||GONE WITH THE WIND. Jaws. 2001: A Space Odyssey. Its hard to think of these films without hearing the music, too. But does that make them good scores, bad scores or neither? Will you know a good score when you hear it? Or, in fact, when you dont?
The audience is not supposed to notice the score, asserts Buddy Baker, chair of USCs Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television Program. You go to concerts, not movies, to listen to music.
Baker, who declines to give examples of bad scores or name names, says generally, if you go to a movie and find yourself listening to the music and not paying attention to the story-line, theres something wrong.
Longtime faculty member and prolific film composer David Raksin bristles at that suggestion. I dont believe in all that jazz that if you dont hear it, its great. There have been great scores that didnt go unnoticed and didnt do any harm to the film. In fact, he says, the whole idea is a fallacy: Whether a score is noticed or not doesnt have much to do with whether its good or not.
David Bondelevitch, who as a music editor is used to striking a balance, concedes something to both sides: Contemporary audiences are pretty hip, he says, so when they notice any element consciously, they become suspicious of being manipulated. On the other hand, Bondelevitch points to moaning and groaning TV music that functions as background music. Its generic and ambient. You do need to notice it, but notice it unconsciously, emotionally.
In other words, an audience should feel moved rather than jerked around. Which points to whats most vital in scoring for the visual medium: A good score must support the drama, not upstage it. In Raksins words, it must aid and abet. Whether or not it can stand on its own as music, says Baker, is all but irrelevant as long as it works with the pictures.
THAT SAID, how do you write a good score? Theres no simple blueprint or formula. In fact, one of the most startling experiences for students in USCs scoring program is seeing how their classmates tackle a scoring assignment. Of the dozen very different cues created for the same scene, Raksin says, fully half will work well.
When asked about his own creative process, instructor Elmer Bernstein with more than 200 scores to his credit, including the music for Cecil B. DeMilles epic The Ten Commandments (1956) has this to say: When I get a film, I spend a week looking. I watch it over and over until it informs me. Then I go through and make a plan in consultation with the filmmaker.
Once thats done, he adds, the next step is prayer and hoping God is good.