There is a saying in Hollywood that goes:
“You are not a real film music composer if you have not been refused at least one score”
And in this regard I quote the book by Gergely Hubai “Torn Music: Rejected Film Scores, a Selected History” (Link to buy the book on AMAZON https://amzn.to/38PTIA3) which talks about all the scores that greats such as Alan Silvestri, Ennio Morricone, Michael Kamen, Jerry Goldsmith, Howard Shore, John Barry have also been rejected… Everyone is there except John Williams (of course…)!
Why am I telling you about this?
Because I also became a REAL composer starting from last Summer since I had a score rejected. In short… I was fired, there is no other way to say it!
I also think it is important to share your failures since these are, inevitably part, of life, so today I will tell you a personal anecdote from which I believe many lessons can be learned.
But let’s get to the point… Iwas contacted by a director friend who tells me: “I’m making a film and I’d like you to make the soundtrack for it”.
Highly esteeming him as a director, I immediately make myself available for work without even having read the script or having had any details about the project.
After that I receive the script (actually beautiful), I read it and I start to talk with the production explaining the palette of sounds I was going to use (string quartet plus synths and electronics in general).
My advice in these cases is to start working on the music starting from the script so that the editor can then use the demo tracks as temp-music.
So I write several songs, I play them to the producers who like them, the director himself was enthusiastic about them as was the editor.
So in June the film is being shot and then edited to my music. In the meantime, however, a doubt arises… I still don’t see the contract and I don’t even know what my fee will be!
At first, being a young production, I think this is due to the fact that they had many things to do in the pre-production and organization of the film, so I wait a few weeks and then… I call the producer.
The production call me back and tell me what the fee is going to be and reassures me that the contract would arrive shortly thereafter. The fact is that this contract, due to a series of (their) mistakes, has been sent to me on late August, when my work was almost finished.
So on August 15 I found myself sifting through it, realizing that I would never have been able to sign it due to a series of problems present in it (most of them was about release and losing every single right on my music, yes it was a “buyout”, for a very small fee).
However, the production reassured me by telling me that a legal agreement could have been found since they certainly could not change the composer at that point…
In the meantime, in mid-August, the rough cut arrives to me (so I see the film edited to my music, music evidently much liked by the person who was in charge of the editing as well as by the director) and with the director we set about having a nice Spotting Session (the vision in which decide which scene the music goes to) on the rough cut, scene by scene, cue by cue.
Once this is done, I go back to working on the music, I share my corrections with the directors and we do a second Spotting Session to make further changes and to have a cut of the music that we both liked very much.
The cut is then shown to the production, the director later calls me to tell me that…the screening didn’t go well.
Later there was a Zoom call with the production, Music Supervisor, director and editor and they told me that everything had to be redone from scratch. I literally fall from the sky!
What personal opinion do I have about what happened? That they realized they didn’t have the movie they thought they had!
So they tell me that I have 15 days to redo all the work from scratch and I accept, although I realize that a 15-day work (compared to that of the previous months which had led to a film already edited to that music) it certainly wouldn’t have been the best possible choice.
Perhaps they didn’t expect my new availability and therefore after a few days they contacted me again saying they would go in a different direction, changing composer.
In reality, there is not much to be surprised about this because it is something that happens frequently (it is no coincidence that the book that I mentioned at the beginning deals with this very topic), but the dramatic aspect is that this dismissal happened under contract…not signed! Incredible misjudgment on my part, the amateur’s mistake.
So remember: before writing even a single note, sign the contract! Why? Because in the event that the score is refused, they still have to pay you in full.
Why? Because you’ve worked for months on that film and therefore you have to be paid in all respects: you have done the work that was required from you, start to finish.
And if the production doesn’t like that job, they can ask you for all the revisions they want but they can’t in any way tell you: “We don’t like this thing you’ve done, we won’t pay you!”.
No! You have worked, you have been chosen, you have auditioned, the score has been approved by the director or whoever works for him, so they have to pay you in full.
Back to my experience: we agreed between gentlemen for a certain amount (which was not the total amount but half of what I would have been entitled to) but at least I retained ownership of the music, which is very important. This music has now become part of an album, a solo project whose proceeds will be donated to associations that help Ukrainian refugees (LINK ).
Of course, if I had signed the contract earlier, while I was working or even before starting to work, they would have had to pay me the full amount because the business risk does not belong to the composer but to the production. So if they decide at some point that for their own reasons they want to totally change the music they must be aware that they have already spent a certain budget to work with one composer and that they will have to spend the same amount (or more) to work with another and record the music accordingly.
Another thing I recommend is to always try to understand who has the final decision on the film. My respect has gone in this case (and will always go) to the director. In any case, I trust and support the director’s decision and not that of the production.
Maybe it was my mistake, I should have investigated more about what the production wanted, but my reflection is that the director is the person who has total responsibility in the film. When you like (o don’t like) a movie your say “I didn’t like latest movie by Director “X” “. You don’t blame the producers…
So first of all I have to satisfy the director and if I work on a cut of the music, on a score that satisfies him completely, for me, I have done my job in the best possible way, I have served my vision of the film well and I have served the one of the film’s director. And that’s enough for me!
Then it’s up to the director and the production to agree on the artistic choices. This, I repeat, is my vision (and the one of Morricone by the way…).
In my case the production blame my ingenuity in listening to the director because “we no longer live in the age of auteur cinema, today a film is a film of the production, it is a film that is one productive effort between productions while the director is the person who works on the film but is not the author”. This thing shocked me a little since my vision of cinema is different. In Italy, in Europe, the authors of a movie are, by tradition, four: the one who write the story line, the one who write the script, the one who direct the movie, the one who write the music.
Nowadays I think is necessary to separate what is Cinema, what is film for television, what is streaming, what is Netflix, because now everything is in a magical cauldron where everything is mixed together, but it shouldn’t be like this. For me, Cinema is an authorial effort!
The author is the director, the author is the screenwriter, the author is the scriptwriter, the author is the composer, for me this is the authorial components of the film.
So, I repeat, my mistake (which I don’t regret) was to have pursued the director’s vision which was totally in agreement with mine but not with the one of the production.
Another thing that “shocked” me a little bit… At a certain point, the production also brought the Music Supervisor into play, who took on the role of giving directions on the musical choices of the film.
But once the director and composer work together, entrusting the sound vision to the Music Supervisor in my opinion is a gamble, because from my point of view the Music Supervisor will tend in any way to satisfy the production wills to the detriment of the vision of the film director and the composer .
Another thing I want to reflect on with you is that at a certain point the production (after listening to several auditions) the only notation he had made to me was that “more thrillers and more percussion” were needed.
More percussion on a palette for strings and electronics? Meh! you can also try it, maybe it’s something interesting. Except that in the various spotting sessions we did with the director we didn’t find space for these requests which seemed to us to go in a direction of a good commercial vision of the film but not pertinent to it.
So this thing made me suspect that the production actually produced a film but had another one in mind!
I’ll try to explain myself better with an example… It’s like saying that in the music of the film “The Silence of the Lambs” there is little romanticism. But wow, we’re not talking about a romantic film!
As far as the Music Supervisor is concerned, I repeat, giving him some choices that are artistic and authorial is a risky choice, which goes a lot in the direction of Tv shows…bu that’s a different story from “Cinema Movies”.
So, to recap it all. My advice is: try to figure out which side you’re on and that is if you want to work respecting yourself, the film, the Cinema OR if you want to work a lot and then say “yes” to everything and everyone especially the producers who are the ones who pay .
We composers are eternal freelancers so we are genetically programmed to please someone, but doing this sometimes means not doing the best thing for the film or in general for Cinema or Art.
It’s up to you to try to understand a little how to juggle everything and clearly it’s not easy to do it.
If you are not driven by hard work but by love for Cinema, try to insist on some stakes that are important as regards our authorial research!
So always be very cautious because if you are refused a score, if you are fired, if your name does not appear on the poster or in the opening credits and therefore your music is not used, you will have a “time gap” in your curriculum which will leave you the displeasure of seeing your work questioned and will leave you out of the working environment for a number of months corresponding to those in which you worked for that film, triggering a series of cascading unpleasant events.
I hope this story of mine has been useful to you because I repeat… there is nothing more effective than sharing your failures!