Monday, August 20, 2007


"...The [musical] score could help to give us romance where we needed it, tension where we needed it; it could sweeten a moment between two characters or add to the hostility."

As the great white shark in Jaws approaches its victim, the music intensifies. Jabba the Hutt entertains his guests with strange music. Timon and Pumba amuse us with their song "Hakuna Matata". What would any movie be without the music? Music is an essential element to any film. It increases the viewers' emotional response to the film; whether it be explosive music suited for intensifying an action sequence or slow sad music accompanying a sad moment in the plot of a film.

Much of the music found in a film is a completely original musical score composed specifically for that film. It is generally the musical composer's job to write this original musical score.

(James Horner)
James Horner, composer of Willow, Braveheart, Apollo 13 and more.
Photo courtesy of

Many composers prefer to be hired early on in the production of a film in order to absorb the mood of the film and ultimately write the appropriate musical suited to that mood. When hired early, a composer can offer suggestions such as which scenes might be better when dialog is replaced with music, or introduce ideas how the music and sound effects could work effectively together to enhance a particular scene.

(Danny Elfman)
Danny Elfman, long time Tim Burton collaborator, composer of Batman,
Nightmare Before Christmas, Mars Attacks, and more.
Elfman has also composed several TV show themes such as
The Simpsons and Tales from the Crypt.
Photo courtesy of

However, many composers are hired after filming is complete. Therefore, the composer can only use music to accent the existing scenes.

Composing the music for a film is quite difficult. It can take several months to compose the musical score. First, the composer thinks up a few tunes or themes deemed appropriate for the mood of the film. These tunes or themes are sent to the director and producer for approval. Once the tunes or themes are approved, the composer composes the full length musical score for the appropriate scenes and sequences. The composer generally records a second-by-second list, description, or analysis of the scene the music will accompany in order to time the musical score out properly. This way, the music will appropriately match the action exactly.

When the full musical score is completed and approved, it is time to hire the musicians. Often, the composer prefers to conduct the orchestra while watching the film at the same time. This way, the composer can make sure the music will fit the action as perceived.

The musical score for a film does not only enhance the plot, action, and emotional response of a film, but also provides a means of revenue and advertisement. Often, the musical score of a film can be purchased before the film shows on the big screen.


"Motion Picture: How a Motion Picture is Made"


Kathy said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this Part 4 about the music. I've often thought that some of my music compositions sounded like the should be background music for a movie. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to write all the orchestration for a whole movie! I've added a link to you on my blog.

Paper Fan Club said...

It's funny how we don't pay much attention to the "background music" that creates the true mood and ambience in the scene, yet if it wasn't there, well... let's just say the calibre of acting would be even more scrutinized.

Karen said...

This is very interesting ! I think music is an essential part of the movie and not an afterthought. It changes the mood completely , even for the same scene.

And I really LOVE the music in The Lion King. Still my all-time favourite. I think the pictures complemented the music, not the other way around !

Linda and her Surroundings said...

Remember the music to The Third Man - all so very exciting.

My-Art said...

The music for The Gladiator is my favorite, the music makes the film a real tear jerker.
Oh and Shrek 1, Haleluyah.

Thanks for dropping by my Blog.

Sue said...

Interesting piece on music for movies. I can imagine what musicians go through composing background music, harmonising to go with the different scenes and doing the score. Tough work.

NeoAuteur said...

Listening to the musical score is my favorite part of watching a movie. A good musical score is critical to the success of a movie.

Yoga Gal said...

What drives me crazy while watching a film is how loud powerful music is used to project dramatic tension instead of using actors to show there emotional distress. For example, in the movie "Stardust" the two young , future lovers flee from the wicked witch, the scenery is breathtaking, the music is loud but not once did I believe the two were in real danger! Then at the final battle scene between the two younger lovers with the evil witch the music pounds and sound just like the music from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. The film is greatly flawed which is a pity for Neil Gaiman's book and proses are so beautiful, poetic and just magical! A delightful read! Then there are times when the music and film are one like the beautiful score for the classic film "To kill a mocking bird"!