"8 Free, 7 Free, 6 Free…." The words move across a still frame of film for a count of eight. A popping sound is heard as a vertical bar wipes the screen. Immediately, the 100-piece orchestra begins to play, the music’s tempo building to match the chase scene. A minute later the musicians finish and the room buzzes with excitement at hearing a live orchestra play the film’s score for the first time.
Score, the music written specifically for a film, is a vital part of the film-going experience. Score enhances the film’s story and fills its pauses with sound. Score can be so subtly tied to the drama that an audience might feel a swell of emotion without even noticing the music. Or a film score can be powerful, heightening the tension in a horror or suspense film. In the early days of silent films, music was played with the film to drown out noisy projectors. The fact that music added so much texture to a film soon became obvious, and it wasn’t long before every silent movie was accompanied by a live pianist or orchestra. After sound was added to movies, creating music specifically for a film became the norm.
With advancements in modern technology, many composers now create full scores on a keyboard with a sequencer. It remains to be seen whether the complex sound of a live orchestra will ever be fully recreated digitally, so the scoring session continues to be an integral part of today’s filmmaking process.
The composer is involved in the very beginning of the post-production process in order to create the perfect melodic theme for a score. Some composers get their inspiration by viewing dailies or rough cuts of the film. A director usually has musical ideas for certain scenes, so the composer and director watch the film during a "spotting session" to spot-check the places in the film where music should be heard. The music editor generally attends the spotting session and is also responsible for integrating source music (songs not created for the film) with the score.
Scoring the music for SHOWBOAT on the MGM scoring stage, 1951.
The scoring stage as it appears today at Sony Pictures Studios.