A film score is a set of musical compositions written to accompany a film. Some films use popular music as the primary musical component, but an orchestral score is more often preferred. An orchestral score can be much more closely adapted to a film while popular music is most often based upon a strong and repetitive rhythm that is inflexible and cannot be easily adapted to a scene. Popular genres of music also tend to date quickly as styles rapidly evolve while orchestral music tends to age much more gracefully. Instead, popular music may be included for special occasions where more attention must be diverted to the music. In these cases, songs are usually not written specifically for the film (see soundtrack).
Usually, after the film has been shot (or some shooting has been completed), the composer is shown an unpolished "rough cut" of the film (or of the scenes partially finished), and talks to the director about what sort of music (styles, themes, etc.) should be used — this process is called "spotting." More rarely, the director will talk to the composer before starting shooting, as to give more time to the composer or because the director needs to shoot scenes (namely song or dance scenes) according to the final score. Sometimes the director will have edited the film using "temp (temporary) music": already published pieces that are similar to what the director wants. Most film composers strongly dislike temp music, as directors often become accustomed to it and push the composers to be imitators rather than creators. On certain occasions, directors have become so attached to the temp score that they decided to use it and reject the score custom-made by a composer. One of the most famous cases is Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, where Kubrick opted for existing recordings of classical works rather than the score by Alex North, which eventually led to a law suit by composer Gyorgy Ligeti when he was surprised to hear his compositions in a motion film; though one should note Kubrick hired two composer (the other Frank Cordell) to do a score, and while North's 2001 is indeed a famous example, it is not the sole example of well known rejected scores. Others include Torn Curtain (Bernard Herrmann), Troy (Gabriel Yared), and for even for The Bourne Identity (Carter Burwell). Site dedicated to rejected scores: click
Once a composer has the film, they will then work on creating the score. While some composers prefer to work with traditional paper scores, many film composers write in a computer-based environment. This allows the composer and orchestrator to create MIDI-based demos of themes and cues, called MIDI mockups, for review by the filmmaker prior to the final orchestral recording. Some films are then re-edited to better fit the music. Instances of this include the collaborations between filmmaker Godfrey Reggio and composer Philip Glass, where over several years the score and film are edited multiple times to better suit each other. Arguably the most successful instances of these are the associations between Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone. In the finale of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Morricone had prepared the score used before and Leone edited the scenes to match it. His other two famous films, Once Upon a Time in the West and Once Upon a Time in America, were completely edited to Morricone's score as the composer had prepared it months before the film's production. Another example is the famous chase scene in Steven Spielberg's E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. The score, composed by long-time collaborator John Williams, proved so difficult to synchronize in this specific scene during the recording sessions that, as recounted in a companion documentary on the DVD, Spielberg gave Williams a blank check so to speak and asked him to record the cue without picture, freely; Spielberg then re-edited the scene later on to perfectly match the music.
When the music has been composed and orchestrated, the orchestra or ensemble then perform it, often with the composer conducting. Musicians for these ensembles are often uncredited in the film or on the album and are contracted individually (and if so, the orchestra contractor is credited in the film or the soundtrack album). However, some films have recently begun crediting the contracted musicians on the albums under the name Hollywood Studio Symphony after an agreement with the American Federation of Musicians. Other performing ensembles that are often employed include the London Symphony Orchestra, the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra (an orchestra dedicated exclusively to recording), and the Northwest Sinfonia.
The orchestra performs in front of a large screen depicting the movie, and sometimes to a series of clicks called a "click-track" that changes with meter and tempo, assisting the conductor to synchronize the music with the film.
Films often have different themes for important characters, events, ideas or objects, taking the idea from Wagner's use of leitmotif. These may be played in different variations depending on the situation they represent, scattered amongst incidental music. A famous example of this technique is John Williams' score for the Star Wars saga, and the numerous themes associated with characters like Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia (see Star Wars music for more details). Pirates of the Caribbean has similar traditions, such as a regular music theme when introducing the character Captain Jack Sparrow. Others are less known by casual moviegoers, but well known among score enthusiasts, such as Jerry Goldsmith's underlying theme for the Borg in Star Trek:First Contact, or his Klingon theme from Star Trek: The Motion Picture which other composers carry over into their Klingon motifs, and he has brought back on numerous occasions as the theme for Worf, Star Trek: The Next Generation's most prominent Klingon.
Most films have between forty and seventy-five minutes of music. However, some films have very little or no music; others may feature a score that plays almost continuously throughout. Dogme 95 is a genre that has music only from sources within a film, such as from a radio or television. This is called "source music" because it comes from an on screen source that can actually be seen or that can be inferred (in academic film theory such music is called "diegetic" music, as it emanates from the "diegesis" or "story world").
In 1983 a non-profit organization, the Society for the Preservation of Film Music, was actually formed to preserve the "byproducts" of creating a film score: the music manuscripts (written music) and other documents and studio recordings generated in the process of composing and recording scores which, in some instances, have been discarded by the movie studios. The written music must be kept in order to perform the music on concert programs and to make new recordings of it. Sometimes only after decades has an archival recording of a film score been released on CD.
The artistic merits of film music are frequently debated. Some critics value it highly, pointing to music such as that written by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Aaron Copland, Bernard Herrmann, and others. Some consider film music to be a defining genre of classical music in the late 20th century, if only because it is the brand of classical music heard more often than any other. In some cases, film themes have become accepted into the canon of classical music. These are mostly works from already noted composers who have done scores, for instance Sergei Prokofiev's score to Alexander Nevsky or Vaughan Williams' score to Scott of the Antarctic. Others see the great bulk of film music as meritless. They consider that much film music is derivative, borrowing heavily from previous works. Composers of film scores typically can produce about three or four per year. The most popular works by composers such as John Williams and Danny Elfman are still far from entering the accepted canon. Even so, considering they are often the most popular modern compositions of classical music known to the general public, major orchestras sometimes perform concerts of such music.
Before the age of sound motion pictures, great effort was taken to provide suitable music for films, usually through the services of an in-house pianist or organist, and, in some case, entire orchestras, typically given cue sheets as a guide. In 1914, The Oz Film Manufacturing Company sent full-length scores by Louis F. Gottschalk for their films. Other examples of this include Victor Herbert's score in 1915 to Fall of a Nation (a sequel to Birth of a Nation) and Camille Saint-Saens' music for L'Assassinat du duc de Guise in 1908 — arguably the very first in movie history. It was preceded by Nathaniel D. Mann's score for The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays by four months, but that was a mixture of interrelated stage and film performance in the tradition of old magic lantern shows. Most accompaniments at this time, these examples notwithstanding, comprised pieces by famous composers, also including studies. These were often used to form catalogues of film music, which had different subsections broken down by 'mood' and/or genre: dark, sad, suspense, action, chase, etc. This made things much easier for the in-house pianists and orchestras to pick pieces that fitted the particular feel of a movie and its scenes.
A full film score widely regarded as the first made by a popular artist came in 1973 with the film Pat Garret and Billy the Kid, by Bob Dylan. However the album received very little critical acclaim. This had not been done before in popular film history: any featured band had films written around the music (notably The Beatles with Yellow Submarine).
For music not written specifically for the film, see Film soundtrack.
This list includes soundtracks that are mostly or entirely orchestral, with few songs. Notable composers of orchestral soundtracks include Nino Rota, Basil Poledouris, John Williams, Bernard Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, Alan Silvestri, John Debney, Howard Shore, Michael Giacchino, James Newton Howard, Randy Newman, Michael Kamen, Alan Menken, Hans Zimmer, John Barry, Elmer Bernstein, Dimitri Tiomkin, Bill Conti, Mark Isham, Ennio Morricone, Trevor Rabin, Patrick Doyle and Danny Elfman. Composers Philip Glass and Prokofiev are also noted for their film music.
Some well-known orchestral soundtracks include: