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Directing on a Dime: Scoring the Low-Budget Movie

Directing on a Dime: Scoring the Low-Budget Movie

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Welcome to Directing on a Dime, where indie moviemaker Andy Young provides tips and insight for moviemakers whose budget is more The Blair Witch Project than Avatar. Have questions for Andy about low-budget (or no-budget) moviemaking? Ask away at .

After weeks or months or even years, your movie is finally coming together: The script has been written, the footage has been shot and your rough cut is gradually making its way to what the rest of the world will eventually see. But something is still missing: Music. What’s the penniless filmmaker to do? Well, you have a few options:

1) Hire a composer.

Pros: You’re hiring a professional that eats, sleeps and breathes music. Whether they’ve worked on TV or movies before can vary, but having the input of a fresh set of trained ears might be just what your movie needs. Of the following choices, this will probably get you the best results.

Cons: The success of hiring an outsider really depends on two things: The talent of the composer and your ability to communicate with him. The music is just another part of the long-term directing process and you, as the director, have to be able to get what you want. It’s like working with an actor to get the performance you’re looking for: If you don’t know a lot about the art of acting, it’s going to cause you some headaches. It’s the same with a score. Plus, if you hire a composer, you’ll probably have to pay them. But if they’re worth their salt, it could be worth it.

2) Do it yourself.

Pros: Nobody knows your movie better than you. Every night you dream about it playing to an audience. You’ve imagined every frame, every reaction, maybe even what you want the music to sound like. With programs like Logic, Pro Tools or even GarageBand, it has become easy for non-musicians to compose the music for their own films.

Cons: Making a great score that is going to tug at the audience’s heartstrings or emphasize a joke is not as easy as throwing things at your piano and seeing what sticks. It’s an art form, and doing it well requires a trained ear. It still might work if you have experience in music (playing the recorder in 5th grade doesn’t count), but even if you know what’s best for your movie’s score, if you do it yourself you’re missing out on getting a second opinion from a professional.

3) Go With a Soundtrack.

Pros: You could gain some much-needed exposure for some up-and-coming bands, and if they have a fan base, that’s another source of potential audience-members for your movie. Don’t forget that, if you go this route, there could also be possibilities when it comes to soundtrack distribution.

Cons: The obvious con here is money. Licensing music can take a big chunk out of what little budget you have, so the new Lady GaGa song probably isn’t going to work for your credits when you decide to bring your movie to a paying audience. Using an unknown band is definitely an option, but if their music isn’t properly produced (or if it’s not that good), it’s not going to add much to your movie.

4) Use Royalty-Free Music.

Pros: I’ve established time and again that you don’t want to spend unnecessary dollars on your film. There are hundreds of thousands of sites where composers donate their own music for moviemakers to use in their projects, no strings attached. In fact, Moby released a handful of royalty-free songs (www.mobygratis.com/film-music.html) specifically for use by independent and non-profit moviemakers!

Cons: Again, you get what you pay for. With the exception of Moby, you don’t really know the quality of what you’re getting with royalty-free music, and putting random bits here and there in your movie A) probably won’t give your sound continuity and B) probably wont sync up to what your character is feeling–but if you’re lucky and your expectations aren’t super-high, it could get close.

5) Ditch Music Altogether.

Pros: This can be an option, but it depends on what you’re going for. I believe that, when writing a script, sometimes having a character not say anything is more powerful than any line of dialogue. Sometimes less is more, and this is true with music as well.

Cons: Again, whether going music-less is good idea depends on your movie or scene. If you’re making a horror movie, silence can bring some great results by adding to the suspense. Just remember how much a score can compliment a character’s reaction or convey an emotion.

Best of luck, and keep in mind which of these options for dealing with music will suit both your story and the resources you have to tell it.

Andy Young is a director, editor, writer and composer living in Austin, Texas. At the age of twenty, he has produced over 100 short films and one feature film, The Legend of Action Man, which he shot on a budget of only $200. He now lives in Austin, where he is writing a book on the making of The Legend of Action Man. Andy continues to make low-budget shorts with his sketch comedy group Dingoman Productions.

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