Storyboard Film Composing: Teacher Notes

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Storyboard Film Composing: Teacher Notes

This unit of work is designed to allow students to compose music which creates atmosphere following a particular narrative in the form of a story board. The unit will begin with focused listening to the opening sequence of the film ‘Batman’ and will lead on to composing tasks and a final composing project.

Background Information on the Film Extract:
The music to the 1989 film Batman is by the composer Danny Elfmann who also wrote the film score for Spider-man [2002]. The film focuses on the troubled life of the main character: Batman who fights to achieve justice and to fight crime after having seen his parents murdered. The score for the film is dark, brooding and ominous reflecting the film’s vision of a nightmare American city ruled by crime.
The principal character of the film is represented by a five-note Leitmotif idea that appears in new forms throughout the film [B C#, D, G, F#]. The frequent transformations of the theme form low and low pitched to fast and rhythmic represents the fact that Batman is constantly restless and a troubled character.

Suggested Activities:

  • Listen to the soundtrack of Batman and encourage the students to decide on the mood/atmosphere of the film and of Batman, the main character, based on the musical soundscape of the extract. There is one multiple choice box and then three own comments boxes. Features include minor tonality, chromaticism, dark & low pitched orchestral timbres, rising pattern of the ‘leitmotif’ phrase reflecting struggle, pounding drum patterns reflecting urgency and military overtones, brass fanfare like figures. Leitmotif in augmentation and diminution.

  • Introduce the concept of Leitmotif as an important composing tool in music for Stage & Screen [link to Wagner]. Discuss the treatment of the Batman Leitmotif which dominates the opening of the musical extract.

  • Introduce the storyboard ‘Streetwalker’ and establish that there are two main characters: 1: The woman, 2: The follower. Through discussion, establish the personality of the woman [vulnerable, innocent]. Pupils should then create a 5 or 6 note motif [free of rhythm] which they feel can represent the character of ‘the woman’. Pupils may also create a second, contrasting motif to represent 'the follower’. [Staff may wish to provide two existing leitmotif patterns to help less able student begin the task.]

  • Develop the leitmotif. Encourage students to create two or three different versions of the leitmotif by clothing the notes with contrasting rhythm patterns. This will teach the student ways in which to develop an original idea and to give the leitmotif different dramatic meaning [eg. Slow moving rhythms: ominous, Fast moving rhythms: frantic, panic]. Reference back to the different rhythmic values of the Batman Leitmotif will be of benefit at this point. Pupils could also explore ways of expanding the 5 or 6 note motif into a complete phrase at this stage and also consider pedal note, drone and ostinato accompaniments as well as imitation or even canon.

  • Begin composition storyboard. Students can then begin to compose their piece of music according to the plot of the storyboard. Using Cubase or multi-track record function on keyboard will allow pupils to develop the use of contrasting timbres and textures which make the Batman soundtrack engaging. Students can use the expanded ‘Pupil Guide’ as a means of helping them expand ideas and to add contrast. This sheet is intended to be the first reference point for students who get ‘stuck’ when composing. They can consult this sheet or fellow pupils to resolve problems or answer questions before having to call the teacher.

*** These teacher notes and resources in this unit can be used in any way to support teaching and learning already happening in schools. Teachers may wish to use parts or the entire unit and to tailor the work and resources as necessary. ***

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