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" It Ends with the Music " Seminar

The seminar, "It Ends with the Music," at the 2001 Santa Barbara International Film Festival provided an excellent opportunity to experience the effect music has on creating the mood of a scene. The seminar consisted of ten panelists, comprised of two of Hollywood’s top musical agents acting as moderators and eight well-known composers; about 125 people were in the audience. They showed a very funny, action filled, 3-minute segment from the 1973 Peter Bogdonovich film, "What's Up Doc," first with no music as it was originally screened and then with the music each of eight panel members had created. Each composer discussed his concept of the music he created before showing the segment as he scored it. The audience voted after each showing, by applause, whether the music aided or hurt the scene. The general consensus was that only one score, similar to the score to John Williams "ET," made it better. In the discussion on how each created their score and the rationale they used, the panelists discussed music from the composers, directors, music supervisors, and music attorney’s points of views.

What I got from this seminar is that while good music can help expand the mood of a scene, bad music can really hurt a scene and in some cases, no music is the best choice. All the panelists stressed how the filmmaker and the composer must work together in the selection of the music, and the filmmaker must have more than a casual acquaintance with music technology and terminology to make a wise decision. Kathryn Kalinak (1992) supports this point of view strongly in her introduction to her book, Settling the Score: "Sadly the vast majority of film students, undergraduate and graduate, will complete their degrees without ever formally studying one of the most powerful components in a film system (xiii)."

After the seminar, I did a literature search about film music in preparation for a paper I was writing on Film Music for a Documentary class. With a few exceptions, most of the books I found were mainly interested in the theoretical aspects of film music, and included long chapters discussing the scores of particular films. While these are useful in gaining an understanding of how music has been used historically and traditionally in film, they are of little value to a filmmaker in the heat of battle searching for music for a new film.

Bell’s book Getting the Best Score For Your Film (1995), and Jeff Rona's book The Reel World: Scoring for Pictures (2000), however, are like cookbooks for creating a film score. Both authors discuss scores, composers, budgets, recording sessions, music editors and supervisors. These books are valuable resources for any filmmaker, documentary or feature.

A common misconception concerning film scores that both Bell and Rona point out is that the songs used in a film are part of the score. Songs are actually part of a film's soundtrack, but are not considered part of the score. Orchestral music composed for, or used in a film is the film score, whether it was originally composed for the film or used in another context previously.

The terms score and underscore are sometimes used interchangeably but actually have different meanings. The term score is generally used to denote the actual document containing the notes written on paper, while underscore refers to the background music of a film.

Two other valuable references are chapters in the books, The Language of Music in Kalinak (1992), and Inventing the Cinema Soundtrack in Buhler, Flinn and Neumeyer (2000). The Language of Music is an excellent source of the terminology used in the creation and analysis of music. Kalinak uses main title theme from Alfred Hitchcook's Vertigo to introduce the reader to concepts such as tempo, meter, rhythm, and etc. A filmmaker must know this terminology to effectively communicate with a composer.

The chapter, Inventing the Cinema Soundtrack (Altman, Jones and Tatroe, 2000) describes the components of a sound track and discusses how traditionally there has been no language in scripts to define how the various components that make up the sound track, i.e., dialog, narrative, sound effects, music and ambient sound are to be connected together. The authors introduce a graphical notation system they developed that indicates the relative volume and timing of components that make up the sound track and shows their relationship to the plot description and the dialog. This could be a valuable tool for directors to use in conveying their overall concept of the sound design to technicians.


Altman, R., Jones, M., & Tatroe, S. (2000). Inventing the cinema soundtrack: Hollywood’s multiplane sound system. In J. Buhler, C. Flinn, & D. Neumeyer (Eds.), Music and Cinema (pp. 339-359). Hanover, NH: University Press of New England.

Bell, D. (1995). Getting the best score for your film: A filmmaker's guide to music scoring. Hollywood: Silman-James Press.

Buhler, J., Flinn, C. & Neumeyer, D. (Eds.) (2000). Music and Cinema. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England.

Kalinak, K. (1992). Settling the score: Music and the classical Hollywood film. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Rona, J. (2000). The reel world: Scoring for pictures. San Francisco: Miller Freeman Books.

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