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Music Supervision On Camera Masterclass - Music Gateway

Photograph of the blog post author, Mary Woodcock

Mary Woodcock


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The panel for this masterclass included Karen Elliott, Becky Betham (who founded HotHouse together and both worked on:

The Hobbit: Battle Of The Five Armies, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Justice League, Wonder woman and more)

Becky also worked on Les Miserables, as did special guest music editor John Warhurst. John has also worked on Bridget Jones’s Baby and One Direction: This Is Us.

We learned so much from the masterclass that it was hard to choose, but we managed to pick out the top 5 things to take away:

1) What is a music supervisor’s role within on-camera performance?

For on-camera performance, the supervisor basically looks after all of the aspects of music in a film. The supervisor can be involved from a very early stage such as the casting of the actors. This is especially the case when the actors will be singing for the film.

This can also include getting instruments in for the film, or hiring musicians and body doubles.

2) Script and breakdown

The first place to start is with the script. The script notes every single musical reference point in the film (humming, dancing, reacting to music, watching TV etc.) and each of these need to be looked at on an individual basis. The next step is to look at the music involved in each of these moments and find out whether the music is clearable.

If it is, then there’s the small matter of cost. If it’s within budget, you can put in a license request with the rights holder.The license request will include things like the term, what media and the length of use that you want to understand more about licensing, read our write up of the Guild’s In-Depth Licensing masterclass here. All this information from the license will be put into a handy breakdown for the producer (see below). After that, it’s time to work with the producer, director and anyone else involved in the music of the film.

3) Pre-record vs. Live

One of the main decisions to make is how the music/singing is going to be recorded. The three options are: Pre-record/playback, Live, or a combination. If the first option is chosen, the actor or musician would pre-record the music in a studio and then on set the actors will mime to it. The pros to this method are that it’s easy to choreograph and can help keep everyone in time.

Cons are that it’s very rigid and can sometimes look false. With live, as the name suggests, the actor sings/plays live on set. This gives the actor a lot more freedom and all looks a lot more realistic. One of the cons is that this can cause problems with licensing if the actor changes the lyrics (which can happen if they’re swept up in the moment). Also, because there is always some human error when making music, the timing is never perfect and this can make it difficult to sync to.

There were clips from films throughout the masterclass. One of which was ‘I Dreamed a Dream’from Les Miserables. After watching the clip, John Warhurst told us that Anne Hathaway performed it live which meant the process of fitting the accompanying orchestration to the shot was very difficult to get right.

4) Dummy or working instruments?

Who knew that the instruments used on set aren’t always the real deal?! If the actors are miming to a pre-record then their instruments don’t have to work. This can be especially good with period filming as the art department can make things look great and not have to worry about it having to play.

One thing to look out for is that these will also need to be signed off by the art department and the director. Try to divide the cost of dummy instruments between the music and art departments as it can be seen as a prop and not really a musical instrument. That brings us to our last point.

5) Budgets

Let’s debunk a myth: Music budgets are not always 10% of the total film budget, even for a musical it’s normally much lower than this! This can make budgeting very hard as there is never really enough money. Quite often, the budget you make at the beginning is the one that people stick to, irrespective of what gets thrown at you throughout the process.

You need to be flexible and you’ll probably end up moving budgets around between sectors, but that’s fine as long as you don’t go over your total final music budget.

As we’ve learned from this masterclass, there are many different aspects to a music supervisor’s job when it comes to on-camera performance. A music supervisor will be included in many processes and will have a lot of decisions to make, but on camera work is only one part of a music supervisor’s job. These in-depth masterclasses explain each area of the job in more detail so make sure you make it to the next one!

The next masterclass will be on the 18th of April at Curzon Aldgate. Led by music supervisor Maggie Rodford and Emmy-nominated score coordinator Hilary Skewes, the session will guide you through the ins and outs of recording the score for a project. Click on the image below for tickets.

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