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Music in Film Unites the Audience and the Story

Updated: Jan 14, 2019

Creating Atmosphere & Portraying Emotions

Music and sound design play a critical role in virtually every film or television production. Without music integrated in a scene, the intensity of the action, drama, or comedy can feel lifeless. Music intensifies and exaggerates the emotions that the writer, director, and the whole crew are trying to elicit from the viewer. Music helps simplifies this task and supports the actors and their performances. It helps the audience to really FEEL the action, drama, comedy, tension, suspense, or whatever emotions scene is attempting to evoke. We in the production world want the viewer to lose themselves in the production, and to forget that they are watching a movie or a television show, by becoming lost in the reality we have created. The visuals alone will not be enough in most cases. Music is what forms the connection between the collective mind and heart of the audience.

Experimental Evidence

When I was young, someone taught me that if you are watching a scary movie and you cover your ears, you won’t be as scared. They we on to something! Have you ever trying watching television or a film with the sound turned off? I don’t have to tell you that the emotional impact of that production is greatly diminished without a musical score and sound effects. Not too long ago I was lucky enough to attend the John Williams: 40th Anniversary Concert at the Hollywood Bowl. If you are not aware, John Williams is one of, if not the greatest and most prolific film composers of all time. We, the audience, were treated to full symphonic performances of many of John William’s greatest film scores by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, including E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Superman, Indiana Jones, Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park, and of course, STAR WARS. Many of these legendary films were directed by the iconic filmmaker Steven Spielberg, who was also present at the concert and introduced many of William’s film scores. At one point Spielberg played an entire 4 minute sequence of scenes from an Indiana Jones movie for us, without any music, up on the giant screens at the Hollywood Bowl. Seeing the scenes with no musical score, was quite shocking, and felt a bit flat and unbelievable. I definitely was aware that I was watching something that was not real. When Spielberg replayed the sequence with the music that John Williams composed for it, it came to life. It became an experience that drew us in, awakened emotions, and made us believe.

The Art of Silence

Overusing sound effects and overusing music in a film or television production can also lessen the emotional impact of the entire production. Restraint, tasteful and strategic use of music and sound effects, and variations of silence aresometimes what supplies the intensity and power of a sequence of scenes. The legendary director Martin Scorsese is not only a master of utilizing music, but is a master of the strategic use of variations of silence in his films to create emotional contrast for the audience to experience. Examples of this can be found in many of his films including Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ, Goodfellas, and The Departed. Extreme examples of silence can also be found in some films and television shows such as No Country for Old Men and the American version of The Officetelevision series. These strategic examples of silence create a world of “real life” for the viewers that the filmmakers successfully achieved.

It’s All About Chemistry

When it comes to choosing a composer, sound designer, or music supervisor for a project, for writers, directors, showrunners, producers, and the like, it’s all about finding the right fit. It’s about finding the right chemistry that will generate a creative explosion that will propel the art into the realm of the profound, the level at which films and series stand the test of time. It’s very much like great bands. When the right chemistry is discovered between musicians, something magical happens, and the sum becomes greater that its parts. Prodigious technique should usually take a back seat to the new member truly understanding the vision and being dedicated to the ideals of the collaborative spirit.

Dominic Kelly is a composer and boutique music library owner based in Los Angeles, CA. He has composed and licensed source music to shows like NCIS, NCIS New Orleans, composed original score for features and documentaries, and as well acting as a staff composer for Gramoscope Music supplying music forhit cable television shows such as Botched, Wicked Tuna, and Fast N’ Loud.

Dominic Kelly

Composer / Songwriter

Dom Music Library

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