Although there are many different ways it works, the main purpose for the score is to set a mood, whether it is suspenseful, horrific, scary, tender, ethereal or chaotic.
Some directors prefer subliminal tones that highlight their scenes. Some prefer blasting fanfare. Others use both.
However, the bottom line of any project is working together, and that was one of the things that interested Nina Francis.
Francis, who is a singer and songwriter, is a senior in University of Southern California's music program and is interested in ways to get her music heard.
So she attended the 16th annual BMI Composer/Director Roundtable panel that was held Wednesday at the Sundance House on Heber Ave.
"I'm looking to get my feet wet in the film industry and maybe have one of my songs showcased in a film," Francis said. "While I was good at a decent amount of things in high school and I was a science geek, music was the only thing that really got me excited."
The panel was moderated by Doreen Ringer-Ross, BMI's Vice President of Film/TV Relations, and included:
- Featured composer Craig Wedren and director David Wain of "They Came Together"
- Composer Blake Neely and directors Ryan White and Ben Cotner of "The Case Against 8"
- Composer T. Griffin and directors Ross Kauffman and Katy Chevigny of "E-TEAM"
- Composer Enis Rotthoff and director David Wnendt of "Wetlands"
- Composer Mark Orton and director Sydney Freeland of "Drunktown's Finest"
- Composer Gary Lionelli of "Last Days in Vietnam"
- Composer Kathryn Bostic and director Justin Simien of "Dear White People"
- Composer John Dragonetti and director Brian Knappenberger of "The Internet's Own Boy"
- Composer Keegan DeWitt and director Alex Ross Perry of "Listen Up Phillip"
- Composer Ryan Beveridge and director Sterlin Harjo of "This May Be The Last Time"
- Sundance Institute Composers Lab advisor Miriam Cutler
- Director of the Sundance Institute Film Music Program Peter Golub
One of the discussions Francis liked was about how the directors and composers met.
Wedren and David Wain were childhood friends who met at summer camp.
Others such as Rotthoff and Wnednt met at film school, and Mark Orton and Sydney Feeland met at the Sundance Institute's Composer Lab.
Then there was Neeley.
He heard about White's and Cotner's project "The Case Against 8," which is a film that counters Proposition 8, a California state constitutional amendment, passed in the Nov. 2008 elections, that essentially nullify same-sex marriages in the state.
Neely emailed White out of the blue.
"We received an unsolicited email from Blake that said, 'I need to score your film,'" White said. "We did have a mutual friend that knew and had worked with Blake so we agreed to meet him for lunch."
While all these artists met in different ways, they all agreed that filmmakers needed to communicate with filmmakers in order for the score or soundtrack to work.
Beveridge and Harjo also met each other in the Sundance Institute's Composer lab and have worked on three projects together, and have developed their own way of talking.
I don't think Sterlin likes to talk in musical terms," Beveridge said. "At this point we don't have to say a whole lot."
The two do discuss the tone of the music that Harjo wants to feature in his films.
"I tell [Ryan] what I'm after, but I will leave it open because I want to see what he is up to, and then we'll adjust and change things from there," Harjo said. "But I like hearing his first take on the film."
When Rotthoff and Wnendt talked about the music for "Wetlands," Wnendt made sure Rotthoff knew what was wanted.
"The general concept was that I wanted him to do a very emotional score," Wnendt explained. "We had such a young main character and there were many pop-culture references, so I wanted a special sound for things. So I told him not to use classical instruments, but to find his own sounds and play around with things."
Another topic addressed the pros and cons about working with each other online.
Orton, who works through the Internet with directors in Europe, said technology has improved since he started working on film.
"I can use Skype and show them what a bass harmonica is and blow in it to show them how it sounds," he said. "It is easier now to work online, but it's still not ideal."
"[Ryan and I] get more done when we're working side by side," he said. "We will work up to a point online and then it comes together when we're in the same room."
"The thing about working online is reading an email that says, 'I don't particularly like...' and you don't see what their actual reaction is," Beveridge said with a smile. "You don't know has severe the 'I don't like' is. In the past I would have gone into a complete panic."
Also, working in the same room doesn't necessarily mean there will be tension.
Rotthoff worked on his score with Wnendt waiting behind him.
"David told me to take some time and adjust a score and I said it might take some time," Rotthoff said laughing. "So he said, "Fine. I'll just sit here on the couch.'
"You would think this would be a pressurized situation, but for him to sit down and wait until I said I was ready and then look at the music as he would if he was listening to it for the first time, was an exceptional experience."
The two-hour panel gave Francis some ideas.
"It gave me a lot of resources to took at," she said. "I am interested in the Sundance Institute's composer lab, and that sounded pretty cool to explore."
The Sundance Film Festival will run through Jan. 26. For more information, visit www.sundance.org/festival.