David Raiklen discusses composing music for films


Interview David Raiklen

David, when did you start composing music?

I remember composing when I was four years old. I asked my parents for a keyboard and lessons. I wanted to make novel sounds from the very beginning. Not as a game, I genuinely wanted to “make music”.

When did you start composing for the film industry?

I wrote, directed and scored my first picture when I was nine years old, and I have been doing it ever since. I’ve been working professionally since I scored my first doc in college.

What does music add to a picture?

I think it’s an invisible dimension. Like an actor who is felt but not seen. In a particular scene it serves 1000 different purposes. It can be part of the background, part of the vibe, it can be part of the performance of the actors and support what they are doing, it can add another level of action, emotion to a scene.

Music can be commentary on the scene. Specifically, if we were to have a scene in a club you might see well dressed people, cool lighting and a bar. Depending on the kind of music it might tell you it’s a western bar, dance club or a high class cocktail lounge. You would know all of this information, not only about where you are in the picture but the kind of people that are in the room, just by hearing the music. You would know instantly this is a swanky club in NYC.

Tell us which films you composed for recently.

I am working on an action thriller, “Jane Doe” , and “Faith and Honor” a Celtic epic shot on 35mm in Ireland that they are doing music and post in LA.

How does a filmmaker find a musician to score their film?

It is usually through personal referrals. That’s how you get most of your film scoring work in this industry. People you work with tell people they enjoyed working with you and refer you. But, Carole this is the most challenging part, where do you find the films to score?
I’m always seeking good stories.

There is some roll that is played by the manager but much less than the actor’s agent or managers roll. You network. I go to events where films are being screened, film festivals and seminars where filmmakers go so I can meet filmmakers. Networking is a key to connecting between musician filmmakers and directors or producers. There are services on the internet where you can find composers.

When you find a composer what is the next step? How do you judge music? Just because this composer created great music for a cowboy film, how do you know they have the range to create for a romantic comedy?

A professional film composer should have a highly adaptable style that can cover everything from rock to opera. Cowboy, romance, comedy, action: composers will have samples of all major styles. They should be able to create every kind of sound because that is part of a film composer’s tool kit.

Every composer will have their own way to do this. A good film music composer will be able to write a full range of music styles. The best way is for a director to listen to the variety of musical styles from one composer and if they do them all very well, and the director can say, “here is a love scene, I can feel those intimate moments,” or “here is a blazing action scene, I can feel it”, now you know this composer can tell an emotional story and fit the music to the themes of the film.

It is much more important to find someone with the aptitude to write whatever type of music you need. A common way to find composers is by listening to something they have already done. If the person has already created what you want them to do in your film, then you can feel comfortable. Even better, I consult with a director and create a custom cue to show what I can do for their film.

If you are producing an independent film I think it is important to have a relationship with the composer and they should be a story teller just like you are. In other words the composer should be as flexible with music as the cinematographer is with the camera. The camera can be anywhere with any lighting conditions and the cinematographer’s job is to make the actors and the film look good and this is what the composer needs to do. Regardless of what the story might be, technique adapts. It doesn’t matter what the emotions are, who the characters are, the composer’s technique should be up to making them feel authentic to that movie. Some composers will get your story and some won’t that is the real heart of the collaboration. Can this person adjust their style to tell the story- and in particular, do they get your story and can they tell it in an effective way?

How can you find this out before hiring them?

Ask for samples of their work, maybe a custom cue. If you like what they do, it does not necessarily have to be the exact same thing you want in your picture, just see if you respond to what the composer is doing on a gut level and it evokes emotion in you and stimulates your imagination. Everyone who has the gift for film scoring, their music will bring pictures to your mind.

That’s something you can 100% guarantee. A film composer writes visual music- for instance think of Ravel or Rimsky, great classical composers who have great visual music. This talent has always existed; it is just that film gives you a particular outlet for this type of music.

There have never been silent films, music always had some kind of sound track, playing live before recording. They had piano players in small theaters; they had full symphony orchestras in the big theaters. This is coming back in style. You will occasionally see John Williams or Howard Shore conducting one of their film scores in front of a live audience with the movie projected above.

Do you create intro or outro music for on the shelf?

Yes, I have my own library of production music to cover common dramatic situations. I also write concert music. At the moment I am working on a horn concerto. This will probably have its premier in early 2007. This is heroic, noble music for a young lady who is a brilliant hornist.

Would you say film scoring is your heart?

Yes, it is my heart. I find the heart and soul of the picture and turn it into music.