Orchestrating the Film Score with Live Sessions
Authored by Jon Kull
Course Code: OCOMP-637
This course continues the emphasis on process as outlined in Composing the Film Score. The focus, however, will be on orchestration within the context of recording a film score, and there will be two recording sessions, each with ensembles of reduced instrumentation that are intended to be mixed with prerecorded samples and/or purely electronic elements. Such hybrid scores are a more likely scenario for the emerging film composer, and the scoring assignments are designed to mimic these conditions.
The sessions themselves will be conducted remotely, and students will be responsible for composing, mocking up, orchestrating, preparing Pro Tools sessions, copying parts, and delivering all items electronically to the studio. They will also work with the orchestra during their recording time to ensure the performance is of a professional standard and achieves the composer’s intent. Upon delivery of the session tracks by the recording studio, they will mix their cue to completion.
Students will broaden their orchestration vocabulary, using appropriate combinations and techniques suited to specific dramatic situations and genres. They will also gain fluency in the live studio environment, responding in real time to a variety of common situations, such as changing a player’s part from the booth. Ideally the resulting product will be two recordings of their original work for orchestral hybrid ensembles that are suitable for use as promotional demo material.
By the end of the course, you will be able to:
- Orchestrate efficiently and effectively for smaller ensembles, in a variety of styles covering a wide range of dramatic situations
- Perform all preparatory tasks related to film score production, including: creating a representative MIDI mockup as a demo, utilizing appropriate orchestration, outputting properly formatted part extraction, and delivering record-ready stems to the session
- Oversee all phases of production at a live orchestral scoring session, including: real-time monitoring of takes for performance quality, correcting errors in player parts, changing player parts from the booth when warranted of necessary, discussing creative and technical concerns with the engineer and conductor, and maintaining sync between prerecorded elements and the orchestra
Lesson 1: Esthetics of Orchestration
- From the Composer’s Perspective: Orchestration as Part of the Conceptualization Process
- From the Orchestrator’s Perspective: A Sense of Balance
- From the Top: The Main Title
- Assignment 1: Plot Synopsis
Lesson 2: Sketching
- The Old Days: Pencil and Paper
- The Audio Takedown
- The Age of MIDI: Mockups, Stems, and the Cleaned-Up MIDI Sketch
- The Orchestrator’s Annotated Sketch
- Assignment 2: Recording Project #1—Sketch and Audio Mockup
Lesson 3: The String Section; Dramatic Underscore
- Balancing the String Section
- Foreground/Middle Ground/Background
- Extended Techniques
- Strings as Underscore
- Assignment 3: Recording Project #1—Orchestrate the Sketch
Lesson 4: Aspects of Music Preparation
- Formatting a Score
- Formatting Parts
- The Pro Tools Session
- Assignment 4: Recording Project #1—Music Prep
Lesson 5: The Studio Environment
- The Conductor
- The Booth Reader
- The Engineer and Other Recording Personnel
- Putting Out Fires in Real Time
- Assignment 5: Recording Project #1—Upload Pro Tools Session
Lesson 6: The Orchestrator’s Perspective
- The Composer/Orchestrator Relationship
- Discerning a Composer’s Preferences
- Interpreting Intent
- Assignment 6: Recording Your Project #1
Lesson 7: Woodwinds and Brass
- Brass Instruments
- Specialty Winds
- Assignment 7: Recording Project #2—Sketch and Audio Mockup
Lesson 8: Percussion, Piano, and Harp
- Membranophones (Pitched and Nonpitched)
- Mallet Instruments (Pitched)
- Other Non-Pitched Percussion
- Scoring for Percussion
- Orchestral Uses of Piano
- Assignment 8: Recording Project #2—Orchestrate the Sketch
Lesson 9: Orchestrating the Horror and the Action Cues
- Foreground/Middle Ground/Background in the Orchestra
- Horror Cue Case Study: “Season’s Eatings” from Krampus
- Action Cue Case Study: “Tunnel Chase” from I, Robot
- Assignment 9: Recording Project #2—Music Prep
Lesson 10: Arranging from a Temp Score and Blending Scenarios
- Arranging Case Study: “The Beach” from The Paperboy
- Blending Source Case Study: “Dunkirk Beach” from Atonement
- Blending Electronic and Acoustic Case Study: “Chase #4 (Manila)” from The Bourne Legacy
- Assignment 10: Recording Project #2—Upload Pro Tools Session
Lesson 11: Orchestrating the Comedy Cue
- Comedy Cue Case Study
- Choir as an Orchestral Color
- Solo Voice as an Orchestral Color
- Assignment 11: Recording Your Project #2
Lesson 12: Course Wrap-Up
- The Curse of Striping
- The DAW Conundrum
- Devising Strategies for More Organic and Realistic Orchestration Models
- Notes from the Trenches
Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements
Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
Completion of Composing the Orchestral Film Score and Mixing the Film Score or equivalent knowledge and experience is required.
Students should be able to:
- Demonstrate proficiency in music composition at an undergraduate level
- Demonstrate proficiency in orchestration at an undergraduate level
- Produce sketches and audio mockups in a MIDI environment, using a sequencer program, orchestral sample libraries, and synthesizers (whether software or hardware)
- Demonstrate a reasonable working knowledge of a professional standard notation program such as Finale or Sibelius, and the ability to create a clear, accurate orchestral score from which usable parts can be extracted
- Demonstrate a solid familiarity with Pro Tools
- No textbooks required
- Pro Tools 2018.12 or higher (First, Intro, and Artist editions are not sufficient)
- In addition to Pro Tools, one of the following DAWs is strongly recommended:
- Cubase Pro (recommended option)
- Logic Pro (recommended option)
- Digital Performer (limited support)
- Notation software, one of the following:
- Dorico Pro
- Sibelius Ultimate
- Finale (full version)
- High-quality algorithmic reverb, such as:
- LiquidSonics Cinematic Rooms
- iZotope Exponential Audio R4, Symphony, or Stratus
- ValhallaDSP Room
- Lexicon Native PCM Reverb Bundle
- Note: Altiverb (industry-standard convolution reverb) can be used in lieu of an algorithmic reverb.
- Orchestral sample libraries (click here for list of approved options)
- Note: Orchestral Tools' Berlin Orchestra Created with Berklee is strongly recommended.
- MIDI keyboard controller with at least 49 keys, mod wheel, and additional MIDI CC knobs/faders, such as Novation Launchkey 49
- Studio monitors (pair), such as JBL 305Ps or better, as well as necessary cables. Monitors with 8-inch woofers are recommended, such as JBL 308Ps or better.
- Professional over-ear studio headphones, such as Sennheiser HD 600, beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO, etc.
- Audio interface
- iLok USB required to use Pro Tools offline. iLok Cloud (free) may be used instead, but requires a continuous internet connection while using Pro Tools.
Important Technical/System Considerations
- Your computer must be powerful enough to run large film scoring sessions smoothly. You should consider:
- At least 32 GB memory. 64 GB or more recommended.
- Recent Apple M-series Pro (e.g. M2 Pro), Intel Core i7, AMD Ryzen 7, or better processor.
- Note: The entry-level M-series Apple Silicon (e.g. just M1 or M2) is not sufficient, but we highly recommended a Mac equipped with an M-series Max or Ultra chip for this program.
- NVME M.2 SSD primary internal drive (or Apple Silicon)
- We recommend storing sample library content in a secondary internal or external SSD with 1 GB/s or higher read rates. Alternatively, you may opt for a Gigabit network solution, such as Vienna Ensemble Pro and secondary computer.
General Course Requirements
Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Chats. 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.
- Latest version of Google Chrome
- Zoom meeting software
- Speakers or headphones
- External or internal microphone
- Broadband Internet connection
Author & Instructor
Jon Kull is a film orchestrator with over 150 credits under his belt. He has worked with many of the top composers in Hollywood, including James Horner, Elmer Bernstein, Christopher Young, and James Newton Howard. He is also experienced as a session conductor, and has done arrangements for artists like Kathleen Battle and Christopher Parkening, and Neil Diamond. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, and raised in Colorado, Jon began studying piano at age 6, expanding his interest to trumpet and choir, too. He wrote compositions for every ensemble he performed in: orchestra, jazz band, choir, marching band. He holds Bachelor’s degrees in piano and composition and a Master’s degree in piano performance from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He was accepted into the prestigious Film Scoring program at the University of Southern California. Kull’s clients include NBC, the New York-based creative house Siblings, Neutrogena, J.C. Penney, Snapple, Canon, among others.
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.