Film Composition

Story by Marcus Jackson

New Zealand School of Music, 2017

Setting the Mood

There aren’t too many jobs where success is measured on your work going unnoticed, but this is precisely the goal for many film composers and sound designers.

The main focus of a film composer is to write the soundtrack for the film in order to heighten the emotional experience of the viewer. However, they must do so without compromising the dialogue or the environmental sound.

Film composers work in tandem with directors, helping them to create the emotive “feel” they’re after and translating descriptive adjectives into compelling soundscapes.

In a similar vein, the role of the sound designer is to recreate the sound environment of the film. Typically, most of the outside sound will be stripped from the video, except the dialogue of the actors.

From here, the sound designer adds in the sounds of footsteps and cars passing by, as well as dreaming up realistic ways of creating a believable monster-sound.

Perhaps it’s not that the work should go unnoticed, it should go unquestioned.

Believability Is Key

Graduate Grayson Gilmour, of So So Modern fame, sees his role as a composer as creating genuine emotion.

Choosing not to rely so much on conventional music theories, Grayson takes a much more intuitive approach to sculpting a film soundtrack. Perhaps this is due to his background in popular music, or his own emotional ties to his work.

Evidenced in the scores accompanying his MMA (Master of Musical Arts) work, the effectiveness of Grayson’s music comes from his ability to make his music relatable to the audience.

With a clear love for the textural soundscapes, it is the accessibility of Grayson's music that creates its success.

A Fine Line

Defining emotion is one of the most difficult parts of writing “emotive” music. How do composers go about turning loosely defined words into real sounds?

Current PhD student Ewan Clark recently completed work on docudrama Doubt: The Scott Wilson Case. The soundtrack for this needed to neither presume guilt, nor preach innocence - a fine line for a composer to tread.

Ewan’s research looks into transformation theory: exploring ways to transform harmony to employ certain emotive connotations, with a focus on the work of French composer Alexandre Desplat. The outcome of this work seeks to provide a reference for understanding the inner workings of harmony in film music.

Working in the Industry

Launched in 2017, the Master of Fine Arts (Creative Practice) presents students with a new way to engage with Wellington’s creative industries. Offering both film composition and sound design specialisations, this new postgraduate degree is drawing students from all over NZ who are looking to make their marks on the film world.

With the promise of a state-of-the-art film facility in Miramar (the film industry centre of Wellington), and collaborations between Park Road Post, Weta Workshops and Victoria University, the ongoing impact of the New Zealand School of Music on film music and sound is sure to be felt for years to come.


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