Someone was asking me the other day about how I enjoyed writing both types of scores, and which I felt was harder. I will say that working in both genres’ often actually helps me. I feel it keeps me fresher and being able to go back and forth between them actually makes me more aware of how they are a lot more alike.
First off… there is drama in every type of film. Obviously it is executed differently in a comedy then a straight drama. But then there are sub genres of both. Within comedy there is Mad Cap, Screwball, Broad Comedy, Kitsch-Retro, Adventure Comedies and Dark Comedy (Just to name a few). As a composer for film, finding the “tone” for each score is essential and is the most important part of creating a cohesive sounding score. So, within a comedy it’s the same. Playing up jokes or gags in certain comedies is totally the wrong way to go, but for others it’s what the film needs. What makes something “funny” anyway???
Well sometimes juxtaposition, sometimes playing a scene really serious is hysterical as it might relate to a character who is funny in that he takes himself way to seriously. So the score in this case almost represents what that character thinks about himself. Dark Comedies, which I’ve done a lot of, are really tricky. It’s that fine line of creating something kind of twisted but with a slightly amusing or ironic tilt. If it’s not done skillfully the score can become to menacing. Many times the music helps inform the audience on when it’s “OK to laugh”. How many times have we seen a really weird, disturbing scene yet we find the sense of humor in it! Well, often it’s the score, or an ironic song (Scorsese), that create another level of odd humor. So here is the merging of comedy into drama and ultimately comedy is dramatic. Erma Bombeck said; “ There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt”. For instance, if a character thinks he can jump over a fence and we all know there is no way he is going to be able to do it his failed attempt and maybe even his disappointment is dramatic!
Now with straight dramas the challenge is to write a score that so organically fits into the film that it becomes part of its fabric. I belive the music needs to feel like it’s embedded into the narrative. I’m always searching to find that sweet spot were the audience is absorbing the music as part of viewing the film. They should become one and the same. The more intimate emotional dramas are really challenging, as the score has to be perfect in scope. Writing with a delicate hand is key but the music still needs to develop and evolve with the story. Beethoven believed that music should always be moving forward. The tensions and excitement of a well-developed theme, or the beauty of a perfect melody and harmony are fabrics of a great film score. I really feel that as I cross between dramas and comedies I follow similar principals. It would be an interesting study to play a score written for a comedy over a drama and visa versa. Which would work better…? Who Knows?