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At what point in the process of film creation are the soundtracks/scores usually made? I'm particularly interested in modern blockbusters, especially those with symphonic scores like Pirates of the Caribbean, Inception, and similar movies.

I know that it varies from movie to movie a bit and that most all movies are edited after music has been added to fit with the music better, but how much in advance is this usually done? I'm curious if the composer would have any idea what the final product might look like in order to create a more fitting soundtrack.

  • I was about to ask the very same question, motivated by Hans Zimmer - Lost But Won. I watched this stunning movie only because of that song, and what I movie! How on earth could some people capture the very essence of a movie in music? Magnificent! -at the very least. – gsamaras Sep 18 '16 at 8:24
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The initial discussion regarding cues may be done reasonably early, as the edit is being put together; the director and composer will meet to discuss and hear basic ideas, sometimes even just on a piano played live over some key sections.

As the final edit is neared, and timings are closer to finalised, the cues can then be expanded into initial arrangements - these days quite likely on virtual instruments, rather than full recorded orchestrations.

As these days it's quite likely that the final edit will be known before the CGI is finished, there is then time to score and record the full orchestration without a great deal of rushing, re-timing, re-recording; as used to happen in the past.

As not all the score is necessarily orchestral, the virtual [synthesized] parts can be laid down separately; the composer having access to the movie on his computer at all times. Cues and tempi can be pre-mapped and even at the orchestral recording, the conductor can have click track and other audio cues on headphones, to keep the orchestra in tempo with the existing arrangement.

These days, for a big movie, it is unlikely that the "credited composer" will actually be just one person. He will very likely have a team of orchestrators working on his original ideas. Massive networked computer workstations can bring the virtualised orchestrations to near perfection before being physically scored on paper for the final recording.

Many movies will possibly never use an actual orchestra - though the massive budget blockbusters will, certainly for the main cues and themes.

It can be very difficult to spot when it's not real, these days.

  • A tidbit I hope is true: Peter Jackson met with Howard Shore a year before the movie started shooting in order to discuss the score. Mr. Shore then had that much time to develop themes for all the different species (humans, elves, etc.) as well as a Ring theme. That's why the music in the films was so gorgeous. Composers typically have a lot less time to create the soundtracks. – BrettFromLA Nov 20 '15 at 20:25
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    @BrettFromLA - on something like LOTR there is money to be spent, time to be taken to get things right. Messrs Jackson & Shore are not scrabbling for next month's rent - life is luxurious & themes can take their time, for sure. Time & lack of worry are the composer's greatest tool… oh.. and some talent too ;) But there were tales of composers who quit because the director made one more edit & scr*wed the timings [vis Elvis Costello, I'll try to find a ref] – disassociated Nov 20 '15 at 21:01
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At what point are the soundtracks/scores usually made?

Soundtracks are more than just the score. It's music, dialog and efx. Dialog is actors speaking lines, either shot at the camera, or looped later. Looping, or ADR, Automatic Dialog Replacement, lets actors rerecord production dialog recording diminished by noise, bad acting, etc.

EFX is sound effects: rain, slamming doors, gunfire, punches, grunts, etc. Some done by Foley: people duplicating footsteps sounds on a Foley stage with many different floor/ground surface samples, shoes, etc. And beyond the footsteps, lots of actor physical interaction sounds are recreated on a Foley stage, like voices are recreated on a looping/adr stage.

And, of course, music. I know nothing about it, am never there when it's done. Mr. Wilson above speaks with much greater knowledge on the actual process of scoring and when that happens.

But the rerecording credits you see at the end of a picture are the 3 mixers sitting in front of a giant panel mixing the music, dialog and effects tracks. When foreign releases are made, the sound tracks are mixes of the Music and Efx tracks only, so the local country can do the dialog track. These mixed down tracks are called M & E tracks (music & effects)

  • I don't see how this answers the question at all – Zach Saucier Feb 15 '17 at 13:32
  • Additional backstory info about the sound editing process which is oftentimes mixed into the score. It's interesting and he gives credit to Tetsujin. – M.Mat Feb 19 '17 at 11:57

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