So, you may or may not have heard of the insanely talented people over at Every Frame a Painting (one of my favorite YouTube channels), but if not they recently released a video titled “The Marvel Symphonic Universe,” (here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vfqkvwW2fs) in which they discussed why Marvel has yet to make a truly outstanding or recognizable piece of original music in their cinematic universe. For those of you who have seen my other posts, you know that I am an eccentric superhero fan. To those who are new here, I’m not too proud to admit that I clicked on the video expecting some earth shattering, deep analysis of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and was slightly deflated to learn it was about their music.
The video caught my attention, however, as it is centered around a concept entirely new to me: temp (or temporary) music. This is the existing movie music used throughout the editing process for many films before the composers add in their own original scores. The very obvious problem with this process is that if scenes are edited to music that will not be used in the final cut, scenes will feel awkward or unfinished unless the final music used strongly resembles that used whilst editing.
So this brings me to my main question for this article, what does it mean to be “original?” As seen with temp music, apparently all it takes it a slight tweak to an existing concept for you to receive complete credit. This can be seen across all creative domains, from writers who put existing articles into “their own words” to photographers who, by changing one feature of a photo, can now claim it is their own.
I understand that humans are inspired and influenced by others, and that we look to existing creative works to figure out what works and what doesn’t, but how far is too far?
For example, is temp music taking things too far? Is it wrong for production teams to use existing soundtrack music and then paraphrase this work in their own creation? Well, the answer is more complicated than one might think. You see, it is not always the music that the directors and editors are influenced by, it is the style or tone of an exisiting scene accompanied by a particular piece of music. This influence upon movie makers is so widespread that it has become an accepted part of the film-making process. Of course filmmakers watch movies, and of course they have their favorites in terms of tone and style. It is naive of us as audience members to think that filmmakers are not impacted by these styles.
Temp music is the manifestation of this influence. When directors pick up a script and being shooting, they may already have a particular scene or movie they want the finished product to be like. If they want their scene to be as awesome as “that one scene” from “that one film,” they may want to use the music used in that scene as their temp music so the pacing of the scene and the tone reflect the mood that piece of music created in the original scene. So, although composers may squeal at the thought of temp music, and although it doesn’t give Hollywood composers the creative freedom they deserve as creators, temp music does come from innocent intent.
For those of us that aspire to be original, we are faced with one constant question: are we talented enough to allow ourselves to create something new? I’m not sure about everyone, but for most of us this comes with some insecurities. It is risky to be original, and this takes its toll on us all. For filmmakers (composers not included), temp music is the answer to that question. We follow the precedents set by the creative geniuses of the past because we are afraid that we are not enough.
By making films that resemble the work of others, music and all, creators are daring to be different while simultaneously providing themselves a safety net by allowing themselves to say, “If this fails, at least it’s not entirely my fault.”