Spotting Sessions are one of the most important responsibilities for a film composer. 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 closed viewing of a film that occurs after Production and initiates Post-Production, the final editing phase of film-making once a film has been locked. This locked Final Cut of a film means that there will be no more changes to any scene lengths (unless critically necessary) – this is crucial for a composer, who needs to base all music decisions off this stationary version of the film. Topics of discussion during a Spotting Session include musical direction, specific genres, instrumentation, and the parts of the film that should and should not include music. 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 five people), including the director, producers, and the film editor. Don’t wait and risk losing credibility with your client. Set yourself up for success and prepare with these three steps:
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 screams unprofessional, especially if the director has sent you the movie with the sole purpose of you viewing it.
In my experience, it’s best to watch the film at least twice. The first time is all about internalizing. Soak in the plot, cinematography, characters, dialogue, emotions, story… everything. Let it churn and marinate in your subconscious mind. For the second viewing, make sure you have 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, jot down notes about anything and everything that comes to mind from a musical perspective. A few examples of helpful items to record:
Instrumental ideas: warm strings here, soft flute there
Motifs: uplifting theme for Sally, tragic theme for Francis
Timecodes: brass comes in during chase scene at 1:23:02
Types of music: string trio, full orchestra, solo piano
Once complete, analyze your notes and notice any recurring or familiar themes. The purpose of this step is to enter the Spotting Session with ideas of your own and to prepare for composing demos.
3. COMPOSE DEMOS
I can’t recommend this enough. There is no better way to impress a director or producer than by entering 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, since the editor will be present with the film session open and ready to go, they can drop your music into the timeline and see how it feels against the film itself. This is incredibly helpful for receiving detailed feedback early.
There’s nothing worse than thinking that 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 veers off course by two degrees. Initially, the small error is undetectable, but by the end of the journey your stop will be 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 that preparing demos in advance can save you a substantial amount of time in the long run.
DON’T SPEAK UNLESS SPOKEN TO
Usually, people speak mindlessly when 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 for your opinion, gladly give it. The important thing to remember is that silence is a signal that you’re confident in your handiwork. It may earn you serious respect with the filmmakers.
If you disagree at a certain point, don’t bring it up during the Spotting Session and interrupt the flow of the film. Instead, jot it down and gently mention the issue to the creators afterward. They are the final decision makers. If they veto your suggestion, remember that you’re being paid to serve their vision, not the other way around.
Serving the film is your top priority. This film is not 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.
How effectively did my music serve the vision of my last film (if applicable)?
Have I participated in a Spotting Session before? If so, was that a positive experience for everyone?
How can I better prepare for my next Spotting Session?