Learn Composing | Home-Brew Film Scoring, Part 1

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The craft of film scoring might seem arcane or esoteric to the beginner, but truth be told, it isn''t. While there is a quite a bit of engineering involved in the creation of a score, there is a process that can be followed easily and swiftly, that is very adaptable for the composer at home; and I''m going to break it all down for you in a three-part series of articles. Don''t expect this series to make you into a Jerry Goldsmith or Danny Elfman; but after reading this, you can expect a working understanding of the composer''s role in a film and the basics you need to get started from your home.

You will obviously need a workstation and audio interface to create your project. Your system does not have to be the most modern revision, or even HD; it basically has to service your needs by allowing you to work at home. So don''t let gear freak you out! You will also need either a keyboard and or guitar controller with a sound library at your disposal. For discussion purposes, I will be using Pro Tools as my starting point; I will assume that you already understand a basic audio/MIDI signal chain.

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Your home scoring session today!

You will need to configure your “video” chain, as well. Here are two simple options: The first is a two-computer monitor setup; the first monitor displays all of your audio data (plug-ins, editing window) and the second displays your video data. The second method (my preference) is a two-computer monitor set-up plus a video monitor. This configuration gives me all of the screen real estate I need for editing audio and working with plug-ins, as well as a nice, large picture to play off of. It is important that you reference as large a video picture as possible. When I was first starting out, having a larger screen imparted a much more “cinematic” feel to my work in the studio, which gave me a huge psychological boost in my efforts. Having a bigger picture also allows you to see more of the subtle visual nuances in the film; you can use these visual cues for audio cues in the score. I use a Canopus ADV 110 as my video converter. This is connected to my workstation via FireWire, and to my video monitor using either RCA or S-video connections. I have both 21-inch and 32-inch flat-screens for video playback.

Remember to set up your session for video. This means that all frame rates and sampling rates should match; a mismatched frame rate could unlock your video from your audio and wreak havoc with the process. I ensure frame rate consistency by importing the film first, before I do anything else. In my case, Pro Tools automatically sets up the session to follow the film''s frame rate settings. I also ask the director for all of the vital technical audio info (sampling rate, bit depth—the most common being 16-bit at 48k) so I can then create a session using these settings. Make sure that when you get your video assets, the video comes as a Quicktime DV. This will play over the Firewire connection and not just your computer monitors.

To make sure that your video will play in Pro Tools, you then need to go to the Options pull-down menu and select the Video Track Online option; in the same menu, click the Video Out FireWire choice to play it on the external monitor.

The last task on our setup list is to deal with Video Sync Offset. This is a delay in playback of video in Pro Tools caused by sending it out over the FireWire connection.

Go to the Setup pull down menu and click on the Video Sync Offset Option. This will bring up a small window that will give you two choices for offset, Quicktime or Avid. At my studio, most of the films we work on come in the form of a Quicktime movie so that is our choice. Make sure that everything is happily locked up as well as can be; we have also found out that for our system, 25 quarter-frames of offset works well.

Okay, we are now set up and ready to go!. Next month, in Part 2, I''ll discuss the elements of the score.