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Film Scoring 101

Author: Donald Wilkins | Course Code: OCWPR-260

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Today, more than ever, music fulfills a vital role in feature films, documentaries, and television shows. The works of Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums) and David Lynch (Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet) are almost as well known for their musical components as they are for their visual content, thanks to their scores by Mark Mothersbaugh and Angelo Badalamenti. Drawn from Berklee College of Music's film scoring curriculum, Film Scoring 101 guides you through the process of creating original music to accompany a visual medium. The course begins by focusing on the aesthetics, terminology, procedures, and technical aspects of film scoring. As the course progresses, you'll apply these skills towards your class project of scoring a short film. By using a broad range of techniques including click tracks, spotting, scoring under dialogue, free timing, and the creative use of overlap cues, you'll learn how to develop a dramatic concept for your score and how to synchronize it seamlessly to visual events. You'll also learn some invaluable self-promotion tips, such as creating an effective scoring demo and ways to collaborate on scoring projects. If you are a composer drawn to the challenges and rewards of professional scoring assignments, this course is for you.

By the end of the course, you will:

Understand dramatic implications through analysis of visual examplesDemonstrate a facility with fundamental and advanced scoring techniquesScore several visual sequences of different dramatic content using a range of scoring techniquesSpot for music, conceptualize an approach and produce score for a complete short filmUnderstand the expectations of professional scoring and identify a variety of scoring opportunities

Lesson 1: Drama and Music

Absolute Music vs. Functional MusicList Situations Where Music Provides SupportTechnological AdvancesEarly Film and Sound TechnologyFilm Scoring TerminologyCategories of Music in Visual MediaMusicals: Adapted to Film - Original Film MusicalsAssignment 1: Identify Musical Usage

Lesson 2: Dramatic Functions

Composer As StorytellerPlotting the Dramatic and Musical Arc of a SceneA Symbiotic RelationshipDramatic Function: Three General CategoriesAssignment 2: Music as a Tool for Dramatic Development

Lesson 3: Film Terminology and Dramatic Application

The Stages of Film ProductionSetting Up and Shooting a SceneFilm Grammar and Linear StructureCommon AbbreviationsDramatic Application of Camera Movement and PerspectiveAssignment 3: Analysis of Two Scenes from Apollo 13

Lesson 4: Spotting

Before You Start WritingConsideration When SpottingMusic Spotting for Under the Tuscan SunFilm Grammar and Linear StructureAssignment 4: Sinead Rising Talking Points

Lesson 5: Working with SMPTE Time Code

SMPTE Time CodeWorking with SMPTE Timecode and Timecode OffsetsThe Music Summary/Master Cue ListImporting/Opening Video in a DAWCreating a Off-Set Timecode Start for Music in a VideoSpecific Guidelines for Digital Performer, Logic, and Pro ToolsAssignment 5: Score Sinead Rising

Lesson 6: Synchronization-Part 1

Music Mixes and QuickTime AudioCopying and Bouncing QuickTime with AudioTangible Content - Aesthetic ChoicesSynchronization DefinedThree Primary Scoring MethodsScoring in the Digital AgeCreate a Cue LayoutDownbeats and UpbeatsAssignment 6: Score a Scene

Lesson 7: Overlap Cues and Transitions

Overlapping Cues Defined and IllustratedWhy and When to Use and OverlapTechniques for Creating OverlapsMusical Considerations: Tempo, Tonality, and TimbreAssignment 7: Creating Overlapping Cues with Comments

Lesson 8: Spotting and Scoring a Short Film

Putting It All TogetherSpotting - Transitions and OverlapsCreating the Spotting NotesAssignment 8a: Spot the Blue City MovieCreating a Music SummaryDeveloping a Concept for the ScoreAssignment 8b: Spotting Notes

Lesson 9: Compositional Devices in Dramatic Scoring

Compositional Devices Relevant in Dramatic ScoringThemes, Motifs, and Associated ElementsThe "Theme"Thematic Development and ManipulationPedal Point, Canons and Fugues, Negative AccentSketching Out a Scene: Design and LayoutThe Anatomy of a CueAssignment 9: MIDI Track Work - The Attic Photo Score

Lesson 10: Free Timing Concepts Applied to DAW Scoring

Methods of Free Timing Defined/ExamplesExplore Stop WatchConducting Beat PatternsThe Written ClickCreating a Sketch to TimingsDead Cues and Reference TimingsConduction Live PlayersAssignment 10: Create a Sketch Score

Lesson 11: Scoring under Dialogue or Narration

Dialogue is King or QueenOpen and Closed Scoring SituationsConsiderations for Scoring Under DialogueScoring Methods Under DialogueDialogue and Music as CounterpointNarration vs. DialogueAssignment 11: Apply Dialogue Scoring Techniques

Lesson 12: Professional Scoring: Preparation and Application

Trust and Believe in YourselfCreative Collaborations: Getting StartedConsiderations Before ScoringCreating a BudgetAssignment 12: Create a Music Budget for the Blue City Movie

Donald Wilkins

Author & Instructor

Don Wilkins is the Chair Emeritus of Berklee College of Music's Film Scoring Department. A graduate of Berklee (composition) and trained as a music editor in Hollywood, his experience in scoring and supervising music for film/video productions spans over thirty years. Hired to update and expand the original scoring courses at Berklee, he greatly expanded the Film Scoring program, adding new courses to the curriculum and overseeing the formation of this major field of study, now one of the largest at the college.

His professional credits include feature films, documentaries and series work for CBS (Hometown) and cable TV (Breaking Ground). He scored the music for the Academy Award nominee Urge to Build, and supervised the music on other nominated films including Academy Award winner Carl Hess: Toward Liberty. His expressive score for A City in Bloom, commissioned for the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston, was nominated for a New England Emmy.

A dedicated teacher and mentor, he has supervised the music of over 200-student film productions scored at Berklee and fostered the careers of many successful alumni in the film and television industry.

Jack Freeman


Jack Freeman has been teaching courses in film music editing, composition, and history at Berklee College of Music since 1991. He also supervises and designs facilities and classrooms in support of the Berklee curriculum. Freeman has extensive experience in film and video production, working in the fields of network broadcast, cable, and community television, and is well-versed in a wide variety of analog and non-linear editing platforms. He has given seminars and demonstrations in film music for the "Grammy in the Schools" program among others, and has composed original music for a variety of documentary, industrial, and experimental films and video productions.

A native of Saskatchewan, Canada, Freeman received a bachelor of music in education degree from the University of Regina (SK), and a bachelor of music degree in film scoring from Berklee College of Music. He was an artist in residence for the Saskatchewan Band Association, conducting numerous clinics and workshops across the province, and composing and publishing several works for concert band. Freeman continues to play trombone and piano in a variety of settings in the Boston area, and assists non-profit groups in video production.

An existing competency in creating music, combined with a thoughtful awareness of drama and human emotion will be critical assets to draw upon from your own background.

You should be comfortable with the features and workings of your DAW of choice, be it Logic, ProTools, Digital Performer, or any of the other programs specifically listed.

You should have the following prerequisite musical and technical skills:

ability to read and create musicability to compose music and create scores (either from a notation program such as Finale (full version) or Sibelius, or handwritten and scannedintermediate/advanced experience with MIDI sequencing and digital audio software for producing and finalizing musical mock ups (MP3) via sample libraryability to import video (QuickTime) and create an offset start point in your digital audio workstation (DAW application) for scoring purposesability to create final audio mix within QT movie and submit

Courses that may help you prepare for Film Scoring 101 include the following:

Music Theory 101 through 301; Getting Inside Harmony 2; Basic Ear Training 1; Harmonic Ear Training; Guitar Chords 101; Berklee Keyboard Method; Counterpoint; Arranging: Woodwinds and Strings; The Language of Film and TV

Complete Guide to Film Scoring: The art and business of writing music for movies and TV by Richard Davis

Learn the art and business of writing music for films and TV, including: the film-making process, preparing and recording a score, contracts and fees, publishing, royalties, and copyrights. Features interviews with 19 film-scoring professionals.

Microsoft Excel, OpenOffice, or other program that allows you to work with Excel and Word files.One of the following digital audio workstation (DAW) software applications: Digital Performer 6 (or higher), SONAR X1 (or higher), Logic Pro 8 (or higher), Cubase 5 (or higher), Pro Tools 9 (or higher). Students should possess an intermediate sequencing skill level with these programs. If your DAW does not have a sample library, you should also have either a hardware or software sound source or third-party sample library.A program for decompressing zip compacted files, such as the Windows extraction Wizard or Stuffit Expander by Aladdin, available as a free download at Web Browser: Firefox (Recommended), Chrome, Internet Explorer 10 or higherMac Web Browser: Firefox (Recommended), Chrome, SafariFlash Player: current versionQuickTime: current version - Note: Quick Time Pro (V7) is also recommended for certain editing features not available in higher versions.Adobe Reader: current version
Mac OS X 10.6 or higherIntel Mac2 to 4 GB RAM500 GB Hard Drive/External HDCD-ROM Drive1080p Digital Display(s)Audio Interface—Firewire or USBMIDI interfaceMIDI compatible keyboard synthesizerSpeakers or headphones for your computer
Windows Vista SP2 or higherIntel Pentium 4 or higher2 to 4 GB RAM500 GB Hard Drive/External HDCD-ROM Drive1080p Digital Display(s)Audio Interface—Firewire or USBMIDI interfaceMIDI compatible keyboard synthesizerSpeakers or headphones for your computer
  • Level
  • Duration
    12 Weeks
  • 3-Credit Tuition
  • or
  • Non-Credit Tuition Add 6 CEUs
    $1,200 + $25

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Essential Styles: Enroll by March 16 to save up to $200 on select Rock, Jazz, Blues, and Funk courses.