John Beal, President and
Composer of Reeltime Music Inc. started his career with musical acts
as Olivia Newton-John, Gladys Knight and Johnny Mathis. He has scored
films and hit television shows, including Eight Is Enough, Vegas,
Story, Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley and Goodtime Girls. Also
in original composition for theatrical marketing with over 2000 major studio campaigns, John’s trailer music has been heard by more
than most feature film composers. He is trusted by virtually every
director and studio to write original scores to help sell their films.
list of credits includes campaigns for 30 of the top grossing films of
all time, such as JFK, Hunt for Red October, True Lies, In The Line of
Fire, Forrest Gump, Patriot Games, Aladdin, Mask of Zorro, Black Rain,
Ghost, The Matrix, and hundreds more. The success of films to which he
has contributed marketing music is literally measured in billions of
What do you feel are the most important pre-requisite tools for the
film composer in contemporary Hollywood? i.e: Music education,
flexibility, orchestration, thematic skill, business acumen,
While it is fairly easy to impress with the first
of enthusiastic and passionate composition, the continually compressing
schedules of Hollywood film and television post production require a
to have all possible education in theme and variation, counterpoint and
canon forms. A good sense of serial composition can also be
These alone though, assuming the gift of compositional talent, are not
to brace a composer for the incredible and daunting task of networking
with directors and understanding every possible level of the business
How important is the understanding and implementation of new technology
your art? And has it been a catalyst in developing your sound over the
The shift from using a pencil for writing and a hand
calculator for figuring synchronization to full blown midi sequencer
audio editing has been explosive. It is essential for a film composer
have a working knowledge of every tool possible. Especially those which
can save time in the process. The ability to create and manipulate
to be featured or composited within other acoustic sounds has broadened
palette of colors for a composer in a very exciting manner. The
is to do this with the same respect for music and its integration
film as before.
3. Do you utilize certain musical conventions in your work which
that the audience will already have in their 'emotional
Do you consciously represent more abstract elements of the picture such
as place or time?
Those of us not at the top of the hiring list are
called upon to write in less time than it takes to conceive, so the use
of common devices to elicit emotional response can be a requirement,
an option. One has to write that which will work with the broadest
It is not a bad thing. The challenge is to use the device, but
it in a fresh manner. Elements such as place and time are
to me, but the ultimate decision whether or not to reference these
lies with the director or producer. Many composers ignore all sense of
and place and merely write from the same palette, using a standard "bag
of tricks." It works for them and often works for the film in a manner
soars above the more "on the nose" approach.
Have you ever heard a score and known that you could have gotten more
from the film?
Often. And then I reflect on all the extraneous
things which could have pulled the composer away from their original
too many bosses, too little time and - always - too little
There are, admittedly, many films scored by people who have no clue
film, story arcs or subtext. They would never understand the term
"neurosis provoking moment" in an actor's vocabulary and have no
of seamlessly integrating score with film.
Have you ever been asked to save a film?
Yes. But obviously not so much on A-budget
And I fear attempts at resuscitation often fail. However, there
scenes in nearly every movie which contain a performance poorly
or are missing a critical angle in editing, or with production noise
which cannot be removed. Most often, the scene is one which makes
tremendous sense on paper, but doesn't translate to the camera.
How much influence do other people have over your score? i.e:
producers, directors, music supervisors, the dubbing mixer!!
When I started working trailers with Andy Kuehn (the godfather of contemporary trailers), we would spot these mini-films the same as a full-length theatrical presentation and discuss where, when, and how the music would affect the project. Recently, the trend is to start with a completely "temped" film, thus boxing
in all original thought. Then every person you named, plus their
and secretaries seem to have some need to input their desires. I
those composers who can remain true to their sense of that which the
needs, rather than that which is being asked. IF we can retain a
standard, guiding all those random ideas toward what ultimately serves
film, all are better off.
Are there noticeable trends in the Industry concerning 'how' and
'where' music is used in a film?
Aside from the action/adventure category, I am seeing
more films with space where there used to be underscore. A well edited
film with good performances should work on its own, without music.
can then enhance that magic with another dimension. But I do see many
with awkward moments or unclear emotive close-ups which could benefit
a thoughtfully created underscore. Then there is the SOUNDTRACK - a
previously used to describe all the music, but now pertaining primarily
to SONGS. I love a good pop film with great contemporary songs. I
also laugh tremendously at older films which used this approach.
are a great way to cross market and cross-collateralize the cost of a
film. They are also a great way to kill its universal appeal over
Do you feel that there are any detrimental effects on the art of Film
Scoring in terms of how the Industry operates today?
Who can write an hour of music in days with the same
quality as one who takes weeks or months? While executive
and actor fees are escalating, music budgets are declining. With the
of digital film editing, films are placed in post production closer to
the release date, allowing less time for creative writing. These are
healthy trends for the craft or the art form.
Do you feel that there is a current trend in Hollywood towards
composers having 'signature sounds' ? Do you feel that this approach
encourages the 'serviceable' film score?
When I was studying film scoring, it was considered
that a composer learn to write well in virtually any style which came
the door. No one could feel comfortable writing in just one manner,
one palette. It is one of the reasons I enjoy opportunities to
for movie previews: One week it could be ballet, the next a
piece. One week synthesizers, the next a huge orchestra.
essentially because creativity has become subservient to time, money
marketing, film makers want to grab a "sound" off the shelf and know
what they're going to have. This is a result of marketing
for "temp" tracks in every film. It is also a result of sadly
training in the film schools of our universities and, forgive me, lack
of imagination. Yes, this creates a homogenous style of film
especially in the orchestration of large ensemble scores.
On the other hand, each of us will eventually find
particular style or form which we do the most effectively. It would be
to then be able to explore its greatest possibilities.
Why do some composers get all the jobs?
There are many reasons, some tangible, some not.
there is the obvious quality and grace of their writing, followed by
ability to put all principal players at complete and total ease in an
of great concern and mystery. Then there is an industry wide
that anyone connected with one hit film will cause the next film to be
a hit; what some derisively call the "bean counter" mentality.
there is a very small group of composers represented by two agencies
are "plugged in" to the development of films and sew up deals
others know of their existence. But it is a truism that nearly
film director or producer begins with "Get me John Williams" or James
or Jerry Goldsmith or Danny Elfman. The sad thing is that many of
these same directors and producers think composers are
"Can't get me John Williams? Then get me Randy Newman."
Both are amazing musical geniuses, with completely different musical
In your opinion, what makes a great score? And can you give me an
I am one who believes a score should be integrated
the same grace as lighting and depth of focus by a camera, and often as
unnoticeable. Unless it is providing a required signal or
we should feel the music, perhaps noticing it as a part of the visual
aural dialogue itself, but never being quite sure when it started or
it developed. By the end, we should have been carried along
the music just as effectively as with the other ingredients, not
away saying "WOW, WHAT A SCORE!" any more than remembering a film
it had great explosions.
The intimate films scored by James Newton Howard, the
older treasures from Jerry Goldsmith, the little ensemble breathing
from John Williams all fascinate me. To write so little, yet do
so effectively is the challenge.
What do you see as the future of the Hollywood Film Composer?
My fear is that it will become a rich man's
Royalties are under attack and the cost of living and doing business in
the film community is escalating faster than the potential to
Many arrive, work for little or nothing and leave in defeat when they
amortize their careers. Unfortunately, they lower the bar for fee
structure and work under time conditions no one would previously
This snowballs as more filmmakers attempt to find more "fresh meat"
the under employed and, in many cases, under qualified.
So.. like many societies, we arrive at a class system
which has eliminated the middle.
On the other hand, there is incredible talent and
in some of these young composers. They are also better educated
in the area of business. This may end up serving the entire film
composing community well.
I remain optimistic.