Masters of the Universe: Revelation, the new Netflix animated series from celebrated filmmaker Kevin Smith, continues the saga first popularized in the 1980’s by the Mattel toys and comic books, and the Filmation animated series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. The series is a love letter to this classic era, designed to be nostalgic for fans like me who grew up with the characters forty years ago, and to also appeal to our children, who will enter the fictional world of Eternia for the first time. Revelation serves as a direct sequel to the classic saga by preserving the beloved character designs and occasional goofy one-liners. Simultaneously, the show expands the narrative horizons by raising the stakes, heightening emotional character arcs, and exploring darker themes. The producers reached out to me to craft a musical score that could support this ambitious show.

MEMORIES OF MOTU

I was born in 1979, near the cut off of the generation of kids who would grow up with He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. When I was a young child, He-Man and Star Wars were my first fantasy worlds. Though Star Wars was written with more narrative sophistication, I could visit Eternia every day as the Filmation series bombarded the airwaves. (This is before Netflix, kids. We watched what was on!)

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I will never forget the summer of 2009, when my unique band, The BSG Orchestra, rocked out on a crowded stage in San Diego during Comic Con, performing my score for Battlestar Galactica, just months after the epic series finale aired. The venue was bursting with my brilliant musicians, many of the cast, crew, writers, producers, and executives, as well as fans from around the world. Together, we experienced a collective euphoria, because we all loved the show with the same intense passion. After the last encore, the crowd erupted into an unprompted chant of “So Say We All,” a moment that remains one of the most magical and memorable of my life. As the house lights came up and the crowd dissipated, I collapsed into a sweat-soaked heap on the couch in the greenroom and realized that, for the first in my life, I had no new cues for the show to write. Battlestar Galactica had been the most significant part of my life for six years, and now, with this concert complete, it was over.

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AVA

Ava, a sleek new, spy thriller stars Jessica Chastain, John Malkovich, Colin Farrell, Common, Joan Chen, and Geena Davis. The film, a Voltage picture, directed by Tate Taylor, hit VOD this fall. Jessica Chastain plays the title character, a remorseless assassin, who must wrestle with her own demons, and struggle with relationships she has wrecked or abandoned. The film is an ambitious combination of character study and assassin intrigue.

As a kid I immersed myself in orchestral film scores growing up, background that served me well for the last Voltage Picture I scored, The Professor and the Madman. That score’s Romantic chamber orchestra flourishes represent the total polar opposite of the musical needs of this film. Fortunately as a kid growing up in the 1990’s I also adored electronic music maturing in that era. Depeche Mode, Trent Reznor, Nine Inch Nails, and Marilyn Manson had a huge impact on my young brain and popular culture, as did the scores of composers such as Brad Fiedel (Terminator, Terminator 2, True Lies), Éric Serra (La Femme Nikita, The Fifth Element), the Dust Brothers (Fight Club), and Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek, and Reinhold Heil (Run Lola Run). I had always wanted to try my hand at a score written in the style pioneered by these artists. So, I was grateful to join Ava’s incredible creative team and be given the chance to compose a searing, predominantly electronic score for a spy thriller.

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When I was a kid, Star Wars was one of my essential gateways into fiction, into visual storytelling, into film, and into music. I grew up so immersed in the Star Wars universe that I might have spent more time there in my imagination than I did living in the real world!

At age seven, I designed and built LEGO versions of dozens of vehicles, spanning my entire basement floor. I also constructed a Millennium Falcon out of paper plates and VHS cassette boxes (resulting in a model that has survived over thirty years in the closet at my mom’s house). At eight, I stitched together brown strips of fabric and scrap metal to create a Tusken Raider halloween costume. I also hand-wrote my own novelizations of each film, meticulously describing every edit and line of dialog, filling three spiral notebooks, hundreds of pages pressed with of thousands of scribbled lines. At nine, I made a word-search of alien words and names from the books and films that covered twenty pages of graph paper taped together. At ten, I transcribed for piano nearly every cue John Williams wrote for the entire saga, memorizing hours-long piano performances of the scores. I carried this passion with me into my young adulthood, where I waited in line for hours outside Mann’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles, with my newfound college friends, to have our minds collectively blown by The Phantom Menace on the big screen.

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Saying goodbye is always bittersweet. With this week’s broadcast of the series finale of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., my seven-year journey on the show comes to a close. To commemorate this milestone, I produced a video blog that paints what I hope is an emotional picture of what it felt like to be in the room during the weekly orchestra sessions for this beloved show.

Back in 2013, I started out with ambitions of blogging and vlogging my entire experience. Over the course of a few years, I was gradually reduced to producing at most one or two videos a year. Regardless, during my time as composer for this epic show, my life changed several times over. With this blog, I will look back at just a few of the highlights that stand out in my memory. 

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Animal Crackers

Animal Crackers, a new Netflix original movie, debuted last week, and features my first score for an animated film! My personal and creative journey with this movie is a dramatic story unto itself.

As I forged my career as a film composer, I experimented with every genre, scoring horror, comedy, science fiction, thrillers, dramas and so on. And yet, aside from two holiday episodes of Eureka, the medium of animation that I adored so much somehow always eluded me. That was until the directors of Animal Crackers gave me a shot.

MAKING NEW FRIENDS

In 2009 and 2010, I scored Human Target, a series based on the DC Comics character. Scrolling through my Twitter mentions one day in 2013, I came across a comment that read “Hey, did I ever tell you how much I LOVED your first season Human Target theme? As the character’s creator, ya done me proud.” Wow! I realized that tweet came from the legendary Len Wein, creator of Wolverine, Swamp Thing and yes, Christopher Chance aka the Human Target. Before long, I was at a party at his house where I met him and his lovely wife Christine Valada.

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Outlander: Season 5

From the bagpipes of Scotland, the baroque harpsichords of Paris, to the blistering Afro-Cuban percussion of Jamaica, my score for Outlander has continuously evolved to keep up with Claire and Jamie as they traverse both time and space. For the series’ fourth season, our heroes explored America, laying down the foundation for a new home, so I introduced to the score the twangy banjos and dulcimers of the Appalachian Mountains. Where that season explored new frontiers, Season Five plants roots, digging into themes of building community, forming civilization, expanding families, and forming allegiances. For the first time in the history of Outlander, my score for Season Five had no need to introduce bold new instruments or styles. 

Inspired by the drama, I knew it was time to plant my own musical roots, and develop the colors and themes I already had. Like the drama itself, the music for Outlander Season Five stopped expanding outward into new territories, and instead planted roots. Though the score does not introduce any new sound this season, I feel its developmental and emotional strengths make it as strong as anything I’ve written leading up to it.

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When I was growing up, film scores and movies were my religion, and the local cineplexes and video rental stores were my holy sites. Every weekend, I made pilgrimages to these communal spaces to soak in new movies and cement social bonds with my friends and family. After a recent trip to my hometown of Bellingham, Washington, I realized my childhood’s sacred places had closed, enveloped by merging media conglomerates, or made irrelevant by streaming digital content.

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(Halloween, 1995. That’s me dressed up as Darkman, the titular character from the first major studio film directed by Sam Raimi.)

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In addition to writing music, I spent last spring writing, producing, and directing videos to help get that music out into the world. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of my three recent shorts: “Pick One,” “Theme from Child’s Play (Official Music Video)” and “Child’s Play Announcement.”

PICK ONE

“Pick One” is the most cinematically and narratively ambitious short film I’ve tackled in a while. The film originated from a conversation with my friend and agent Richard Kraft in early May in which we strategized how to get the message out into the film industry that I scored four recent films in disparate genres and mediums.

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Rim of the World

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ORCHESTRAL ADVENTURES

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LIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD: In the new Netflix film Rim of the World, four kids meet at the titular summer camp before an alien invasion plunges the world into chaos. They must overcome their differences and embark on a journey to transport a vital cryptokey to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, with the fate of humanity in the balance. The film combines action, comedy, science fiction, and horror, with a coming-of-age story, and serves as an homage to the kid-centered adventure films popularized in the 1980s. I set out to compose an energetic, orchestral score in the style of my childhood heroes who were the masters of the genre, including Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, Elmer Bernstein, Alan Silvestri, and James Horner.

Screenwriter Zack Stentz and I have been friends ever since we worked together on the short-lived yet beloved series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Zack sent me the script for Rim of the World in an early stage, and I was charmed by its adventurous spirit. My imagination went into overdrive and I immediately heard soaring French horns and swirling string orchestra textures! Acclaimed director McG eventually came on board the film and invited me to join his crew as composer for Rim of the World

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