Monday, April 19, 2010

Tunes for Tots, better known as Child Labor (Goddess images included)

Saraswati, Hindu goddess of knowledge, creativity and openness

I have a great love affair with films. I grew up watching movies with my mother, a huge film buff who could name the year, the director, and the actors in almost any film from the 1940s and onward. So, while most parents take their kids to the park, I would take my little 5-year-old charmer to a Yugoslvian film with subtitles. (yes, she reminds me of this often!) Or, we'll spend a lazy Sunday making cookies and laying on my bed and watching four films back to back.

One thing we both do is turn down the volume when the scene gets tense, and we'll keep watching. Sometimes we have to change it, and have been known run out of the room if a scene gets too heavy. That's because music can make you feel. All musicians know that. And combined with visuals, movie music is just simply this: POWERFUL... it can leave you breathless, bring tears to your eyes, or scare the royal crap out of you. Music in film creates texture and meaning, and communicates to the viewer not only what to feel, but how to feel it. Like I said... powerful.

I have a tremendous appreciation for traditional musicals (Oklahoma, The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, West Side Story, Grease); they're a genre all their own. But film soundtracks are different beasts -- whether original compositions or licensed tracks. Everyone knows the Tier-1 stunners like John Williams, Patrick Doyle and Ennio Morricone, or classic themes like Jaws (John Williams), Rocky (Bill Conti)  and Halloween (Dan Wyman/John Carpenter). When we think of those, how can you deny that music compositions drive the film, and sometimes even carry it?
  • The Godfather (Nino Rota)
  • Lord of the Rings (Howard Shore)
  • Blade Runner (Vangelis)
  • Jean de Florette (Jean-Claude Petit, Giuseppe Verdi)
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Leos Janacek)
  • The Mission (Ennio Morricone)
I've spent the last few weeks diving into my secret stash of potential soundtrack CDs and getting leads from friends and industry contacts. After weeks of listening, making CDs, and playing tracks over and over at my desk and in my car, it was finally time to choose. (I confess, the whole process was becoming emotional to me, and probably was the most symbolic and important choice I could make for the film, outside of hiring the DP and choosing the cast.)

It was a lovely Sunday morning and I was driving Miss O to dance class. She had the clipboard on her lap and as we did the 45+ minute drive she put in CD after CD and cross-referenced the song titles with the scenes. After some deliberation, we would select the song and she'd mark it down. There were some tracks that I really liked. In fact, I liked most of them, which is why they were on the shortlist. But she didn't have any emotional attachment to it. She was quick with a "no way" and actually confirmed my decision on some that I was wavering on. By the time we arrived at the banjar (the Balinese community house), we had all of our tracks, and some alternates, selected and ready for prime-time.

Hindu Goddess Durga (Goddess of Multi-Tasking)
This, my friends, is the great art of multi-tasking. Child labor included gratis. The contribution of Miss O for her invaluable input on the song selection and her endless patience and energy is priceless. Sample tracks to be posted later.

Now, on to licensing... whew.

In addition to those listed above, I do have a few soundtrack favorites from the "licensed song" category, if anyone's interested. Probably one of the most integrated and poignant soundtracks is Magnolia, written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Just stunning. I don't own the CD, but I probably should pick it up one of these days.
  1. Stop Making Sense
  2. Repo Man
  3. Magnolia
  4. O Brother Where Art Thou
  5. Amadeus
  6. Let It Be
  7. Pulp Fiction
  8. American Graffiti
  9. Purple Rain
  10. The Graduate
  11. Saturday Night Fever
  12. Quadrophenia

Friday, April 2, 2010

SWEATS & ICE CREAM: commuting and meeting LIVE with the computer

We're smack dab in the middle of editing. That's right, I said "smack dab." I have no idea what that really means or where it comes from, but it gets the point across. More than seven minutes edited, three key effects scenes in progress, listening to loads of music, long conversations with the music composer, weekly editing & effects meetings, and starting last night, my very first official Final Cut Pro class courtesy of Zack at Petaluma Community Access TV.

The class was long enough to get some real info, but short enough so my brain didn't short circuit. It's just enough to send me to the edge, but not quite over it... to work all day, come home for an hour, head to a class for 2 hours, spend another hour visiting Bunka (Vidal's cat, who I'm caring for while he's gone in Texas - who bit me by the way. Twice!), and then come home to hear that the cat poop needs to get cleaned up.... but that's another story. I did manage to listen to 10 new tracks I'm considering to license. And  yes, that was my Thursday. And now I'm up at 4:30 am. I have no idea why except that I had this weird audio-visual dream.

On Monday, Matt and I met for 2+ hours going over some effects he had done, and throughout I realize that I'm very bad at communicating in technical language. I'm a writer and musician, so I use a lot of metaphors, movie references, and general "music type" language about pacing. Sometimes, usually while I'm even talking, I will think "well, that's just darn inarticulate." Not like me at all. Yesterday in fact I realized that I had lost some of my mojo... Anyway, Matt, as gracious and positive as ever, got my rambling ideas and sent me a reassuring email. I like his new changes to the effects... just a little tweaking and I think we'll be ready to lay them on.

They always ask... what do you want it to look like? Sometimes I explain with strange-sounding adjectives and long-winded mini stories. Most often, I just refer to another film as an example. For the hallucination sequence, I've always appreciated the simplicity and humor from the scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Thanks to Matt for digging that out. You can see it here.

Also viewed some sequences with Scott, who's managed to tighten up the key patio scene. We both agreed to break it up into three parts -- it's important, but at the same time, it's just darn long. The impact will be greater and at the same time we won't bore the audience to death. 

This week, we also finally caught up with our music composer, Douglas Pipes. Since his role in this production happens later in the process he's just getting up to speed. I spent nearly two hours going over the story, the vibe, what music I wanted, and what pieces we needed from him. He's the only one we'll be allowing to see the rough cuts and sequences that we're editing. He'll need to know what it looks like and what feel it should have. (Sorry folks, but to those of you who were waiting to see something, the trailer will be posted sometime early this summer.)

The amazing part about these meetings is that all of them have taken place with me in my sweats, usually with a bowl of ice cream, sitting at my desk, or even lying on my bed. With iChat, we've been able to talk live, person to person, listen to music, and watch clips together at the same time. Pausing them, refining them, and viewing shots to model after. This is real 21st century film-making and we're so lucky to be able to do this. Imagine how challenging it was 20, 30, even 50 years ago. Rolls and rolls of film, synching sound, huge editing stations. I've been a part of that early production process -- with a huge analog editing system, the dial and everything -- and it would literally just kill my enthusiasm, or as least drop a huge bucket of water on it. It's mostly all a good time now, except for this Final Cut Pro learning process, which is... I promise (to myself)... only temporary.

Although these "sweats and ice cream" visuals might blow my director image... I will tell you it's been efficient, comfortable and simply easier. Matt and Scott are 45 and 60 minutes away. Douglas is 400 miles away. But we are all on the same team, working on the same project, and heading for the same goal.

And yes, it's moving along splendidly, thank you very much. May the force be with you.