Cartoon Capers with John Altman

One of the things we love most about the type of Media music writing we do is the huge breadth of styles that we get to work on, and this has been particularly apparent in our current project “Action Cartoon” – A collaboration with composing legend and Emmy winner John Altman.

So what do we mean by Action Cartoon?

Think, Simpsons with a touch of The Jetsons meet Spiderman, or Dangermouse with a pinch of Dick Barton….

Part of the creative challenge of this type of project is getting into the mindset of how this stuff was originally conceived, written and recorded back-in-the-day, in order to faithfully recreate music that stands up against the originals.

“This is where our collaborator John Altman came into his own,” said David.

To give you a bit of background, John is a musical director, arranger, composer, conductor and saxophonist. Beginning his career in the late 60’s as an in-demand saxophonist, through the years John has performed with the likes of Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Bob Marley, Muddy Waters and Prince, as well as being Van Morrison’s musical director.

John’s arranging and conducting talents garnered many hit records such as George Michael’s “Kissing a Fool”, Rod Stewart’s “Downtown Train” and Alison Moyet’s “That Ole Devil Called Love” which John also produced. He also arranged Monty Python’s “Always Look On The Bright Side of Life”, a song which has gained worldwide cult status. As well as having an A-List career working on commercial hits, John has an equally successful career as a busy film and TV composer and has worked on countless movies and TV shows. Big screen success has included Titanic, Shall We Dance and The Lost Empire to name a few of the long list.

“Working with John has been a wonderful learning experience,” said David “When we first discussed the project, John’s knowledge of the genre and of the process of the composers was remarkable.” We discussed in depth the original creative and recording processes, and John’s insight has added an authenticity we would never have achieved without his input.”

“For me, what’s been wonderful is the way ideas have flowed,” said Jeff Meegan. “A creative melting-pot, with everyone having input, for me, is the key to a successful collaboration.”

As always everything has to be carefully conceived. Every splodge of every note, from the conception of the scores through to the recording process. Once again at Abbey Road studio 2, with 11 hours of sessions where John will conduct and David and Jeff will jointly produce.

Meegan, Tobin and Altman

At Abbey Road with John Altman

One of the extra things that set this project apart will be the use of comedy percussion. This will be a signature sound of the collection. We hope to create a virtual mini library of bangs, hits, squeaks and pops during a percussion session in Abbey Road studio 3 with percussionist Paul Clarvis.

“We chose not to write any of these parts in advance,” said David. “We decided it would be more fun to work on these in real time with Paul. We asked him to bring everything but the kitchen sink… and then joked that he might want to throw that in his bag too!”

“Working with Jeff and David has been a real learning curve for me,” said John Altman. “ I’m used to collaborating on movies with directors and editors, or on records with artists and producers but this is my first experience of collaboration with fellow composers and I must confess I am enjoying being able to discuss what I’m doing along the way with people who share the same experiences. The first of many albums with Jeff and David I hope!”

Once the recordings are complete, we begin the meticulous process of mixing, creating all the necessary versions and putting all final finishing touches to everything.Look out early next year for the Action Cartoon Comedy album to be released on www.audionetwork.com and we’ll be posting some snippets here very soon!

 

The Toronto Film Festival Experience

Well.. now that the dust has settled on the Toronto International Film Festival 2017, here’s a quick insight into our experience of the wonderfully chaotic world of TIFF from a festival first-timer.

Despite both being industry veterans, this was the first time that either Jeff or I had attended a film festival and so we weren’t sure what to expect. Would we be waltzing up the red carpet, or run over in the public’s rush to search out celebrities?

Toronto International Film Festival

SuperSize Me 2 star, Morgan Spurlock on the Red Carpet with David and Jeff.

Well, I’m happy to report that the reality was both! It was a real pleasure to walk down the red carpet with the star of SuperSize Me 2, Morgan Spurlock at the premiere of our new movie – but equally I was amused to be asked “are you somebody?” when standing watching a stationary car for a glimpse of Matt Damon and George Clooney – who were arriving for the opening of Suburbicon.

My answer of “I’m not sure” seemed to confuse the eager stargazer I think, but the scrum towards the Hollywood A-listers reminded me how important movies and movie stars are to the rest of us, especially in a world going through some slightly choppy times.

Walking down Festival Avenue, a street that had been cordoned off for promotional events, gave me a chance to take in the genuine excitement that still exists around cinema and arts festivals of all sorts. There were street musicians, TV crews, people from all over the world who’d make pilgrimages to catch a glimpse of their favourite stars and interested locals, all wandering around in a sea of good-natured chatter.

At TIFF 2017 there were a staggering 339 new movies, shown in just 11 days. Some critics felt that the festival was almost too large, but without any previous experience to match it against, it just felt buzzy and exciting to us. This year featured many biopics, including the Lady Gaga story “Five Foot Two” and “Borg vs McEnroe”, which looks at the rivalry between the tennis stars in the 1980’s.

 

Toronto International Film Festival

The crazy world of TIFF 2017

As with all film festivals, there’s a competitive nature to them, with movies attempting to gain popularity, notoriety and ultimately looking to secure distribution deals. This year’s festival was no different and the winner of the People’s Choice Award went to “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri”. A harrowing, yet compelling movie by Academy award-winner Martin McDonagh, starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell. Other movies to gain recognition were “Bodied” – A satirical exploration of Battle Rapping and “I, Tonya” – The Tonya Harding Story.

For our own small part, the team on SuperSize Me 2 were delighted to have the movie named in the top three documentaries of the festival and, we all hope it bodes well for the upcoming awards season – but for our part, it was just a blast to be involved in the slightly crazy world that was TIFF 2017.

For a full list of festival winners and award nominees check out the TIFF awards site here. See also our blogs on the movie Supersize Me 2, and  A Film Season In Bloom

A film season in bloom

It’s the beginning of September and that marks start of the film awards season.

With the Venice, Telluride and Toronto film festivals all happening with in a few weeks of each other, it’s no wonder that many Oscar-contending films have made their debut at this time in years past. ‘Birdman”, “Slum Dog Millionaire”, “Black Swan”, “12 Years A Slave” and one of last years big winners “La la Land” to name a few.

As we run up to the end of the year there is no doubt that some of 2017’s most critically acclaimed films will come out if this year’s festival crop. On the slate for Venice are George Clooney’s “Suberbicon” starring Matt Damon and Alexander Payne’s Downsizing, also starring Matt Damon.  At Toronto, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s “The Current Wars” starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Shannon as well as documentarian Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!” (scored by Jeff Meegan, David Tobin and Tim Garland).  While Telluride doesn’t give a list of films set to premiere we think one thing is clear: Regardless of your personal tastes, this season of festivals should prove to be both entertaining and informative and we can’t wait to see what goodness awaits!

Super Size Me 2 – Scored by Meegan & Tobin

Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken

David Tobin and Jeff Meegan, together with Tim Garland, are excited to announce the forthcoming release of:“Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!”, with an original score by the 3 composers.

This follow-up to Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me”, is the first feature film score for Meegan & Tobin.  It premieres next week at the Toronto Film Festival.

With the help of playful melodies and understated skillful orchestrations, their original music to “Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!” helps paint the stark sometimes dark truths behind the very intertwined Chicken and Fast Food industries.  This helps Morgan Spurlock reignite his clash with the fast food industry in sizzling fashion.  In the original movie, Morgan Spurlock took on the McDonald’s and helped fashion a change in the company by throwing light on the way in which huge portion sizes, large amounts of sugar and saturated fat are damaging our health and that of our children.

In the latest movie, Spurlock takes on the main players in the huge U.S chicken industry and deals with the issue of how fast food companies lie to us about what goes into their products. It also sheds light on the tough conditions that chicken farmers are expected to work in and how they are forced into virtual poverty by means of an unfair and corrupt system.

Working With Morgan Spurlock

“It was a pleasure writing with Spurlock and his team,” says David Tobin.  “The left-field manner in which the film tackles some rather hard issues presented some fun complexities. Finding the right balance of light heartedness and sincerity while still conveying the solemnity of the issues was a challenge we all really enjoyed”.   

We are all delighted to have been involved in such a worthwhile project and we are eagerly looking forward to our next foray into the scoring world

The subtle and complex art of writing music for the media

The role of the composer in modern media can be complex and challenging. What is less appreciated is the way that the music that subtly reinforces our emotions in film is often the product of equally cunning manipulation. How well the soundtrack does that job is down to the skill of the composer. The music needs to stand in its own right – but not stand in the way of the film and its message.

Music For Media

It’s all about using music to aid the story telling. During the edit, a variety of temporary soundtracks (known as temp tracks) are used to heighten the emotional impact of different parts of the film. A temp track is an existing piece of audio that acts as a guideline for the type of music that the producer wants to hear at a given point. The composer’s job is to create a new piece of music that draws inspiration from the temp track, without plagiarising it.

It’s a fine line for the composer, says David who has worked on soundtracks for film and TV programmes for more than 20 years. He explained: “In the 1940’s and early fifties, movie directors started to request that music supervisors (whose job it was to find relevant music for a specific scene or segment) placed an existing piece of music on to sections of a rough cut of a film as staff film scorers and songwriters were simply unable to work fast enough to satisfy the speed of demand for the required score in order that a film could be shown to what we’d now call a focus group. It was impossible for them to show the film without music as it had no emotional impact and so pre-existing music from other projects would be ‘temped’ into the current film as a stop-gap to the original piece being written.

“Sometimes a director and music supervisor would get so used to a temp track after living with it for a long time that they’d even ditch the composers work in the end and use the temp track on the final movie. In Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Platoon’, about half of the temp track was finally used on the actual film – that’s why Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings became the main theme of the film.”

The music on film and TV is often far more subtle than the surging strings heard on Platoon. It’s often used to set a mood or establish a period of time – maybe a few bars of something that sounds like Bing Crosby (but isn’t) played through an old radio in an adjoining room or heard through an open window.

jazz-band-800-pix-Music For MediaSays Jeff: “The challenge for us is to break down the writing, recording and editing of period pieces into component parts in order that every aspect of the final work will appear as if made years ago.

“Even the chords used in songs are particular to different decades. Some progressions will ‘give the game away’ as they were not used when a piece is supposed to have been written.”

Even the instrumentation must be faithful to a time period. Sometimes Jeff and David will go a stage further, and will record on period instruments using musicians who are specialists in playing thirties jazz.

Old Suitcase Travel Stickers isolated on white with a clipping path

Jeff says: “We often look  to emulate the performing styles of famous musicians from the period that they are recreating – for example when re-making jazz recordings purporting to be from the late 20’s and early 30’s, the drum style of Zutty Singleton will undoubtedly be heard. He performed as drummer on landmark recordings with Louis Armstrong and the Hot Five and before microphones were able to cope with the explosive sound of a snare drum being hit, he’d set up the suitcase that he famously carried with him and play the suitcase with brushes – a sound that could be heard on many early Louis Armstrong / Singleton recordings.

“It’s all about attention to detail. You might need to make a sound that evokes a particular period. Old technology has its own ‘fingerprint’ but we use the latest tech to create music that is as faithful as possible to the original. Finally, after all that, we may take our twenty-first century recording and degrade it to make it sound like it’s a shellac 78 playing out of a 1930 RCA Victor record player in a wooden cabinet.”