Arts & Entertainment, Music

Starting Your Score: The Spotting Session

Danny Elfman

Lesson time 10:40 min

The first day on the job for a film composer is the spotting session, where it’s critical to listen to your director. Danny explains how to map out your score and determine length, budget, and how to overcome temporary music.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: The Spotting Process · Temp Music · Budgets Big and Small: Making It Work


[MUSIC PLAYING] INSTRUCTOR: Depending on the film, the beginning is officially the spotting session. You sit with the editor, and sometimes the producer, and certainly, the director. And you run the film top to bottom. And in running the film top to bottom, you find every moment. Music starts here. Music starts here. It runs 2 minutes and 15 seconds, and it kind of comes out here. Now you give that a number, and the number is based-- again, this is an antiquated system, but it's still how we do it. It might be-- it's in the first reel of the film. So it's the fifth piece of music. So it's 1m05. Reel 1, music 5. And I'll encourage the director during the spotting session to talk about it a little bit. Tell me the thing you're concerned about. So I've had spotting sessions that take two days, where literally, the director wants to talk about it so much, we can only spot half the movie in one day and half on the next day. It happens, and that's just director to director. And the other extreme would be Tim Burton, who, if the movie is an hour 45 long, the spotting session will be an hour 55. He doesn't like to talk about the movie. He just doesn't like to talk about it. So I'll encourage him to say something about the cue. So he might just go, make sure this is sad, or make sure this gets really hopeful here. OK, next. And so we're basically just starting and stopping and really defining music starts, music stops, giving it a name and a number. I should add that the really important thing about the spotting session is everybody now knows how long the score is. And there's a huge budgetary condition because it's abstract. Well, we think there's about 60 minutes of music, but the spotting comes in at 75. Everybody's got to adjust the budget and the number of days of recording for 75 minutes, rather than 60. Or it's the other way. Well, the music only came in at 51 minutes. OK, we're actually really good, or we could even maybe give up one session. So from the studio standpoint, this is actually a very important moment because they're going to get a number. And that number is going to tell them how many sessions, how big of an orchestra. And there's a huge budgetary process that has to happen, and that also begins with the spotting session. [MUSIC PLAYING] Temp music is the bane of every composer. And that's a huge part of a composer's job. Now, some directors are remarkably unconnected, disconnected from the temp music. And that is just like having a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders when I sit down with the director and I'm looking at a film for the first time. Because usually, the very first time I see it, it's going to have a temp score. Because I'm actually looking at some kind of preview cut that they're generally looking at. Sometimes it's not. Like, again, some directors are just literally showing me the film on an editing machine. And I'll say, just play me a cue you're in love with. And so I don't want to hear ...

About the Instructor

From The Simpsons theme to the soundtracks of Tim Burton’s Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and The Nightmare Before Christmas, Danny Elfman’s compositions are original, memorable, and exuberantly weird. Now the Oingo Boingo founder and four-time Oscar nominee shares his unconventional (and uncensored) creative process. Step into Danny’s studio and learn his techniques for evoking emotion and elevating a story through music.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

Danny Elfman

Oscar-nominated composer Danny Elfman teaches you his eclectic creative process and his approach to elevating a story with sound.

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