At a recent gathering of FANS OF MUSIC FROM THE MOVIES, in London, a question was put to the panel of composer’s present about the lack of themes either main title or end title in films. After a good deal of chatting it turns out that all the composer’s present would welcome the return to main titles and end titles, and when I say end titles I don’t mean a horrendously boring song that has been tacked onto the end of the movie to generate money for the film company, I mean a full blown fully symphonic or synthetic end title. As collector of a certain age, I remember well sitting down in a cinema the curtains opening and the main titles music starting up on the majority of movies from the 1960’s through to around the early nineties. Even Hammer films which in most cases had a pre-titles sequence, had main title music, as did many other movies who went for this opening approach to the stories that were about to unfold on screen. Even the Bond films, which the majority of which had pre-titles sequences had their respective songs or opening themes. Nowadays do movies have opening credits where the composer can work their magic and introduce the audience to the movie via a theme that maybe, just maybe they might recall after the movie has finished.
Do you remember walking out of the cinema with the theme tune from the movie going around in your head, whether it was good bad or ugly! Also do you remember when themes from movies were making regular appearances in the hit parade, pop chart or whatever it was called at the time. Things like the aforementioned Morricone penned theme, performed by Hugo Montenegro, 633 SQUADRON by Ron Goodwin, A SUMMER PLACE Percy Faith, and many more. Do you also remember the GREAT FILM THEMES compilations that were released back in the day, GREAT WESTERN THEMES, GREAT WAR THEMES, and such like, I am thinking if they released a compilation today, it would be a very short one! But that’s my own opinion. (and a few other collectors too, so I am told). Anyway, I got to thinking on the way back from London about the issue of themes in films, and decided why not ask the people responsible for creating them, the composers. I went through my numbers and e mail addresses and sent out a lot of messages asking composers, DO YOU THINK THAT THERE IS A LACK OF THEMES IN FILM SCORES, SUCH AS MAIN TITLE THEME AND END THEMES, HAVE YOU ANY THOUGHTS ON THIS? I would like to apologise to a handful of composers who got the messages in the middle of the night, early in the morning etc, as I just typed away not thinking of time differences. Any way here are some of the responses.
Lack of themes in film scores is just like fashion, I believe it will come back.
From my experience, you have a few reasons: First, many directors are getting scared of having breathing time (or what they perceive as down time) in a film, like if the audience would get bored. I believe this comes from a big insecurity from some directors. For example, in one of my latest films, the maximum time I had though the entire movie was one scene of 30 seconds where I could develop a theme…which is almost impossible to do… This is a real problem that even Ennio Morricone addressed recently in an interview. Secondly: more and more films have no opening credits scenes anymore (a vast number of directors want to jump into the film as fast as possible and move the credits to the end of the film). Thirdly: many directors follow the lead of their editors who now, are putting wall to wall temp music. Many editors are not able anymore to give a pace to a film without a temp music. The consequence is that our work is not anymore to create (in collaboration with the director) a score who stands as a third character, but instead, to create a score that duplicates a pace developed by an editor. It takes independent films (where the producers are willing to take some risks) and or experienced and mature directors, to imagine a film where the music could be a third character… where themes could bring emotions and transport the audience….and those 2 factors put together are more and more rare in our business.
That’s a question I have asked myself a lot and many times… In my opinion (and looking for another’s expensive production) there’s a problem with producers and directors, I don’t know if it’s a new trend or there’s another reason. I am lucky because the directors which I work with, always says to me that music is the soul of the film, every film needs its own music, personal and unrepeatable, and it’s a challenge for me, but an opportunity to show the best music I can make, including to create some themes to lead spectators the way the director’s wants. It’s a sad thing that themes are not being used, because a personal theme is the “body” of an unforgettable soundtrack.
Oscar Martin Leanizbarru.
Yes, I find it difficult judging awards as not many scores these days seem to be more than aural wallpaper to get from one scene to another – they’re treated as another sound effect.
It seems a lot of directors don’t get the power of music – whether that’s a generational thing or MTV or what is a debate in itself.
Actually, there is a lack of themes in scores today…, something really bad and absurd in all aspects. Main themes and leit motivs are part of my label writing for films, and I will keep pushing that idea for always. On that matter, we are living a crisis today, but there are also composers that still defends the use of themes.
I’m totally agree with that. From my personal experience, I have two short explanations for that.
One: it takes time to create a beautiful melody. And often, during the process of post-production, the composer has not a lot of time to compose.
Second: Some directors or producers are afraid of themes. It could take too much emotional space (I can understand that).
But for me melodies (themes) are still very important. (I have to find the right way to compose melodies in tune with the times. New textures, original orchestration etc.) It can give personality to the movie, can also reveal invisible thoughts of the character or situation, The theme contributes to make the film more “unique “.. of course, it can also not work for each movie. Each movie is a prototype!!
A brief summary of my thoughts.
For the same reason as Brexit and Trump: these times are f***** up.
In my personal experience working with film, documentary and TV series directors I´ve found in most cases a special fear for melodic lines or to be more specific, thematic music in general. With all diplomacy possible, I always try to get an answer from them to understand this. Some of them say that melodies get in the way of dialogues or that disturb the tone they want in their film. Others actually don’t how to give a precise answer for it. I constantly think in this and have a couple of theories. The first one is the pretentious intent of being accepted in renowned festivals around the world, and for that, they study the style of films that have already been selected for them. There is a kind of modern fashion to be as naturalist as possible to be selected in a festival. To have a film as crude as reality, and of course, music is not well received in that kind of films. The reasons they give are, in my personal opinion, just another reinforcement of the fear to allow another line of a language they don´t quite understand. I constantly hear that music guides in a very manipulative way the emotions of the audience, and they add, that this manipulation is completely artificial and is not the direct idea the film wants to communicate. This answer certainly evades the fact that all cinema is entirely artificial and all its elements manipulate the audience all the time towards an idea that is a personal view from the writers or directors, so their critic to thematic film music is completely invalid. And the second theory is a bit more crude for me to say, but I can´t help to get there when some of the directors I´ve worked for make it evident. There is a huge lack of musical culture in many filmmakers these days, and there is a huge lack of popular music with interesting proceedings and musical content. So, they show an immediate fear to a language they haven´t explore and of course don´t understand in any way. Every country has a different educational system, but most of them lack a proper introduction to music from early ages, so when a filmmaker has only listened to the popular and, let´s say, artists with big marketing campaigns, then their approach to music is extremely small. To be honest with all views, there are also those who actually say to you that the lack of music in their films is just part of the style they like or the aesthetics they want for their films, which is something we composers always should respect, despite our personal views, but being objective, almost none of those films gains the success and the size of audience they seek. For some reason we are bound, as musicians, to filmmaking.
Both languages together and well-crafted make a more effective communication process in a film, and to be more direct, the most successful films of all times have well composed and crafted thematic music. I still think that the most common answer to that question is the fear to an unknown language that they can´t decipher or understand in an emotional way. Fear to appear conventional and receive that specific critic from the audiences or from a festival jury. Sadly, this has put the film industry in a severe problem. There is no human emotion, and therefore no real interest in AAA films besides the fictional VFX characters and stunning visuals. They have forgotten the emotional ride we all want to feel when we go to theaters. The lack of thematic music is one of the symptoms of the illness big studios have nowadays.
I have no real interest in film/TV music these days, preferring to devote my time to my symphonies and concertos etc etc etc. It’s as much as I can cope with! But I do detect a move away from themes towards textures nowadays. Producers and directors don’t want tunes on the whole for fear they detract from the dramatic content of their productions.
Unfortunately, the time of the great “musical themes” is about to disappear. European composers are somehow trying to advance the idea of musical themes. the main theme, the secondary theme, etc … it’s always wonderful, in the movie queue title, to listen to a medley of all the themes in the movie. it leads you to forfeit them, to remind them, to whistle them and make them become immortal themes. I hope this comes back to life. Because the music always marked the emotional bond with the movie. if you think of E.T. it is clear that your head immediately connects the images with the flying theme, how can you not think of Indiana Jones and do not pitch his march whistling it. Lets hope we will soon return to themes such as, Jurassic park, the lord of the rings, cast away, psycho, vertigo.
Yes, I think that today producers much prefer to have a new age kind of score, without a strong music theme. I still think that a music theme is important.
I do think that but I believe that it’s the films themselves that don’t lend toward themes. It’s a weird time in Film Music. There is a lot of experimentation going on in both the Films and of course the Music. Not sure where it’s all going
David L Newman.
The score is always the result of the collaboration with the director and production team, so it very much depends on what’s required for the drama. It’s hard to generalize about this subject. I love themes in scores and will always try to compose something melodic if the drama needs it, but not everything requires a big theme so it’s very much down to what’s on the screen.
Yes, of course… nowadays themes are “exiled”, directors and producers want another kind of music
Marc Timon Barcelo.
Hi – that’s an interesting question. Almost by default, due to the omission of main title sequences, we’re robbed of decent overtures (in contemporary film). There are the odd exceptions, but they’re few and far between. End Titles, more often than not, are simply edited montages of cues from the score – Giacchino must be one of the few composers still indulging in the practice of purpose-built ‘exit music’. I’m very much with Nic, Chris, et al, on this – I miss the days when composers were allowed prepare us, for the ride ahead, in fullest musical terms, then again, I’m rather spoiled, as I spend most of my time working with scores over 50yrs old, where we get an overture and a main title!!
One of the reasons that so much film music has become largely interchangeable is due to the somewhat generic, and simplistic, approach to thematic construction/presentation – it’s quite difficult to find a really well-crafted ‘melody’ in more recent scores. The contour, harmonic language, and rhythmic flavour of a ‘theme’ all communicate a great deal to the listener…unfortunately, the most popular approach is to now use a cyclic minor modal, ostinato-based, setting, ‘big drum’ punctuations, with a ‘melody’ that mainly utilises whole and half-notes in brass; this results in music that could be described as broadly ‘something’. However, I don’t think the blame lies entirely with composers – they’re generally doing what they’ve been asked (and paid!) to do. There are also signs that we’re gradually beginning to buck this particular trend.
Yes, definitely, I keep saying that in all interviews.
I don’t think it’s a lack of talent from composers, but sort of propensity, which will probably end someday.
One can think it is the consequence of some kind of egocentric state from directors who may be afraid that music could potentially overshadow their film.
Which is stupid, as public always remember a good film for its director first, far before the composer.
I remember Michel Legrand said that someday, a director was watching a scene he had just scored, and said to him: “Your music is excellent, but I can’t see my scene anymore.”
Anyway, as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t change anything in my work, and you can see/hear some Main Titles / End Themes etc in all my films or videogames soundtracks, whether it is a propensity or not, as I try to stay far from music tendencies.
(I had even agreed with directors Julien Maury & Alex Bustillo to create a Main Theme for the latest “Leatherface” movie, when I was still supposed to compose this soundtrack, to try to do something different from all previous “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” movies).
A little add to my point: I’m giving the final touch to a feature film documentary about legendary Jack Kirby and his World War II life period. And no matter this is a documentary, there is a real Main Theme right from the beginning/introduction, and the theme is used and declined many times during the film.
It’s hard to say.
Some film makers are actually scared of themes, and I worked on one horror film where the guy went through the score and took out anything that sounded like a theme to him
But others are still big on it
I’m working on a big movie right now, and the director is obsessed about who’s theme is playing where and over which character.
Without question, there is. When was the last time you came away from a film with the tune in your head? Part of this of course is because there are no more opening credits for the most part and that is where you would have a theme. Part of this is because people want ambience and sound scape.
I think it is an absolute disaster what is happening in cinema today on the scoring side of things. I watch just about everything and it’s painful to see all those lost opportunities for making great work. Visually, story wise the industry is excelling exponentially unfortunately the music end of scoring has been declining. Even on the production end it’s heartbreaking. Will stop here……. Had no idea my opinion was worth anything.
Marcello Di Francisci.
This statement is true, but in my opinion the answer is simple: big melodies are considered old fashioned these days (even if the arrangements and sounds used are not). Most filmmakers want a cutting-edge sounding score and as a composer you always have to deliver what they want for THEIR film. It’s just a matter of what’s in fashion. Writing little memorable motifs are almost always OK, but big themes are wanted very rarely. That’s just how it is. Maybe it’ll change again in ten years or someone will come up with a brilliant way of using great themes that still sound cutting edge. This is just my perception and opinion.
I agree! Good themes (like good songs) are hard to write and I think that many of the ‘composers’ working today are not capable of thematic writing. just to continue on a little, I do think that we are in a different score music era where the predominant flavor is mood, non-invasive ‘textures” which composers are being required to emulate by directors and producers and this is where we’ll stay until some films or some TV shows take a chance and allow composers to break out and take us down a more interesting and rewarding path. just to continue on a little, I do think that we are in a different score music era where the predominant flavor is mood, non-invasive ‘textures” which composers are being required to emulate by directors and producers and this is where we’ll stay until some films or some TV shows take a chance and allow composers to break out and take us down a more interesting and rewarding path.
Depends on the needs of the film. We collaborate so it’s not entirely up to us or even current trends. I’m asked for themes all the time.
I think it boils down to how films and popular music have changed because film music has always reflected the popular music of the time
Films are also very different to how they were 50 years ago.
I have been recently watching on you tube as many as I can find of the 60s and 70s Italian films that Morricone scored – and its extraordinary the importance that was given to the music – it is given space and time to really make a significant impression
I think the film making style allowed for it,
I would say there are fewer poetic directors nowadays,
I think that it is very much tied to the pop industry
How many pop songs today have really strong melodies ?
Morricone in his latest book talks about the fact that melody doesn’t really interest him
If you listen to many of his pieces they are constructed from a repetition of a handful of notes that occur in different orders. They are not melodies like the love theme from Zefferelli’s Romeo and Juliet, But they are incredibly memorable all the same. In fact, many of the film composers that we would call melodic. They take a handful of notes (a hook if you like) and repeat then though a cycle of harmonies. It is particularly effective in films because you need to make an impression quickly, And you need to have a strong motive that can be presented very quickly.
Legrand also did this and Richard Rodney Bennet.
In certain films yes, there is a lack of thematic development, particularly in some big action blockbusters. But there is a lot of well scored films, with good themes. The difference is that we have to widen what’s classified as ‘a theme’
It could just be a sound, or collection of sounds. Modern scores rely more on sound design, and therefore somebody could perceive a lack of themes.
I am old school when it comes to this topic. I believe themes are the best way to imbue an identity into a film.
It would be a long answer. That is due to the process of the post production. Mockups, going sequence to sequence, a patchwork at the end. With great exemptions in the case of both a good director and a good composer working together on the project of the soundtrack.
Well as much as I understand there are artistic reasons to not work with themes or big main title pieces I really dig those movies with great main titles introducing a theme you then will instantly recognize throughout the movie. I think in the more recently released movies Bear McCreary did a really great job on this topic in “10 Cloverfield Lane”, I absolutely love Danny Elfman’s Spiderman-Main title and I could go on for hours. And it’s hard to understand that especially the big blockbuster stuff most of the time are lacking this great moment.
My opinion is that is all about narrativity and the balance of the information the audience can get with a film ( i mean what you hear – noises, dialogues , music ) and see ( images ) . I ‘ve been graduated on narrativity on film music (PhD level) at Sorbonne University and Ircam Paris so I know the topic not that bad + my experience as a film composer. there are different reasons – nowadays we have very quick cuts / edit and special effects, noises which doesn’t leave enough space to the music for instance – and à theme needs time to be developed, to “breathe in a way ” . That’s one of the reasons. As a matter of fact the music themes are now quicker as well – and it looks like more than Wagnerian leit motivs – Wagner had the same problem in his opera: too many informations , density of the music ( tense harmony and tense orchestration), myths topics etc ….another angle is since the successes of the soundtrack : the graduate ( Mrs. Robinson, Simon and Garfunkel) there’s a trend in the industry to use catchy songs . When there’s too much catchy themes in songs there is no place for another catchy theme – so the composer has to score the “ambiance ” cues without big themes. The trend of using music supervisors doesn’t help as well because most of them are keen on suggesting pre -existing tracks to the directors / producers. Well I could talk longer about that! But I think we miss themes and variations which bring the audience in a particular mood. Not all of the films can accept it nowadays, it depends on the style of the director.
I think, most definitely there has been an emphasis for motif-based scoring instead of melody-based scoring overall in the industry, for I guess about 20 years now. I think in my own work I’ve been able to be more melodic than the average because the Finnish film industry is small enough that I get a lot of freedom and there’s no real pressure to follow a temp track. And also, just those same rules don’t really apply. Will be interesting to see if there’s going to be a wider return to melody.
I grew up in the “thematic” school of thought with the scores of Rozsa, Poledouris, Goldsmith etc. I do not think that every score should be melodic but such scores always have a stronger impact in my opinion with general audiences. However, this is a general observation and it really depends on a film by film basis. A lot of the times it’s not the composer’s choice but the directors. And of course, the composer takes all the impact of the result! I don’t watch too many movies any more (crazy right?) but I always look out for themes or motives to see how a score is constructed. For example a director that Ian working with right now had a drone like cue for temp music for a scene, I scored it and he had asked for me to go back to a drone like approach so we don’t take away from the “drama” bear in mind we recorded a full orchestra
I mean this only happened once on this movie (score is very thematic) but it happens
There are less melodies in soundtracks, because today there is a huge diversity in music, and every music has its own characteristics, therefore the classical melodic approach becomes only one among many other ways to approach a score. Also it happens that some directors are afraid that the audience will listen to the melody instead of the dialogue, so they’d rather have a music that doesn’t attract the attention as much. Another factor is that sound design has never been playing such a strong role in shaping moods, so it is another sonic tool to tell a story that is not using melodies. Another reason is the effort of some filmmakers who are trying to have their own voice and tread new territories that leads them to let the conventional melody and variations go. In the end, I guess it is due to this blending of many factors that we call “evolution”.
So a little bit of a mix of opinion, but its obvious that it is not up to the composer if a movie has a theme, I think most composers agree that themes are sadly missed and it is a way marking the start of a movie and also signalling its end, are those days gone forever, I suppose we will just have to wait and see, or wait for a composer to think Wait a minute I think this calls for theme, no matter what the producer or director says. Think we might have a long wait, don’t you.