How To Change The Background Score Of A Film After It's Edited!

By Aditya Savnal. Posted on August 20, 2015

Background score is an important yet over-looked part of the filmmaking process. Any filmmaker worth his/her salt will pay attention to the score. Done well, a score can enhance the impact of a scene manifold. Watch an good noir or western and you know what i am talking about.

Sometimes you need to redo the score after your film has been cut and even screened. Many changes to the background score are done at the last moment to heighten the dramatic impact of key scenes.

How does a filmmaker handle these situations? We stumbled upon a response on Quora that sheds light on what really happens in such a case and how you can deal with the same.

"The first thing to say is that in the case where a screening has gone badly enough to warrant a significant picture recut, the composer and his / her score are often in the firing line along with the editor and director, so he or she may no longer be the one doing the rescoring.

Assuming they survive any cull, however, here's what normally happens.

Firstly, most test screenings happen before a note has been recorded using either a temporary score created by a music editor from a collection of pre-existing scores, or (more commonly these days) with computer sequenced demos created by the composer. This being the case, the composer will usually rescore for the new cut, but this will take place before the expensive scoring sessions have taken place with sampled instruments on the composer's computer.

Secondly, if the score has already been recorded, it will normally have been mixed in "stems" (short for "stereo masters" though these days they're usually in 5.1 surround). This means that (for example) the strings are separate from the brass, which is separate from the percussion, the piano, the electronica, etc, etc. In fact, it's not unusual to end up with more tracks of mixed "down" music than you originally started with on the multitrack (though composers don't like to be told their music has been "mixed up" for some reason). Having the music separated into its component parts this way makes it significantly easier to edit (because you don't have to worry about the outgoing string chord interfering with the incoming piano theme, to pick one tiny example).

In truth, film scores are often changed, sometimes dramatically, during the final dub of a movie, even when there's not been a big recut. Perhaps the director was indecisive during the writing stage. Perhaps the producer(s) waited until the evening before the recording sessions before listening to anything and it's too late to address their notes. Perhaps there wasn't enough time. Perhaps once the final sound effects are present, the score clashes with them. There are lots of reasons why the score might not be working as it should. Given the expense of re-recording, and the fact that these problems usually come to light during the final dub when there's only a handful of days left in the schedule, it's very rare to go back to the recording studio.

One last point, if you listen, I mean really listen to the score of a movie, you will hear many instances where the tone of the music changes completely in a moment, and back again, in ways that you would never write outside the context of a film. The language of film lends itself to these sudden shifts, and in editing the score, if you can retain a close lock to the picture, you have more leeway than you'd imagine with otherwise awkward musical joins."


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