From short to feature – Part 2: spotting session

Share this:

In the previous entry of this series we explored ways to harness and crystallise our first ideas when reading a script or watching a film for the first time. That work will prove extremely useful when facing the next step: the spotting session.

Spotting session

I often had to work on a short-film without having a proper spotting session with the director first. The spotting session was once a standard, but it is not such a consolidated practice anymore. Sometimes it seems the pictures can clearly communicate where there is need of music and a spotting session might be redundant. In fact, is it really such an important step?

YES!

Try having a spotting session on EVERY project you provide music for. Knowing from the beginning what are the ideas of the film makers can save you time and frustration later on. If this is true for short-films it is fundamental on long form. So what should you even do/say during a spotting session?

  • First of all listen. Try understanding everything the director tells you and keep notes of that. If you are not sure you understand something don’t be afraid to ask. In fact, there are times when you might want to ask more info about a particular scene. A question that I often ask, and I invite you to do the same, is: “what do you want the audience to feel here?”.
  • With every scene you address you should propose your ideas. Remember all the notes you took from reading the script/watching the film? This is the time to use them. You’ll end up with a roadmap to guide you during the work.
  • Project an image of confidence at all times. A spotting session can be an overwhelming experience the first times you go through it. Especially when you are starting the work on your first long-form film. Have faith in yourself and remember that you have a plan, and you have done this same job for slightly shorter projects before. By showing that you are in control you will help the film makers think that they entrusted their project to the right person.

Temp score

I am going to say it right away: I am not a fan!

Temp score is a very useful device for the editing stage, when it is important to visualise how the picture can work with music. Though, in my opinion, it should not also be used to give guidelines to a composer. A proper spotting session is a much better tool for that. Ideally you should try to experience the movie without temp score while you are developing a working plan. In fact I advise on insisting that the temp score track is muted while doing the spotting with the director. Why am I so against it? For two reasons mainly:

  1. I think a composer can really bring something new to a film. To do so, however, she/he needs to have the freedom to form ideas. Where should the music work with the pictures? On what dramatic level should it operate? What instruments would achieve the best effect? These are just some of the questions that you should be allowed to think about without being influenced.
  2. Because of temp love!

There are times, however, when it is useful to have the temp score at hand. A couple of examples: when you propose a solution for a cue that really doesn’t work you might want to hear what the director had in mind. Or when can’t quite describe a musical characteristic that she/he has in mind for the score. In such scenarios it would be great to have the option to unmute the temp score. If you’d like to know what is one of the most common/effective ways to do that check this article on exporting videos for composers.

Conclusion

I hope I have convinced you on how useful a spotting session can be. Especially the first times you transition from short-form to long-form. So whether you are about to start working on a 5 minutes webisode or a 2 hours drama make sure you sit down with your director in front of the film and your life will be easier!


Also published on Medium.

Giovanni Rotondo

Editor in Chief of Film Scoring Tips. Giovanni Rotondo is an experienced film and television composer based in London. He has scored many award winning feature films, TV movies, documentaries and video games. More info here: giovannirotondo.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *