They shoot, they score
A new MA course in Dublin will teach composing for film. It’s a popular job in the US, but can such an instinctive art be taught – and to whom?
Movie music: Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, scored by Howard Shore, in concert
Movie music: ET the Extra-Terrestrial, scored by John Williams
Movie music: Audrey Tautou in Amélie, scored by Yann Tiersen
Movie music: Matt Damon and George Clooney in Ocean’s Eleven, scored by David Holmes
To show the power of a film score, Conrad Pope suggests a simple experiment. Go to the end of a movie you know well and watch the final scenes with the sound turned down. (He suggests ET the Extra-Terrestrial because it’s his favourite film score: “That might seem like an obvious choice, but it’s an obvious choice because it’s such a very good choice.”) Then watch it again, this time with the volume up. See and hear the difference? When you have a film with a score, says Pope, “you see how much the music contributes to the emotion of the film.”
Pope knows all about the nuances and the grand gestures when it comes to putting music to moving pictures, from his work on scores for the Harry Potter, Star Wars and Matrix movies, as well as, most recently, orchestrating and conducting the music for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
The art of scoring for films is hugely complex. Composers need great flights of musical imagination and the gumption to be able to underline the drama on the screen in a way viewers will appreciate. They need to be crystal clear in their thinking and approach yet diplomatic enough to deal with executive producers who feel they should have a say in the music. They must have complete belief in their own ideas and ability but be able to fold those into what directors want.
According to Derek Gleeson, it calls for charm and tenacity. Gleeson is the director of a new MA course in scoring for film and visual media that will start at Pulse College, in Dublin, in September. Pope will be one of the tutors, as will Anna Rice, Garry Schyman, Christopher Young, Daniel Carlin, Juliet Martin and Craig Stuart Garfinkle.
The course was set up to satisfy a need for professional, intensive training in scoring for film, television, video games and other media, says Gleeson. “It’s forged out of relationships built up from Screen Training Ireland courses, which have been running since 1996. They were set up as a result of government reports [that examined] the infrastructure of the Irish film industry and provide a platform to deliver that.
“By and large they have consisted of month-long modules, in which you would bring someone in from London and they would give the course twice a year. A number of people have gone through that programme, but it became evident that there was a need for a more intensive year-long programme. This is a natural progression.”