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Westworld Scoring Competition

 ·  Source: Spitfire Audio / HBO

A hugely popular soundtrack scoring competition fell into controversy when the internet didn’t approve of the winner and started hurling insults at all concerned. Then Hans Zimmer weighed in with a bit of calming wisdom that we should all listen to.

Westworld Scoring Competition

We reported on the competition back in May when Spitfire Audio got together with HBO to offer big prizes to someone who could come up with an original score for a car chase scene from the Westworld TV show. There was a bunch of Spitfire product to win along with €23,000 as well as those all-important bragging rights to boost your career as a composer. Judges included J.J. Abrams (Westworld executive producer), Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy (Westworld creators), Ramin Djawadi (Westworld composer), as well as the team at Spitfire Audio – and they had over 11,000 entries.

The winner, David Kudell, was announced on 27 June along with the release of his work on the scene. The internet went bonkers. Insults and accusations were hurled, people said it was a fix, nobody, it seemed, liked the track and reading the comments on the YouTube video and various Facebook groups you’d think that some heinous crime had been committed (check out the winning entry video below).

Is it a fix?

There are some valid reasons to raise a few eyebrows. David Kudell is a professional in the industry having worked on over 25 movies including Mission Impossible 3 and The Matrix Reloaded – as a sound assistant, not a composer. More recently he’s the Commercial Video Producer/Director/Editor at Rimrock Creative Media (LinkedIn link). A competition of this nature does suggest that it’s giving an opportunity for new talent to emerge, so that’s probably something that narks people, but there’s nothing in the rules saying that you must be an amateur.

The other point of contention is that many of the people who entered claim that their YouTube analytics says that no one in the UK had viewed their video so they couldn’t have possibly have been fairly judged by Spitfire Audio. But who’s to say that they didn’t have an international team of people working on the entries to bring the level of work down to a reasonable level for the guest judges? Do we really expect JJ Abrams to spend 1,100 hours viewing each individual entry? It’s like the Long List for the Booker Prize or nominations for Oscars – someone has to do the filtering down before the judges get to vote.

And lastly, there’s the track itself which many people have declared as “ghastly” but could probably be described as a mix of Chiptune arcade sounds and orchestral weight. It, of course, comes down to opinion but what many commentators seem to have missed is that the scene in question was focused on the Aaron Paul character Calib who had taken a drug called Genre which makes him experience the world from the perspective of different film genres. He is off-his-face, a transformation was taking place and so weirdness is to be expected. In so many of the entries the music stayed consistent and so while the Chiptune angle feels perhaps frivolous and twists the scene into something funny it certainly stands out against the swathe of good, solid, thumping, orchestral action scoring.

Hans Zimmer

In a very interesting twist to the story Hollywood film composer Hans Zimmer posted some thoughts in a thread (under user name Rctec) about the competition on the VI Control website forum. He talks about his passion for music, his enthusiasm for the sort of talent this competition might highlight and his disappointment at the criticism:

But then I started to read the comments and the bitterness and bitchyness in most of the responses to the winner (whom I’ve never met or heard off). And I thought, why even bother with this lot. They’ve already lost. They think music is a business when it’s a passion, they forget that putting hours or days in, is a luxury you’ll never have again when you’re on a deadline on a ‘proper’ job… but, mostly, it’s the lack of respect for someone’s moment of joy – where they should be celebrated – that got me.

And then he brings out the tough love.

so – carry on with your uninformed small minded criticism. it’s all here now in black and white for ever. The beauty of the internet. And as a reference of how i wouldn’t ever want to work with a single one of you. Nor you with me. Bad fit. It doesn’t even ever matter how good your music is or how smart you are… And since music and film-making are inherently collaborative, I can’t really see how any director will want to deal with that amount of entitlement and hubris.

It’s quite interesting how deferential the comments become after Mr Zimmer (legendary, awesome and deeply wise) has had his say. Read his full post here.

A couple of hours after the post David Kudell steps up and gives a perfectly poised response. It turns out that he’s a humble chap, filled with the same fears and self-doubt as the rest of us despite his career and time in the industry.

My whole life I’ve been afraid to take risks with my music. Avoiding putting my music out there for fear it’s not good enough. At 43 years old, I kick myself that I didn’t follow through with music when I was scoring a student film 25 years ago. Ironic then that I won this contest by what else: Taking a risk with a take on this scene that was different. As much as I would love to try doing a version of Dark Knight, guess what – you’ve already done that, you invented it and it’s time for us to try something new.

Read his full post here.

Happy Endings?

What a lovely story! And the great thing is that everyone on the internet came together in a loving virtual hug, cried some tears and pledged to go on encouraging one another in our creative endeavours. No, of course not – it’s hell out there! Personally I really liked the start of the chiptune sequence, it was unexpected and quite funny but I didn’t really care for the tune that much after that and I was a bit confused as to whether it was supposed to be funny or not.

In the actual series they used the music from Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries which certainly lends an over-the-top and amusing edge. I can imagine the joy of the judges in finding David’s track amongst the heavy waves of Dark Knight inspired orchestration. And to note that the runner up entries were all truly amazing and would fit perfectly into any action sequence – they did a fantastic job.

I think we should all take note of Mr Zimmer’s comments and consider how we approach criticism on the internet. Being rejected is something you have to get used to in any creative industry where you are trying to be heard and if we all encouraged each other a bit more maybe it wouldn’t feel as devastating. Congratulations to David.

Here’s the winning entry.

And, what do you think?