Film Scoring 101


Authored by Patrick Kirst


Course Code: OCWPR-260

Next semester starts September 23

12 Weeks

Level 2

Level 2

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


Film and media music today are thriving. This is partially due to the success of the streaming industry expanding content at an astonishing rate, thus creating a demand for media composers like never before. 

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In this course you will get a strong foundation for what a job as a film and media composer entails. The ultimate goal of this course is to help you transition from being a composer to becoming a media composer. Film Scoring 101 provides the necessary link between film and music that will help demystify this highly fascinating art form.

After a quick overview of the media industry today, you will learn the technical and aesthetic challenges in this highly competitive field. You will be able to analyze and spot a film score and become a better storyteller through various writing exercises.

By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • analyze the story in a film based on the common three-act structure
  • appreciate the art of filmmaking as a collaborative process of many different departments, music being just one of them
  • understand the historical and technical challenges in film and music synchronization
  • understand the creative process of writing to picture
  • set up your DAW with appropriate tempo and meter maps
  • tackle the most common challenges film composers come across, including:
    • main titles
    • passages of time
    • action scenes
    • tension-filled scenes
    • dialogue scenes
  • develop thematic material
  • spot a movie
  • use electronic synthesis as a creative tool
  • navigate the intricacies of the business, including:
    • Contracts and deals
    • publishing vs. writer’s share
    • self-promotion
    • career paths
  • import video and create an offset start point in your DAW for scoring purposes
  • create final audio mixes within a QuickTime movie

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Lesson 1: An Introduction

  • Overview of the Media Music Industry Today
  • The Narrative, Programmatic Nature of Film Music vs. the Absolute Nature of Music
  • Program Music: Peter and the Wolf
  • Program Music: Pictures at an Exhibition
  • Program Music: The Planets
  • Program Music: La Cathédrale Engloutie
  • Other Examples of Program Music
  • Film Music: An Example of Modern Program Music
  • Absolute Music
  • The Role of Film Music
  • The Role of Silence
  • What Is Good Film Music?
  • Creating a Program Note
  • Assignment 1: Create a Program Note and a Short Composition

Lesson 2: The Making of a Movie

  • The Who's Who in the Film Biz
  • The Filmmaking Process
  • Development and Preproduction
  • Production
  • Postproduction and Distribution
  • The Film Music Production Process
  • Syncing to Picture
  • Primary Synchronization Techniques: Punches and Streamers, and Clock
  • Primary Synchronization Techniques: Click Tracks
  • A Little Bit of Math
  • Assignment 2: Analyze the Filmmaker’s Decisions in Your Favorite Film

Lesson 3: Understanding Drama

  • The Basic Structure of Modern Drama
  • Act One
  • Act Two
  • End of Act Two
  • Act Three
  • Back to the Future: A Structural Analysis
  • Back to the Future: Act One
  • Back to the Future: Act Two
  • Back to the Future: Midpoint
  • Back to the Future: Act Three
  • The Basic Signposts in a Film
  • Signposts No. 1: Editing Techniques (Part 1)
  • Signposts No. 1: Editing Techniques (Part 2)
  • Signposts No. 2: Spoken Words
  • Signposts No. 3: The Look of a Film
  • Film Music Lingo
  • Understanding a Script
  • Assignment 3: Analyze a Film’s Dramatic Structure

Lesson 4: The Different Writing Styles in Film Music History – Part 1

  • Motific Writing: Composing in Short Blocks
  • Motific Writing Today
  • Under the Hood: Motific Writing Film Music Theory
  • Strong, Longform Thematic
  • Under the Hood: Longform Thematic Film Music Theory
  • Americana Style
  • Under the Hood: Americana Style Film Music Theory
  • The European Traditional Sound
  • Rhythm and Chord Focused
  • The Epic Sound and Power of the Triad
  • Dissonant Rich
  • Assignment 4: Writing Styles Research

Lesson 5: The Different Writing Styles in Film Music History – Part 2

  • Featured Small Ensemble: The Closeup Sound
  • Small Ensemble: Eclectic and Abstract
  • Small Ensemble: Fun and/or Groove Oriented
  • Small Ensemble: Popular Music Influenced
  • Mode Based
  • Mode-Based Writing Applications
  • Orchestral, Minimal, and Pattern Oriented
  • Sound Magic
  • Modern Minimal, Poignant, and Emotional
  • Assignment 5: Choose Musical Styles and Create a Short Composition

Lesson 6: Frame Rates, Time Codes, and DAW Setup

  • Picture Sync: Frame Rates
  • Picture Sync: Timecodes
  • Setting up Your DAW to Match ‘Window Burn’
  • Creating Markers
  • Tempo and Meter Maps
  • Tempo and Meter Considerations
  • Your Workspace
  • Assignment 6: Work with Your DAW

Lesson 7: Spotting

  • Spotting: Where and Why
  • The Reasons for Music Entrances
  • The Main Functions of a Cue
  • Songs in Films
  • Needle Drop of Score Cues and Classical Works
  • Original Songs vs. Score in Films
  • Catch Me If You Can: A Spotting Analysis
  • Assignment 7: Analyze Catch Me If You Can

Lesson 8: The Writing Process

  • Learning the Language of Film Music
  • Common Approaches for Writing to Picture
  • Main Titles and Passages of Time
  • Creating a Main Title
  • Creating a Passage of Time
  • The Making of Our Own Main Title: The Thought Process
  • Tension Devices
  • Music Editing: A Method and Source of Inspiration
  • Assignment 8: Analyze Tension in Film

Lesson 9: Theme Adaptation

  • Theme Adaptation Techniques: Rachmaninoff Part 1
  • Theme Adaptation Techniques: Rachmaninoff Part 2
  • Theme Adaptation Techniques: Rachmaninoff Part 3
  • Writing Your Own Material and its Variations
  • Theme Adaptation in Modern Media Scoring: Back to the Future
  • Theme Adaptation in Modern Media Scoring: North by Northwest
  • Theme Adaptation in Modern Media Scoring: The Painted Veil
  • Assignment 9: Rachmaninoff and Adapt a Theme

Lesson 10: Create an Underscore Cue

  • What Is Underscore?
  • Examples of Underscore
  • Shaping under Dialogue: Endless Love
  • Shaping under Dialogue: Jurassic Park
  • Playing the Bigger Picture: Star Wars
  • Playing the Bigger Picture: The Matrix Reloaded and Shutter Island
  • Writing under Voiceover
  • Underscoring Tools
  • Assignment 10: Create a Dialogue Underscore Cue

Lesson 11: Create a Sound Design-Based Cue

  • Pitch vs. Sound
  • Electronic Synthesis
  • Under the Hood: Theory and Technique
  • Subtractive Synthesis
  • Creating Sounds
  • Basic Sound Manipulation Techniques
  • Hybrid Scoring
  • Assignment 11: Create a Sound Design-Based Cue

Lesson 12: Business Aspects for Aspiring Film and Media Composers

  • Promoting Your Work: Start Early!
  • Social Media Promotion
  • Networking and Career Opportunities
  • Motivations to Score a Film
  • Budgeting Your Projects
  • Contracts and Other Business-Related Topics
  • Typical Career Paths
  • Working with an Agent
  • Advice from Industry Pros
  • Assignment 12.1: Create a Music Budget for a Short Film
  • Assignment 12.2: Final Scoring Assignment


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
Completion of Music Theory 101, Music Theory and Composition 1, and Basic Ear Training or Ear Training 1 or equivalent knowledge and experience is required. Students should be comfortable with the features and workings of their DAW (digital audio workstation) of choice, be it Logic, Pro Tools, Digital Performer, or any of the other programs specifically listed. 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 have the following prerequisite musical and technical skills:

  • Ability to read and create music
  • Ability to compose music and create scores (either from a notation program such as Finale [full version] or Sibelius) or handwritten and scanned
  • Some experience with MIDI sequencing and digital audio software for producing and finalizing musical mock-ups via sample libraries
    Courses that may help you prepare for Film Scoring 101 include the following:
  • Pro Tools 101
  • Producing Music with Logic


Media and Subscriptions

  • You must have access to the following films:
    • Back to the Future (1985)
    • Catch Me If You Can (2002)
    • One of the following:
      • Alien (1979)
      • Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
      • The Fugitive (1993)
      • Groundhog Day (1993)
      • Parasite (2019)


  • One of the following Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs):  
    • Logic Pro
    • Pro Tools Studio or Ultimate
    • Cubase Pro
  • Students are required to produce scores and submit them in PDF format. Options include:
    • Notation software (recommended option), such as Finale (full version), Sibelius (Artist or Ultimate), Dorico (Elements or Pro), MuseScore (free), etc.
    • Handwritten notation captured by a digital camera or a scanner can be used in lieu of notation software.
  • Deeply sampled orchestral libraries covering all standard families, such as Orchestral Tools Berlin Orchestra Created with Berklee


  • MIDI keyboard controller
  • One of the following studio monitoring options (both recommended):
    • Studio monitors (pair), such as JBL 305Ps or better, as well as an audio interface and necessary cables
    • Over-ear studio headphones, such as Sennheiser HD 600, Sony MDR-7506, Philips SHP9500, Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, etc.

Student Deals
After enrolling, be sure to check out our Student Deals page for various offers on software, hardware, and more. Please contact with any questions.

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Classes. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection


Patrick Kirst

Author & Instructor

Patrick Kirst is a German-born film composer based in Los Angeles. He’s best known for his work on the highly successful romantic comedy trilogy, The Kissing Booth. The sequel was released in summer 2020 and for a second time achieved a record-shattering number of streams on Netflix. The release of The Kissing Booth 3 in 2021 completed the trilogy as one of the most successful franchises on the Netflix platform.

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In 2007, Kirst became an integral part of Aaron Zigman’s team, where he earned orchestration and additional music credits on top-grossing films such as The ProposalThe Ugly TruthSex and the City: The MovieMr. Magorium’s Wonder EmporiumThe Shack, and The War With Grandpa, to name a few. Kirst’s other composing credits include Disney’s first nature documentary Earth, Seaworld’s documentary-style theme park show Orca Encounter, the Swedish survival drama Breaking Surface, the political documentary Welcome to Pine Lake (CBSN), the opioid crime drama Inherit the Viper (Lionsgate), and the Netflix crime series Totenfrau.

As an integral part of the thriving media industry in Los Angeles, Kirst continues to share classic composition techniques and new innovations through both his work as a respected composer and as a professor at the University of Southern California. Read Less

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.

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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. Read Less

Kevin Doucette


Kevin is a Berklee Film Scoring (’05) alum that has worked as the U.S.A west coast product specialist for Steinberg’s Cubase for the last 6 years. He frequently gives master classes, clinics and demos at some of Los Angeles' top studios and production facilities such as Remote Control Productions (Hans Zimmer), Warner Brothers, Music and Motion Productions and Westlake Pro. He has a vast amount of experience in film composition, song and remix production as well as invaluable music and entertainment industry experience. Primarily, Kevin is a film, video game, and tv composer and has worked on a variety of projects including the recently released biopic “Pele - 2016”, “The Legend of Hercules - 2014”, “The Hundred Foot Journey - 2014”, “Million Dollar Arm - 2014”, a soon to be released X box game, and ABC television shows. In addition to his frequent collaborations with A.R. Rahman (Oscar Award Winning Composer for “Slumdog Millionaire - 2009”), Kevin is developing a new gestured based musical instrument with Intel Corp. and was featured at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) with Intel’s CEO.

Dario Eskenazi


Dario Eskenazi is a Grammy Award winning pianist and media composer based in New York City.

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He studied classical music in his native Argentina before moving to the USA to attend Berklee College of Music where he graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in Film Scoring.

He has written original music for films for Latin America (“El Robo Del Siglo”, “Happy Hour”, among others), Europe and the USA (“The Last New Yorker”) as well as several shorts, video games (“CityLife”, “Th3 Plan”) and commercial work (NeimannMarcus and Avocado Mattress campaigns).

Dario is also a much sought after pianist around New York City where he performs with many jazz, Brazilian and Latin artists. He recently played and created midi orchestrations in Al DiMeola’s new album “Opus''.

He has been part of the renowned faculty at the Screen Scoring Dept. at Berklee College of Music since 2011 where he teaches courses in dramatic scoring, orchestration, and post-romantic composition techniques for film. Read Less

George Oldziey


Award winning composer George Oldziey got his first big introduction into the world of film scoring when he joined forces with film director Robert Rodriguez to create the score for Spy Kids 2 and has since served as composer, contributing composer, orchestrator and score producer for other feature films such as Spy Kids 3D, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Kill Bill, Volume 2, Sin City, Grindhouse - Planet Terror, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, Shorts and Sin City; A Dame to Kill For and the Christmas 2020 Netflix release We Can Be Heroes.

George has also scored numerous documentaries and short films, including the award-winning short film Remember Me, which won the award for Best Musical Score at the 2017 168 Film Festival. He also won Best Musical Score at the 2018 Los Angeles Live Score Film Festival for the Best Picture winning short film Arrow and Oil.

George was an in-house composer for Electronic Arts for whom he created scores for some of the most iconic hits in the video game industry, including the Wing Commander, Ultima and Crusader series. After leaving EA he continued to compose and produce music for other games, including Spongebob Squarepants for Playstation 2, the epic orchestral score for Shaiya, Red Faction: Guerilla and the Certain Affinity game Crimson Alliance.

George is also a much sought after orchestrator and arranger, having done all the arranging for Chilean singer Mon Laferte's 2019 Latin Grammy winning album Norma, horn arrangements for Aerosmith's Dueces are Wild tour, and orchestrations for the 2018 film The Grinch.


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