How to Score a Film: Melody vs Mood

Have you ever watched the movie “Jaws” on mute? There’s something almost comical, at once animatronic, about the clunky robot approaching from below. Yet, introduce John William’s iconic, two-note ostinato, and the suspense is hypnotic, the fear paralyzing. In fact, Spielberg now credits this lasting score to “half of the success” of the film. This illustrates perfectly the purpose of composing music for a film.

When looking for a modern example of how to score a film, see the era-defining, oft-imitated brilliance of Hans Zimmer. Unlike Williams, Zimmer turns away from hummable, melodic motifs, instead setting the mood with slowly rising tension, building brass, pulsing bass and an atmosphere that seems to surround the viewer in the world of the film. Although elements of his style connect his body of work, (subtle roots, growing to epic crescendos), he masterfully blends genres to create the world we inhabit. (Remember Black Hawk Down, when the world-music of Somalia met with American rock n roll to juxtapose the foreign presence?)

The thread connecting these two composers, and any memorable score of a film, can be reduced to their “hookiness”. We may not be able to easily hum the Shepherd Tone employed by Zimmer in the fabulous Dunkirk score, unlike the William’s composed Star Wars theme, but there is no denying its singularity. It was so effective, there has been a slew of articles explaining the phenomenon he employed, as well as this great video. For more film scoring techniques check out this great channel.

Check out our cinematic playlist for more examples you can license.

Continue reading as we dive into Collaboration Vs Curation