great covers as part of the score of the show, and especially with the "switching genres" line it almost feels like this scene is begging for an original take on a classic song. While this would open the door to a lot of really cool/creative ideas, it also seems like an absolute NIGHTMARE for HBO as far licensing/rights would go. The text of the rules state "create an original musical score" so I'm just wondering if that leaves room for an original take on a cover to be considered score, or if it should just be melodies/music that have never existed. Just trying to think outside the box but maybe I'm TOO outside the box 😂looking forward to participating either way!

Anyways, sound off all ye who hate me for even having such a TERRIBLE idea! obviously you're the superior beings
 

pawelmorytko

Active Member
I went and watched the batmobile chase from Dark Knight for some inspiration and realised there’s hardly any music. That then made me think, maybe it’s best not to have a constant wash of action music throughout the whole clip...

 

Michael Stibor

Active Member
I went and watched the batmobile chase from Dark Knight for some inspiration and realised there’s hardly any music. That then made me think, maybe it’s best not to have a constant wash of action music throughout the whole clip...

Well there’s music throughout in the original, but I think it’s certainly legitimate to NOT have music throughout. Really depends on your piece I guess.
 

Consona

Senior Member
You might be approaching this with the wrong attitude. Scoring is not an opportunity for the composer to show off their chops. It's an opportunity to make a movie better.
Having chops gives composer an opportunity to make a movie better. Unless you aim for some lowest common denominator or something. And with the term "better" we are, of course, cruising into the waters of subjectivity and whatnot.



But I really mean it, I have tons of fun. I'm 1 minute in, not even one semblance of a musical idea was required, and it sounds cool and trendy as f**k. Am I not allowed to say this? It's exactly what it is. My musical knowledge hasn't grown even the slightest, but my ASIO is peaking already because my PC can't handle so many effects
Totálně vysmátý   *1*
and I've rediscovered I can't mix even a little bit like Alan Meyerson.
I think that's enough for me. As I was adviced, don't make your demo out of the stuff you actually don't want to do in the future, because that's what will most probably happen.
Hroznej smích   *3*


Also I went back to the Bleeding Fingers competition and found the winning track.

Remember, they gave us all these stems:


I remember my entry wasn't very creative. I did some things like chopping the singer's audio to make a 5/4 rhythm but other than that it wasn't anything that would impress someone who had to listen to a thousand contest entries... it was just an orchestra track.

Meanwhile the winner made this:


my favorite entry was this one. Absolute mad fun:


I think the winner of this competition will be someone who does something that #1 is creative and unexpected, #2 has flawless production, #3 does something cool or impressive in the first 30 seconds. It may not even be the best "score." Maybe a little bit of showing off is in order. But I wouldn't bother at all with, like, a traditional orchestral score. You're gonna get lost in the 1000 entries and the first impression will be "lack of creativity, same as everyone else."
Yea, I agree. I can't participate with any prospects of getting any attention. My first instinct after putting that video into the DAW was to load up a piano to bring some interesting ideas in, then I realized what the f**k am I doing? This is not supposed to be some Goldsmith score. Which is exactly what I'm gonna do, score it like that Goldsmith wannabe I'm, as best as I can, for my own fun and musical growth.

I went and watched the batmobile chase from Dark Knight for some inspiration and realised there’s hardly any music. That then made me think, maybe it’s best not to have a constant wash of action music throughout the whole clip...

The first thing that popped in my mind as an example of what to do was not this scene, but the tumbler chase scene from Batman Begins:


But it's too block-bustery for such a show. And it actually has a hummable melody, which is a no-no.
Hroznej smích   *3*
 

Michael Stibor

Active Member
I've hesitated to post this because it feels like a great idea BUT I'm curious if it would even be allowed. SO if this IS allowed and someone steals the idea and wins, this post will serve as my "aw man that was my idea and they did it better!" and if it isn't allowed then I'm glad I asked!

It feels like the most inventive/Westworld approach to this would be to do a really cool interpretation of a pre-existing song. Ramin has so many great covers as part of the score of the show, and especially with the "switching genres" line it almost feels like this scene is begging for an original take on a classic song. While this would open the door to a lot of really cool/creative ideas, it also seems like an absolute NIGHTMARE for HBO as far licensing/rights would go. The text of the rules state "create an original musical score" so I'm just wondering if that leaves room for an original take on a cover to be considered score, or if it should just be melodies/music that have never existed. Just trying to think outside the box but maybe I'm TOO outside the box 😂looking forward to participating either way!

Anyways, sound off all ye who hate me for even having such a TERRIBLE idea! obviously you're the superior beings
I was wondering the same thing, but less for a copyrighted piece, and more for a classical piece. I read that they initially wanted Blue Danube for the “genre” section (I did some research lol) so that’s definitely the angle they had in mind. Not sure if I was disqualified for using William Tell or whatever. 🤔
 

AllenConstantine

Active Member
I've hesitated to post this because it feels like a great idea BUT I'm curious if it would even be allowed. SO if this IS allowed and someone steals the idea and wins, this post will serve as my "aw man that was my idea and they did it better!" and if it isn't allowed then I'm glad I asked!

It feels like the most inventive/Westworld approach to this would be to do a really cool interpretation of a pre-existing song. Ramin has so many great covers as part of the score of the show, and especially with the "switching genres" line it almost feels like this scene is begging for an original take on a classic song. While this would open the door to a lot of really cool/creative ideas, it also seems like an absolute NIGHTMARE for HBO as far licensing/rights would go. The text of the rules state "create an original musical score" so I'm just wondering if that leaves room for an original take on a cover to be considered score, or if it should just be melodies/music that have never existed. Just trying to think outside the box but maybe I'm TOO outside the box 😂looking forward to participating either way!

Anyways, sound off all ye who hate me for even having such a TERRIBLE idea! obviously you're the superior beings

Good point! In 99% of the cases, they'll choose anything that comes to being a really CRAZY approach on thematic.

So covers will do well as long they are put into the most craziest way you could think of.

After all, they are mostly, as @Nico said, "marketing their product, giving away some money against Covid-19, promoting the release of the Westworld Season 3 Soundtrack".

Basically, as long there are tons of ideas already for Season 4, it's crazy good.

"Season 4" might be right around the corner :dancer:
 
Does this car chase seem really slow to anyone? As in, the cars are going 40mph or something. Either it isn't actually slow and I'm just not used to watching car chases without a pumping soundtrack, or there's some context I'm missing from not having watched this show?

Not sure what to do with this...maybe I'll try a lot of tuba.
 

Nico

Member
Does this car chase seem really slow to anyone? As in, the cars are going 40mph or something. Either it isn't actually slow and I'm just not used to watching car chases without a pumping soundtrack, or there's some context I'm missing from not having watched this show?

Not sure what to do with this...maybe I'll try a lot of tuba.
yes slightly, I think this is due to the silent electric cars.
But still not as slow as this car chase (maybe I will just copy music from this clip :D)
 

Michael Stibor

Active Member
Does this car chase seem really slow to anyone? As in, the cars are going 40mph or something. Either it isn't actually slow and I'm just not used to watching car chases without a pumping soundtrack, or there's some context I'm missing from not having watched this show?

Not sure what to do with this...maybe I'll try a lot of tuba.
I thought that too. I remember watching one of those Hollywood composer round tables where Alan Silvesti mentioned being asked to compose something to make it seem like the dog was running faster, lol. It was a theoretical example, but thats part of the job I guess.
 

Dan Drebing

Active Member
Does this car chase seem really slow to anyone? As in, the cars are going 40mph or something. Either it isn't actually slow and I'm just not used to watching car chases without a pumping soundtrack, or there's some context I'm missing from not having watched this show?
Yes, I think the dinky engine sounds don't help. But yeah the motion just isn't really, there especially without the score.
 

shomynik

Active Member
Does this car chase seem really slow to anyone? As in, the cars are going 40mph or something. Either it isn't actually slow and I'm just not used to watching car chases without a pumping soundtrack, or there's some context I'm missing from not having watched this show?

Not sure what to do with this...maybe I'll try a lot of tuba.
I thought the same for Nolan's batmobile and bat-bike(?)
 

dzilizzi

I just hang around pretending I know something
Going by last time's winner, I don't think it necessarily has to even match the scene they are trying to convey. So if you decide it should be a comedy, go for it. Be unusual. Have fun.
 

charlieclouser

Senior Member
Are we to simply guess and just hope we've interpreted the scene with the same intent as the Director?
Yes. Exactly.

That's part of the process, part of what makes a director and a composer feel like "kindred souls" who share a similar outlook and can have a productive creative relationship. When they feel like you get it without being explicitly instructed what to do. Best-case scenario is when they can describe how they want the score to relate to the whole arc of the story, slowly revealing more and more of the central theme while nodding to the various characters and plot lines, and refer to other music in terms of the emotions they evoke. Worst-case scenario is when they don't have the abstract verbal skills to describe what they need much beyond, "I'll know it when I hear it."

I rarely have hours-long conversations about how to approach a scene, and usually there's not even all that much back-and-forth over the course of days and multiple revisions etc. That's when it starts to feel like pulling teeth, like maybe this composer just doesn't get it, like maybe we got the wrong guy.

An example of a one-minute conversation that worked: A sentimental scene, tender emotions, might even be a final goodbye before one character dies or goes away forever, can't tell because I haven't seen the whole film yet. No idea what's going on, it's just an audition cue. Temp score is in place and sounds lovey-dovey, but my first impression that I blurted out to the director was, "This temp makes it seem like these two are in love, but that feels wrong. Like it needs tender emotion but more like they're brother and sister saying goodbye for the last time or something, not like they're going to get married or whatever." Director's response: "Exactly. See what you can come up with." Done. Took less than a minute to talk that one out.

An example of a conversation that lasted a week and didn't work: Thriller / tension film, people double-crossing each other, lying, sneaking around, the whole works. But subdued and tense, not epic war-drum beat-downs, and with a high-tech sheen because they're hacking computers, swiping fake ID badges to gain entry to restricted facilities, etc. So I take a swing at it - nope, it's "too energetic and percussive and pointy somehow". Okay, take another swing. Nope, this one "still feels too active or bright or something". Okay, damn... third swing. Now the director's running out of words to describe how much he doesn't like what I'm laying down, it's just "Still not the right vibe, man, I dunno...".

In desperation, sitting with the director in the edit suite, I say, "Sounds like what you mean is something like this:" and I start singing and mouth-beat-boxing along to picture, basically imitating James Newton-Howard's amazing score to "Michael Clayton" - those tension cues as he's driving upstate. I say, "You know, kind of a Michael Clayton vibe?" And the director goes, "Exactly! That's what we had in the temp!".

But I had never heard that temp. Due to them previously hiring a composer who I was supposed to be replacing, the only temp I had ever heard was that composer's failed attempt - and nobody ever remembered to play me their original temp, the one that the network had loved, the one that helped the pilot get a series order! All I had heard was the "wrong" music from the guy they wanted to fire, and I was operating under the assumption that this was as close to "right" as they had ever gotten, when in fact it was even further away from "right" than their original temp had been! When the post supervisor found out that the editor and show runner never went all the way back to the original temp (that everyone had loved) she was beside herself - to her this was a total failure of production logistics! Aka: how not to do it. And nobody thought to mention "Michael Clayton" to me, or had the communication skills to describe the desired result as "muted, subdued, and subtle, but still tense and propelling the scene forward." - which is how I described what I was about to start singing in the edit suite, that made the director say, "Yeah, that's what it needs. What would that sound like?" and so I started beat-boxing the Michael Clayton cues.

When I finally got to "So... like a Michael Clayton vibe?" I was like, "That's all you needed to say. Just say the words Michael Clayton and I know exactly what you mean." (Not that I could actually pull it off, but at least I'd have known what they meant.) In the end, it was such a struggle to get to that point that I was like, "Man, it shouldn't take us four tries to get it right, maybe I'm not your guy." And as it turned out I was not their guy - maybe not entirely because I had the wrong music, but also partially because they had a hard time knowing / deciding / explaining what they wanted, and we didn't have enough in common that I was able to read their minds well enough.

So, being able to read the minds of the directors / producers / writers / actors and "get the vibe" even if you don't know the entire arc of the story and where a given scene fits into that arc, is going to be a part of the skill set. You won't always, or even often, be operating off your own partially-informed guesses - but it will happen eventually. Maybe it will be in season five of a series, as it's winding down, show runners are being swapped in and out, and people are looking exhausted and operating on auto-pilot - and maybe it will be on a scene that nobody's really paying all that much attention to because they have bigger fires to extinguish. But when you get it right with little to no direction, and the show runner says, "Wow, you killed it on that scene. Really made it work better and helped it feel as important as it should have been. Sorry we kind of glossed over that one in the spotting session, good job though." - that's when good guessing becomes a valuable skill.
 

Michael Stibor

Active Member
Oh man, I forgot about that Michael Clayton score! It’s all I listened to for about four months after it came out. I always marvelled at how “neutral” it was (don’t know how else to say it) and yet impactful.
 

charlieclouser

Senior Member
Oh man, I forgot about that Michael Clayton score! It’s all I listened to for about four months after it came out. I always marvelled at how “neutral” it was (don’t know how else to say it) and yet impactful.
It's so good. That big swell as Tom Wilkinson is dazed and wandering in Time Square, and then he sees the uNorth video playing and figures out what he's going to do, and then the music swells and builds, but somehow just stays on a single chord with no apparent "note-on events" but still gets bigger and bigger, only to stop exactly on the cut to the Keyserson's farm, but with just a tiny bit of reverb ringing out over the cut - perfect. And those tension cues with the underwater filtered drums.... Damn that JNH!

I've watched that damn movie so many times I could probably do the ADR for every character from memory. My wife is like, "Ugh. Michael Clayton? AGAIN?!?!"

Another similar movie, with a similarly minimal approach to the score is Syriania - also starring Clooney, but with a score by Alexandre Desplat. So simple, so good. The build-up to the terrorist boat explosion is similar to the Times Square scene in Clayton, and the way the sound fades out, being gradually replaced by a super-gentle score swell, only to cut to a blank white screen on the explosion, is so good - and they ripped it off with an accuracy of 90% on the finale of Homeland. Couldn't help themselves I guess. Can't say I blame 'em.
 

josephspirits

Active Member
I'm really surprised there still isn't any more talk about the challenge at the heart of the scene. SPOILERS FOR WEST WORLD:
In that part of the episode Caleb is tripping on a drug called Genre that causes him to experience the world through a series of different genres. So scoring this as a typical sci-fi action or chase scene may be missing the point. At least I'm guessing that's why they chose this scene specifically.
 

Michael Stibor

Active Member
I'm really surprised there still isn't any more talk about the challenge at the heart of the scene. SPOILERS FOR WEST WORLD:
In that part of the episode Caleb is tripping on a drug called Genre that causes him to experience the world through a series of different genres. So scoring this as a typical sci-fi action or chase scene may be missing the point. At least I'm guessing that's why they chose this scene specifically.
I’m surprised too. I’ve watched a few submissions and so far I haven’t seen any that acknowledge the “genre” part of it. Most have seemed like one long action clip (albeit very well done).

I’d never seen the show before but it was clear to me that the Valkyries part was important, and so I did some research to find out what the heck was going on. And like, not a lot of research, just a couple articles, and a few YouTube recap videos to understand the context a little more. I’m surprised this is lost on so many people, as well as those mentioning the lack of “direction” to go along with the clip.

In any other profession when you’re applying for a job, it’s important to do some background research. Research into the company, into the position, etc. So why is this any different? And I’m not trying to stand on my soapbox here. Like I said, I really did the bare minimum, but it was enough that I don’t need “direction” or scoring notes to get it done.
 

NoamL

Winter <3
I'm really surprised there still isn't any more talk about the challenge at the heart of the scene. SPOILERS FOR WEST WORLD:
In that part of the episode Caleb is tripping on a drug called Genre that causes him to experience the world through a series of different genres. So scoring this as a typical sci-fi action or chase scene may be missing the point. At least I'm guessing that's why they chose this scene specifically.
Yes!

There was someone here (was it @charlieclouser ?) who said "Score the fear of the rider, not the galloping of the horse."

Aaron Paul's character is the focus of this scene. I think they were going for a "grandeur of destruction" thing where he is experiencing the action through a drug-induced filter that makes it more cinematic. That's where the Ride Of The Valkyries fits in?

Checked out some early entries over lunch.... spotting this scene properly is going to be very important if you want to be competitive. There are some entries that made some interesting & good spotting choices, and a whole bunch of entries that have very poor spotting. They don't change gears with the different beats of the story, they don't carve around dialogue, they don't build momentum, and probably worst of all they don't play off Aaron Paul's reaction shots. Most of the entries just put "vaguely trippy" music during the scenes where Paul's character is tripping out but they don't connect to his awed reaction at the hyper-Nolan-y shots of cars flipping and exploding.

There is an interesting challenge here between how do you make the chase feel faster & more dangerous than it was filmed, while also communicating the character's sense of "awe"/beauty at how cinematic everything is. The Wagner needle drop actually fails pretty badly at balancing those two needs.

Another thing I'm taking away from the early entries is when you go full-bore action drums & synths all the time the scene has nowhere to go. There are some obvious turning points you could hit ("No it's not," or the roof coming off, or Aaron popping his head out the roof) but if the score goes too hard before then, you need a lull before you go back to it.