What is a Spotting Session in Film

What is a Spotting Session in Film?

Filmmaking is an incredibly creative process in which a variety of different artists work together to collaborate on various elements and features of the film before it is finalized. One such collaboration is the spotting session. Which takes place between the composer and the film director. This is an incredibly important step to effectively producing any major movie! But what is a spotting session in film? And why is it so important?

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What is a Spotting Session in Film?

Spotting is the term used to describe the creative process that takes place between the composer and the director toward the end of the film editing process. Or, in the case of some high-budget productions? Possibly during the actual production of the film.

Together, the composer and the film director watch the rough cut of the film and discuss the types of music that are needed for the film. 

The spotting session will include the director and composer watching the entire film and, during each scene, taking notes to describe the various style, type, and specifications for any scenes which will require the creation of original music. 

While this may sound like a simple brainstorming session, there’s actually a bit more to it than brainstorming some ideas. 

A Composer’s Role

During the spotting session, the composer is going to take notes on the precise timing of scenes and the specific moments occurring within the scene.

So that they can produce original music that is exactly as long as it needs to be for each particular scene, has the right tempo for the scene, and coincides with the events taking place on the screen with absolute precision.

In other words, a plan is made so that the music can be made for the movie – precisely.

3 Spotting Sessions for a Film

You might be wondering, “is a spotting session for the original film music, only?” The answer is, “NO.” Spotting sessions are actually not only for the composition of original music but also for the organization of dialogue and sound effects, too.

Each of these areas of the film sound will have a spotting session. Thus, there will be a film spotting session for each of the unique “spots” that are within a film which will require the attention of the appropriate department heads in order to achieve the desired finished outcome. 

The Whole Gamut

During spotting sessions, the film is always played from the beginning to end. This allows the individuals involved in the spotting session. Which are almost always the Director and someone else such as the composer or another department head.

To ask questions about the various needs of specific areas of the film, in real time. During the spotting session, the film will play.

And when areas that require detailed coverage by the composer, or the music editor or someone else involved in the session, can be immediately discussed with notes taken as to specific ideas and actions for that particular area of interest. 

Room for Discussions

Generally, when there is an area that needs to be discussed, the film playback is paused and discussion ensues. This is really the purpose of the spotting session! Which is to lay out details of the film and the underlying needs for various sound elements at each scene.

The entire film is viewed, with each section being discussed in full, to come up with a list of action items for the team to work with in producing a soundtrack for the film.

Topics Discussed During a Spotting Session

Before sound can be created for a film, the spotting session is going to take place between the director and the sound team to establish clear understanding as to what the intended vision is of the Director.

During the spotting session, a number of topics will be discussed with the Director including:

The general tone and aesthetics of the film.

And what feelings should be conveyed through the sound design. The Director should be able to help the sound team understand if the film is to be light-hearted, realistic, gritty, dramatic, etc. The sound design should complement the film footage, colors, lighting and other elements. 

The setting of the film and what the world that characters are in will be like.

Is this a futuristic period or is it a time long-lost? Is the world a sci-fi or fantasy world like nothing we’ve seen? Or is it something realistic that is relevant to a particular country or place? Examples should be discussed either way. 

Moments of the film that specifically call for unique sound design.

This is the entire purpose of spotting and should form the basis of most notes dictating the exact time and references. As well as director’s intentions for a particular scene.

This could be as intricate as including an in depth reference to the exact style, type, tone and relevance of music to include with references to samples or it could be as simple as just a couple of short words.

Such as “American ambulance siren, in the distance”. It all depends on the needs of the scene.

Any particular problem areas.

That could create a struggle for the sound recording. Such as areas of the film that have poor location sound or particularly poor continuity. Noting these areas during the spotting session will help the Director and sound crew to come up with a plan on how to solve the issues.

Timeline for completion of any sound design that is planned. As well as any particular milestones that the sound crew should be prepared to achieve. 

Why is Spotting Important?

As we look at answering the question, “What is a spotting session in film?” It’s also important to note what it is that makes spotting so important to the finished film. Think about any film you’ve ever watched.

What would that film be like if there was no music? For example, what would the Star Wars films be like if there hadn’t been 74+ minutes of original music composed for the film? 

Spotting is important to enhancing the film experience. And the music that is created for the film must not outdo the sound effects. Nor should it be lost to the sound effects.

The composer must break down the music for the film. So that it will fit within the music cues using a series of click tracks. Which are then locked to the picture, ie. They become part of the final film.

In Essence

So what is a spotting session in film? It’s a unique session in which the sound crew, particularly a composer and the Director, watch the film together from start to finish.

And prepare notes for the necessary sound design! Including any original music or other sounds that are required to finalize the rough cut in preparation for the final cut. 

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