3 Tips to Prepare for a Film Spotting Session

Spotting Sessions are one of the most important responsibilities for a film composer to get right. Preparing incorrectly can cost you social credibility and future gigs, but nailing it can be a serious boost to your career and perception with clients.

What is a Spotting Session?

A Spotting Session is a viewing of a film that occurs after the shooting wrap-up but before the composer starts scoring the film. The musical direction, specific genres/instruments, and the parts of the film that should include music are all discussed here. This crucial meeting is a powerful moment for connecting to the filmmakers’ vision for the film.

Spotting Sessions consist of the “creative inner circle” of the film production team (usually no more than 5 people), including the director, producers, and the film editor.

If you want to break into the film composition space, it’s only a matter of time before you find yourself in a Spotting Session. Don’t wait and risk losing credibility with your client! Set yourself up for success and prepare with these three tips.

1. Watch the Film Before the Session

This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how few composers do this. The spotting session is not the time to see the film for the first time. That just screams “unprofessional,” especially if the director has sent you the movie with the express purpose of you viewing it!

In my personal experience, it’s best to watch the film at least twice. The first time is all about internalizing. Soak in the plot, the cinematography, the characters, the dialogue, the emotions, the story… everything. Let it churn and marinate in your subconscious mind. This is important!

For the second viewing, make sure you have a pen and paper in hand. It’s time to get down to business...

2. Take Notes

When you’re watching the film for the second time, start jotting down notes about anything and everything that comes to mind from a musical perspective.

Here are a few examples of helpful things to write down:

  • Instrumental ideas (“warm strings here, soft flute”)
  • Motifs (“give Sally her own lighthearted theme, give Frank a sad, tragic theme”)
  • Timecodes (“brass comes in at chase scene, 1:23:02”)
  • Types of music (“jazz combo, New Orleans jazz, John Williams-esque orchestral”)

After you’re done, analyze your notes and see if you notice any recurring or familiar themes. The point of this is to go into the spotting session with ideas of your own, as well as give yourself some rails to run on when it comes to composing your demos.

3. Prepare Demos

I can’t recommend this enough. There is no better way to impress a director or producer than by coming to the spotting session with actual musical demos in hand. Think about it: when the director wants to work with a composer on her next project, whose name will pop into her head first? The composer who was professional, timely, and prepared.

As a bonus, if the editor has the film’s session open and ready to go, they can drop your music right into the timeline and see how it feels against the film itself. This is super helpful for getting detailed feedback early.

There’s nothing worse than thinking the director wants one thing, pouring hours into your music, and then realizing that it doesn’t fit their vision at all.  

Imagine sailing a large ship on the ocean that goes off course by 2 degrees. Initially, that isn’t very noticeable, but by the end of the journey, you’ll find yourself miles away from your destination.

That’s the result of a lack of alignment between the composer and filmmaker, and it’s one of the many helpful ways preparing demos can save you a ton of time in the long run.

Bonus Tip: Don’t Speak Unless Spoken To

Usually, people speak mindlessly when they’re nervous. If you’re professional, prepared and confident, you don’t need to speak. Your copious notes and demo will speak for you!

Obviously, if somebody asks you for your opinion, give your 2 cents. The important thing to remember is that silence is a signal to those around you that you’re confident in your handiwork. It may earn you some serious kudos with the filmmakers.

If you do disagree at a certain point, don’t bring it up at the spotting session and interrupt the flow of the film. Jot it down and respectfully bring it to the creators afterward. The buck stops with them, so if they veto your suggestion, remember you’re being paid to serve their vision, not the other way around.

Serving the Film is the Top Priority

It’s important to remember that this film isn’t meant to be a showcase for your newest sample library or another feather in your cap for your demo reel – it’s a piece of art that likely has a lot of blood, sweat, and tears poured into it.

Your job is not to overshadow the film, but to underscore it. Sometimes that even means no music at all.