Empirical Empathy

Film scoring is not simply a matter of studying a movie to the very last detail. In fact, as stated above, it involves a conversion from factual and logical to emotional, and the process of converting facts into emotional meaning takes truly caring about the production’s characters and supporting their internal motivations. As I will later discuss, I can only write a score for characters that I care about. For this reason I take great concern in choosing which projects to take. It does not mean, though, that I only wish to take projects that are filled with “nice” characters. Indeed, in order to create the essential tension within a story, there must be strong and fiery characters along with the “nice” ones; conflict is the essence of theatricality. Moreover, characters cannot be apathetic, weak or lacking in real motivation, for there would be very little substance to support and enhance. The stories I seek to score have characters who are well-defined and are driven by strong internal forces. I would rather never write a single note that to write a score for a story and characters which lack essential substance and real motivations. Perhaps my being selective means I never take a large crank-’em-out feature film with an overblown marketing budget, but that is fine with me. I believe that the act of feeling and caring for the story and its characters plays an important role in the creation of an intensely evocative score.

Whether it is supporting the antagonist or caring for the protagonist, I need to examine and assess the characters’ emotional make-up. I am aware that caring for antagonistic characters is different from caring for protagonistic ones. However, it is important to discover and understand the internal forces which drive each character. Whether it is the protagonist’s ethics and ideals or the antagonist’s fear, angst and despair, I understand that core, I write for that essence and I support that persona. As a composer I cannot say: “I dislike that particular character, so I will write a effete theme for him or her.” Characters come in all shapes and sizes, but they all have driving forces working within them. My music dramatically enhances the strength and eloquence of those forces.

Like characters, stories have distinct internal forces. These forces can be extracted from the story by an intimate analysis of the facts. Whether the story is light or dark, fast-paced or leisurely, wrought with pessimism or buoyant with hope, I support it with a score which magnifies and strengthens the emotions implied by the themes and motifs present in the story.

The best way to support characters and motifs through scoring is by writing truly expressive and evocative music. The goal is to induce empathy in the audience members. If the audience does not have empathy, they have no involvement, no emotional stake in the outcome. Lack of involvement means lack of interest. Lack of interest means “no sale” in entertainment. Normally, it takes a long time to develop feelings and empathy for a character or story, but a film demands quick empathy. Therefore, the score must serve to develop feelings for characters by inducing emotional empathy which would be impossible to naturally feel in the short time span of a feature film. Inducing this emotion simply requires talent.