Chapter 31 of 32 from Ron Howard

Music and Scoring

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Ron explains how the most talented composers pick up on details of actors’ performances and build music cues that deepen a story.

Topics include: Talk to Composers Like Actors • Use Score to Reinforce Theme • Frost/Nixon Score • A Beautiful Mind Score • Find Music Before Shooting

Ron Howard

Ron Howard Teaches Directing

Ron Howard teaches directing, editing, and storytelling in 32 exclusive video lessons.

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The very best composers are-- they're like another screenwriter. They key in on little things. Camera moves, an actor's, you know, flickering eye. A glance down that suggests an emotional state of mind that may not have anything to do with the dialogue, or the plot. And they often pick up on those things and begin to build cues around that emotion in very surprising ways. But music is such a challenge for me. Oh, I could play the guitar a little bit, but I can't read music. I'm not a musician. And yet, I understand how powerful it is. And I learned early on to talk to composers the way I would talk to an actor or a screenwriter. Just talk about the ideas. Talk about the feelings. Talk about the reason that I shot or staged a scene in a particular way. What I love about a performance. What I hope it conveys. And very often they're able to really reinforce that. Music is written to be, what, listened to, experienced. Now sometimes a piece of music-- always written with themes and ideas that the composer has that, you know, aren't specifically articulated, but you're meant to feel on some primal level. So intuitive level-- sometimes it works great for a movie. But there-- in my opinion-- there's nothing like score. Score is music that is written specifically for a scene, for a movie. Themes that represent something of a character. Sometimes movies have two or three different themes representing two or three different feelings or characters, characters who fall into the category of a certain kind of feeling. Maybe representing oppositional sides in a conflict. Sometimes there are no themes, sometimes there are only feelings. Sort of sound beds, beats, tempo. And sometimes there are both. So, again, in the world of working with composers or making decisions on your own, it's so much about asking yourself the question, what should the music be. And you'll have, probably, an instinctive answer, and that may be right. But it's always worth saying, what else. The development of the musical score for Frost Nixon was one of the most surprising creative experiences that I've ever had, because I was so certain I wanted a rock and roll score. This took place in '77. I wanted to evoke that era. I thought, here, I love those movies that do that. This is a chance to do one of those. And we kept trying songs. I had lengthy meetings with Hans Zimmer who was going to do some score. But I told him, I thought, Hans, it's probably only going to be seven or eight minutes of score, I really want a lot of songs. Peter Morgan, the writer and one of the producers on the movie, he was OK with it. I think he was a little suspicious of that idea, but when we started putting songs in, audiences said they kind of liked it, because they like those songs. But both Peter and Hans said I think you're selling the movie short. ...

Direct your story

Ron Howard made his first film in 22 days with $602,000. Today, his movies have grossed over $1.8 billion. In his first-ever online class, the Oscar-winning director of Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind decodes the craft of directing like never before. In lessons and on-set workshops, you’ll learn how to evaluate ideas, work with actors, block scenes, and bring your vision to the screen—whether it’s a laptop or an IMAX theater.

Watch, listen, and learn as Ron Howard breaks down directing in his first-ever online class.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps, assignments, and supplemental material.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Ron will also answer select student questions.

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Ron Howard

Ron Howard Teaches Directing