What the Director of Intelligence advises

The problem

Byron says...

I am interested in writing music for films. Using midi I can come up with some pretty amazing stuff. I am a musician and composer with a degree in music but no film credits as yet. Any hints on how to get a start?

The Director of Intelligence replies

Lesson #1

The best way to get started in anything is to get started!

Write a soundtrack for any short story (a one act play is a good starter) that interests you. Work out the major elements in the story for which you want to write music (eg opening credits, action scene, romantic scene, angry scene, closing credits) and write individual but related pieces for them. John Williams' Star wars (the first film made which is now the fourth of the series) has an incredible selection of themes, one for each character, with which he plays. You don't have organise a recording session with the London Symphony Orchestra but it's a good example of what can be done.

It is one of the best soundtracks ever written.

Use your music as a demo tape for independent and student filmmakers. Tell them you'll write and create some music for their film in return for credit, although you should be aware that student films are notoriously disorganised. After you've done a few short films combine them into a showreel/CD/DVD and use that to hawk your talents to film, TV and radio production companies. If you have the knack for highlighting a mood without overwhelming the visuals they may throw some work your way.

Lesson #2

Enough of the optimism.

The best way to be a composer is to be a composer. The more work you do, the more work you do. Getting your foot in the door in the arts business is 10% talent and 90% who you know. The more music you write for the largest number of people you can the better your chances are of getting some of that 90%. You might end up writing advertising jingles - almost a crime against humanity - but it's an in, in an industry that resists new faces the way a rock resists blood donations.

You might have to prostitute your musical gift in order to write soundtracks for feature films, but you won't be the first person to sleep your way to the top.

Lesson #3

Creative suggestions:

  • Watch videos and movies with one eye closed and two ears open (metaphorically!) and listen for the way music has been used. You might find a difference between USA/Hollywood films and European and Australian ones.
  • Listen to soundtrack CDs.
  • Write music for as many types of mood/situation as you can imagine (eg romantic, sleazy, high class, running, sport, newspaper production).
  • Take some of the same themes and write different music for them (eg more vibrant, darker, more ironic, a different era, a different location).
  • Have an artistic friend work up a brief for you to use as the basis for writing a soundtrack. When you've finished composing have them critique it and suggest some changes for you to work on.
  • Get ahold of short films and write music for them (film school students have them lying around all over the place).

Practical suggestions:

  • Put up notices at film schools.
  • Send faxes to independent filmmakers.
  • Advertise in Inside Film magazine.
  • Read biographies of composers you admire and of composers you don't (contrast is a good thing).
  • Contact the big film/TV studios in your area and arrange "work experience" with their composers.

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