Why Original Score Is Important in Film and TV

DECEMBER 13, 2021
Film composer creating an original score.

Sound is an essential part of movies and TV shows, from dialogue, to sound effects, to music. As a Central Casting Background Actor, you may be familiar with walla groups and creating sounds for productions, but may be less familiar with how the original score is made.

What is an original score?

A score is original music written for a film or TV show, sometimes confused with the soundtrack, which refers to songs that are either licensed or created for the film by music groups and artists.

There are three main types of music in a production: diegetic (music that characters can hear), non-diegetic (music characters cannot hear), and songs. Non-diegetic, called the underscore, is the music you most often hear in a movie or tv show. This underscore tends to be instrumental and can be used as background music or as specific audio cues to enhance the emotion and impact of a scene.

The score can also include specific music (themes) for individual characters, relationships, or groups, that recur throughout a TV or film series, like the Avengers Theme that appears across multiple films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the Meredith and Derek Theme from Grey’s Anatomy that’s become synonymous with the characters.

How film composers create music

Film composers do the bulk of their work during post-production. The first step is a process called “spotting,” where the composer collaborates with the director to determine the style and tone of the music, which scenes require original score, and specific timing cues they want to hit. Next comes the writing and recording phase. Depending on the composer, budget, timeframe, and desired style, orchestras, musicians, or digital instruments may be used to record the music. Once finished, the score will be added to the sound mix at precise moments throughout the movie or TV episode.

“For me, I will watch the movie for the first time then immediately go to the piano and start to reflect on how the movie made me feel,” composer Michael Giacchino (Jurassic World, Star Trek, Up) told Gold Derby. “Then it’s all about finding that on the piano. What’s the reflection of those feelings and how do you put that into music?”

The general process of creating the score is the same for movies and TV shows, but can vary based on time, budget, and style. While each production is different, the composer mainly collaborates with the showrunner and post-production personnel instead of the episode director to ensure the score is consistent with and fits the overarching style of the series. Turnaround time also varies wildly in TV versus film. For example, on broadcast shows that air weekly, composers can have short timeframes to finish one episode before moving on to the next.

Why score is important

Music has been an important part of filmmaking since the beginning of the entertainment industry. Before talkies, live orchestras accompanied silent films, with the score setting the tone of the scene. While film has evolved since those early days, the score still plays a pivotal role in adding depth of emotion, creating urgency, indicating setting, and easing scene transitions.

Not only can original music elevate a film or TV episode, but it can become iconic in its’ own right, like John Williams’ Star Wars themes and Mike Post’s Law & Orderdun dun” cues.

Want to know more about how the shows you work as background on are made? Get to know the makeup department and common camera equipment used on set.

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By Meghan Dubitsky

Article Category:

Industry Essentials