A Score From Hell

By Derek Wadsworth

Derek Wadsworth
Derek Wadsworth

My early ventures into the role of scoring music to film came about in the 1960s from my association with Pop Stars of the day such as Manfred Mann, Alan Price or Georgie Fame.

Basically we wrote music to a set length with perhaps a few hit points which were forecast on a studio screen by way of “wipes”, which were markings on the celluloid by chinagraph pencil. These manifested themselves as lines which would either meet the side of the screen before a “hit” point, or as a pair meeting in the middle.

If I mistimed these hits as conductor we had to stop and try again. Rather wearing for the musicians, particularly if we had just made a good take.

I got fairly competent at this however, and after a while when the moment came at which the great Gerry Anderson asked me to write and produce a major section of the score of his TV pilot called  The Day After Tomorrow I felt fairly confident that I was experienced enough to handle the role.

I engaged the fixer to book me a forty piece orchestra of my favourite players at Olympic Studios for the following Tuesday and, in a relaxed manner, made a Friday night visit to Pinewood to “spot” the film on the Movieola – a treadled and sprocketed display machine – for whatever cues I felt were needed.

A major consideration here was that the budget only ran to one regulation three-hour session during which a maximum of twenty minutes of music only was allowed by Union rules to be recorded.

These twenty minutes had to be apportioned within the one hour film. (It never occurred to me at that point that I might re-use bits of music during the film, an action which not only would have given more music, but which might help render a continuity of style). The spotted “cues” that I had chosen for the film were then typed up in the production office and couriered to my home so that I could begin work on them on the Saturday morning. I had booked a copyist to stand by from Sunday.

Feeling rested and confident, I got my score paper ready and opened the sheaf of cue sheets. To my great alarm, I discovered that the great many cues I had so carefully measured in the cutting rooms had been listed in the then-common method of feet and frames; not minutes and seconds.

The production office was closed and I was on my own. I knew that one foot of film equaled two-thirds of a second and that there were twenty-five frames to a foot, so Cue 1 began at 00.00 and, at the timing of thirteen feet and eleven frames, a rocket would explode on screen that would need a musical sting. I frantically began my calculations. So what would be thirteen two-thirds of a second? Twenty-six thirds? Divide it by three! (maths never were my best subject) OK! Eight and two thirds but what about the eleven frames?? I realised my calculator would not be much help and there were another seventeen “hits” in Cue 1 alone. I desperately wished I had not opted to “Mickey Mouse” the score. (tightly fit the music to the action)

What was worse was the realisation that subsequent cues, unlike Cue 1, would not begin conveniently at zero but at their position in the overall film. Thus, for example, Cue 4 may have started at 147 feet and three frames but which now had to be redesignated as beginning at 00.00 so that its own incorporated hits could be converted first into feet and frames at a distance from zero, and then into minutes and seconds. Try deducting fourteen feet, three frames from twenty-one feet, one frame in a hurry and then convert this into minutes and seconds with the above formula and you will soon get the picture!

These in turn would then need to be further adapted into crotchets, semiquavers, whatever, to fit my score in accordance with my chosen tempo which would be regulated not by dependable computer clicks, but by unpredictable click-loops of film running over the playback head which themselves had irregular footage and frame counts of their own. Fun for Einstein but a nightmare for me!!

As if all this were not enough, our young baby chose that weekend for a series of crying fits and the fixer had found out that the major orchestras had all their horn players booked out at the time of our session and we would have to take lengths of time on the phone to discuss alternatives. Somehow I finally got the timings roughly (very roughly!) sorted by late Sunday night. I was a defeated wet rag and still hadn’t written a note of music. My copyist was in a rage. But I still take pride that no one other than me ever knew the horrors I had been through that weekend!

About Derek Wadsworth


Composer for Year Two of world-wide hit sci/fi series ‘Space 1999′ and other Gerry Anderson productions. Other series include The Fame and Shame of Salvador Dali’, The Life and Crimes of El more Leonard’, The Seven Wonders of the World’, ‘Pickwick Papers’ (arranger to Carl Davis), several children’s series and numerous single programmes.


Several feature films as arranger/conductor including the Hollywood movie ‘Dick Tracy’, Nicholas Roeg’s ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’, Lindsay Anderson’s films, ‘Britannia Hospital’ and ‘The Whales of August’ with Bette Davis, Lillian Gish and Vincent Price and, most recently, the Japanese film ‘Swallowtail Butterfly’. Others, including Dusty Springfield track in ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’.

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