Every project has its own unique flavor, its own unique experiences, but one thing every project has in common, is deadline and delivery. As I’ve been working on project after project, I’ve put a lot of thought into getting to that final phase as smoothly as possible for both myself and the client by looking at the entire process leading up to deadline and delivery. Something that has remained true about the process on most of the projects I’ve worked on is, it’s never done ‘til it’s done.
On many, in fact most, of the projects I work on, there will be some sort of final, last tweaks that happen just before it goes off to the dub stage, while the film is being mixed, or even right before the final mix gets printed and delivered to theaters. We hear stories of this all the time. My solution, along with my process of mixing-as-I-go, has been to have a unifying tool that can facilitate every aspect of my process thus keeping the final mix of the score within this one program.
For me, it’s Cubase. Most everything happens in Cubase for me, except the picture, which is housed in Pro Tools along with any dialogue/sfx/temp music cues. I have all my writing templates in Cubase, I do all my writing in Cubase, I record a lot of my “sounds” and final instruments in Cubase, I’ll add my own effects and plug-ins in Cubase as I go along, and when everything is finalized, I have my engineer come in and he does the final mix in Cubase. Heck, I’ve even thrown in an extra step in between me working on it and presenting the cue to the director. I’m very blessed to have my engineer working in the same building as I do, so before I present my demo to any client, I’ll have him come in to take a listen, maybe do a few tweaks on some sounds; not a full blown mix, but just to touch things up a bit, sonically. I do this to try and keep everything that the client hears as close to my original intention and close to what it will end up sounding like as possible (excluding our tweaks of course). As we all know, the quality of the demos we present on any project is a very crucial part of the process, and as my engineer and I have been working together on most of my films, we have a good mixing/working relationship where I know how he likes things prepped and he knows where I tend to go with a specific sound. When I’m presenting something, it really is the joint collaboration between him and myself, and it is very similar to how the score will end up sounding.
Remaining open until the very end has become a convention that is expected and required in today’s industry and, with all this technology at our disposal, it has made it a lot easier to uphold. I recently found an interesting interview with composer Klaus Badelt on his French film Le Petit Nicholas in which he describes a similar process where everything for him from the writing, recording to mixing happens in Logic. Everyone has their own preference, but the main concept remains very similar.
There are numerous of my own examples where we have been able to cater to last minute changes due to our work flow of having everything living within one program. However, this does not mean that I do not employ the use of other programs for specific purposes. Sometimes I use Ableton Live, Logic, Pro Tools, etc. but my main tool remains in one. On a psychological thriller I did, Dark Woods, we had delivered the final 5.1 mix of the score to the dub stage and I got a call a week or so later from the director asking if we could do some final tweaks. There were some musical/sonic elements I had done in some of the cues that he wanted in more scenes than we had originally spotted/written them to. So with all the midi/sound bytes/ audio stems/mixes there in front of me, I was able to be very flexible with the changes and it ended up helping the film flow better as well.
On a comedy drama (Phil Cobb’s Dinner for Four) I just recently finished, we revisited the score after several months of re-editing/color-grading to see where we were at and becauseI had everything right in front of me, it made it very easy to execute any changes or additions required. There was a lot of referral to the original suite I had written for the film and some segments we had originally deemed unfitting to the film ended up in several key moments of the film.
So with the increasingly shorter amount of time in which to deliver a score, does that change certain aspects of our process? How can we keep our doors open until the very end and still keep everyone sane and happy? What are your thoughts and experiences on this?
Award-winning Thai film composer S. PEACE NISTADES (Sornsanti Nivasanont) has collaborated with such artists as Lisbeth Scott (The Passion of the Christ, Munich), Karen Han (Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Kung Fu Panda, The Hurt Locker), Gingger Shankar (Charlie Wilson’s War) and Grammy Award-winning artist Darlene Koldenhoven (“Yanni: Live at the Acropolis”).
Based out of their music production facility, Alkaloide Music, in Los Angeles, CA, Peace and his team have worked on projects in almost a dozen countries. You can learn more about Peace at his website, Nistades.com.