Soundtracks may be beautiful or technically brilliant, but for true success it is essential that the music fits the scene, the feel of the film and the essence of the characters so perfectly that it creates a lasting memory.
John Williams’ score for Harry Potter, for instance, matched the wizarding world of the films so well that just a few seconds of the music conjures up the magic of the films in your mind.
Strangely, a lot of films or scenes that are memorable due to their soundtracks have often become memorable by chance. There’s not always a maths to it, just a belief in a creative idea. Here’s some examples…
1. Titanic – James Horner
The piano solo in the iconic “draw me like one of your French girls” scene was never intended to be in the film.
Composer James Horner sent a CD to Director James Cameron with piano music intended for a certain scene in the film, but as he wrote “sketch” onto the CD, Cameron mistakenly thought it was for the scene where character Jack literally “sketches” Rose.
Cameron loved the piece and its placement. Horner explained the mix-up, but Cameron had an instinct about the piece. It worked so well in the scene because of its roughness, and it was a “sketch” like Jack’s drawing. Horner’s version fitted better than a professional recording.
It was the right decision, as the piece works beautifully and contributes to one of the most memorable film scenes of all time. Listen here.
2. Doctor Who – Murray Gold
Murray Gold disobeyed the director and refused to delete a motif.
When composing for the 11th Doctor’s theme, a director disliked one of Gold’s motifs – a recurring musical “idea”- and wanted him to remove it.
Gold refused, and the motif ended up becoming one of the catchiest in any of the series. The short theme (first heard at 00:35-00:37 in this link, played by woodwind) encapsulates Matt Smith’s cheeky, quirky Doctor persona.
3. Man of Steel – Hans Zimmer
Legendary composer Hans Zimmer got “the 12 greatest drummers” from around the world – including Pharrell Williams – to play in one room.
Zimmer wanted the audience to feel like the drummers were surrounding them, therefore had the drummers in a circle around the room. So, if you saw this film in a cinema and presumed their surround sound system was phenomenally good, it may just have been down to this set-up…
The inventive approach created a unique sound and texture and wouldn’t have been possible without Zimmer’s creativity and ambition.
One example of these drummers is from around 1:30 into the “Flight” theme.
4. Sam Mendes & Thomas Newman Collaborations
Sam Mendes, known for American Beauty and the two most recent Bond films (Skyfall and Spectre), has used the composer Thomas Newman on all but one of the 8 films he has directed.
The partnership formed for American Beauty, Mendes’ first feature was quite the directorial debut, and Mendes seems to have not looked back since.
It’s a bold move, as there’s a risk that continually using a composer may make your films feel too similar, but they manage to consistently produce memorable scenes together. The duo must be onto something and surely have an envious recipe to many others!
5. Henry Jackman
Henry Jackman – known for superhero and action films such as Captain America, X-men and Kingsman – only entered the world of soundtracks by chance, just after 2006.
Despite his involvement in the above films and, more recently, the phenomenally successful game, Uncharted 4, Jackman is in fact relatively new to the film and game music industry.
He began within the recording industry, where he not only released solo albums but wrote and produced for and with the likes of Seal, Elton John and Gary Barlow! He was only discovered by Zimmer and John Powell in 2006, moving on to crafting his own scores another few years after this.