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” 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.
Marisa Gunzenhauser and Alec Siegel from my stellar team at Sparks & Shadows had just a few days to line up a crew and find our green screen location while Richard and I refined the script. Three days after conceiving the idea, we shot it! I had worked with director of photography Will Barrett several times in the past, both as a composer when I scored Areiscope projects like Holliston and Digging Up the Marrow, and as a director, when he shot my “Don’t Stop Me Now” music video for Young Beautiful in a Hurry in 2013. As always, Will brought an infectious energy and joy to the set.
Our first day covered Richard’s sequences in the car, and Richard did a great job playing a satirical version of himself. (I confess I’m still unsure how much the “hold on, I have a more important client on the other line” moment is satire!) Will locked his camera to my dashboard, while I directed from the backseat. The shoot became increasingly hilarious as we ad-libbed all the hilariously mean things an agent might say to an insecure client.
With the surprising amount of costume changes I went through, I ended up spending a lot of time in the make-up with Megan Williams, who I was very fortunate to collaborate with on “Pick One.” I never realized how long it takes to put on clown make-up. Wow!
Our costumer Linda Muggeridge read the script and immediately realized the ideas on the page into cloth. She also tailored an Elsa dress for my little co-star, Sonatine, not because it was needed in the film, but just so she could feel like a princess on set!
To my delight, we had a little Elsa Princess wandering around the set most of the day. Here, Alec shows me a test composite of our first green screen shots.
To detail both the encouraging and critical voices that go through an artist’s head when making decisions, I used a series of imaginary versions of myself. With a positive and negative vision for each of the four projects I wanted to include, there were a total of eight visions, or what I called “realms.” These realms were realized by artist Toni Le Busque, who created richly detailed illustrations to serve as background and foreground objects.
Toni created a moody subway station, complete with trains whizzing by…
… a moonlit forest evoking an Amblin film from the 1980s…
… a study for a wise musical professor…
… an awkward crowd to surround my wife Raya Yarbrough at an imaginary Preschool Dance Recital…
… and a kaiju-ravaged cityscape, in the style of classic Toho monster films, among many other assets. To work with an artist of Toni’s caliber, especially on such a short timeline, was beyond my wildest dreams at the start of this project.
I had a blast at Prestige Green Screen Studios in Hollywood. Every time Linda put me in a new costume, I found myself dancing around the stage in a new look. One of the funniest, Paperboy Bear, got almost no screen time at all, because it was only used in a single, black and white close-up. But, check out those socks!
Professor Bear was another fun one. My mom kept getting annoyed that my Baroque costume for this character was not historically accurate to the late nineteenth century British setting of its relevant film, The Professor and the Madman. But, I assured her I was simply evoking a comedically snooty “musical academic” look and when she saw it in context she laughed and finally understood what I was going for!
Monster selfie! The instant I put on the monster costume, I stomped around the backstage area snarling.
I was actually suffering from a severe sore throat on the day of the shoot, which is pretty evident in some of my performances. Kid Bear (on the bike) and Godzilla Bear were the first two set-ups, and you can hear the crackle in my monster voice. My voice was so deep and craggy during Kid Bear I actually pitched myself up a step in post!
Chucky Bear is meant to represent my suppressed creative instincts, the barriers of good taste that go up to prevent me from writing the crazy music that actually goes on in my brain! Scoring Child’s Play presented a creative opportunity to let those inhibitions go, so I savored this opportunity to act as the personification of that musical madness.
It’s honestly a little scary how much fun I had in the “Chucky Bear” costume. I only did a handful of takes, but I definitely could have been this character all day. I wished I’d written him more lines!
Will put on a lens that allowed me to get up close and personal, just 6 inches from the lens, during the Chucky Bear scene.
I was almost fully into my Chucky Bear look when my co-star and daughter Sonatine arrived on set. She looked at me with apprehension and curiosity, so I reassured her by doing silly dances with her for five minutes before we went back to work.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t the weird costumes or crowded stage that made Sonatine feel uneasy, but the “Sad Clown Bear” scene. In it, I turn around on the podium, revealing my inner fears of being viewed as a pathetic clown, and the disappointed audience pelts me with fruits and vegetables while booing loudly. We gave Sonatine some veggies to throw with the crowd, but after the first take she ran up to me and hugged my leg, pleading “Daddy, tell them not to throw things at you!”
I sat her down and explained that it was only a movie, and that it wasn’t real. Everyone in the room actually liked me, and we just had to pretend to not like me. She understood and on the next take, pelted me with plastic veggies, giggling.
The greatest joy of making this movie was getting to share the experience with my daughter. No image captures how I feel as a parent better than this one that was captured by accident. Here, a young daughter looks up at her dad with love and trust, and her dad looks back with love, even though inside he’s just a pathetic sad clown doing his best.
“Pick One” was a blast to create and I’ve enjoyed watching the response online from friends and fans. Directing this silly short was a fun victory lap to celebrate the milestone of having four feature films out at once!
THEME FROM “CHILD’S PLAY” MUSIC VIDEO
I like to produce a performance-based music video for most of my film themes, typically built from behind-the-scenes footage from an orchestral recording session, as I did recently for The Professor and the Madman and Rim of the World. In the case of Child’s Play, however, I had no orchestra whatsoever, having performed almost the entire score myself on toys and small instruments.
The end credits track, “Theme from Child’s Play,” was the last cue I composed for the film, and even as I wrote it, I began to imagine what an eventual music video might look like. In fact, the track’s bridge section was composed specifically with a music video in mind, designed to showcase a brief performance of the score’s weirdest instruments, including kazoos, harmonica, and toy xylophones. Here, my desires to make a music video had a visceral impact on the creation of the music I wrote for a film.
While the film score was being mixed, I dove into directing the music video, knowing that the film’s release was sneaking up quickly. My team pulled the couches out of my writing studio, converting it into a production studio for a lengthy fourteen-hour shoot.
I brought in director of photography Michael Nie, who meticulously crafted each set-up, several of which involved mounting a camera to the support beams in my studio.
I imagined that each instrument would have a unique color splashed across it, pink for the toy pianos, green for the piano keys, and so on. In the image above, producer / editor Alec Siegel reaches across my writing desk to hand a gel to our PA Brian Claeys.
The most fun part of the music video shoot was singing the various “la la las” that permeate the track. I imagined shots of me singing from dozens of angles with multiple light colors, to communicate the idea that I sang every vocal layer myself.
Given the amount of instruments I wanted to showcase, I knew it would be overwhelming in editorial if I didn’t go into production with some sort of plan in place. Before shooting, I sketched out crude storyboards, mapping out virtually every second of the video, detailing the split screens and instruments.
See below for a few storyboard-to-final-shot comparisons.
I am thrilled to see that “Theme from Child’s Play” is quickly becoming one of my most viewed music videos, and that fan response has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. I never imagined the video would get this kind of attention when I was holed up in my dark studio, playing hurdy gurdy and singing in falsetto for weeks on end!
CHILD’S PLAY ANNOUNCEMENT VIDEO
Perhaps my most surprising video from this spring was less than thirty seconds long! I collaborated with my friends at MGM and Orion to release a trailer announcing my involvement in Child’s Play, timed to go online shortly after Mark Hamill was announced as the new voice of Chucky. At the time, I was just getting started on the score, having recently filled my studio with the various instruments I wanted to use. In an impromptu video shoot, I brought Alec over to my studio and we laid every instrument out in a line, so we could pan slowly across it, to ultimately reveal me at the end, sitting before a pile of toy pianos. (The final image we shot that day was so compelling, I eventually used it as a new profile pic for my social media accounts, because I look like an insane mad musical scientist!)
The short video teases a preview of a cue I was sketching at the time we shot the video, “The Birth of Chucky.” In fact, the announcement video was released before I had even finished this track! Astute listeners can probably pick up on the subtle differences here between my work-in-progress sketch and the final polished mix that was included in the film.
Despite the rough state of the music, I was very excited about how the score was shaping up. To my surprise, the short video went viral pretty quickly, picking up more than a million views across various uploads! The fan response was incredible. This marked the first time in my entire career I had released a clip of my music in progress, letting fans hear the theme to a score before I had finished the rest of the film. It was a little nerve-wracking, suddenly realizing I had to live up to the promise of this clip, but I also found a huge burst of creative energy knowing that fans were already as excited about the score as I was!
SAN DIEGO COMIC CON 2019
Speaking of movie monsters and their music, if you’re heading to San Diego Comic Con this year, don’t miss my new panel, “The Music of Monsters: Kaiju Concerto with Composer Bear McCreary.” I will present an interactive scene study, breaking apart the elements that make an effective monster score, whether it be a tiny killer doll or a city-stomping monster! This is going to be a fun one.
I hope to see you there!