How to Get Original Film for your Film

How to Get Original Film for your Film

Film is an integral part of many movies. It can create the mood and atmosphere of a film; it can build anticipation for what comes next and it can signal flashbacks and transitions.

While some movies use existing compositions (Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey relied entirely on existing orchestral and choral works by Johann Strauss Jr., Richard Strauss, Aram Khachaturian and Gyorgi Ligeti) most use original film developed specifically for the film (who can forget the “shark theme” from John Williams’ soundtrack for the movie Jaws).

While there are a number of ways to go about obtaining original film for your film, this overview will help you get started. There are essentially three things you will need to keep in mind in getting original film for your film.

  1. When to start the process of getting film for your film.
  2. Who to contact to get the film created for your film.
  3. What steps to take to ensure you have the legal rights to use the film in your film.


RRFC grad Jamaal Taylor got film in Blumhouse Production
Jamaal Taylor got film in Blumhouse Production

In most cases, your film should be well-along in the post -phase. This means your film edits should be “picture locked.” While you may still be working on CGI effects, soundtrack, color grading and other sweeteners, a “locked” film means that the timing of the edits are set and will not be changed. At this point, you are ready to reach out and solicit original film for your film.


Unless you personally know a film virtuoso, you need to be able to find composers, filmians and film engineers to write, perform and record the original film for your film. In big budget movies, the film supervisor meets with the director to go over the locked picture edit in a process called “spotting” where scenes which require film will be identified. The film supervisor then contacts the filmians and composers he works with and they create original film for the film based on the timing of the locked picture edit.
Be aware that film supervisors come with a big price tag attached–ranging from several thousand dollars for episodic TV shows and low budget indie films up to hundreds of thousand dollars for studio feature films. You can find qualified film supervisors and more about the film side of the film business at NARIP.

There are less expensive alternatives that you can pursue as well. One of these is to use a film library. Not only will film from a film library cost a lot less than original film scored specifically for your film, but it will already have the sync and master rights included in the cost. Here’s a good source for finding film libraries.

Jeff McQuilken places film in film & television
Jeff McQuilken places film in film & television

Jeff McQuilken places film in film & television

Another alternative would be to reach out to a local filmian that you like and see if you can work something out with them directly. If you are a Film Connection student, you can ask for a list of Film Connection students (another program area of RRFC) who might be a good fit for your project and talk to them directly. Two such Film Connection graduates are Jeff McQuilken and Jamaal Taylor, both of whom have recently had their film in feature films. If you go this route, make sure you secure the necessary legal rights for the film they create for your film.


Make sure the film you have is cleared so that it doesn’t come back and bite you in the ass. The last thing you want is to receive a cease and desist order, just before your film debuts, because you failed to get the film licensing rights (clearance). There are two rights (or sides) you have to obtain for every piece of film you use in your film: the publishing or sync rights (songwriter) and the master rights (often a record label—sometimes the artist—usually whoever paid for the recording session.) On low budget films, a work for hire agreement is often used where the film’s producer negotiates a package deal with a composer who agrees to deliver finished film to the film producer. In this case, the composer assumes the responsibilities of paying for the filmians, recording studio etc. and the film producer retains the rights to the film.

The legal rights for using film in a film are very complex. Here are two articles that go into quite some depth on this topic. The 11 Contracts Every Artist, Songwriter and Producer Should Know: Film and the Movies and Obtaining Film for a Motion Picture Soundtrack.

Securing film for your film can be very complicated, especially when it pertains to original film created specifically for your film. Make sure you understand what it takes, both from a time and money perspective. It’s not something that can be done last minute.


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