Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tonight I'm gonna SCORE.

Apologies, reader (there's got to be ONE), for the lack of updates. I've just finished work on the feature I've been writing, and it's been a great process. I broke the story fairly early, and the completion was a great time. Now I just have to make the damn thing. (oh, that's all?)

More on that later.

For now, I'd like to think about something that's been on my mind the last couple of days, both in my preparation for this feature project, and in general discourse.


Now, what I am not terribly interested in is the politics of the process. "Ghost Writers" and "Guild Rules" and "Awards Eligibility" are all fine topics, but they run into a dead end conversationally. And after all, my interest lies mostly in the craft, and less in the business.

I love film scores. Nothing gets me more excited than a pure cinema moment enhanced by a composer and musicians that have a perfect understanding of the picture. To me, that is the key: synthesis. I feel that a score is brilliant insofar as it works WITH the picture. There's nothing more distracting than an incongruous film score.

If the audience is UP HERE and the music is down there ... we have a problem. It's equally bad, perhaps more so, with the reverse. If the music is carrying a substandard sequence, the music can't save it. As with all other aspects of film production, a healthy collaboration and shared goals are necessary. All involved parties have to be making the same movie. They have to love the material, connect with it, and WANT to further it with their contribution.

This is true for actors, directors, anybody. If they feel themselves separate or even ABOVE the project, there are going to be blatant issues.

I've always seen the score as a sort of accompaniment. I know this is obvious, but I specifically mean a force that accompanies the audience on their journey. It can re-affirm the feeling you have towards a particular sequence, or the movie as a whole. It can cement an emotion, or be foreboding to an element that needs attention.

That being said, I am no musician. I admittedly know nothing of the mechanics of creating a score, and know that only in the most ideal of circumstances can true collaboration be achieved. But I'm just painting a picture of a goal; the ultimate. There is an infinite barrage of problems that can get in the way of this.

I think one of the major bumps in the road can be the simple preference the collaborating members have in the creative process. Some directors like to edit to music, when composers would naturally prefer a locked-down cut of the movie to score to. Personally, I'm not comfortable with either of those extremes, I think communication is key. That the composer should be in on the process from day one. He or she has to be invested with the material, and not a tacked-on component in post production.

Many great works have sprouted from just this type of process, and I hope that new technologies allow this freedom to continue and grow. This, to me, is the greatest aspect of advances in digital technologies of all kinds. (Audio, Picture, everything.) It is allowing (or at least paving the way for) a more fluid process. A more true or pure creative process. Less interruption between the painter and the brush.

These sorts of advances can add a degree of excellence in areas one might not expect. Take, for example, the motion capture process being experimented with by such filmmakers as Robert Zemekis (Polar Express, Beowulf) and James Cameron (the upcoming Avatar.) The degree of effectiveness or realism of this young process is debatable, but it provides a unique opportunity never before available in cinema.

Movies, by their nature, require a long production process. One of the great pieces of movie magic is simply believing all these events happen in sequence. Particularly difficult sequences can take months to complete. Think of the mindset of the actor! They must be a human bookmark! Segmenting their performance to snippets that must be edited to a coherent whole is a very, very difficult thing.

Now, with this Motion Capture, huge lengths of performance (10, 20, 30 minutes) could feasibly be captured without stopping. They'd be able to experience the un-interrupted joy of performance, for the first time in modern film. Then, LATER, the director takes these digitally captured performances, and chooses the camera angles, perfects the lighting, etc. Everything that actor would have to wait endless hours for ordinarily.

I set out to talk a bit about film score, and now look where we ended up!