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Playing Against Type

This is the second in the ongoing articles about suggestions to filmmakers and editors in using an online production music library. This article applies to both documentary film and dramatic film. Something that many filmmakers discover sooner or later is that music does not need to double down on the exact same emotion that the film is already saying. Too often a dramatic scene is reinforced musically with heavy handed dramatic music (along with already over the top sync sound effects), or a sad scene is swamped with music that plays the exact same emotion as what already exists in the narrative or the visuals. Now of course there is no rule of thumb that says that you can't do that. Film and film music are creative visions, and there is no "right" or "wrong". But there are alternatives that can add a new layer rather than overloading a layer that already exists. There are wonderful examples of this. One such example is,
in Full Metal Jacket when Joker finds Leonard in the bathroom the last night on the base loading his rifle, the music is very spare and subtly ominous with a surrealist other worldly feeling. It's not an anticipatory beat or a pulse telling you that something is about to happen. It's just subtle discordant tones that give the scene a dimension of suspense that doesn't exist without the music. And again, there is never a "right" or "wrong" music for any scene. My feeling is that music simply needs to make the film better, not worse or simply fill space. I composed the music for a Nat Geo Channel documentary film on Terraforming Mars years ago. The tease had a segment on scientists who wanted to explode a vast number of nuclear bombs on the surface of Mars for one reason or another. It was a ridiculous premise of course. Before I composed the music for it, I put a Nino Rota style piece from the OBT Music library (# 1388) which is very Fellini-esque. It not only played against type (which would be that pulsing dramatic tease style music) but it added a new layer of comment on the concept of these nuclear detonations on Mars. It was editorially over the top but it pointed out that playing against type can add a profound layer that can be very welcome in exploring creative options. One advantage of using an online documentary film music library such as OBT Music is that editors can download many different music cues to get the sense of how the scene can play out. And in today's film world, doing the unexpected can be very welcome.