One of the coolest things about learning about filmmaking here at Dodge College is that you get to learn every aspect of it; from the pre-production, the shot composition, and right down the soundtrack itself. An integral part of any piece of media, music invokes feelings in us and adds more nuance to every scene it is present in. It can dictate how we feel overall, and change the entire purpose of a scene.
When I heard Professor Mark Christopher was teaching Soundtrack (FTV-529-05), I jumped at the chance to visit, and learn more about the process.
Christopher told me that music has often inspired his own writing, and in many cases, how he as directed a scene.
“From my first short in film school up through my most recent script for Warner Bros, music has held a special place in film for me, almost like a character,” said Christopher.
The focus of the class itself, though, was to look at “soundtrack movies,” which, according to Christopher, is when the music interacts with the characters in a very specific way, and is an important storytelling mechanism in the film.
This doesn’t specifically mean musicals, though. Instead, this is a whole different type of thing, which is why Christopher was excited to bring this class to light for the first time.
“There are countless Hollywood musical classes out there, but I don’t know of one that is specifically about soundtrack movies — films where music is a driving force without being traditional movie musicals,” he said. “Since John Badham, whose brilliant Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and film were game-changers, and I both teach at Chapman, I thought this would be a terrific place to debut the course.”
Soundtracks have always been an essential part of the film and TV process, and Christopher thinks that just might be because of cinema history.
“Before we heard the words, we heard the music,” he said. “During the silent film era, there was live piano or organ accompaniment only, so it seems there has always been a natural bond between music and moving pictures.”
In the class, with the type of film they are exploring, the soundtrack is essential because it is one of the most important ‘storytellers’ in the film, right up there with the lead actor or the cinematographer.
“When choosing films to screen in class I asked myself ‘Would this film function without its soundtrack?’ If the answer was yes, I cut the film from the screening list,” Christopher said.
One of the things he teaches students in the class is the use of diegetic sound and non-diegetic sound.
Non-diegetic sound is neither visible on the screen nor implied to be present in the action, such as a narrator’s commentary, sound effects that are added for dramatic effect, and, of course, an orchestra swelling while characters break into song.
Diegetic sound means the audience can see where the music is coming from. So, in a soundtrack movie, songs are almost always used in a diegetic way, such as in 54, when the scene takes place in a disco, so the disco soundtrack makes sense.
The class a fantastic addition to the Dodge College roster, and one I hope stays around for a while. From the way Christopher talks about it, it is clear he loves the subject matter, and that passion definitely transferred over to his students as well. Even after just sitting in on one of his classes, I will be looking at some films in a whole new light.