Sound Department

An insight into the ways Film Composers work

Film scores are a beautiful instrument within filmmaking, since a good score can enhance the audiences experience completely. It allows the audience to reach the climax of the alternate reality a film aims to create. The film score can blend subconsciously into the actors’ performance and the action on screen to enhance the atmosphere created. A key example of this is the iconic ‘Jaws’ soundtrack, and how embedded in the cultural consciousness it has become.

It is important to understand that creating a seamless score is a art form in itself. The score’s boldness in a film is dependant on the subject and direction – sometimes a score can hold its own without the film, and other times it is simply intended to be background noise.

Composers must be sure to analyse in depth the tone intended by the director, scene by scene, and fit the score to the exact length. There is no time for a composer to overthink the score, since it must be ready for the deadlines set.

Benny Herrmann :

Benny Herrmann is most famously known for his scores for Psycho, Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Vertigo.  Herrman made his scores unlike any other composers with his decision to unpick the characters’ psychological turmoils and thoughts, rather than matching the music to the action on screen. He would also encompass a whole genre in a single scene, for example creating a gothic mysterious score for a particularly dark scene. He worked closely with Hitchcock, who choose to not always use dialogue to set the scene, but would work with Herrmann to allow the music and the characters’ actions tell the story.

Hermann’s way of working with music is unique, as he looked beyond the action and deeper into the characters within his scores.

John Williams:

John Williams is undeniably an example for all film composers. Not only has he created scores that accompany films, but he has created soundtracks for a whole generation. His scores are memorable and trigger any audience member to remember the exact scene in the film or the film the score is from.  One of Williams’ famous scores from ‘The Raiders March’ is an example of a very simple tune finalised to perfection. Williams ensured that the sequence of notes were formed to make the audience feel that we were already familiar with the tune. It brings with it the film’s values and Indiana’s determination.

John Williams continues to take a whole generation into the magical world of wizardry with ‘Hedwig’s Theme,’ created before the body of the ‘Harry Potter’ score, and standing out to the producer instantly. Once again Williams demonstrated an ability to embody a film’s values with one theme, providing the magical, playful, and adventurous nature that the Harry Potter scripts intended.

Hans Zimmer:

Danny Elfman:

Danny Elfman has demonstrated a career like no other composer, with his decision to sing the character Jack Stellington in Tim Burtons ‘A Nightmare before Christmas’. He stands out from other composers because of his choice to describe the scene on the screen to the audience, enhancing the audience viewing of the animations. He also embodies the characters’ emotions, in this case since he takes on the responsibility of playing the character for the duration of the song. The video below shows Elfman performing alongside the scene in the film, highlighting the correlation.  


(Feature image courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures)