Does Form Completely Go Out the Window When Writing to Picture?

Posted By: ryan On:

Photo by Liz West

I was recently asked “does form completely go out the window when writing to picture?”. Here’s my response.

“The short answer is yes.

The only thing that matters is the story and what’s happening on screen. If you were sitting in your room strumming your guitar and a guy burst in with a knife, would you say “hang on man I have to get back to the A section”, or would your mood and everything else take a quick shift?

However, there are plenty of times when being mindful of form is a good idea. Particularly times when the music is a main focus of our attention, like [a scene] which has no dialogue. Yes you want to take every twist and turn, but you also can use music to give the scene a sense of beginning, middle, and end.

Good musical form helps establish a stable “home”, gives us contrasting material (contrasting in melody, motive, key, rhythm etc.) to make us feel like we’ve ventured out somewhere, and in most cases a return back to the safety of home. In the same way you need quiet to hear loud, you also need stability to feel instability.

Also consider how form gives us useful devices like cadences (perfect, evaded, deceptive, half, etc.) which are all super useful tools for setting up, satisfying, or disappointing people’s expectations. For example, often you’ll want to end a cue on an unresolved cadence because the story isn’t over yet.

When your audience is actually going to be listening to the music, then yea be mindful of form. But when the train falls off a bridge, score that instead of worrying about what musically came before it.”

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