The conversation was moderated by Anne Rosenkilde, film composer and board member of the Danish Film & Media Composers (DFMC), who introduced the two Danish film composers. Rosenkilde began the proceedings by asking about their processes. Jonas Struck, who with his more than 10 years as a composer for film and tv productions is the more experienced of the two, started by revealing that his work begins long before the cameras start rolling. The 49-year-old film composer prefers to be involved early in the process. He reads the manuscript and then responds to whatever feelings and images are awoken in him. From here. Struck heads into the studio and records a series of demos outlining his ideas for the score, and he presents these demos to the film’s director and sound supervisor. According to Struck, the demos can be very rough at this point in the process, but that doesn’t matter. The point is to start a conversation with the people you’ll be collaborating with.
On the other hand, 32-year-old Jenny Rossander, who’s released four solo albums under the alias Lydmor to date, is a newer figure in the world of film music. Previously, she created the music for the tv-show ‘Fantomforhold’, but her film debut came about in a less than traditional way. Rossander told the audience that she received a message through Facebook from a woman asking her to create the score for the woman’s debut film. Thinking it was just an over-ambitious film student, Rossander initially ignored the request. That was until her friends saw the director’s name and urged her to reconsider the offer. As it happens it was Anna Emma Haudal – director of the critically acclaimed show ‘Doggystyle’ – who had contacted Rossander. Rossander quickly accepted the offer and shortly thereafter she found herself living in a guest house at Haudal’s countryside residence working on the score for what would become ‘The Venus Effect’. Like Struck, Rossander also began working on the music long before production on the film began. She explained that she would lie in Haudal’s garden with the manuscript in hand listening to the bees and “reading and reading and reading until [she] could breathe with the text”.
Both composers agreed that making the work process as immediate as possible more often than not provides the best results. For example, Struck insisted that his early demos for the most part are the ones the director ends up choosing. He further explained that as an artist, you’re more open to new impressions and there’s more presence in the work in the early part of the work process. Rossander agreed and added that one can quickly over-complicate things. She humorously quipped that she had once had the idea to write part of a score in an untraditional 5/8 time signature to represent the character’s confusion, before dropping the idea because she realized no one in the audience would notice the difference.
The power of the film composer
In the beginning, Rossander revealed, she found work as a film composer quite overwhelming. The film composer possesses a great deal of power which results in many daunting decisions. She further explained, “as a composer you have a lot of influence. You decide if the audience should like a character, or if something that happens is good or bad.”
Equally, it can be tough to deal with when the director doesn’t like your work. She further revealed that she had felt devastated in the past when directors had rejected her work. Struck nodded in agreement and added that it can be heartbreaking when you pour your heart and soul into something only for the director to dislike it. As a film composer, you must remind yourself that oftentimes it’s not about the quality of the music. Rather, the important thing is whether or not it suits the director’s vision for the film. Additionally, film is above all a collaborative medium. Therefore, the film composer has to remember to leave room for the film to breathe. “It’s not like I’m making my solo record,” Struck added.
Nearing the end of the talk, the two film composers were asked which negative experiences they’d had in their work with film. Almost instinctively, Rossander immediately mentioned that it always turns out poorly, when a director asks the composer to create something that sounds like something preexisting. For example, she mentioned that she had been tasked with making a piece that sounded “like that Bon Iver-thing”. This was an impossible task for Rossander, who by her own admission is a huge fan of Bon Iver. “I’ve spent my whole life trying to replicate Bon Iver, and by pure luck I’ve picked up some fans along the way,” she joked. Struck also knew this problem all too well. He remarked that as a composer, you can never surpass the love a director has for a piece of music, so it’s best not to try to replicate something else. In fact, Struck admitted that he entirely avoids listening to film scores so as not to accidentally copy someone else’s work.