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Film music

Your film's musical score

You're probably going to want to add background music to your film. A basic rule of filmmaking is that a good music track goes a long way to heighten emotions provoked by the imagery on the screen and by the dialogue.

In big films the music is performed by orchestras, which can vary in size from a small chamber ensemble to a large ensemble, even including a choir. The orchestra is either a studio pickup orchestra, hired by the studio especially for the film, or an established professional orchestra.

Professional musicians in Hollywood make it their living to join pickup orchestras formed to add the music for a single film. They become very proficient at sight-reading and can perform almost flawlessly on a first run-through. The cost of hiring a live orchestra is far beyond the budget of nearly all independent filmmakers.

However, even the smallest films with even smaller budgets can utilize sampling technology to re-create the sound of an orchestra. This is generally much cheaper, although many filmmakers try to avoid this since some synthesized music doesn't have the richness of live acoustical instruments.

A quick search on Google will turn up dozens of companies offering to sell you music you can use in your film at very low cost. Most sites let you preview the music before you buy it so you know exactly what you're getting.

Some filmmakers are tempted to use popular music as the primary musical component, but this can become an extremely expensive proposition. Buying rights to use popular music can quickly become as expensive as hiring a composer and live musicians.

Popular music gets dated quickly and your idea of a great song is often not everyone's idea of a great song. Most popular music also tends to draw attention to itself rather than complementing the action of the film.

In fact one of the little known secrets of low-budget filmmaking is that you can frequently get your own music custom composed for your film for little or no cost. There are starving but talented musicians and composers everywhere who would love the chance to get a film credit and will work for free if the challenge seems interesting enough.

Unless you are something of a mussing yourself you probably want to get someone who understands music on your creative, filmmaking team. They will probably have some great ideas about how to create the emotional impact for your film through music.

Start by asking all your friends about what their favorite local bands are. Most musical groups have sites on MySpace that you can search for.

The musical filmmaking process

Traditionally composer are not brought in until the film is nearly finished being edited. The editor will have put in some of his/her favorite music, popular or classical, as "temp" tracks. The problem with temp tracks is that everyone involved in the edit starts to get used to the temp tracks and may push the composer to imitate the temp tracks rather than create something original.

Composer also dislike coming into films very late in the process. They are forced to compose to the action and must attempt to conduct the orchestra to match a projection of the film rather than pace the music for maximum impact and have the editor adjust the film's pacing to match the music.

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When the composer is brought in early in the filmmaking process they are able to provide temp tracks before the edit begins. Films that are edited to the music rather than the other way around are almost always more powerful films. Some examples are: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West and Once Upon a Time in America and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

A few directors have found it very effective to have the music ready before filming begins so the entire cast and crew can be pacing their efforts to the pace of the music. Another idea with strong precedents (for example: Star Wars) is to create musical themes for the major characters.

Realize that not all films need music. Silence can be a powerful element of a strong film.

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