Chris: Rewrite the history…
Mike: Exactly, right? He did put in the work, I mean that guy, he just learned those lines and he just believed it. And so when you see his performance in the film, veins are popping out, he’s flustered and just that energy is just amazing. It was an amazing thing to see, plus that scene we were shooting, we were really under the gun for time because we were trying to do some more elaborate kind of moves around the desk and trying to take some things in one-ers, going late into the evening that night. I think it also added to some of his character’s frustration which it worked out so well in the end. So…
Chris: Tim is a fantastic actor. He is so, so good and he’s also you mentioned honest, he is one of the most honest people I’ve ever met in my life. And just love, love him in the project and I learned about the project actually through him because I think Mike, he interviewed you briefly on his podcast and maybe that’s how I first heard about Project Arbiter. Super short, it was like fifteen minutes or something. So anyway, then I think about the following year I get a random email from one Mr. Ryan Leach and he’s like, “Hey, I’m looking for animated shorts to score,” and I was like wow! I love this dude! It’s like he reaches out and he found a way to kind of connect and I don’t know, it’s so efficient, so thoughtful, he was so focused and the fact that he wanted to score animated shorts, I loved that. And somebody says cartoons and I just, I’m their best friend and anyway…I sent him my cell phone number and was like “Hey, give me a call and we’ll talk through it,” and we became fast friends as well. So then maybe a year ago or two years ago when I…I don’t even remember how I found out, but I was like, “Wait a second! You’re scoring Project Arbiter? That’s insane!” And then it was like, “Do you know Tim?” And you’re like, “I’ve seen him on the Baileys,” and whatever, and it was this insane coincidence that both of you guys ended up on this movie.
Mike: And I mean working with Ryan, it was pretty amazing. I’ve worked with some pretty talented composers but Ryan by far is…he’s such a professional. But at the same time, he makes it look so easy because I would come in with all these crazy references and ideas and I like a lot more kind of found sound stuff, it’s not simple looking in the library stuff, he really went above and beyond to find a unique voice for this because we easily could have done stuff that’s already been explored. So, we’re trying to build upon certain sounds and themes and very much…this kind of came out after, but very much like a looper in a way where we just want those metallic kind of drumming sounds and things like that, that are sprinkled all throughout and you can’t pick them out individually but he did such a masterful job of actually layering those on, you just get that feeling. And I think one of the things we always came back to was like Mothman Prophecies if you’ve ever seen that film.
Chris: I don’t think I have.
Mike: Amazing score for like mystery, so we listened to that quite a bit and I don’t know, Ryan what else did we talk about, I think it was a little bit of Terminator 2 but it was mainly just this kind of deep pounding kind of sound and driving force.
Ryan: I think there was a Johnny Cash song you referenced at one point.
Mike: Oh yeah.
Ryan: Specifically there were chains.
Chris: Ain’t No Grave.
Mike: Ain’t No Grave, that’s the one.
Ryan: So even stuff that had nothing to do with what it was actually eventually going to sound like but just kind of pulling all these like little moments, just like right there, that should go in the score.
Mike: Yeah, and I think what we pulled out of that Ryan, it was like the chains right?
Mike: Like the metallic kind of chains. Yeah, a lot of fun but that’s what Ryan brings to it, he’s also an amazing artist as well just in his own right for just creating music, not just theatrical scores, the man can really play.
Chris: Yeah, it’s ridiculous. Yeah this is something that we geek out about all the time actually is kind of finding the parallels between visual art and music. And I think actually Ryan, some of the…both of us hadn’t given much thought in our lives previously and then sort of found that we were kindred spirits in that.
Ryan: How to do the work, how to make it look easy.
Chris: Yeah, exactly. It’s all a rouse.
Mike: That’s an interesting thing you bring up Chris, which is kind of where does inspiration start with it? And actually with my stuff, it usually starts with music.
Chris: Yeah, me too.
Mike: A lot of the stuff Ryan would write, I was working on the edit but I would actually listen to his tracks and it would help inform where I was taking the treatment for the feature film.
Chris: Oh, that’s awesome.
Mike: Yeah, because if you get the sound and the essence of something, if you’re just playing that as like the noise in the room, you can kind of just go off of it and just find those other moments that you normally wouldn’t.
Chris: Let’s talk about this looper thing a little bit. Nathan Johnson, the composer for Looper and the Brothers Bloom and Brick, Ryan Johnson’s cousin was actually on the Artcast a couple years ago and he talked about this sort of collage approach that he took to the Brothers Bloom soundtrack. And from what I could tell from reading interviews with you Ryan about Arbiter, there was at least some kind of similar approach and then even I think Mike just hinted at it a little bit there. Can you talk a little bit about that, the sort of finding the sounds and how you sort of…I use this word in the notes here, “assembly.” How you sort of assembled the score, but then also if you could talk a little bit about this very blurry line between sound effects and the score because they’re very integrated in Arbiter as I could tell so it creates this very immersive sound experience in listening to it. I listened to it in my best headphones.
Ryan: I ended up doing a lot of sounds for the trailer actually. So it’s…there was a lot of similarity. I guess to the first part about kind of assembling a toolkit, I think I picked that up from Michael Lavine who is this awesome composer who I was very lucky to work for when I first came out to LA and I learned just so much. And one of the things was creating your pallet kind of at the outset, you’re kind of building your tools and in a way like picking out your brushes and picking out your colors and everything rather than sitting down and being like okay, well we can use everything. You can enforce some constraints, like okay we’re going to only loop sounds from scratching the violin and that’s it, that’s all we’re allowed to use or something like that. So in this case, it was a lot of finding sounds that were dirty, scratchy metal and real tangible things. I think my favorite sound we ended up using was this wooden cart being shoved that I used probably way too much as like a drum roll kind of thing because it had this baaazzmmm kind of sound to it but it was this massive…you can’t really tell what it is but it just kind of worked like a drum roll without just pulling out a snare drum.
Chris: Wow. And did you actually record that? Did you go capture that yourself or was that something that you kind of found?
Ryan: No, I did not have a big wooden cart so that was digging through a lot of libraries. Some of the sounds specifically recorded were a lot more scratches and hits on surfaces, things that I could actually find and pick up and touch but no, I also just dug through my resources and found metal gates and bridges collapsing or whatever. I think I mentioned in an interview before I used the sound of the airplane to create this kind of musical pad, like ran it through a synthesizer and it made this kind of massive humming sound and that kind of added to the unique sound. And I think part of…and I think this is part of what Nathan is thinking too, I think part of the reason is that you have to have a unique identity. I mean everybody’s using the same software now, it’s all starting to sound the same. So if you want it to be different, you have to literally find something that nobody’s using, and the way to do that is to record it yourself. But then the other side to that is then when you create this toolkit thing, you’re like okay, these are the sounds that we’re allowed to use so the whole score is going to be cohesive from beginning to end this is our pallete. It’s all going to fit together, there’s not going to be like this random electric bass coming in that just doesn’t make sense with everything or whatever.
Chris: A wah wah pedal.
Ryan: A wah wah that was like what?
Chris: Try to work that in if you can please to the feature.
Mike: Yeah, I actually had a question for you Ryan, I don’t know if I ever asked you this but did you find it difficult to actually find a balance between like the ambient sounds because there’s moments where it was almost like kind of traffic, like the film traffic where it’s just much more kind of droning sounds and then bolstering them up and having more of like a rhythm and a driving pace. How did you kind of…how do you usually find those?
Ryan: Um, I consider myself somewhat of a minimalist so I guess that wasn’t…I could sit here and listen to a drum for hours and just kind of take it in. I’m a big fan of Fish and they could go on for hours on the same song and I’m like, this is amazing! So yeah, I guess ambience is cool because it’s just how do you get all these different (inaudible) little teeny textures, it’s moving, it’s breathing, it’s organic but it’s not. Something I’m really interested in I guess parallel with design is how do you translate like a wooden texture that looks so organic and is clearly not just designed to translate to music? How do you get that randomness and tangibility?
Chris: Those are things you’re drawn to and then applying them is a whole different thing.
Ryan: Well we were drawn to them because of the story, I mean it was very much…like I said we used a lot of like metal and wooden things, it was because it was a real tangible thing, it wasn’t…the suit is not made out of stainless steel and it’s all chrome and everything. It’s actually kind of worn and I think when we think of 1940’s technology, there’s a roughness to it. And even just the visual, just browns and greens and grays just kind of have this feel to them that you know, I think even just that just on that design kind of aspect just kind of lends itself to this organic sounds. But also the human element and I guess organic is a good word for part of what we were going for.
Mike: Absolutely, I think a lot of it came from the story kind of being so fantastical, we’re always trying to find ways to ground it and I know, I mean I’m a big fan too so I watch a lot of behind the scenes and everybody…the biggest buzz word is ‘let’s make it gritty.’ But do people really know what that means? I think the biggest thing we’re trying to do is just make it sound honest. Because if it’s honest, because we could have went you know, John Williams huge symphonic on this thing and it would also have been engrossing but that’s not the story. The story is we’re trying to connect to this guy in the suit, so feeling the metal, feeling that kind of stuff, it makes the actual sound in the essence of the film, always the soul of the film is that music. And it’s making us connect through that character, at least that’s the hope.
Ryan: And that’s a good point, that on the surface that wouldn’t seem wrong necessarily, I mean would still fit the epic scope of it all. Just the blaring trumpets and the big fanfare is just not who this guy is. It just doesn’t make sense.
Mike: Yeah, it’s much more subdued and there’s nuances to it like you said, and again, I love films that have that too and I think it also comes from…it’s a style choice too. It’s like what kind of film are you looking at, and like I said before, I’m really inspired by kind of a lot of John Carpenter’s films and seeing his filmwork and things like that, but to me it’s just trying to also find a unique thing. And I know I said this to Ryan a couple times but it’s always like we wouldn’t settle for just average, we would always try to find something that was really different and put a stamp on it just so people would get a really unique experience and it can actually stand out amongst the rest like Ryan was saying.
Chris: Well it certainly does.
Ryan: I guess to the idea of kind of making it look easy I think is answered by everything we’re talking about, that all of this stuff was discussed beforehand and before the actual literal scoring to picture, kind of sending off (inaudible) done, that there was a lot of discussion about…especially about the opening queue was one that we went on with for quite a while and I’ve talked about before how that was eventually actually done away from picture. It was like okay, well let’s just say like ignoring the score, what is the music for this supposed to sound like? The music that you would be hearing as you’re writing the future script or something, like what is that world that you close your eyes and you’re in it. And it was once we found that, that except for nitty gritty like oh, let’s like push the tension here, let’s make him a little darker, like that’s all easy stuff. After it was like okay, this is the sound, these are the textures, these are kind of the sound design elements and everything, the rest of it just kind of writes itself.
Chris: Sure it does Ryan.
Mike: Like I said, this guy’s a musician, he makes it sound easy. But that’s the thing where he kind of spoiled me a bit, which is, I would basically say this is what it’s got to be like and he would come back literally days later with a whole track and it would sound like…to me it sounded like it was already premixed and ready to go. And it kind of spoiled me in a way where I would give him some notes and I’m like waiting the next day like alright am I going to see it? And surely enough, I would! So I mean, Ryan, again that conditioning through again, whether you go to school at a 4-year, whether you go to a post house or work at an agency or anything, as long as you learn your craft and you use everything around you. Even if it’s not a film related job, if you’re working at KB Toys which I did for my first job, you learn something from it. Use that, and apply it towards your work ethic and everything else is shorthand like Ryan’s saying.
Ryan: I worked in TV for a couple years when I first came around here and you had to be fast. It wasn’t like oh that’s cool, you write quickly. It was like well if you don’t write quickly, you’re fired. So I guess…I’m grateful, I guess I maybe take it for granted that I learned those jobs but I don’t know, you have to.
Chris: And that’s what all the TV writers say, the ones that go into features and they’re like oh wait, you guys don’t all do this? What do you mean? Why don’t you just make a decision?
Mike: Honestly, deep down I always secretly hope I don’t get a huge budget which is kind of a weird thought but I kind of like working for it. There’s some kind of weird…like you have a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other? I think I got a guy in like a Puritan outfit sitting on my back just with me saying, “Get to it!” Like don’t stop, I don’t know what it is or how my parents raised me but I just can’t settle and if there is waste, then it makes me feel bad. I just feel like that’s a failure, you know? So you’ve got to use everything that you have and put as much as you can on screen.
Chris: Yeah, what Brad Bird…we use every part of the buffalo. I had a friend that was telling me about working on, I can’t remember if it was Ratatouille or the Incredibles but they were saying that they were in a meeting with him and they were working on a table that was going to go in the shot and the shot was going to be of this table, and there was some stuff on this table and the modeler had put the wood surface or whatever on the table, but they had just put it on the part that was going to be in the shot because Brad’s coming in to see the shot and we need to get it ready for him. And then he’s like on great, let’s final it, but we can’t final it, we’ve got to surface the rest of the table. And he’s like, I’m not going to move the camera, it’s okay, let’s save that money and use it somewhere else, and he would talk about getting it all on the screen.
Mike: Well a funny side note about Brad Bird, I grew up watching Iron Giant and that was probably one of my favorite animations.
Chris: Oh yeah, me too.
Mike: But what was really trippy was, and it was kind of a big moment for me. I moved down to LA and I came back up just to visit my folks and it was during the December when Mission Impossible 4 came out, it was protocol right? And it was amazing seeing Tom Cruise doing the stuff on this building all by himself like, it was pretty insane. But the cool thing was, I had been following Brad Bird for a while and a big fan of a lot of his work. Again, he focuses on story, but he just makes it fun. And so I was basically walking in the line and I’m there with my girlfriend Traci and we’re just standing in line and I’m like, “Traci! Do you know who that is?” And I knew him from the back of his head because I study like all the behind the scenes and stuff when we would always watch that, and I’m like do you know who that is? She’s like, “Who?” “That’s Brad Bird!” And so this lady is giving him crap about his Fandango tickets and he’s got like seven Fandango tickets printed out and he’s got this Orson Wells trench coat but I basically, I walked up to him and I walked up to the lady that was taking his tickets and I was like, “Mam, you’ve got to let him in here.” She’s like, “What are you talking about?” I’m like, “Well he’s the director of this movie! Like why is he even begging?” And so after the film, Traci’s like, “You’ve got to say hi to him or something,” and I’m like I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to be that kind of person and so we went to the restroom, waited like it was like fifteen minutes, came out and he’s standing right out in the lobby with his whole family and it was so cool, we sat probably four rows behind him. He brought his entire family to like the second weekend of it opening and you could see that guy was about his family and about just basically again, quality. And it was cool, got to shake his hand and say hi to him and then went on our way.