Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off one whole year of Unlimited learning. Subscribe for just £249.99 £174.99. New subscribers only T&Cs apply

Find out more

Meet John Keane

Composing music for film and TV is a complex art. Watch composer John Keane talk about his work.
Well, I think there’s a difference between film and television. You always have more time with film. So sometimes the director will come to me while there’s still a rough cut, even. And I will start doing sketches straightaway. With television, often, you’re actually usually working much later on. So there might be almost close to a fine cut. The first thing I do, is I write– I talk to the director. And he’ll either have a bit of music that he’s liked, and he will play to me, or talk about what he wants. And the first thing that I do is actually write four or five different pieces, which I’ll show him. Give him a choice.
Because it’s very hard to understand exactly what’s wanted. Once you’ve got a few clips, a few little bits of music, sorted out for the film, it gives the composer confidence that he’s on the right track. And after that you might then start scoring each individual part. Directors like to work in different ways. Some directors are very specific about time codes. They’ll give you a list of time codes, and you’ll write clips for each little bit, write cues for each bit. Other directors, they’re freer. They say, oh, we want something around about this area. And it’s a nice way to work, because sometimes it’s the music itself that defines exactly where you start it.
You might start it a second early or two seconds later, depending on how the music is. So it’s very much this sort of suck it and see thing. You want to engage the director and find out whether you’re on the right track. And then you expand the score. And eventually you write something for all the music. At some point or other, the producer gets involved. It’s very important to bring the producer in at not too late a time. Because they might suddenly see the music and be shocked by what you’ve actually done. But it’s good to come to a sense of unity with the director. This relationship with the director is so key to the whole thing.

John Keane talks about the process a composer goes through.

Music is a very important component of a film, in that it can provide what Mike Figgis calls ‘the essential psychology of a film…a psychological backbone’.

There are essentially three options for music in film

• use existing tracks (like pop songs)

• use library music (‘mood’ tracks composed for general use)

• use a composer (who will work with the director)

What do you think are the potential advantages and disadvantages of each of these choices?

This article is from the free online

Explore Filmmaking: from Script to Screen

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now