Ep. 114 Transcript

Disclaimer: This is transcribed using AI. Expect (funny) errors. 

Mindy Peterson: [00:00:00] I’m Mindy Peterson, and this is Enhance Life with Music, a holistic look at the power of music in our everyday lives. Today, we are going to take a peek behind the curtain of composing music for film. My guest is Dr. Garrett Hope, an award winning composer of film and concert music. Garrett uses the medium of music to tell stories and create life-changing experiences. Garrett is also a fellow podcaster. He started the Portfolio Composer podcast and blog to help composers with the business end of writing music through mindset, marketing and business skills. Welcome to Enhance Life with Music, Garrett.

Garrett Hope: [00:00:43] Thanks. I’m really happy to be here. Thank you for the invitation.

Mindy Peterson: [00:00:46] My pleasure. Well, Garrett, I find film music fascinating, partly because it very clearly has a major effect on how we experience the story of the movie. And I kind of the phrase that comes to my mind is that courtroom phrase leading the witness can totally lead us as viewers to pretty specific emotions and also biases like if you have a person who enters the frame and the creepy music stars, it’s like, Ooh, this person must be suspect because of the music that’s playing. So that’s one thing that really fascinates me about film music. Another piece or another factor or film music I find really fascinating is sometimes the most skillfully composed scores are the ones that you don’t even notice, like you’re not consciously even aware of the music as it’s playing. You’re just it. It plays into the storyline and the overall experience so skillfully and so seamlessly that you don’t even think about it consciously. And at the same time, you can have equally skillful and outstanding scores that are epic and totally do capture your attention. And I think about like John Williams, Star Wars, you know, scores where you’re just, I mean, I’ve actually gone.

Mindy Peterson: [00:02:01] I’ll probably break some Star Wars fans hearts by saying this, but I’ve gone to Star Wars movies because my family loves Star Wars, and I admit I do not. But I’ve gone to the movies because they want to, and it’s Christmas time and we’re doing something together. And so we go there and we sit down and the movie starts. And I think, why did I agree to do this? Like, I’m going to have to stay here for two hours now and once some of those movies, like the scores kick in, I’m like, Oh my goodness, I’m just going to close my eyes and pretend I met the orchestra. Yes. Yeah, just enjoy this music. So film music is so fascinating. I’m really excited about learning some more today about the process of composing a film score. So starting out, can you just walk us through the process? Like at what point in film production does the composer typically come in? Or does it really depend on the type of film and who the director is and what their system is?

Garrett Hope: [00:02:57] I mean, those are some great questions. And before I answer them, though, I want to comment on some of the things you were saying, Yeah, music is sticky. And what that means is of all the arts. It does the best job of attaching itself to what we are experiencing emotionally. And I mean, the other senses do this too. Like you could think back to the day your husband asked you to marry him or something. And you can probably recall not just what song was playing on the radio if a radio was playing, but what sense we’re in the air, right? What perfume were you wearing or cologne he was wearing? And music does this really well, especially when it’s inside another medium like film. And so the composer’s job is to make the film more. The filmmaker is trying to tell a story, and part of that is conveying emotion and drama, and so the music can make all of that just more. But we have the power as composers to guide the listener so that we can tell them what they’re supposed to be experiencing as well. My my daughter, who’s 14 now, but ever since she was really little when we’d start watching a film or a TV show, I’d say, Well, what is the music telling you? Is that the bad guy? Or should you be afraid, even if it was showing something scary? And she’s like, Oh no, even though it’s dark, it’s kind of happy music. Ok, so you don’t you don’t have to feel afraid, right? And you learn these are musical cues that opera composers figured out several centuries ago and has just translated into into film. So that’s one of the things I really love about the medium of composing for film is I get to enhance the experience for the viewer.

Mindy Peterson: [00:04:42] That’s a really good point. I mean, it makes me think of that quote. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And music really does. That has that exponential effect on all of the other pieces of that film.

Garrett Hope: [00:04:53] Yeah. Now Aaron Copeland in his great book What to Listen For in Music. Makes the argument that film music needs to stand on its own, and he did a few film scores himself, and he felt strongly that it needed to have its own language and if separated from the film, would be fine. And there is a huge community of people who listen to film scores on their own. I’m one of those people I love film music, but a film score that’s doing its job really well is forever, always best within the film. I hope that makes sense.

Mindy Peterson: [00:05:24] It does, and actually, I’ve gotten CDs from the library before. Well, this is I feel like I’m dating myself. But if you listen to say, like the Toy Story film score, there are some songs, some tracks that do sort of stand on their own, like, you’ve got a friend in me who doesn’t know and love that song, but then there’s other songs that they play, and they’re just all over the place and you’re like, Oh man, what’s seen was this from? Because, yeah, just listening to it all by itself is a little bit discombobulating. Yeah, you know, it was very specific going along with this scene of probably Buzz Lightyear flying up and down and bumping into something, right?

Garrett Hope: [00:06:03] The music was composed for that particular piece of action or what you were seeing. And so there’s what philosopher Nicholas Walter saw if he was a Yale professor and studied aesthetics and stuff. He called this fitting this, and now I’m totally off tangent. But the idea is art always serves a purpose, no matter what it is, and I actually don’t really believe in art for art’s sake. I think no matter what you’re making it, there’s some purpose culturally, religiously, socially, whatever. It’s doing something or you use it in action in some way, like tribal masks, a lot of people collect these and hang them on their walls because they’re really beautiful objects of art. But they weren’t created for contemplation. They were created for a religious ceremony, right? Art and action fact. That’s the name of Walter’s terrific book. And so film music that’s doing its job telling the story is what he would say. Sitting in fitting this, it’s doing it well within them. The theme the medium. Mm-hmm. There I had my reaction. Now I can answer your other questions if you want.

Mindy Peterson: [00:07:06] Yeah, yeah. I’m glad you jumped in with that reaction. So, yeah, tell us a little bit about the process and what it looks like of composing music. I would love

Garrett Hope: [00:07:14] To. So film music is a weird thing because it usually happens as one of the very last stages in moviemaking. So they have what’s called pre-production, and that’s where they’re working on the scripts and they’re raising funds in their auditioning actors and finding the places to film. And then they film. And then there’s post-production, and in post-production they do colour correction, editing and all the mixing. And it’s pretty common that the composer is hired after everything’s been made and they’re editing. And sometimes composers only have a few weeks to write an entire score. So it’s typically at the very end of the process, and there’s some really good reasons for that. There are exceptions like Gabriel Yarde, who scored all of the Anthony Minghella films. He won an Oscar for the English Patient, but he also did Cold Mountain and talented Mr. Ripley and all those really interesting films. He had a partnership with Minghella where he was brought in in pre-production, so he was scoring the ideas, and the actors would sometimes listen to those ideas before they went out onto the set so they could embody that emotion already. So then we get into these kind of layers of layers of meta meaning like who’s influencing who here emotionally? Yeah, but that’s that’s really the exception.

Garrett Hope: [00:08:31] Ok, part of the reason that film music has to come in at the end is because music takes place over time, and when you’re editing a film, you’re slicing between cuts. And so timing becomes a serious issue. And as the composer, one of the first things you do is you sit down and you call, it’s called spotting. You have a spot session with the director. You watch the whole film and you figure out where does the music need to be and then what does it need to do? And once you have those kind of big markers in place? Well, it’s my process is is I’ll go down and I’ll watch the film and I’ll figure out every point of action. So where are the cuts in the edits? If someone’s walking a mark, each footfall, if something happens with the action, I’ll mark that to and I try to compose the music. So I’m hitting a majority. But not all of those beats and

Mindy Peterson: [00:09:20] You’re marking these. Do you have a copy of the script to kind of use that as your guide? Or how do you even go about organizing this?

Garrett Hope: [00:09:29] Well, I do have the script, but I put it into my door and then I have my door. Yeah, a door is a digital audio workstation, and that is the software tool within which we create a lot of the music. If you go to a recording studio and they’re recording on a computer, they’re recording in a door and d a W digital audio workstation.

Mindy Peterson: [00:09:55] Oh OK, got it.

Garrett Hope: [00:09:56] Yeah, like pro tools is a. Are Reaper logic all those and so within the dawn, the timeline, I have these events marked and then I pick a meter and a tempo and then I’ll adjust the metal meter. So a cello, randos and retardants and everything so you can hit these. And when music is hitting some key moments, it enhances that moment, right? Like, we talked about fitting this and making it more. Mm hmm. If you watch an action scene, a really good example is the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Can you think of that one with Orlando Bloom and Johnny Depp near the beginning of the film, Johnny Depp just escaped from prison, and he’s always trying to escape somebody I can’t remember, but he ends up in the blacksmith’s shop. And then in comes Orlando Bloom, and they have this great sword fight. And as the swords are clashing and they’re dancing around each other with their footwork and their fencing, the music is hitting every clash of the swords in every footfall, and it creates a pretty magical moment. But if you do that too much, it’s literally called Mickey Mousing because it comes from Disney films, and then it becomes comical. Now that is a Disney film, and it’s lighthearted and not super serious, but you want to hit some, but not all does it? Sure. Does that make sense?

Mindy Peterson: [00:11:16] Yeah, definitely.

Garrett Hope: [00:11:17] The editing process is so time consuming that if they bring the composer in and the composer is trying to write music and then they make decisions that chase the timing, it’s a real pain in the neck for the composer because then the composer has to go back and like, Oh, do I add a measure here? Do I take away a beat? And I’ve had instances where I’ve had to change like certain sixteenth notes, even that small the time unit, but it makes a big difference in the overall effect. So that’s why film music is often the last part.

Mindy Peterson: [00:11:44] Oh wow. So you sit down and watch the movie with the director and they give you input on some of the hot spots where they really want some musical support for the particular emotion or action that’s going on.

Garrett Hope: [00:11:58] Yes, and sometimes they’ll even put in temp music music to kind of hold the spot because as they were editing, they wanted to see what it would feel like.

Mindy Peterson: [00:12:08] Sure. Kind of a placeholder type thing.

Garrett Hope: [00:12:10] Exactly. And there’s there are some strong emotions around temp music, though, because I mean, it’s a good thing because it helps the director see the vision early and they’ll understand more of the emotional thread that they’re trying to do if they can listen to music in the scene. But some directors get trapped into the music now has to sound like this, and a lot of criticism of contemporary scores is that music ends up being derivatives of derivatives because they could temp a film with great 19th century orchestral music. And then that composer has to sound like that. And then the next film is temped with his music. And so now you’re just photocopying everything down the line. Sure. And that’s one of the biggest criticisms, in fact, for the Marvel Universe. Besides Alan Sylvester’s Avengers theme, Can you whistle me any other Marvel Universe theme?

Mindy Peterson: [00:13:06] Probably not, but that’s probably because I escaped watching the Marvel movies. I got stopped going to Star Wars, but I didn’t have to go to the Marvel movies.

Garrett Hope: [00:13:15] But even then, Mindy, I think that that makes my point. Even though you’re not a Star Wars fan, I could play you any one of John Williams motives from Star Wars, and you’d be like, Oh, I know what film that’s from.

Mindy Peterson: [00:13:26] Oh, OK, right? Don’t put me to the test, but probably you

Garrett Hope: [00:13:31] Cannot grow up or be alive in our culture without being exposed to some of these things. And even if you don’t know the ultimate reference, you recognize the music. So we watched the film. The director gives notes on what they’re hoping to achieve. And sometimes when you get to a scene, it’s really apparent on what needs to happen. Like, what is the emotional thread? For instance, maybe it’s a meet cute between two couples, and they’re falling in love for the first time. Well, that’s that’s pretty obvious, right on how you should score that. But sometimes it’s ambivalent. Or you could choose one of two ways, and then the director will say, Well, this is what I want the audience to feel, or this is what I’m trying to do with the character development. And that’s where the craft of composition really comes in, because you, you have to take this idea and turn it into a reality. Then you write the music and you play it for the director and they either say yes or no or change this.

Mindy Peterson: [00:14:27] Uh huh.. And I imagine you get used to working with certain directors and kind of get a feel for what they like or don’t like or sort of guess and anticipate and ahead of time what some of their objections or desires might be.

Garrett Hope: [00:14:39] Yeah, it’s definitely a relationship business for sure. That’s why George Lucas and Spielberg always worked with John Williams on their big stuff because they had a level of trust and understanding and they knew what the other person was trying to do artistically and when you have something as big and intimate a project. Is a film you want someone you can kind of hand your baby over to and, you know, it’s going to come back in better condition?

Mindy Peterson: [00:15:04] Sure. Tell us a little bit about the whole notation process. I have some piano students who are interested in composing music have composed their own songs, and so I’ve worked just on a very limited basis with no flight to have them actually know those songs. It’s just a free program. If any listeners are kind of interested in digging into that, you can check it out. It gets the job done. It’s kind of a neat, little free, cloud based program. I saw that you have a relationship with D’Errico. Is that how you say it? That is correct. Yes. By Steinberg. So tell us a little bit about your process of notating the music as you compose. Do you work on an electronic keyboard that just kind of plugs all of those notes in as you play them?

Garrett Hope: [00:15:47] You know, it’s a real combination of things, Mindy. Sometimes I will start with a notation and kind of thoroughly compose it that way. My film scoring process is most often, though, based on improvisation around composed melodies and themes. So I’m not often thinking about the notation when I’m working on a film as much, and if I were to notate that, it would happen after the fact. But you are right, I am using a midi keyboard and playing it all into the computer, and so I can just export the MITI data out of the door and into an engraving tool like D’Errico and make it look pretty OK. But when I’m composing concert music, I write a lot of music for educational ensembles, so high school and middle school bands, choirs and orchestras. It’s all about the notation, and I often will spend most of my time coming up with what I hope are good ideas and reworking them and reworking them. And then I think architecturally often, even with film music like if I have so much time to fill, what’s the form I’m trying to fit? And how am I going to move from one thematic area or a key area to another? And so learning to notate for a young composer like your students is kind of vital. It’s the language of this ephemeral art that happens in the air.

Garrett Hope: [00:17:11] Have you ever read Stephen King’s book on writing? No. So it’s a memoir about his process, and you don’t have to be a Stephen King or horror fan to get anything out of this. But he he talks at one point about how grammar is the tools in the toolbox that kind of gets you up on your feet. And then there’s other tools, like having a deep lexicon of words that allow you to express your ideas deeply and notation and understanding fundamental theoretical concepts. That’s kind of like the grammar part. It’s what’s holding all the music together. And if you can convey those ideas clearly through well-written rhythms with the pitches that you want, then you can give that to somebody else and they can interpret it to your imagination. Mm hmm. And so I think when we’re teaching young students, well, even older students, we always have to emphasize correct notation. A lot of the problems I’ve seen in the university classroom, even in earlier beaming, you know, making sure you’re showing the beats and how do we how do we break up the meters compound versus Duplo? All that and we can get into the different software tools, too, if you want. Note flight versus Sebelius finale D’Errico all of that, but it’s that

Mindy Peterson: [00:18:29] Might be a good idea for another episode because that that would be really interesting. One thing I love about having students compose their own music is it’s kind of like the secret back door for getting them interested in music theory, because a lot of times the students who are interested in composing are not so crazy about the music theory. And yet, once they start composing their own song, I’m like, That sounds awesome. Ok, let’s get this written down so you don’t forget it and so other people can play this too. And you can save it. And when you graduate from high school, you’ll have this written out piece of music that you composed when you’re in sixth grade. So we started to it and they’re like, Oh, there actually is a purpose for knowing what these different rhythms are. And if this is an eighth note or a sixteenth note and if there’s a rest, you know, so they kind of have this light bulb go on like, Oh yeah, all that stuff you’re trying to teach me, maybe I should have paid a little more attention. It was, I realize, yeah, it’s for real. You actually have a use in a purpose.

Garrett Hope: [00:19:30] Yes, I’ve encountered students even at the university level, where there’s a reluctance to theory because they have this misconception that if they were to study it deeply, it would degrade their love and passion for it. Mm-hmm. And a lot of people do have that feeling, but I think at least for me in my experience, the more I study it, the more I’m amazed by it, and the more I fall in love with it. It’s like, it’s like, you’re. Partner, right, if you love them and the more you spend time with them, the more in love you become. And music, to me, is that same way. And I’ll often explain to students that when you’re studying music theory, you’re you’re Dorothy and Oz and you’re just peeking behind the curtain and you’re trying to figure out what is the wizard doing? How does this all work? And that’s what theory is doing is it’s kind of explaining what’s happening.

Mindy Peterson: [00:20:22] Yeah, well, and in a way that you can record it and replicate it because a lot of times students will come in and they’ll have this really cool little riff that they’ve come up with or a little motive or a theme. Or maybe it’s even more developed and they have half a song there. But if they don’t write it down, maybe we we take a little break and we’re working on Christmas music and then we come back after Christmas and I’m like, OK, let’s pick up that song again. And they’re so disappointed because they can’t remember it and they’re like, Oh, it was so cool. What was that? They’re trying to get it back, you know? And notating takes care of that.

Garrett Hope: [00:20:57] It really does. It really does.

Mindy Peterson: [00:20:59] So if a listener is listening to this and it happens to be, say, a high school student who is considering a career in music and thinks, boy, that application of music composing scores for film sounds really interesting. What suggestions would you have for them as they sort of want to dig a little deeper and investigate that, or just maybe get some kind of experience that would be helpful if they do end up in that line of work?

Garrett Hope: [00:21:26] I would definitely encourage them to explore it, for sure. I think the best thing they could do is to start creating, Don’t wait, don’t you don’t need permission from your teacher or anybody. You can take your favorite scene from a movie and just turn off the volume and make up some music to it. And on the simplest level, it’s the same way that silent film music was made. There’s a piano player sitting in front of the screen, just playing music to the action and just start creating that way. And if you have the resources and I know some of us don’t, but if you have a computer where you can begin to record your ideas or to notate your ideas, or to start experimenting with different instrument combinations through virtual instruments and synthesizers, just start doing it. And if you have friends that are also into creative activities and they want to be filmmakers, make a movie together, there’s no reason you guys can’t. All these kids have smartphones, right? So make a movie on your iPhone, then you create the music to go to it. And the best way to learn this is is by doing it. That’s my best recommendation right there.

Mindy Peterson: [00:22:38] That sounds awesome. Well, you went to school for this. You have a master’s in music theory and composition. You have a doctor of musical arts and composition. Is that the typical career out of someone who ends up composing film scores? Or are there a lot of film composers who have had more of a circuit, a route to that job?

Garrett Hope: [00:22:56] You know, a lot of film composers. There’s a few big schools for film composition. One of them is USC. And when their undergrad or even master’s students, they form those lifelong relationships with the directors that are in the film school there, too. And because they’re already in Southern California, they just kind of continue to live into that. There are very few film composers with doctorates. I got my doctorate because I wanted to be a professor. And so having that terminal degree is kind of the minimum requirement to applying for a university position. Sure. But I always wanted to compose for media. I really, really love it. And so I do it every chance I can get.

Mindy Peterson: [00:23:41] Well, I want to make sure we leave a little tiny bit of time, at least to talk about something coming up. And it has to do with how we initially met. Our connection came through an indirect and circuitous route that stemmed from an event last January that I attended and you planned. And that is the ultimate music business summit. It was a virtual convention, and it really caught my attention because it was probably the only virtual conference that I have attended that felt like it was in person, even though even though it was virtual, I mean, I can’t tell you how many people I met through that presenters and well, you and I connected on LinkedIn after that. And that was it. Until just recently, we sort of everything came full circle again, but I connected with so many people there who I’m still in touch with and we become friends. We live in completely different parts of the country, so we’ve never met in person. But we’re Facebook friends where LinkedIn Friends, we’ve collaborated on different podcast related things. And so it was just a wonderful event and you’re planning another one coming up for January of twenty twenty two. So tell us a little bit about this next Ultimate Music Business Summit coming up for people who may be interested in signing up or at least signing up to get. Our information as it comes through.

Garrett Hope: [00:24:59] Let me start by saying you just warmed my heart. It means so much to me that you got some value out of the summit. I made it for people just like you and like myself, who during the pandemic we didn’t know what to do. But a lot of what I do through my podcast and as a coach and speaker is I’m trying to help people build their businesses and to think business while we’re being creative. And that was why I created the summit. And so we are doing it again because the response was really positive. And there’s still, I think, a need for this kind of activity where you can get actionable content. And what that means is you can go and listen to someone talking about marketing and PR and then right away go and just do one or two of the things they suggested to move the needle forward. Last year, I did it all by myself, and it was a crazy amount of work.

Mindy Peterson: [00:25:55] Not only imagine,

Garrett Hope: [00:25:56] Yeah, I was insane. I don’t know why I did it, but I did it. But now I formed an executive committee of Arthur Brewer, Dr. Heidi K. Begay and myself. So we now have months to plan it. And we we are currently at thirty two presenters plus a keynote presentation. It’s going to be amazing. And like you said, it’ll be early January, January six seven eight. We have so many presentations we may might add a fourth day. We’re unsure yet because we’re also trying to figure out the best platform. I want the presentations to be live so that the audience can do a Q&A with the presenters afterwards, which I think is going to be really valuable. Last year, everything was pre-recorded. You can go to the website, which is Music Summit, Biz Biz and get on the mailing list. And that way you’ll be the first to know when the tickets are available. And we’re going to have a very low cost option. And that’s just to cover the expenses of the platform. But we’re talking like 15 bucks like nothing. It’s like going and getting lunch right and and the ROI. If you can spend $15 and go and you can learn one thing that will make you a thousand dollars over the next year. That’s a really good return on your investment, whether you’re building a teaching studio, whether you are even a graphic designer or whatever, you can think business. And we will also offer an all access pass, which will give you lifetime membership to a site where you can watch all the videos as many times as you want because and maybe you experience this last year, but it’s overwhelming when you have thirty two presentations, that’s over 10 hours a day for three days like one person. Just can’t absorb all that information, sir.

Mindy Peterson: [00:27:38] Well, we’ll definitely include that link and the show notes so that people listeners can go to that that business summit website. Get more information, sign up to be notified as tickets are available. I highly recommend it. I’ll I’m already on the list to be notified. Yay. I hope other listeners will join me and maybe we’ll see each other virtually on that platform in January. Well, I ask all my guests to close out our conversation with a musical, ending a coda by sharing a song or story about a moment that music enhanced your life. Do you have a song or a story that you can share with us today as we close out our conversation?

Garrett Hope: [00:28:15] I do. I chose a piece I wrote as a very young composer, and I chose it because I’m immensely proud of it. But it also set me on the path to where I am now. I had no intention of being a composer. I took a few composition lessons as an elective when I was in my undergrad and I wrote this piece and I submitted it to a competition and at one and I thought, Holy smokes. Writing music is really fun. It’s easy. Turns out it’s not so easy. I was very lucky, but I got the bug. I got bit and now I just I just have to write music. So this is a choral setting of the Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “God’s Grandeur,” as sung by Ars Nova, which is a choir in Colorado. And this was the winner of the 2003 Young Colorado Composers Competition.


Transcribed by Sonix.ai