From Hans Zimmer's MasterClass

Writing Tips: Part 2

Hans provides insights into how to make sure you aren't limiting your creativity when writing.

Topics include: Writer's Block • Budgets • Passion


Hans provides insights into how to make sure you aren't limiting your creativity when writing.

Topics include: Writer's Block • Budgets • Passion

Hans Zimmer

Teaches Film Scoring

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How do you write music? You know, you can write music by sitting in front of a piano. And your fingers will run across the keys. And usually, what happens is they fall into certain patterns of muscle memory. So the way I write is I turn up in my room in the morning. And if I don't know about the tune is, I do it like this. I sit on my hands until I have an idea, and I don't let them stray to the keyboard. Because I know what's going to happen. It's just going to be muscle memory. It's just going to be a thing I did last week or whatever. So the most impossible part is not to touch the keyboard. Because it's so tempting to go and touch the keyboard and play a load of crap. And you know, very often, you can play a load of crap, and people are really happy with it. But at the end of the day, there has to be a sense of adventure in it for me. Otherwise, it gets boring. So there has to be a sense of the new and we've never tried this before. And if it means setting a piano on fire, or going to Africa, and going into a township, and working with an African choir that, you know, none of us speak the same language, or going to Slovakia and meeting some extraordinary musicians, so be it. I think writer's block comes from many different places, but I think one of them is you don't know what you're doing yet. You don't know what the story is you want to tell. Or you feel you haven't done your research yet. I mean, that's one form of writer's block. The other one is just you've been working too much, and you're burned out. You're not enjoying it anymore. But quite honestly, I never have that. Because I love what I do, and I get excited by it. But I can't write until I know what I'm writing about. And that isn't-- that's a little harder to explain. Because weirdly, it's not in the script, and it's not on the screen. It's some weird, strange version, which is my version of the film, my little bit on the-- left-hand side of the corner of the screen, there's something going on that nobody pays attention to. And it becomes really important to me. And that's the story I want to tell, or that's the part I can contribute. So once I know what I can contribute, I know what to write about. And up until that moment, I just sit there in, you know, total panic like a dear in front of the headlights. Budgets-- because this is what people always want to know about. They always think-- they always think that we're either completely rolling in it, and it's just like a gazillion dollars, or what every film composer tells you, there isn't enough money. And of course, none of it is true. At the end of the day, I've done some of the most fun things on movies where I have no budget. And I did the most boring things where I had sort of a bit too much money. So budget-- you know, the budget shouldn't affect the creative process. The creative process takes place in you...

Tell a story with music

Hans Zimmer didn’t see a film until he was 12 years old. Since then, he’s scored over 150 films, including Inception, The Lion King, and The Dark Knight. In his MasterClass, the self-taught Academy Award-winner teaches how he creates sounds from nothing, composes compelling character themes, and scores a movie before ever seeing it. By the end, you’ll have everything you need to start film scoring.


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

What a great class, a little slow sometimes but overall very informative and entertaining. I wish I had even a 1/4 of his talent.

Words spoken from experience have such great weight. I loved this.

Han's Masterclass is inspiring because he talks about his work with passion and excitement, he is very generous to share his experiences. I can now see how he is putting character and story into his music and create another dimension to the films he works on.

I learned so much things about me. Thank you so much!



I like the humor of adding a banjo to Sherlock Holmes(reminds me of Steve Martin’s also fine Masterclass) and Zimmer’s egalitarian viewpoint in reminding us how easy it is today to record any musical ideas at all! No excuses! Ha


Sitting on the hands to avoid pianistic muscle memory is so cute! I agree that more research on the subject helps generate ideas!

Regnar E.

I can hear that I am not much different from other composers, and it is always good to be reminded.

Quintus V.

I've been seeing a lot of stuff about 'Crimson Tide' from a lot of different sources. This score, of course, is the definitive where Mr. Zimmer incorporates the choir. As I understand it was quite a duel to get the go-ahead to do that. Thank you Mr. Z for your passion.

Patrick D.

Hans you make a very great point about the musician and the budget, ones mind is not limited to sounds; were only limited to when dont have access to the sound for everyone else to here. There is always another way.

Marcus M.

I like the not taking any limitations. In a way, having a big budget is a limitation, much like having every piece of software ever created. I really like what Spitfire is doing with the LABS platform. Some other companies have offered free or lite versions of products that, even with the limitations, can be used to create incredible scores. Even the sounds that come stock with programs like Garageband/Logic, Studio One, and ProTools may be adequate enough.

Judith M.

Perhaps the advice most clear from Hans here was to be passionate about what you are writing. Don't let others take away the joy or determine the course, unless they have given you some solid constructive criticism or are paying you for a specific result. Why? Because you may have just noticed at the side of the screen a single movement or piece of body language that suddenly opens up the idea inside the head of the person that you are creating the scene about or for. I've come across genius level people who are extremely focused, and I've also come across those who aren't sure where they are going. But Hans is correct what defines them or its lack does, is something that stirs their passions and keeps them interested in whatever subject they specialise in. If you take Holmes for example, who is written as a genius, when he is not involved in an intellectually stimulating case he descends into a very negative form of addiction, stealing cocaine from Watson's GP bag for his 7 per cent solution. A very accurate scenario of the tormented genius that is best avoided if possible. Kudos to Conan-Doyle for actually daring to write about it. Writers block is really about how your passion has suddenly been extinguished, and may actually be about your personal life as much as your professional one, physical and mental ailments aside. Loved seeing the piano, I just had to smile, thank you :)

Jonathan S.

I know some geniuses, too. They work hard for the love of it. They just work faster and smarter than I do. But I also know some lazy geniuses. (I don't know what that has to do with the class, but …)

Mia S.

"Start writing. At the end of the day, a cheap piano sound - it's still there right? 88 keys, it's all there. The job is to go and figure out the notes, and figure out all the things, then you can go and put all those simultaneously - all these colors are going on. I keep being of two minds about this conversation. You could do the score, one microphone, one laptop. I don't accept the fact that you can't write, create a great Hollywood blockbuster - in a funny way, the more money you have available, the less of an achievement it becomes to make an impressive sound. You don't need all the whizz-bang sounds, you don't need the computer, you don't need anything. You can compose in your head, on the piano, on anything. There's a quality to it, you can either go, 'Oh my god, that's not technically correct,' or you can go, 'Wow, that's really interesting.' You just open yourself up to the possibility that that could be really interesting and that you can manipulate it. It's a huge advantage, to work with the bare minimum of available things - one violin, one bass. Yes, and then - I went crazy, went off to Slovakia and recorded all the gypsies. But that's a different thing, you know? The resources exist to go and do great things. 'I've worked with a lot of geniuses in my life. They all have one thing in common: They roll up their sleeves, work until they drop, never go home, and then present it as, Oh, it was easy. You're supposed to make it sound easy.' And Sherlock - it's easy. If you listen to the score, it's trivial, simple tunes. You can't tell that a lot of work went into it. I didn't get any sleep - that's the truth. But I didn't get any sleep because it was fun, it was great. We were at it passionately.Those are the sort of situations you want to be involved in - it's your job, as a composer, to help to create those."

Mia S.

"At the same time,be bold - go up to them. Tell them you're going to add something to their movie that they won't get otherwise. Don't be shy about it, you know? Music is important. Music is worth something. The mistake people make - just because we play music and we like the process of playing doesn't mean we're giving it away. There needs to be an appropriate budget to help fulfill the vision that is not just your vision, but it's the director's vision. The two of you are working together on something. Sometimes it's important to remind a director that there isn't endless time, budget and amounts of recording sessions with very expensive orchestras; we might have to resort to a rubber band and a cardboard box to get this done. But that one works too - rather than going for the most expensive score that you could possibly do, a big-budget movie could actually benefit from using really modest instrumentation,and just a bit of quirkiness, inventiveness. People come in from music school - somehow they have this idea that, their first movie, they're going to unleash this 102-piece symphony orchestra when, really, what it's going to be is you're going to unleash some plug-in on an iPad. And you're going to go and make a great score out of it, because that is the budget they're going to give you and that's all right. What you have to do is you just have to imagine how you're going to make that sound like that 102-piece symphony orchestra that you thought music school had promised you."