Recently, I was hired by a director to score a short film. This is the story of how I try and make a living.
I meet a man at the gym in the sauna where both of our members are exposed. It’s a little awkward for a first meeting but I feel confident that we’ll hang just fine. He agrees to listen to my soundcloud account and I agree to watch his most recent film. A couple of days later we speak again and express enjoyment at each other’s work enough to talk further about working together. He brags something about “commissioning” a composer to write a song for his last film. I think to imply that he has done this before but it’s a strange thing to say. Almost as if he is defending himself against an attack on his experience that isn’t being made. The “composer” turns out to be his niece, which is strange but like my grand daddy always said, “there’s no such think as a naked liar”. Well, I don’t know that he ever said anything like that but I’m confident that he would have if the opportunity presented itself.
This new director, which I will from now on refer to as Dick, is a retired architect so my assumption that he is a man of politics, structure and aesthetics is strong. I see Dick as a man with enough money to retire in his fifties and pick up film making as a fun adventure in his new life. This makes sense as it allows him to still be the boss and flex his creative muscles. He hasn’t made three films and is novice to the process of film making but confident in his ability to create. He sends me the script of his newest film in progress. It is good. (Surprisingly good compared to the dribble he sent me when we first met). He prefaces this latest email with “I’m not sure if I told you or not but everyone on my films work on a volunteer basis, that is to say, you won’t be getting paid”. (Thanks for decoding that for me Dick.) The film features a panhandler that plays a clarinet and has no voice to speak of so the character’s emotion is extremely dependent on the melodies he plays.
In response to Dick’s email, I tell him that I love the script and will work on his 10 min short for the same price as the clarinetist he will need to hire for a days work: $100. This is a severely deflated price but I believe in the script and the potential for more money in the future. He declines me using flattery and repeating that the entire staff is on a volunteer basis including the professional clarinetist he has already contracted. I begrudgingly accept no money in exchange for lending my services to his film. Dick is thrilled at having a real composer working on his film for free. I am ready for the challenge of writing solo clarinet music.
His latest email talks all about his “vision” and uses contrasting, generic descriptors for the music. “I envision jazzy blues pop clarinet infused with upbeat dancey type sounds. Then it gets more sad and I need a sonata.”
It sounds like this Dick has been marinating in a sauna of his own cerebral juices for too long. A sonata is a classical form in music not a style or genre. This might not seem so bad to anyone else but in my experience, a director is a lot like the manager of a business and when your job is telling stories, language is too important to be squandered. A phrase like “I envision” or “I need” is maybe a little pretentious and assuming when talking to a professional who is working for free.
For a little perspective, imagine if you will, me hiring Dick to design a small guest house for my property but asking him to do it “for the love of a creative endeavor” (as he so eloquently put it in his email to me). Dick agrees because he wants to get his name out as a young architect. Then I describe what MY vision is for the creative side of the guest house by using similar descriptive words: “I envision a woody modern classic look for the structure of the guest house. Then I need it to be a Frank Lloyd Wright”.
Working as a film composer is highly rewarding on many levels, generally speaking. Working hand in hand with a director who has many more obligations and a larger span of vision makes my job as a facilitator very inspiring. This is all to say if the director knows how to do the one job that is required of a person in that position. The main responsibilities of a professional who oversees every facet of a project is to convey the ideal direction in which to head and delegate the tasks to professionals who head each department. In other words, they should use whatever tactics necessary to help the cinematographer understand the shots desired and then let him find the best way to get it done. This is a great business model. This is how creativity flows.