The Flip-side: Scoring a Film According to a Composer

When it comes to composing music for picture, Paul Damian Hogan has pretty much seen it all. From writing music for countless brands to being nominated for an Emmy for his work in the documentary, Birders, Paul has built an impressive portfolio out of his uncanny ability to match music with emotion. We chatted with Paul to gain a composer's perspective on what it's like to pair music and motion picture.

Do you prefer more or less direction when composing music for picture? 

Paul Damian Hogan: More, for sure. More direction.

Why is that?

Sometimes with a filmmaker, if they have scratch tracks that they've played from the film, it can be very helpful for getting a clear idea for what the filmmaker wants. It can also be difficult because of what they call "demo love," where the filmmaker becomes too invested in those scratch tracks, and then the composer who's trying to bring some different angle to the situation is a bit...the options are a bit limited at that point.

For me, the perfect balance is some scratch tracks that a director likes but doesn't love. It's almost as if you want the director to find something that doesn't quite do the thing that they're looking for. I think that it depends on the relationship and experience that you have. It's great to work with a filmmaker who is like, 'I don't want to prescribe any direction. I want to see your take on this.' That's something they have to really mean. I've worked on films where I've worked with some one a lot and it's very easy. I don't need much direction and that's great. In the situation when you're working with someone for the first time and they don't give you any direction, it often will lead to a lot of wasted time and effort.

What is the weirdest/funniest advertising job you have worked on? 

I wish this was an easier question to answer. I can honestly say that I’ve had very few truly funny ads come across my desk in nine years of doing this. Maybe its luck of the draw or maybe people think I have a terrible sense of humor! I once scored an elephant surfing for Accenture. It was weirdly realistic. Aside from the rare gem like Marmoset’s Old Spice “Best Friends” job -- which was actually a lot of fun to work on and turned out to be legitimately funny -- we spend a fair amount of our time as composers entertaining weird, but bad, ideas. I was once asked to compose music in the style of Shaft by Isaac Hayes for Chef Boyardee, replacing the iconic female Shaft shouts with Chef shouts and attempting to sing words like “macaroni meaty-meat and pasta sauce that’s so unique, ohhh baby” in the style of Hayes. I held my breath and did it, but I don’t think that job ever saw the light of day.