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How Film Composers Work


Film composers provide a movie's musical accompaniment. Composer Howard Shore, left, celebrates with director David Cronenberg, right, at the director's screening of "The Fly."
Film composers provide a movie's musical accompaniment. Composer Howard Shore, left, celebrates with director David Cronenberg, right, at the director's screening of "The Fly."
© Michael Buckner/Getty Images

If a few scratchy chords conjure up the image of a shower, a knife and an unsuspecting young woman, or a bar of menacing music brings to mind a cruising underwater shark, you've responded to the work of a film composer. In movies like "Psycho" (1960) and "Jaws" (1975), the film composer has provided a musical accompaniment that blends almost unconsciously with speech and action to create a mood [source: Internet Movie Database].

But as invisible as these musical motifs seem at the time, the successful ones can linger long after the credits roll, triggering memories of bold adventure (the "Star Wars" series), ephermeral magic (the "Harry Potter" series) or impending doom and salvation ("The Lord of the Rings" trilogy). Creating the magic is all part of a day's work for film music composers like Danny Elfman, Howard Shore or John Williams.

There are plenty of tough decisions and lots of hard work behind creating an apparently seamless film score. Agreement must be reached with the movie director on the concept. Music must be written to match the tone of a specific scene of the film -- and to exactly the right length. Scores must be fleshed out, musicians hired and recordings made of their sessions. And everything must be completed on a tight deadline.

What are the responsibilities of the movie composer in all this? What is it like to actually work as a movie music composer? And how does someone become a composer? Keep reading to find out.