09 March 2010

Music, Movies - It's All the Same Score

by Tyler Weaver.  Follow me on Twitter.

As the title of this blog no doubt indicates, I'm a multi-hyphenate.  Music, writing, flickery.  I try and do a bit of it all (though, ironically, in spite of my training at Bezerklee College of Music in Boston, regarded as the bastion of "modern" music education, I am horrible with sound recording.  They taught me how to write music, not record it.  That's why I'm sure to surround myself with kick ass sound people like Jay Cox, my aural compatriot on Gather 'Round the Mic).

Though I may attempt to "do it all," it doesn't mean I enjoy doing it all, or that I'm particularly good at it.  My main focus is storytelling - writing and directing with the addition of the business side, so I produce (a necessity in today's world).  Those are my three main foci - though in my mind, they are one.  

I still write my own music for my projects, not because I want to, but because I can and I'm cheap talent. In a perfect world, I would stick to my big three - writing, directing, and producing.  However, it's far from a perfect world.  So, I must make do with my limited capabilities in a widespread pool of disciplines.  

Not to belabor the point, but the composition training is important in how I work.  Maria Lokken, for whom I've written many a post, wrote a post in November 2009 that made me think about the whole composer thing and my current profession.  Entitled Are Show Runners Like Great Conductors?, the article rang true for me in a number of areas, and put the nugget for this post squarely in the back of my cerebellum.

Composition training.  As a composer, I'm expected to know the capabilities of all of the instruments that I'm writing for.  Full orchestra - gotta know the ranges, limits, and nuances of every instrument in there.  Just because I have to know the capabilities does not mean that I have to be a master marimba player (my former main instrument) or a virtuoso cellist (I leave that to my writing partner's wife).  I simply have to know what I'm writing for, and not write anything that's unplayable.  To do so is a sign that the composer doesn't know what the hell they're doing, and is a tremendous time suck and embarrassment.  And yes, I was guilty of it in my formative days.

As a composer, I would always insist on conducting my own works, even for the smallest thing.  It was because I knew how I heard it when I wrote it, and I liked collaborating with musicians (most of the time) to bring the piece a new life that I hadn't thought of.  It allowed me a shorthand and efficient method towards working - I wrote it, so I should be able to change it at the drop of a hat if needed.  The jazz composition training at Berklee helped a tremendous deal in this.  

But just because I could conduct them, and tell them "more" or "less" or "wrong note, let's try this," it didn't mean that I wanted to play their instruments myself.  

Same deal with filmmaking.  I have to know the capabilities and have a working knowledge of the various disciplines in order to gear a production towards an efficient and rewarding completion for all parties involved.  Doesn't mean I want to do everything myself.  If I did, I would write novels.  

Even while a composer, I considered myself a writer, so in that regard, I haven't changed careers much; just mediums.  I'm a writer - a storyteller - and my medium of choice is film.  Which is perfect, because it combines everything.  Just like an orchestra.  

While directing, I act as the conductor, conducting my script (until an already written one shows up on my nightstand some hypothetical morning) with the orchestra of instruments selected by the needs of the script to bring it to celluloidial life.  It's my responsibility to shape the performances of the actors, the sound designers, the visual effects guys, the cinematographer, et al. to the ultimate ideal of the script - a cohesive whole that is a pleasing and entertaining experience - and always, ALWAYS being open to the input of those selected as the instruments of the film to shape it into something I had never anticipated when putting finger to keyboard all those years ago.

As the orchestra must be an organsim that listens to each component, guided - not dictated to - by a conductor, so must a film be the visual version of a music performance: a tightly knit, cohesive unit that fulfills the needs and desires of the initial vision, enhancing it through the input of valued collaborators and experts and resulting in an entertaining final product.

Because, let's face it.  All great "art" does one thing: it entertains.  Be it music, film, literature, video games, theater, or comics - it's all the same deal.  Just with a different package and a different final presentation.

So, for all aspiring writers/directors out there, I'd recommend a bit of research and reading into the working methods of the great composers and conductors in the world of music.  It's a pretty eye opening experience, and the lessons in that discipline can easily be applied to our chosen craft.

Give a look to writings of composers Iggy Stravinsky (I like calling him Iggy), particularly his book The Poetics of Music and Aaron Copland, and his marvelous books, What to Listen for In Music and Music & Imagination.  Though both are music-geared and a bit heady, there's some marvelous insight that can be applied across creative disciplines.

Just be warned - as with film, there's plenty of assholes in a tuxedo, waving their arms and conducting an orchestra... oh man, have I got stories for you.  

Oh... wait.  Off topic.  I'll save those for another time.

Tyler Weaver is a filmmaker, writer, contributor to the pulptone.com website, and is the founder and EIC of Multi-Hyphenate... which you're reading right now.  He's currently making new things and yaks about that and more on Twitter under the creative guise of @tylerweaver.


Miles Maker said...

Based on the title, I was hoping for an insightful piece on the similarities between music and film related to content management (digital rights, formats, content delivery, marketing and distribution) but thank you nonetheless for a metaphoric piece about music production and Artistic discipline.

[Miles Maker is a story author, motion picture auteur and independent distributor whose dynamic media ventures encompass mobile, social and real-time megatrends @milesmaker on Twitter]

Tyler Weaver said...

That one's coming, definitely. I've got a few things to say about that.

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