LA Trip - 'Film Scoring, Hollywood and Working Remotely'

Last month I attended the annual Billboard Film and TV Music Seminar, a two day event in Hollywood which was made possible with the help of career development funding from the NZFC.

The event itself was fantastic - fascinating discussions with film composers Hans Zimmer, Thomas Newman and Marco Beltrami, and TV guys such as Bear McCreary and Trevor Morris. In attendance were a wide mix of people from composers and songwriters, to music supervisors and publishers. For anyone working in the field of music for picture I couldn't recommend it enough - a thrilling and very informative 2 days, and very beneficial from a networking point of view.

I'd also arranged to spend some time with Dan Licht ('Dexter' composer) who was not only a very amusing chap but very open too - showing me his writing sessions from Dexter and taking me through his working process. While I was with him he landed his next TV show, and I got to be part of the remote 'spotting' session (working out where the music will be, and what it should 'say') for the first episode with the New York based producers - it was a real insight to see how he approached the session, as well as dealing with the unbelievably short deadlines in TV!

I spent Halloween night the most appropriate way I could think of in LA - watching Danny Elfman perform his music from Tim Burton's films with the Hollywood Symphony Orchestra. A week later I had the pleasure of getting very close to the same orchestra when I sat in on the scoring session of the upcoming Muppets sequel with composer Christophe Beck. It was a really moving experience sitting behind the conductor at the Sony Scoring Stage (where 'ET' and 'Schindler's list' amongst many other scores were recorded) and hearing the orchestra sight read the score - such an incredible sound! To top it off I managed to arrange having a look around Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control facility and met with James Newton Howard at his studio - he spoke very fondly indeed of New Zealand having spent a fair amount of time here when he used to tour with bands.

I heard from numerous people that they feel the business as a film composer is changing, and that perhaps the old adage of "you absolutely have to be based in LA" isn't quite as true any more. Obviously nothing can replace meeting people face to face; making those connections and building rapport, but once relationships are built, with high speed internet the world really is a lot smaller now.

I’ve done a lot of remote work myself, both internationally, and within the country; working with a combination of Skype, Dropbox and Google Docs. It’s an amazing time we live in where this whole process can be so efficient. The flipside of this, as mentioned by one of the composers on a panel at Billboard, is that the only reprieve he would get from the long lonely hours in his studio would be when the producers would drop round for a playback session and a chat – and they don’t even do that any more! They just ask for the files to be sent over, whilst he begs for them to come around for a coffee before he loses all social skills.

A final amusing thought from the great Alan Silvestri – the top ten tips he could give for being a successful film composer: number eleven is your ability to compose music.

Put another way, perhaps the key to a sustainable career is making connections, looking after your clients and relationships and, especially in such turbulent times – being able to collaborate and work with those people regardless of where they are based...

With James Newton Howard