Q: How do you prepare to accompany a film?
A: I look at it once to get a general sense of it. I have some musical ideas after a single viewing, then I come back to watch the film and imagine what I've done. ... You have to get a sense of the general flow of the picture, the mood. So I try to develop a musical pattern that identifies with the general mood. ... I try to have a musical idea with each of the main characters, usually a rhythm or a chord. Then, as the film unfolds, if I suddenly have to refer to a character, I do it with a sonic mood or sound.
Q: Are there certain tendencies to watch out for when playing along with a film?
A: What you must remember first and foremost is to be in the background and support the film. You can't play over the film. I've done that before, and it's not a good idea.
Q: What other factors do you have to consider?
A: When you're performing, you have to get a sense of the audience. You're the mediator in all of this. You are there in support of the film, for them. ... You have to provide a continuity for the viewer sitting there basically in silence. You support the action, the psychology, the drama.For those who have access to JSTOR, it's worth checking out Patrick Miller's Music and the Silent Film in the Summer 1982 issue of Perspectives of New Music.
More silent film accompanying on the Collaborative Piano Blog:
The Last of the Silent Movie Pianists
Remembering Bob Mitchell, 1912-2009