Often when we watch films, the music is overlooked despite its integral position in the overall composition of the movie. Moviegoers first remember the actors in the movie, and then the director, but the composer of the film’s score is the last to be remembered, followed only by the technical crew. It is worth asking: what does a film composer do, and who are the big names in film scoring today, both for good and for bad?
According to author Kurt London, music was incorporated into film not for any sort of creative avenue but as a means to cover the noise of the projector in the theatre. The advent of film at the beginning of the 20th century used technology that would be foreign to today’s moviegoers. Recording technology was also not nearly as developed as it is today and thus, the poor quality of the recordings of film music was not a huge deal. An additional solution to this problem was to have a live musician, normally a pianist, accompany the film.
The sound of the film orchestra was pioneered by the Austrian American composer Erich Korngold. He is considered one of the most influential composers of early film. Some of his most famous work includes Max Reinhart’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and his score for “The Adventures of Robin Hood.” His scores also influenced the sound of the so-called “Hollywood orchestra.” Popular jazz singers like Frank Sinatra often performed with this new Hollywood sound. Film music began incorporating sweeping string sections accompanied with prominent French horn as well as saxophones.
Film music often utilizes popular music styles to enhance the audience immersion in the film. The film scoring industry is marked by the changing music of the decades. Sometimes this changing musical style was more subtle and also a little hollow when period piece films would be scored. Film scoring began to take two different tracks in the 70s however. One track followed a more traditional orchestral model and the other relied exclusively on the popular music style, even using musicians who were not traditionally considered composers to score films.
Some of the greats of film scoring are household names, and others are not. The most widely known film composers are names like John Williams (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Jaws), Hans Zimmer (The Dark Knight, Man of Steel, and Pirates of the Caribbean), and Danny Elfman (The Nightmare Before Christmas, Spider-Man, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). Some lesser-known composers but no less popular in the film industry are names like Bear McCreary (Godzilla: King of the Monsters), Alexandre Desplat (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Argo), and Michael Giacchino (several Pixar movies such as The Incredibles, Up, and Ratatouille). There are many others in the film scoring industry, but these are some the most popular composers.
The next time you watch a movie, pay a little more attention to the sounds that accompany the action on screen. You’ll be surprised by the things you notice behind the scenes in the music.