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Topic: Is it good for film composers to be unoriginal?

  1. #1

    Is it good for film composers to be unoriginal?

    Yesterday in one of my classes we had an interesting discussion about the unoriginality film composers tend to have.

    The professor used the examples of the themes from Born Free, Lawrence of Arabia, and even John Williams's themes from E.T., Star Wars, and Superman. Although audiences may not notice how similar they are, musicians and composers certainly notices.

    Why is it good to be unoriginal? It's easier, of course, and the score will be more likely to succeed (and the film makers make more money selling a nice soundtrack). Whether the audiences realize the similarity or not, they know what they like, and if they hear the same kind of music from another movie they like, their brains will be very happy.

    Is this trend bad? Do the composers have a choice? Is it the audience's fault for liking the same old stuff? If you were payed lots of money to score a big dudget film, would you want to ruin your chances of scoring more films by being original and unliked by mainstream audiences?
    Sean Patrick Hannifin
    My MP3s | My Melody Generator | my album
    "serious music" ... as if the rest of us are just kidding

  2. #2
    Senior Member Styxx's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    West Seneca, NY

    Re: Is it good for film composers to be unoriginal?

    I think there is the matter of a deadline to meet and budget restraints. Most film composers will use something from past works for the sake of getting the job done in time. From what I have seen they do not have the luxury of a year or two to compose.
    Then there is the case of their "signature sound" that the film producer hired them for in the first place. That may just be what a new producer is looking for, John Williams "sound" or John Berry's "sound" or whom ever.
    It's funny though how you can watch a movie (new or old) and pick out the composer just by the style and mood the music is written in.
    Now, If I were to write for a new film? It all depends on what the story is conveying. Whether I would make it original or not? I think the producers would have a say as to what they expect and you would be ablated to their wishes.
    Eh, what do I know? Good question though! Makes an old man want to get up and shout, "What! Not another John Berry Score!"

  3. #3
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Los Angeles

    Re: Is it good for film composers to be unoriginal?

    Three things that kill the potential for better film music:

    1) Temp tracks
    2) Hollywood's "flavor of the day" mentality
    3) Limited vision on the part of directors along with their micromanaging tendencies

  4. #4

    Re: Is it good for film composers to be unoriginal?

    An interesting topic, one that has been discussed many times in other forums.

    Most professional film composers these days are subject to the wishes of the Director (yes, with a capital "D"). Quite often, directors know the sound they want, but can't always express it in musical terms. Also, there seems to a lot of pressure to "sound" a certain way... as Scott mentions above.

    Many composers would LOVE to put an original angle on their music, and in most cases, they do... not necessarily the WHOLE score, but a part of it, a signature or a really original motif of some sort, makes it through.

    There are a few composers who had the balls to do their own thing, no matter what everyone else was doing (e.g. Aaron Copeland, Bernard Herrmann, Philip Glass, John Corigliano, to name but a few) who remained true to their own styles... and were successful, and usually acclaimed for their efforts. (Many these came from classical backgrounds, too.)

    Styxx is correct in saying that the composer's time on a film is short... in fact, it is one of the shortest in the whole post-production schedule. A matter of weeks in some cases, to write, orchestrate (or have orchestrated by someone else), record and mix the score into the final picture.

    Given these rediculous deadlines, it's amazing that we have such memorable and high quality musical material coming from films at all.
    Steve A. Gallant


  5. #5
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Innopoli, Finland

    Re: Is it good for film composers to be unoriginal?

    Quote Originally Posted by SeanHannifin
    Why is it good to be unoriginal? ?
    Because music itself doesn't have any semantics, film music is too often
    based on musical cliches. When people get used to those cliches
    they have a kind of vocabulary helping them to interprete the details
    in films.

    Then creating original music may disturb this and that's why unoriginality
    is a virtue. Fortunately not always... But the again, new cliches are born.


  6. #6

    Re: Is it good for film composers to be unoriginal?

    I remember reading Jerry Goldsmith saying that he would never be able to compose the music that he did for Planet of the Apes today.


  7. #7

    Re: Is it good for film composers to be unoriginal?

    Not living in Holiwood, I can only comment on what I read from Jeff Rona and others.

    The composers actually do very little in the process in Holliwood. Large corporations do most of the work. The composer come up with the ideas which are then sent to teams of orchestrators, score writers, arangers and so forth. What you hear is "music made by commisions". Many of these other persons follow the strict rules and no matter how original the first idea was, the sound that you hear will be tailored to sound the same.

    On the other hand, many of the great composers we hail as heros also stole ideas from each other. Is it only coincidence that we can classify classic music as romantic etc?

  8. #8

    Re: Is it good for film composers to be unoriginal?

    I think lgrona makes an important point - the purpose of film music is to generate a specific emotional response from the viewer/listener. The more you use standard devices from your own and others' work, the easier it is to get the point across. Film scores are not meant to be art - they are meant to be emotional traffic cops, directing the viewer to a particular mindset. Thus cliches abound - not necessarily from laziness, or even from the ridiculous time constraints, but because they do the job intended.

    If a composer is brilliant enough to create original, exciting music that moves the plot along despite all that, then more power to him/her, but any director worth his salt will take the cliche that works over the wonderful, original piece of music that makes him say "huh?"

    Just like Musak is designed to herd customers through shopping malls, film scores are to herd the viewer through the emotional train ride the plot requires.
    It's all about the music - really. I keep telling myself that...

  9. #9

    Re: Is it good for film composers to be unoriginal?

    Well I think you need to define "originality" vs. "innovation". It's possible to come up with something interesting and fresh without necessarily having to reinvent the wheel each time.

  10. #10

    Re: Is it good for film composers to be unoriginal?

    Sean, I think to answer your question; "Is it good for film composers to be unoriginal?"

    Look at what happened to Gabriel Yared and Troy. Unfortunately directors and even audiences seem to expect a certain type of music to accompany a certain type of film.
    - SCA - Sound Studios -

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