Brigsby Bear Claws Its Way to the Top at LA Film Festival
The little indie film that took the film festival scene by storm has arrived at the Los Angeles Film Festival with a Gala Screening at Arclight Hollywood. Brigsby Bear is an amusing and creative film that has not only delighted audiences but critics around the world.
It’s about a man named James and his obsession with a children’s TV show called Brigsby Bear Adventures. When the show gets canceled, he sets out to finish it himself. The film was a crowd favorite at Sydney Film Festival and Sundance as it continues on to the LA Film Festival.
The film’s stars arrived on the red carpet along with Brigsby Bear. He wasn’t able to speak with us but he still made quite an impression on the crowd. Also on hand was director Dave McCary, most of The Lonely Island (Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone) and the star and writer Kyle Mooney.
Matt Walsh, co-writer Kevin Costello, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Ryan Simpkins stopped by to speak with us about the film as well as their upcoming projects. We talked about everything from Matt Walsh’s fake news show “Dog Bites Man” to Ryan Simpkins’ fake kids show “Wonder Showzen.”
Brigsby Bear starring Kyle Mooney, Claire Danes, Mark Hamill, Greg Kinnear, Ryan Simpkins, Michaela Watkins, Matt Walsh, Beck Bennett, Alexa Demie, Jorge Lendeborg Jr. and Andy Samberg comes out July 28th to a theater near you. The surrealist fantasy film is directed by Dave McCary and produced by Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg (The Lonely Island), P. Jennifer Dana, Lian Hua, Will Allegra, Al Di, Phil Hoelting, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Ross Jacobson, Mark Roberts, Jason Zaro and Billy Rosenberg. Its distributor is Sony Pictures Classics.
If you haven’t caught the Showtime documentary series Dark Net yet, you may not know it’s set to air its season finale this week. The show explores the vast cyberworld that connects us all, and not always in good ways. The advancements in technology make a lot of things possible. Doesn’t always mean we should be doing such things.
Justin Melland is the composer for the show, and he brings his long career of documentary music scoring to this project with a mix of influences and instruments.
How familiar with the story do you like to get before starting to compose? Did you know about this so called ‘deep web’ before working on this show?
One of the coolest aspects of scoring Dark Net, is how much I learn when I’m working on the show. I’m a bit of a tech geek, and I love reading stories about hackers both real and imagined, so I had heard of a few of the major topics. I knew that the deep web existed, and that people access it with the TOR browser. And thanks to Cory Doctorow, I know how the technology of the browser works. But, there have been quite a few mind blowing details in the show. For example, there is a story about a Spanish town called Jun, that calls itself “Twitter Town”, because they are completely linked up with Twitter. They use it to run the whole city. That episode was completely educational! I love it when a show turns me on to a whole new part of the world I didn’t previously know about. Sometimes that actually makes it more fun for me. It’s an unexpected beneficial development.
What got you into composing?
I have been a musician all my life, and have been writing music since I was a boy. I have actually never imagined another career path for myself. I’ve always had a very special appreciation for composers and songwriters. They are often the unseen puppeteers of music. The grand architects of sonic design. I followed my nose into music school and majored in music composition with and piano was my main instrument. I essentially had no idea what would happen after college, but I saw getting a degree in music as a fantastic opportunity to get really good. So, I just took it. Toward the end of my undergrad studies at the University Of Washington, Hummie Mann came to talk with our class about his film scoring school, which offered a yearlong intensive course. I really wanted to take this class, but being a poor student, I didn’t have a dime. So, Hummie took a liking to me and let me pay my way by copying out a gigantic handwritten big band score of his into Finale. That gesture was instrumental in creating the opportunity I needed to learn some seriously valuable skills about working in Hollywood, and I will always be grateful to him for doing that for me.
The job I did that paved the way for my whole career, was just a little thing that came up when I was doing my Masters in Music Composition at UC Berkeley. A couple of students from the J School there wanted to work with some composers from the music department, and everyone in my department snubbed them except me. I did three little shorts, and one of them, called When the Storm Came, won the Sundance Film Festival. Then the next year, Dan Krauss called me up because he was in the same program and needed a composer. So I scored his film called The Death of Kevin Carter, and we got nominated for an Oscar. After that, I started getting a lot more work, and it’s been steady ever since.
How did the opportunity to score this project come about?
One of my favorite collaborators, Part2 Pictures called and told me they were doing a very cool show for Showtime that was going to need a lot of edgy electronic music and my special blend of eclectic instruments. I got super excited and basically said, “Great! When do we start?” That’s when I learned that I would have to be pitched to Vocativ, the company that created the show and sold it to Showtime. This introduced the chance that I might NOT get the gig, and that was entirely brain torturing! But, this is the nature of getting a big job in this business. Even if you are a favorite, you must be thoroughly vetted by everyone involved. It can be the hardest part of the process! Eventually, it was time for me to be formally introduced to Vocativ. Once I had done the formal meeting, and submitted my music, it was time to wait. And wait I did. For what seemed like forever. Then one day, while I was vacationing with my friends and family, my agent called during a lovely outdoor dinner in Quinson, France and said we were chosen to score the series. It was one of the happiest days of my career
What process do you use to decide instrumentation for your scores?
My process has been to collect instruments. I am a guitarist and pianist, and so I focus on finding instruments in those two worlds. The more eclectic they are, the better. I collect new, vintage and modular synthesizers, guitars, and other things that are plucked, and I have one very unique instrument called a Guitarviol made by Jonathan Wilson here in LA. You can see me playing it in this video:
So, I collect and get very intimate with these instruments and assimilate their sound into my composer mind. I do this so that I have the feeling of these instruments floating around in my subconscious. Then I watch the film, paying extra attention to the characters in question. You see, every scene and every music cue in the film, is about a character in one way or another. That character has a perfect sound, and a perfect harmony. It is the composer’s job to find those sounds. So, after I’ve taken in the film, I get really quiet in my mind, and then all of a sudden, I’ll start getting ideas of instruments that I should use. That’s why I like to have so many different instruments that I can play. I need to be able to pick something up, or plug something in, and immediately start playing it, so I can see if my intuition is right. Once I’ve done what I think is perfect, then I send it off the director/producer to see if they agree.
How valuable is the use of silence in your scores? How do you determine when it’s best not to have music?
Silence is incredibly important in my scores. In general, I prefer a minimal approach to scoring and orchestration. I firmly believe in headroom. Room in my mixes, my orchestrations, and my film scores. The best way I decide whether or not we need music, is to feel how the scene is working on its own. If it has a strong rhythm and if the characters are really getting the emotion across, then we don’t need music to fix anything. This is a great start! Then I search the scene to discover if there is an important creative reason for having music in a scene. If there is no special reason for music, I will make the argument that we should not have it. If there is too much music, then I can’t do one of the most important parts of scoring, which is to enter at the right moment. The entrance is actually more important than the notes I play. If I get that wrong, then even the right music won’t help. But, if I come in at the right time, with the right music, then magic happens!
How collaborative do you like to be when dealing with producers/directors?
I love collaborating with producers and directors. This is why I love film scoring. I love to see my music fitting into the larger architecture of a film or TV series. It’s a wonderful art form, this modern storytelling that we do. The combination of all these different mediums and the geniuses behind their manipulation is really something incredible. I also have endless respect for a true visionary. When a director has a firm grasp on what we are doing in a film, that usually means he or she also has a strong vision for what music needs to do. This takes a leap of faith on my part, but if I can just trust in the director’s vision then I’m usually always glad to put in the extra mile to hit their mark.
How much music did you have to create for each episode?
I create about 20 to 26 minutes of music for each episode, and do it in a week to 10 days.
We know your scoring technique can be classified as a “modernizer of vintage sounds”. Can you give us some examples of this with the Dark Net score, which vintage sounds did you specifically manipulate?
One of my favorite vintage sounds that I love to work with is the Buchla 200 modular synthesizer. This is a synthesizer from the 1970’s that has an incredible, unmistakable tone. It’s very easy to make it sound sci-fi and retro. But, what I’ve found is most rewarding, is the use of it in a modern context. This modern framework is made up of my own blend of harmonies and rhythms, which are very much rooted in contemporary film composing. A very special sound starts to emerge when combining these processes. You can see what I mean in the track : AM I ASLEEP from Dark Net season 2. The modulated bass line is the Buchla 259 Complex Oscillator.
One more example is the way I make many of my percussion sounds. I have a couple of really old instruments, one of which is a True Tone guitar that is 90 years old. It’s a cheap, pine acoustic guitar made by Sears, but it has a fantastic tone. I had a pickup installed on it, so I can run it through my vintage amplifiers. But, the tricky thing I do with it, is make percussion sounds with it. Bass Drums by tapping the body. Snares, by smacking the strings with a paint brush, and shaker/hi hat sounds by lightly tapping various places all around the guitar. Then I bring the sounds into my sequencer, chop them up and make patterns out them. You can hear how this is done on the cue “Who’s Face Are You Wearing” which is also from Season 2. (there is also ample use of a Juno 6 playing the big chords in this cue, which is also a vintage instrument.
What is interesting about this show is it was developed by a tech and media company, Vocativ. Because it was developed by a tech company were the perimeters for the score different than other projects you have had with traditional film/TV companies?
It hasn’t been different at all actually. Dark Net is a show about people, characters lost in various webs of technology. So, the focus has been the same as what it is on any good show, the story and making sure to support it with our finest work.
Dark Net airs Thursday night at 10pm E/P on Showtime.
Aaron Stanford and Amanda Schull Talk Season 3 of 12 MONKEYS
Amanda Schull and Aaron Stanford talk about the third season of 12 Monkeys in broad, non-spoilery terms so as not to ruin anyone’s experience of binge-watching the show in one weekend starting May 19th.
I was privileged to be on a conference call with the two stars and other science fiction based websites. For simplicity’s sake I concentrate on the answers and merge similar questions at times in this article.
The first question asked was about the tough choices the characters had to face in season three. Aaron said that the characters have had to make choices between the greater good or someone they hold dear. In the beginning, Cole was on a suicide mission and didn’t care about surviving but now it’s gotten very personal-he could distance himself from that but coming face to face with his son changes his perspective on things.
Amanda said that Aaron could answer all of her questions! She said that Cassie carries the baby and has a stronger bond. Also, in the nature versus nurture debate, Cassie believes in nurture.
Amanda’s favorite time period this season was the eighties. She said Aaron had a Marty McFly outfit, Todd looked like Sonny Crockett, and Emily was dressed like Cindy Lauper. She also said in episode 8 they designed a beautiful Victorian dress for her and she got to play the part all episode.
Aaron said that Amanda fits in every time period but this one. No matter what she wears, she looks like she fits. He said she had shoulder pads and mom jeans and looked like Molly Ringwald in the eighties.
Aaron likes the new binge format. He said it’s the way he likes to watch. You can string it together and follow what’s happening. He thinks this is the future, the way we will be watching things.
Amanda says, “You don’t HAVE to binge.” You can tivo it, watch some later. (Can’t you just see her as someone who saves her chocolates and eats them, one after dinner, for days?) But she also said it’s been a very long hiatus and it’s great to get it out there.
They were asked how long they had known who the Witness would be. Amanda said it was mid-season 2, and it gave them time to create and pace it out. She said it was a luxury to have a story that was planned out. But now they have a child older than they are. James Callis! Who they agree is perfect to play their kid. Aaron agreed with her about the timing, and said it was a decent amount of time to think about it.
They were asked about how intense and physical season three was. Amanda said that Cassie started out season 3 in a very low place. She would be killed or abandoned once the child was born. She might never see Cole again. But Amanda as an actor found that challenging and exciting.
Aaron said that it was a rollercoaster. In the beginning Cole is desperate to find Cassie again and is the only person around him that doesn’t understand that the game is already lost. When he finds out that the Witness is his son, he has a difficult decision to make.
It was asked, what life lesson would they give their characters? So Amanda starts on Cole! Cole needs to make a plan. But then she talked about how Cassie’s mission changes all the time. Sometimes she looks out for herself and her child, sometimes she looks towards the greater good. “I want her to be able to sit and breathe for a minute or two-have a cup of coffee!”
Aaron says that Cole needs to “get down off the cross”. He thinks the character needs to give himself a break and quit carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Then he replied to Amanda and said her plans lay in ruins, his work out.
Someone asked if they kept up with all the details of the show. Amanda said that she was a meticulous note taker, but it was hard after a long hiatus. The environment helps your sense memory come flooding back.
Aaron answered that there was no choice. You have to understand every piece, where they are at in their own cycle for everything to make sense. When you are in it 14-16 hours a day you get immersed. It’s more difficult after a longer hiatus.
Aaron said that their writers were real genre fans, and influenced by sci-fi and ancient mythology. Amanda said they were influenced by Greek mythology and they changed her character’s name because of it. In the movie the character was named Kathryn (Madeleine Stowe) and they changed it to Cassandra for 12 Monkeys, the series. In the Greek myth, Cassandra always knew the future but no one listened to her.
The question was asked about what they thought about the instant reaction from social media. Aaron thought that social media was a minefield of trying to avoid spoilers, of secrecy and intrigue. He compared the response to theater, to getting a laugh when something was funny, or hearing a pin drop because people were holding their breath at the height of drama. He found an emotional reaction to be affirming.
Amanda agreed with Aaron but said you can’t change it even if they comment because the work is already finished.
Someone commented on Cole and Cassie’s complicated relationship. Aaron said, “Cassie can’t come to terms with how hopelessly in love she is.” He said there were more complications in season 3-it unites them then splits them apart. There was silence for a moment. I guess everyone was waiting. Aaron said “End of thought,” and they moved on. I bet there were spoilers in that silence.
Amanda said that they had a strange and unusual relationship. There was deep love, but if they stop the end of the world, they will no longer have met.
They were asked if it was a relief to know that everything is released at once. Aaron said “Yes, it will be a relief.” He feels that this is the superior way to do it-not bottling spoilers up for months.
Amanda said she had been chastised by people in other countries for spoilers a few days after episodes had aired. She intended to still be very vague because they put so much effort into the show and wanted people to enjoy it and she didn’t want to ruin it for anyone.
A big thanks to Amanda Schull and Aaron Stanford for talking to us, and to Samantha Agnoff for moderating. I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to watching season 3. You can tell from what they are saying that it’s going to be great.
12 Monkeys starts on Friday, May 19th, at 8pm/7c on Syfy and will finish on Sunday, May 21st.
Planet Comicon was this past weekend and while I was there I dropped by their casual board gaming room. While I was there, I chatted with the guards manning the gates. I also listened in on a couple of the pen and paper role playing games. The table top games were listed on the Planet Comicon schedule.
The game room was bigger this time around that from year’s past and situated closer to the convention’s front entrance that ever before. As a couple of the convention staffers manning the room mentioned, in previous years, the gaming room had a tendency to be located a little bit out of the way, or among other gaming rooms making it a little bit harder to find than this year. With a more visible location the room received more traffic and they had the board games to spare!
I sat down with Christopher, T.J., Caleb, Lora, and Bill, Planet Comicon’s Dungeon Masters of Board Game Mountain, and asked a couple of questions to get a better feel for the ambiance the board game room had to offer. While we were talking, I noticed that some staff responsibilities, like checking board game in and out of the vast library, had “who would do it” decided by games such as “Rock Paper Scissors”.
Amongst the conversation, they told me that the game room had been a part of Planet Comicon for a number of years, but this year they had gotten the largest room so far. Last year, the previous room had gotten so packed that the area had to be expanded this year to accommodate more guests. The larger room had a great set-up. Plenty of tables and chairs for avid gamers, and even spaces for custom set ups which included a custom gaming table that was equipped with a special flat screen embedded into the table’s surface. There was also a long table set up with a custom 3D printed miniature dungeon.
I also questioned the staff about their favorite board games:
Christopher, whose favorite game is Betrayal at House on the Hill, was really impressed with the game’s newest expansion pack. His favorite thing about it was that the expansion includes the house’s bathroom (the main game apparently didn’t come with one)! We also talked a little on the game’s mechanics. Christopher reminisced on the scenario he liked the most where a Roc lifted a house with 6 players while only 5 parachutes, leaving the players to scramble Musical Chairs to escape.
T.J. recalled his favorite game that he played at a different convention. He had picked up a card game that was launched on Kickstarter. The person he had bought it from had a booth at the Mid-Americon he attended. Even though T.J. had trouble recalling the name of the card game he remembered that it was something between a card game and an RPG. The cards create characters and give room to create custom player driven stories for these new characters. The game is organized with cards for characters and a special “peg based system” that is for combat among “good guy” and “bad guy” pegs. T.J. commented that it “was a pen and paper RPG without all the entrapments of D&D. Fast set up and neat.”
Caleb had a different approach to his favorite game. He had fond memories of a game with a more casual party nature. Caleb said he liked Clue, the “original” game, for its nostalgia. He liked the mind games that came with like the psychological mind games about it, especially when you are the killer. Caleb also commented that the game Connect Four conveys an unusual air of despair yet people constantly check it out.
Lora chimed in to state her appreciate for games that require points (like victory points), or racing to build the biggest kingdom, to win. They pit players against each other; working to get scores higher than each other’s to claim victory, games such as Dominion. Lora also said that her competitive nature and love of boar games lead her to victory in a charity tournament of Dominion.
Bill likes pen and paper role playing games, especially Pathfinder. He liked the exhilarating stories and being able to build custom characters however you’d like along with the game’s neat mechanics. In our conversation we traded stories about characters we’ve both created in this game. He recanted about mixing and matching abilities of an old Dungeons and Dragons rogue to create a medieval version of D.C.’s Batman. He played this character in a “Play-by-Mail” game that’s similar to another title, Chess-by-Mail.
I also posed some more general questions to this circle of staff magi.
One of the reasons they were board game henchmen was that it was a cheap way to go to the convention. They all agreed that working in the game room is a remarkable job. They enjoy leading people to play new and different games that they may not have played before. The group enjoyed seeing player’s faces light up while discovering and playing a game.
Sentinels of the Multiverse, was a big hit with new players discovering new games to play. Together they talked about how there are many games in the massive board game library that people probably would generally pass by, not knowing the magic the boxes contained. But once players were exposed to them, they would find a new love. Ask players what they are into is really cool as it is all helping to spread the board game culture.
For a brief moment, I also sat down with the two gaggles of players playing the schedule pen and paper games that were notated on the official Planet Comicon schedule.
The first game I sat down with was the Star Wars RPG ran by Sterling Hershey. The game was of his own design. Hershey was also a game developer who worked on the Star Wars RPG by Wizards of the Coast.
When I sat down at the game table, a droid announced over the space ship’s intercom “master your steaks are here” putting the table’s players on edge. The ship they have found themselves on seemed to be of some grand importance. Maybe it was a flag ship, or held some well-respected, yet malevolent, dignitary (or Sith Lord, same difference).
The rag-tag band was in the middle of fighting brutish aliens called “Gamorreans”. You can think of them as big barbarian space aliens that semi-sort of resemble pigs. “Good thing gamorreans are stupid” remarks a player nervously to the others. This was just after the team narrowly escaped detection while the group sneaks (albeit narrowly) around the alien occupied ship. The player’s then accessed the ship’s computer to check its schematics. The schematics helped them to scheme against the malevolent actor and maneuver themselves undetected through the ship which they trespass.
This is a small snippet of Sterling Hershey’s “convention campaign” titled Force of Destiny. For this game, there were a total of five players. GM Hershey let me know that the player’s goal was to obtain the passenger list, hopefully while remaining undetected.
Next up was the good old fashion Dungeons and Dragons with the sparkling new 5th edition. I sat around the table and listened to the players fight off a band of highwaymen and goblins. This was part of something called, Adventure League. I was informed by the Game Mistress that this adventure was from the previous season.
The troupe was hired by a caravan to help deliver a statue. They had to go from Vurthyl, a city in the East, to the more mountainous western city of Parnast. The players had taken a captive and were in the middle of questioning them. The captive was a goblin who was left on the brink of death after the combat. Given a chance, he tried to make his escape, freeing himself from his rope bonds and runs from the team. He dodges a harrowing swinging spear from one of the player’s vein attempts to stop him. After a few moments, the players succeed in stopping the goblin’s escape. They did this by pinning him to the ground by his cloths with an arrow.
In the excitement of combat, one of the player’s shouts “I’m going to loot the looter”! The highwaymen’s corpses left a pile of loot in the manner of weapons, armor, and gold coins. While the more meat headed muscle brained characters argued about who gets what swords and, more importantly, who gets to prove their brute and manliness by interrogating the goblin, one of the sneakier women upstages the arguing men and interrogates the goblin quite handily. All that happened while a more magical inclined player finds a strange “healer’s bag”. It was filled with valuable magical creature potion ingredients. The ingredients turned out to be the toenails from a giant!
There were some great things I saw in both of these games. Interestingly, the character sheets that were laminated. The maps were drawn on with dry-erase markers for easy clean-up. Players had name tags in front of them that helped the game masters remember what player was what character. Also, my favorite moment was the discussion of “fist-a-clease” a player created wrestling contest they used to make decisions.
The board game room was a place of glory, honor, winners, losers, and fun to be had by all.
G33K Out: 2014 LA Festival of Books: Stephen Tobolowsky
Episode 23: 2014 LA Festival of Books: Stephen Tobolowsky
“Hey: it’s that one guy!”
It’s the cry of many a character actor (so much so that it’s got its own page on TV Tropes, and for actor Stephen Tobolowsky, that’s fine with him. Appearing in over 200 films and/or television episodes, you may know him as the insurance salesman in Groundhog Day, the substitute teacher Sandy Ryerson in Glee, or from any number of various roles. For me, the role that moved him from ‘it’s that one guy’ to knowing his name was as a guest star on The Lone Gunmen, the short-lived sequel series to The X-Files.
His experiences in television, film and theater are varied, and he has a wide range of stories about those experiences. Back in 2005, he and his stories became the subject of Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party, a movie whereby he captivates his friends and family (and the audience) with these stories of his life. This film led to the podcast The Tobolowsky Files, which I’ve recommended both back in 2011 and again in February of this year.
In 2014, I had the chance to interview him. He was going to be at that year’s LA Festival of Books, promoting his book The Dangerous Animals Club, which is a series of some of those tales. He’s coming back to this year’s LA Festival of Books, promoting his newest book, My Adventures with God, and so I thought it was a great chance to bring this interview out from storage.
Basic show notes:
Running time is 43 minutes, 15 seconds.
The main interview was recorded on April 28, 2014.
Interview: PRODIGY Is Classic Science Fiction Storytelling
[images: Prodigy Film LLC]
There is a very dangerous young girl inside a secret government facility, intelligent in a way that is both exhilarating and terrifying, and unless one man can find a way to reach her…
Prodigy is a independent feature film about what makes us human, and recalls – intentionally – the classic style of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. Just as those TV shows often told stories that were actually more about the characters than the science fiction frames they lived in, PRODIGY takes the viewer into a character study of two smart, damaged people whose conversations may be the death of both of them.
Alex Haughey – one of the two writer/directors of the film, alongside Brian Vidal – stopped by The Bunker before the Kansas City Filmfest last week, where he talked about the inspirations and processes behind making Prodigy. Covering everything from the crucial – and somewhat unexpected – casting of star Savannah Liles as the titular character, to where the film and its creators go next, after all the great festival response.
Check out the trailer here:
Prodigy screens next on Monday, April 24th, at 8:15 PM at the RIVERSIDE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL in Riverside, CA.
For more info about the film, the cast and the crew: http://www.prodigy-movie.com
Host Matt Hentges travels the neighborhoods of Kansas City, talking with Star Wars fans about their collections of memorabilia — action figures to figurines, costumes to cookie jars, and everything in between. Every other Sunday at 6p, Matt will interview a collector and take cameras into their personal Rancho Obi-Wans and see just what’s tucked away in the closet, or under the bed, or in the garage…
This week, Matt visits his friend Jeremy, who has a pretty awesome collection! Stuff from the 1990s, green cards, orange cards, action figures, playsets… and some original items from the Kenner days.
Host Matt Hentges travels the neighborhoods of Kansas City, talking with Star Wars fans about their collections of memorabilia — action figures to figurines, costumes to cookie jars, and everything in between. Every other Sunday at 6p, Matt will interview a collector and take cameras into their personal Rancho Obi-Wans and see just what’s tucked away in the closet, or under the bed, or in the garage…
This week, Matt visits friend Dylan, who’s got a fairly impressive collection of original and later-model action figures. Plus: a STAR WARS themed room! But it’s not the one you’d expect…
[Header photo courtesy Marco Beltrami’s Facebook page.]
Episode 21: Logan Composer Marco Beltrami
Marco Beltrami is no stranger to composing movies in the sci fi and superhero world. His first major breakthrough was doing the score for Wes Craven’s Scream, and you may recognize his music from such genre favorites as Hellboy, Mimic, The Faculty, and even worked with Philip Glass for the 2015 version of Fantastic Four. He’s been nominated for an Oscar for his scores for both 3:10 to Yuma and The Hurt Locker.
In early March, I had the opportunity to interview him over the phone about his latest project Logan, the latest — and possibly last — Wolverine movie starring Hugh Jackman.
Basic show notes:
Running time is 16 minutes, 55 seconds.
The main interview was recorded on March 8, 2017.
For more information about Marco Beltrami, visit his website.
Logan opened March 3, and the soundtrack is available to stream via Spotify (see playlist below).
Star Wars Cribs will take you on a tour of some of Kansas City’s most interesting collections, with host Matt Hentges tracking down those treasure troves of all shapes and sizes. Action figures to figurines, costumes to cookie jars, and everything in between. Every other Sunday at 6p, Matt will interview a collector and take cameras into their personal Rancho Obi-Wans and see just what’s tucked away in the closet, or under the bed, or in the garage…
And to kick things off, Matt brings us into his collection:
H2O #151: In Which We Discuss the Biggest Lightsaber Battle in the World
The battle is about to begin!
This week: an extended episode in which we have guests! Stefan White and Steven Fuller from Kansas City’s Friends of the River join us to talk about the upcoming attempt to set the world record for the “Largest Lightsaber Battle in the World” — complete with representatives from Guiness World Records! On May 6th, over ten thousand people will gather on the shores of the Mighty Mo, the Missouri River, to wage the largest lightsaber battle ever. Many groups have been large, but this is the first attempt to set a world record.
More importantly, it’s a chance to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Center at Children’s Mercy Hospital here in Kansas City. May is also Cystic Fibrosis Awareness Month, and this is a chance to raise money for ongoing research to help kids live long enough to receive lung transplants so that they can live into adulthood.
[photos by Michael Hanna Photography for SciFi4Me]
It’s 6pm on a Tuesday at the Red Bull Studios in Santa Monica, CA and the cast and creative team of the new sci-fi thriller film, Mindgamers, has just finish a panel and press junket. The film follows a group of brilliant young students, lead by The Walking Dead’s Tom Payne, who create a wireless neural network capable of transferring motor-skills from one brain to another, anywhere in the world, via a quantum computer. Though they hope the technology will change humanity for the better, they soon find out that darker forces, perhaps, the trailer hints, led by the great Sam Neill (Jurassic Park), threaten to use it as a means of mass mind control.
Amidst the new wave tech office furniture, giant posters of extreme sports stars, and hors d’oeuvres, Tom and I find a little time to chat about his geeky side and the not so sci-fi elements of his new film.
Ayla Glass: How did you learn about this project, and what attracted you to the script initially?
Tom Payne: It was like any other project that you audition for. It was a script that came to me and the part seemed really interesting. I’m a bit sci-fi nerd myself. I love Flatliners and movies like that, and I thought this had a similar kind of vibe, and the subject matter really interested me. And I needed a job (he laughs). So I got offered this one and I thought it would be really fun. It’s gotten much bigger and more interesting and more exciting than I could of thought it could have been. I have been amazed at Red Bull’s investment in pushing things forward and tackling difficult subjects. And making a movie that isn’t like any other. I don’t think I’ve seen a movie like this before.
AG: So during the panel you touched a little on that you got really into quantum science after reading the script and getting involved in the movie. Was that a passion ahead of time?
TP: No I hadn’t really thought about it before. I had my own ideas about life, and death, and what happens, what doesn’t happen, and I knew they didn’t involve religion, so I was always looking for something else. So when we started the movie, and we started having these conversations within the cast, and with the writers and director about existence and about quantum physics and the connection between people, it really chimed with me and gave me a new direction to go in with my understanding of how things work. But it’s such an enormous subject. I’ve never really been a scientist. I feel like if something interests you then you follow that and there was parts of science that interested me, but I just knew that it wasn’t my direction. But at the same time I am a very quite a geeky person and into sci-fi. One of the things that made me do the movie was that I wanted to do a sci-fi movie and this one had some really interesting themes and really interesting questions. So it was great to get involved in that.
AG: So would you do a sci-fi movie again?
TP: Absolutely. I’ve been telling my agent I want to be in the new Predator movie or the new Alien movies. I love sci-fi. I think it’s really exciting and asks questions and it just… looks really cool!
AG: Yes! You get to wear cool outfits, shot cool guns… So you want to be in an alien invasion movie next if possible?
AG: Nice! How was it working with Sam Neill. He’s such a renowned veteran actor. How was that relationship dynamic on set?
TP: Sam has been around for a long time now, and he does so much work and such different performances. At the end of it, he’s just a working actor, and that very much comes across with him. He has an ease to his work and to himself that puts you at ease. I take my job seriously but my energy isn’t really too intense. And Sam’s isn’t too, so when you meet actors who are doing it in a way that you do it and in a way you aspire to do it. Then it gives you confidence that you don’t have to be too method, or too crazy, or too whatever, because I’ve seen this person do amazing performances. I don’t want to change the way that I work because that’s the way an “amazing actor does it,” and I know that you don’t have to. Generally, I come to work really invigorated and excited and I did on this movie.
AG: If you could describe this film in one word, what would it be?
AG: Amazing. Is there anything specific you would like audiences to take away from the film?
TP: I think the main thing is just that it opens the conversation. I think that’s the most important thing. The movie is not linear in a way that a regular movie is. I’ve watched the movie twice now and the second time I got more out of it. Honestly, I left the movie and I was like, “I don’t know if that was a good movie, but I also don’t know if it’s a bad movie” because it doesn’t fit the narrative of a regular movie. It doesn’t go, this is the beginning, this is the middle, this is the end. A lot of things happen simultaneously, and it’s not constructed in a “normal” way. So you come out of it having had an experience, and asking questions about the movie but also everything to do with the movies and all the things it brought up. And that was different for me. I’m used to leaving a movie and going “ah, okay that was nice,” and this movie I was like, I need to go away and think about that. So that was really cool, it’s a whole new thing. And with the experiment that’s happening… there is a lot of great music in the movie and a lot of great visuals and ideas. It’s definitely a stimulating project, so I’m excited to see the results of the experiment.
AG: Do you think you’re going to jump in there in the back maybe?
TP: Yeah, if I’m here I will I think.
AG: Okay. Final question: any hints as to what the second half of season 7 holds for you on The Walking Dead?
TP: (laughs) I can’t say…
AG: No?! Do you make it?
TP: I can’t even tell you that. I can say that, first episode back, Jesus takes everyone to meet the Kingdom in Ezekiel, and we start the long journey to building the resistance… And that’s all I can say.
PHANTOM OF THE OPERA Cast Talks Challenges, Rituals, and Cake!
[Header image by Matthew Murphy, all other photos taken by me]
Phantom of the Opera is Broadway’s longest running play at over 12,000 performances as of November 2016. Created by Andrew Lloyd Weber, it’s arguably the best musical (okay, I’m biased because it’s my favorite!), and is just one of the countless adaptations of the 1910 Gaston Leroux novel of the same name (translated). The story has taken many forms, including several movies like the 2004 film based on Lloyd Weber’s play and starring Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum.
Though the book itself is a horror novel, some adaptions have taken a more romantic twist, and others have turned the tale into a comedy. The current musical leans heavily on the romantic notions, but still incorporates many elements of horror into the story.
The show is about a disfigured man who lives under the Paris Opera House. Shrouded in shadow and feared by the residence, the Phantom forms a deep love for Christine, whom he’s secretly trained since she was a young girl. When her childhood friend, Raoul, steps back in the picture, jealousy and tempers flare, culminating in a dark, emotional finale.
I had the wonderful opportunity to talk with two of the touring production’s current stars: Derrick Davis, who plays the iconic Phantom, and Katie Travis, who plays his obsession/love interest Christine Daaé. While at the Music Hall, I also got the chance to see some of the fabulous costumes up close, including the Phantom’s beloved cape, as well as the breathtaking chandelier featured in the show. I also spoke with Mitch Hodges, the stage manager for the production, about his role.
Hodges got his start as a production assistant and worked on the original version of Phantom on an earlier tour. According to Hodges, he got started through a friend of a friend of a friend. He became stage manager of the new tour about six months ago, so with some experience behind him, I was curious what his favorite part of his job is.
“Working with these fantastic folks,” he said. Of course, he motioned to the wonderful Derrick Davis and Katie Travis to emphasize whom he was talking about. He added, “I like traveling a lot. Getting to be in every city is awesome.” It sounds about perfect to me, as well! Hodges was super nice and very accommodating. He even let one of the other press members wear the Phantom’s cape (color me jealous!!)!
The stage manager is in charge of coordinating basically every aspect of the production, including the rehearsals, actors, props, and costumes, so he was a busy guy. While he bustled back and forth between the front of house with us and the stage, I got to spend some time with Davis and Travis, as well.
Katie Travis has been a fan of Phantom since she was a girl and has been in the production for over two years now. When asked what her favorite role she’s played is, she noted, “In college, I played Rosabella in The Most Happy Fella, and I loved doing that, but actually, to be honest, Christine, for sure!” She is extremely sweet and has a lovely voice, even just in conversation. I saw her portray Christine in Omaha, NE last year, so I know her singing is just as beautiful.
She gets herself ready for each performance with an extensive routine including meditation, vocal warmups, physical warmups, and makeup. Music and a coffee (or two!) are also involved, and “about a half an hour till [the show], someone comes and does my wig. Then at 5 till, my dresser, Erin [Haney], helps me get my costume on, and then we go do the show.”
Something that not many people usually think or ask about is the challenge that comes specifically from doing an enduring show. “Before I did this long running show that is so vocally demanding, I didn’t really know [the long-term challenges]. When you see someone on a Tuesday night, they’re also a human, and that’s where they’re at on a Tuesday. They may have gone through a breakup, and they may have been getting over a cold, and so your job is to try to calm whatever that is down, whatever you’re going through in your life. I think there is a spiritual grounding component of this, whatever your spirituality is, to keep yourself together even when you’re going through whatever it is that you’re going through in your day.”
Adding to that, Travis also mentioned that “you can’t really coast. You have to really be present, so it’s a challenge to kind of keep yourself there, but it’s a beautiful challenge because you have to force yourself to work through whatever it is you’re dealing with in your life to do your job the best.”
After Travis flitted away to go begin her performance routine for the 2:00pm show, I got some 1-on-1 time with Derrick Davis. He’s a newcomer to the cast, having just done his first performance in October of last year, replacing The Voice’s Chris Mann. He’s been Mufasa and Scar in the The Lion King and played Curtis Taylor Jr. in Dreamgirls. Now he stars at the Phantom himself.
There have been many Phantoms, so I’m always curious who a person’s favorite is. “Davis Gaines would probably have to be the one,” he told me. “He was the first one that I saw, and you kind of get a connection with the first one that you see. Everyone has been different, everyone has been amazing in their own right, but he was my first.” I completely understand the sentiment. I was introduced to Phantom via the 2004 movie, so Gerard Butler has always been my standard by which I compare other Phantoms.
Because he’s worked on other touring shows, I was also wondering what the most surprisingly challenging thing about Phantom has been for him. It was fun listening to his answers to questions. His voice, like Travis’s, is wonderful to listen to, and he speaks so sweetly. “The most surprisingly challenging thing is the stamina that you need to get through the show and to get through the work week,” he answered in response to my question. “It’s a very emotional show, and in order to be that emotional, I just hold that emotion in my entire body, so there’s a lot of tension that’s held in my muscles. It gets exhausting.”
The show is definitely an emotional one from the audience perspective, too, so I can only imagine what it would be like playing such a trying character. There’s more to the role than just the popularity and emotion of the Phantom, though, which adds to some of the pressure on Davis. He is only the third African-American to play the role, and he’s the first to take the Phantom on a national tour. Robert Guillaume was the first African-American to take the lead role in the Los Angeles production, and Norm Lewis was the first to do so on Broadway.
Following in their footsteps, and still paving the way for future performers to break boundaries, Davis mentioned that “the role itself puts pressure because you don’t want to mess up such an iconic role. But I feel like the country, the world, the theater world is watching, and I don’t want to make a bad name for people of color or for people to be non-traditionally cast in a role. We’ve made great strides in the past few years, and I’d love for it to continue to move in that direction.”
Down to my last minute to talk with Davis before he had to go back to prepare for his upcoming performance, I wanted to ask one last, very important question. I had read in a previous interview that he is a self-proclaimed cakeaholic, with carrot cake being his favorite. I wanted to know, though, if there was any cake that he actually didn’t like. The question garnered a hearty laugh and led to a quick discussion on the fact that he gets so much cake from fans now that he’s afraid he won’t be able to fit into his costume. His answer, by the way, is dry cake. He hasn’t found a flavor he doesn’t like, and he may be persuaded to try a cake that is purposefully on the drier side, but a slice that is not supposed to be dry is not fun. “Let them eat cake!” he said, gleefully, before graciously taking one last picture with me and saying goodbye to our group.
After all of the interviews were wrapped up, I got to go into the theater for a view of the legendary chandelier, which is featured in one of my favorite parts of the show. Though it was lowered so it could be worked on, we weren’t allowed to get close as they were loading some pyrotechnics into it. The whole thing weighs over a ton and travels in one giant piece, always put together. The design is beautiful, and the sheer size of it is breathtaking.
The Phantom of the Opera is currently in Kansas City through February 19th. It’s performing at the Music Hall, and if you’re in the area I highly recommend seeing this darker, fantastic production while it’s here! You can get tickets and more information through Theater League.
In my last G33K Out podcast, I brought out my interviews from one of the panels at WonderCon 2016, “High Scorers Panel: Star Composers of the Video Game World”. While at the press room for that, I also had the chance to talk with some of the people at another panel, “Streaming Success: Behind-the-Scenes of Your Favorite Binge Worthy Shows”.
The panel discussed the original content of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, and some of the people that work on the various shows produced by them. My associate Hope Donoghue and I first talked to James (“Jimmy”) Levine and Sean Callery, composers of American Horror Story and Marvel’s Jessica Jones respectively. Since it was with the High Scorers Panel, I first assumed they were on that panel and asked about their work composing for video games. We then talked to David Van Dyke, VFX producer and (at the time) vice president of Shade VFX (he’s now president), where he’s worked on a variety of genre media, but most notably Marvel’s Daredevil.
As with the last interview, due to the press set up, any time I talked, the mic was not in front of me most of the time.
Basic show notes:
Running time is 23 minutes.
The main interview was recorded on March 25, 2016.
To see all of our coverage of WonderCon 2016, visit this link.
Mid-show plug is from Jimmy Matlosz, cinematographer and guest on episode.
I was fortunate enough to get to talk a bit with Steven Sanders not long ago. Steven is a local Kansas City artist who has been working in the comics industry for quite a while and has produced a lot of original comics such as Five Fists of Science with Matt Fraction, Throwaways with Caitlin Kittredge, and his independent work on Symbiosis. Steven was great to talk with and shared a great deal out his processes. In this production I’ll play the role of DB: and Steven plays an uncanny SS. I sprinkled some of Steven’s original art throughout the interview. Let’s get to it.
DB: Getting these things rolling can be tricky (I heard it through the grapevine), so let’s kick this off with an easy one. If you could be any well-known scientist from history, who would it be and why? (Is it leading the witness if I say Tesla was my favorite?)
SS: Ha! I definitely understand the Tesla angle, and if it were 6 or so years ago I’d be tempted to go with him, as I had been the worlds biggest Tesla fanboy since high school. But I ran across a site that made a compelling argument that his work was not unique, and had been based on prior art or at the very least others came up with the same ideas before or around the same time he did. That he was basically an excellent engineer with some quirks (or mental disorders or whatever one would care to call them). The popular image of Tesla is quite compelling, though, and he was a fascinating person in general, even if he likely wasn’t as great of an inventor as people like to say he was.
But, Tesla aside, hm. If I could somehow be him without suffering from a racist culture, I’d pick George Washington Carver. I’ve always been amazed and inspired by people who can take very limited materials and turn it into a cornucopia of new things. Or James Lovelock because I’m a big fan of the Gaia Hypothesis, or … well, you only asked for one, I should stop at two and/or before I say Hedy Lamarr. Haha.
DB: Seriously though, what got you into drawing? Was it something you started as a kid on your own?
SS: Yeah, I just always drew as far back as I could remember, and it was something that I would easily get praise for as a kid, so that definitely spurred doing more and more of it. But I also liked it because I could use the paper to make little words to escape into/visit. A friend of mine and I in grade school used to use graph paper to make these “dungeons” with various traps, treasures, etc. etc., and then we’d each go through the other’s dungeon. I think we always died due to some filled in square that was actually an acid pit or something like that. A lot of my conceptual work like the Symbiosis Kickstarter is fueled by that same desire to make and visit unexplored places using pencil and paper.
DB: Oh man, I used to make graph paper mazes in my chemistry class! Totally forgot about that, thanks for excavating that, Steven the Memory Archaeologist. In Throwaways #2 you had a map in the background of a flashback. What inspired you to use that?
SS: That double-page splash scene was pretty much all Caitlin. I just did my best to do it justice.
DB: What sort of things do you enjoy drawing the most? If you were to become independently wealthy tonight, what would you draw tomorrow, Science Fiction, Fantasy, or something you pluck from the spider web of your own mind?
SS: I’d definitely finish and continue on with my Symbiosis project. There’s enough there to keep me occupied for quite a long time, quite likely, however long I have left on this planet. Ah, barring that, I’d be doing more world building, and maybe see about some sci-fi projects with some writers that had been talked about but never got off the ground.
Now that I think about it, if I had the money, getting a studio together to help make all the comics I’ve wanted to draw for people but couldn’t due to time and/or money would be pretty great.
DB: I was looking back through Throwaways and was pouring over the art. The book has a VERY hand-crafted feel to it visually. Was it a look that was inspired by the story or did you have some techniques you wanted to try and felt this was a good fit?
SS: It was mostly me just trying to do “gritty realism” for the first time to any significant degree. As far as I know, drawing technique didn’t change that much, it was adapted to use of more photo reference… It might have to do with the conscious decision to not use any rulers except in the layouts, so all lines are hand drawn without guides.
DB: Can you break down the creation of a page from say, sketching to making the final coloring choices?
SS: Sure! I do everything in Manga Studio, and my “template page” has a number of layers already set up for blue-line, pencils, inks, colors, etc. I’ll read the page of that script, check it against the prior page and what is going on there, and figure out what panels seem to be the most important. Generally, I tend to be pretty plain with my use of grids, versus fancy angled panels and whatnot, and most layouts will fit in some way into a 3×3 grid, where each “beat” gets clustered onto a one of the 3 horizontal areas. From there it’s deciding how each panel feels in term of emotion, and determining camera angle from that, then roughing the backgrounds in, and then the figures.
From there, depending on a number of things, I’ll find or shoot photo reference or find 3D models for places, persons and things. Even if I think I have a good mental image of something real, looking at the actual object gives you all kinds of little visual landmarks one is likely to miss unless they are just super familiar with what’s being drawn.
I’ll do pencils and inks from there. Due to a combination of not wanting to take the time to master traditional inking, and the love of how pencil looks, I’ve ended up with a hybrid pencil/ink style that lets me get the softness of pencil and the graphic weight of ink when I want it.
Coloring is basically me painting with a digital oil brush underneath the linework. I like it, but it’s also very time intensive if I give it the attention I want to. So I’m trying to find ways to speed up that process, like using flats to easily select/mask off each area. I’ll often try and give each “scene” its own unifying color, and use the “Photo Filter” process in Photoshop for that. It works out a lot like the natural media painting method of working some of a chosen color into every mixed color you use in a painting.
DB: Do you like having more than one project going, so you have things to bounce between when you hit a sticking point on one?
SS: Yeah, Symbiosis has been my main side project for a while, but before (and after) that I’d either have other jobs, or I’d take breaks to do non-2D arts and crafts. Like homebrewing, carving/turning stones like alabaster/soapstone, making electronics projects, building computers (when I had more money than sense I was working on making a hackintosh inside of an old NeXT cube as a super nerdy in-joke. OSX is kind of OpenSTEP… 5? 6? I forget at the moment.), wildcrafting herbs and fruits/nuts (yay acorn cake!), and just trying to learn as much about everything as I could.
DB: Are there any tips/tricks/advice you would like give aspiring illustrators?
SS: There’s no substitute for practice, don’t be precious with/attach your ego to your work, and learn how to market yourself online and make friends in the industry you want to get into.
Don’t “network,” it turns people away. Just make friends. It’s win/win that way.
Don’t skimp on the business end of things. Or at least find someone to delegate it to. (I learned that one the hard way.)
Be like a dog with a bone. If you think you have the ability to be a pro, don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do it.
Be a good, kind person; help out your peers and others looking to work as illustrators. What goes around comes around.
And if you have social anxiety like I do, nobody ever died from it, so get out there and be social anyway. Meditation can help. I like the Headspace app/website, but that’s just me.
DB: And finally, what can we possibly see from you in the future? Are you planning to continue in comics? Do you have stuff in the works that needs a Level 10 clearance to discuss or any teasers you could share?
SS: Yeah, I plan on continuing in comics, I have another creator owned book in the works, but can’t talk about it, unfortunately. It’s pretty fun, though. Alt-history sci-fi stuff. I’m going to be putting out a PDF/CBZ Symbiosis Chapbook as a way to get Symbiosis backers something while waiting for me to finish getting the time and money to finish and print the book.
That wraps it up for this session people. Steven was a blast to talk to, was quite accommodating, and would make a formidable pugilist. LITERALLY everyone in KC who goes to Planet Comicon should find his booth and stop by, chat him up, pick up a print, or…I dunno maybe just loiter about it for hours? Make everyone else at The Con wonder just what is going on over THERE?! A mass of people gathered about his table fueled by CONSTRUCTIVE INTERFERENCE!