Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Meet Douglas Pipes, Musician/Composer/Funny Man

Yesterday I had a short but important conversation with the music composer, Douglas Pipes. He has the Fine Cut of the film (I don't say Final here because I know I'm taking out a couple of frames to clean it up) and he had questions -- about music, sound, vibe, feeling. We talked about what he needed to understand the "vibe" that I wanted, and I listened. Officially, he has all the temp tracks on the iPod and a little table chart that I created that said where each track should go in the film. And he'll be taking it on vacation with him to the Caribbean. So picture this: Man lounging on sailboat, drinking beer, laughing with friends, remotely composing (in his mind, of course) the lovely and bittersweet score to our friendly little bridal film. Very nice.

I'm amazed that this project has come together the way it has... and I look back at all the little seeds I've planted along the way to get here. Douglas is one of those flowers.

I first met him when I was 29, aka young and having lots of fun living on the beach. We became immediate friends and have remained in touch throughout the years. I was fascinated back then - and still am - by his talent, sense of humor, and simply just the way he is. But he knows this. He was at the time playing in a band, singing, writing songs, and generally figuring out the next big thing. I was really impressed by the work he'd already done on other films. He'd done film soundtracks and played some of the music for me. One night we were hanging out in the basement, or the garage (I forget what that room was exactly, but it had a piano there, and his computer) and I asked him to show me how he did the music. He was surprised... do you really want to know? why are you asking me this? But I did really want to know. So he walked through the software he used, how he worked with the timeline and extending or cutting the sound to fit the scene. I remember sitting in there, writing in that room, pen and paper, with him next to me, headphones on, breathing hard, just working on music. It was sweet. (I wish I had a picture of us from that time, but people just didn't have cell phone cameras then folks)

When my original composer decided early on that he didn't have the time or interest in this film, I immediately thought of Douglas. In fact, I had thought about Douglas much earlier but figured he was too busy, too talented, and just too big to work on this short film. In the end, I thought, heck, won't hurt to ask. He responded immediately via email. "Yes! Would LOVE to!"  All I could think was "wow"... and then, "Thank God."

In the years since those idyllic days on the beach, he's gone on to do many cool things. Finished his degree. Worked in an ad agency. Composed for shorts, features. His most well-known work to date is the 2006 soundtrack to the animated film, Monster House, which my daughter has seen at least half a dozen times.

His most recent big film was Trick'R Treat, a  feature released by Warner Brothers in 2008. It has received universally great reviews from blogs and critics, and has a huge following among horror film fans.

Next up on his plate: Dinner with moi. Then we finish the film.

I know I've said this a lot, but we are indeed so very lucky to have him on our team. Douglas is the Big Fish here, and I promise to cook him a mean dinner... with Cat Stevens in the background.

Douglas Pipes

Douglas Pipes is a film music composer whose music has appeared in a spectrum of short and feature films including City of Ember (Universal Pictures) and the 2006 soundtrack to Monster House (Columbia). His loud, brassy instrumentations have drawn comparisons to action-music composer guru Alan Silvestri. He has won a variety of awards for his compositions including World Soundtrack Awards, Royal Television Society, and Gold Spirit Compositor Revelac√≠on (Spain). Doug’s most recent work is the score of horror film Trick ’r Treat.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Heartlessly Saving The Heart

This week we had some celebrating to do. On Tuesday, Scott and I sat side by side and went through the film scene by scene from start to finish, over and over. Going through my revision notes and making edits I tried to be heartless, without of course taking the heart out of the story.

As the screenwriter I really had the authority to remove unnecessary scenes, take out fat, make it lean, cut out entire sequences… at the same time, there was dialogue that explained something specific about a character, a particular reference that illuminated something that was, to my mind, unique. But I’m a fan of the “the more eyes the better” philosophy. So during those few moments where I felt a pang of remorse, I explained the sentiment, the exposition, to Scott… who politely, gently and respectfully pointed out that that segment of dialogue was (a) already SHOWN elsewhere, or (b) was really [ruthlessly] unnecessary. Muchas gracias to my editor. And an additional grazie to my co-writer, Mick, who also previewed the rough cut and identified the same things that I had seen but wasn’t sure about. Additional confirmation helped me put on my butcher gloves and get to the heart of the story. I felt very French.

At some level, one could say that it was almost a disadvantage to be the screenwriter, that perhaps knowing too much about the meaning and symbolism behind the dialogue might get in the way of the bigger story, that sometimes deeper illumination of the character doesn’t serve the story and kills the pace… perhaps. And perhaps not. But it’s something that’s there. Kill it, or don’t.

I recently read the autobiography of one of the more notorious screenwriters, Joe Eszterhas, writer of Basic Instinct, Jagged Edge, Flashdance, and Showgirls. Like most writers, he had a deep connection to his words and his journey culminated in him writing and directing his own film (the “you all aren’t doing it right, so I will” philosophy). That humbled him a bit, and no, the picture didn’t do fantastically, although having never seen it I can’t say whether it was simply a lackluster story or if the precious dialogue got in the way of the journey. But he learned that later. And I just learned it too.

Took my gal Connie (Casting Coordinator extraordinaire) out for a drink at the new pub in Point Richmond to celebrate. The film’s now officially off to the composer.
Drinking Menage a Trois red and having a sleepover. Life is beautiful.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Whippin' It (Good) With Shoes Fully Tied

Right now, at this very moment, listening to Devo, drinking Chardonnary courtesy of Chateau St. Jean, I am officially celebrating. Three weeks behind. It's been a wild two weeks. Took a hatchet to the world and spent a few days dealing with the bleeding. And throughout all of it, I'm smiling.

Just when I was ready to finalize the editing process and begin refining the film, I had to take a little break to deal with life. My full plate was waiting: reviewing the rough cut, finalizing the montage, completing and sending out the music licenses, meeting with my post-production team to refine the edits, pull out and relabel the audio recordings -- all this to stay on schedule. The key is that our composer is leaving May 15 and will be gone for two weeks. He wanted to see the rough cut by May 1 so he had time to watch it, lay down some draft music, and meet with me to move forward with his ideas and my changes. Alas, it was not to be.

Sometimes we have to stop to tie our shoes, so that's what I did. The rough cut sat for 9 full days without me even looking at it; the montage was posted up for nearly a week. So I took care of business. In the back of my mind, it was nagging, like a Very Important Meeting that you had to attend and where you had to give a speech but had never written it. I had dreams about old boyfriends and semesters in junior high. The whole school year had gone by and I hadn't attended one class the whole time. I woke up mildly panicked. Oh man, didn't I dump that guy? Oh no, could I make up the classes in a week? It Was Crazy. Amusement Park Crazy. Alice in Wonderland Crazy.

Just when I felt like I was hitting a wall, I got an email from a neighborhood friend, a kid from my junior high and high school, who was with another friend in L.A. They were talking and my name came up. (I don't ask how or why here, I just accept the blessing.) The best part of this story is that the mutual friend is Don Terbush from Universal Music Group, who has been one of my great sources for film music over the last ten years. One of my (still-to-be-done) tasks was to call Don. So an angel knocked on my door that day. Well, literally, it was an email angel in the form of an old neighbor, whose dog bit my brother when he was 10 years old. I called Don right away, gave him the details about the project and sent him the music list for licensing.

100 lashes to me. Nothing like a little lashing to wake a girl up. But I'm a traditional kind of gal, with a nice little whip. I plowed through the film a dozen times, identified where to tighten, where to cut, where to use an alternate shot, where we're going to need music, and laid out the remaining edits to complete it from Intro to Fade to Black. Shoes are tied. No tripping over life here. Bring it on.

And because I'm in a friendly mood and slightly drunk, here's a list of songs we're licensing, or at least hoping to license... just for fun.

Opening - HONEY IS COOL, On The Beach
Montage - THE MIGHTY QUARK, Kangaroo #1
Patio Scene - WYE OAK I Don't Feel Young
Closing scene - NOUVELLAS, These Days Are Gone
Credits - KASEY CHAMBERS, If I Were You

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Visions of Chocolate

It's been raining during the last couple of months, so when the sun finally came out I stopped by the bridal shop to say hello to the ladies. They were bushed, in the middle of prom season, and had spent the morning putting clothes away only to prepare for the 3 pm onslaught of high schoolers once school was out for another day so the girls could tear it all down again.

We still need to shoot the opening sequence. Our original vision was to capture the leads strolling down the walkway, heels tapping along, then tilt up to their faces, expressions full of expectation, then cut to the entry shot. But our day of rain took that shot out. So after some thinking... what will fit, what will flow into the first scene, I went back to my reservoir of films and remembered the opening sequence for the original 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. There were no characters or scenes from the film, just chocolate, scenes of luscious flowing chocolate, details and images. Perfect lead in. I'll take that.

I told the ladies that I needed about 3 hours to come in and shoot details for the opening sequence and we agreed to come back later in May. Then I headed over to the burrito place to pick up some lunch. On the way, my magical DP Mike called, at the perfect moment of course. We talked schedule, needs, ideas, and agreed to rent a lens to get some of the details and close-ups we needed.

According to IMDB, the opening credits sequence was filmed at a real chocolate factory in Switzerland. So we'll be filming at a real bridal shop in Santa Rosa. Nice.

I'm going to head over to the shop in mid-May when they've finalized the new shop layout to take some stills to plan out the shoot. Fun stuff. And the song for the intro is key. Check it out:  "On the Beach" by Honey Is Cool.

Somewhere Gene Wilder is smiling at us.