What’s The Score?

Note:  This post is a little bit inspired by this fantastic post  on soundtracks by ATWN’s own Tonya Kuper.  I highly recommend you read it.

It’s that time–Summer movie season.  If you had guessed, my pick for Song Of The Week here at All The Write Notes is based on a Summer movie, Guardians Of The Galaxy.  To say I’ve been waiting for this movie with all the patience of a three-year-old in a grocery store would be an understatement.

However, it does also give me a chance to talk about a part of the movie going experience that gets a bit overlooked sometimes, but happens to be one of my favorite things about movies.  That is the Score.  Those bits of swelling music, sharp chords and swirling melodies that set the scene and give our heroes, villains, loves, and losses the right tone.  The scenes that make us fall head over heels, the moments that have us at the edge of our seats.  Right there with all the action, comedy, and romance is those few (or not so few) notes of harmony that stay with us after the movie is over.

Why do I love scores so much?  Hard to tell.  I do know that my music catalogue is filled with names like John Williams, Danny Elfman, and Hans Zimmer.  I especially love to listen to Superhero movie scores while I work out–there’s nothing more inspiring during my sets of bench dips to hear the famous sounds of the theme from Tim Burton’s Batman ring out.  I feel the tiredness fall out of my arms and find a new motivation to help me push through.

So, what does this have to do with writing?  Simply this–it’s important to pay attention to rhythm, tone, and motif.  In the linear notes to his score for Raiders Of The Lost Ark, John Williams talks about the duplicity in what sounds simple:  “A piece like that is deceptively simple to try to find the few right notes that will make a right leitmotivic identification for a character like Indiana Jones.”  Or, put in my own words, it only seems easy to find the correct way to portray your character.  Williams admits to working and reworking and reworking the now-famous “Raiders March”, flipping notes and rhythms until everything sounded right, that it correctly portrayed the sense of fun, danger, and devil-may-care that makes up our favorite Doctor Jones.

As you sit in the movies this summer, listen for those notes in the background, those things that help complete the scenes and make cinematic magic.  Think about how the composer spent hours, days even, reworking each note to make sure it conveyed the right emotion at the right time.  Make notes of what works.  Make notice of what doesn’t.  And use it for yourself.

Once again, John Williams:  “We can’t anticipate success in the things that we do.  You may write a sentence that will become chiseled in marble on someone’s library, but you don’t know that when you write it.”

And just know, no matter how early you make it to the theater for Guardians, I was probably there before you.

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