This is a question I’ve contemplated for years now, and which I’ve asked composer colleagues about, be it in person or over discussion boards. I still think about it and I thought I’d bring it up here, to the wider film composer community, and see what you think or believe from your own experiences and perspectives.
IS THE COMPOSER ESSENTIALLY IMPLICATED IN THE FILM’S MESSAGE BY VIRTUE OF BEING PART OF THE TEAM?
DOES COMPOSING THE SCORE AUTOMATICALLY IMPLY THAT YOU SUPPORT THE FILM’S MESSAGE?
*NOTE: FOR THE SAKE OF MUTUAL RESPECT FOR EACH OTHER’S POLITICAL, RELIGIOUS, AND HUMANITARIAN VIEWS, I WILL REFRAIN FROM CITING SPECIFIC EXAMPLES AND ASK THAT YOU KINDLY DO THE SAME IN YOUR COMMENTS*
Here are a few scenarios:
1. A PROPAGANDA FILM WITH A POLITICAL MESSAGE THAT YOU DO NOT CONDONE/SUPPORT, OR THAT CONTRADICTS YOUR POLITICAL VIEWS:
You compose music for a film with a strong political message. Do you have to agree with the political message in order to score it? Or do you just do your job as a composer regardless of your agreement or disagreement with the message?
2. A FILM ABOUT A DIVISIVE POLITICAL ISSUE IN WHICH YOU MIGHT OR MIGHT NOT BE TAKING SIDES:
Again, without specific examples, you get a call to score a film/show that tackles a hot and divisive political issue/debate. You don’t know where you stand, or your stance isn’t announced to the public. Or maybe it is but it’s not an issue over which you’re losing sleep, or maybe you just don’t care about the issue altogether. Do you take the job? And if you do, does this mean you are now implicated in the politics of this issue?
3. A FILM THAT HAS UNDERTONES OF RACISM, XENOPHOBIA, HOMOPHOBIA, ISLAMOPHOBIA, ANTISEMITISM, WHITE SUPREMACY, SEXISM, OR ANY TYPE OF DISCRIMINATORY LANGUAGE THAT’S SUBTLE… BUT IT’S THERE:
What do you do? Let me add, they are paying you a lot of money for this. It’s a *dream job* in terms of the fees.
4. A FILM THAT WAS ONE THING WHEN YOU SIGNED THE CONTRACT, BUT AFTER A FEW EDITS BECAME A BIT OF A DIFFERENT FILM WITH A MORE PRONOUNCED POLITICAL MESSAGE WHICH WASN’T AS PRONOUNCED AT THE BEGINNING:
So they told you they’re exploring two sides of a story, but the final cut is really just one side.
I SEE TWO ARGUMENTS HERE
ARGUMENT 1: WE ARE, FIRST AND FOREMOST, ETHICAL BEINGS
One argument would be that it’s unethical to score a film that contradicts your beliefs, as this would be ‘dirty money’.
If I score a xenophobic film, then I’m helping in spreading a message of xenophobia by virtue of being part of the creative team. I would rather not be part of it.
If I score a film with a political message I disagree with, then I’m being a hypocrite because I’m accepting a job while fully knowing that I do not agree with the message. It’s dirty money, again.
ARGUMENT 2: WE ARE, FIRST AND FOREMOST, PROFESSIONALS
Another would be that, as a professional, it is my job to score the film, regardless of its message, and being part of the team doesn’t and shouldn’t implicate me in any way, because I was hired to do my job, which is writing music.
Think of a doctor who saves the life of a murderer. The doctor is doing their job, for which they made an oath. S/he doesn’t refuse treatment to someone based on their political views/ murderous actions/etc. You get the gist.
(ADDENDUM: Inspired by Garrett Steele‘s comment below, this example is flawed because we don’t deal with life or death situations by refusing to score a film. So, here’s a BETTER example:
Is it OK for a speech and language pathologist to refuse to treat someone by helping them regain their speech capacities, because that person is known to to spread hate through their speeches in public? The speech and language pathologist took an oath to do their job, however, in this case, by doing their job, they will help this patient promote hate because they’re enabling to speak again.)
WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
WHERE DO WE DRAW THE LINE?
WOULD THIS DEPEND ON THE SEVERITY/ STRENGTH OF THE MESSAGE?
Looking forward to hearing your opinions, as if we’re doing it over a cup of tea…or coffee…with or without Kermit 🙌