The Making of God of Dance [radio edit] (Part Three)

YOU CAN’T FIGHT A WAR WITHOUT A PLAN AND A STORYBOARD IS THE PLAN AND WE NEED IT LAST WEEK IF WE ARE GOING TO MAKE ANY DEADLINE (OR: THE LONGEST BLOG POST TITLE MADE LONGER BY ADDING AN OBVIOUS SECOND TITLE GAG THAT OVERLY OVERSTAYS ITS WELCOME AND THEN SOME ON TOP OF THAT)

In the meantime, I’d also met with a small animation studio about handling the animation. That was Simage Animation and Media Ltd. They came highly recommended by my wife who is a local Producer and had worked with the studio owner and his key staff in the past. She said they were excellent artists and reliable. Both are assents in any production, but when you are under the time gun, they are ESSENTIAL assets. After the initial meeting with the boss, I felt very comfortable with his attitude and knowledge and with him, personally; so, I contracted his studio for the job. That was easy. He just asked for the storyboard asap so he could make a schedule and budget. Fair enough. Andrew was on the job and by tomorrow morning, I’d Skype Andrew and he’d have emailed me the lovely and finished storyboard. Now, read that last sentence back with the voice of the narrator of The Wonder Years and you will know what is about to happen next. If you are unfamiliar with The Wonder Years... well... just read on.

Next day: I Skype Andrew and he was stuck. By that I mean he was having a writer’s block on the storyboard. This is not all that unusual for anyone. It’s easy to start a storyboard when you have a script (Ok, depending on the quality of the script, it isn’t always so easy, but that’s another matter) in front of you because you can always default to whatever the script outlines or just crank something out just to get something on paper and worry about improving it, later. But, in this instance, there was going to be no “later” and the first draft storyboard was going to have to be, more or less, THE storyboard: there was no time to tinker, tweak or flat out fool around with it. It had to be great out of the gate. Remember: this promo was designed to sell a show to investors. It isn’t going to children, it’s grown men and grown men with money and most importantly... grown men with money that we want to spend on us: They have to be impressed!!

Even though we’d walked through the beats of the storyboard and even worked out very specific shots, there was still a lot for Andrew to think about and settle, so I don’t and didn’t blame him for having a hard time finding that spark that leads to a storyboarding firestorm. It is the eternal problem of the blank page and “where do I begin”? Even when you have a plot, it’s only marginally easier to get going with that. It’s still a daunting moment. I probably would have had the same situation had it been me having to draw up the storyboard on this. I got off lucky having to spend the day playing Producer and contracting a subcontractor and location scouting.

It was clear that Andrew needed some kind of ‘push’ to ignite that spark. I knew that once he got rolling, he’d be able to produce a solid storyboard quickly, so it was mostly a matter of how to generate some inspiration for him. Andrew wanted more time to draw the board, but I had the subcontractor wanting the storyboard so they can budget and schedule. The artist in me said, “Sure, take as much time as you need: we want it good!”, but the Producer in me said, “If this is going to get done on time without having to pay any kind of extra ‘rush fee’, I need it now!!!!!!” I sided with the Producer, but chose to handle it with an artists insight.

After Andrew and I finished talking, I took a shower (where all my good ideas come from) and had, of all things, a good idea: MUSIC!! I was going to select the music track after the storyboard was finished, but then it occurred to me that Andrew might find having a music track helpful to put him in a mood and help generate some images and a pace into his mind. Maybe that could unlock his block! Yessss...

Now, Andrew calls me a “music snob”. Now... I like to think that only a TRUE music snob would call another a “music snob”, but that’s another matter. I will say in his defense that I do like music, have always liked music, have always played music, listened very closely to music and collected music. And yes, that does lead me to have some rather strong opinions on the topic, from time to time. Back when I had to sit down to decide what music would be the basis for the main track of the promo, I turned to iTunes. First, let me say “GOD BLESS iTUNES!!!” if for no other reason than it made trolling through 10,000 music track a whole lot faster and easier than it would have been had I only had CDs on hand. At the time, I had 10,000 songs in my iTunes (Just about 13,000, now. Maybe I am a music snob?) and first thing I did was decide that I wanted techno music. It is an obvious choice for a dance based promo, but I didn’t want anything too typical or generic: I wanted it to grab the audience by the throat and not give them a chance to breath.

My first instinct, which is usually 85% what I like best when it comes to a music selection process, was the track I ended up using. It is ‘Hollow Ground’ by NOISE UNIT off the CD Strategy of Violence. I’ve always really liked that song for its drive and interesting lead sound. It has vocals on it, but I basically edited the intro to fit the 15 second time of the dance portion of the promo. I listened to a whole bunch of other tracks to see if anything worked better, but this track just seemed perfect from the get-go. You’d think that out of 10,000 tracks there would be so many to choose from and hard to pick one, but I knew what I wanted this promo to be like pretty much from the beginning of my involvement so everything creative that wasn’t tempered by time and budget was mostly about fitting my vision. That makes life simpler than feeling around in the dark not knowing what I want. That doesn’t mean that the creative process didn’t evolve: it did quite organically, but knowing what I wanted helped a great deal towards making choices and quick and good decisions.

Ok, so the main section was scored. How to deal with the pulsing visuals of the opening into: what music to use? I knew I wanted ominous rhythm, but what exactly? I knew I DIDN’T want the typical “booooommm... booooommm... booooommm... booooommm...” kind of thing I’ve seen many many times in movie trailers. I wanted something like that, but more fresh, more edgy and more more. Back to trolling iTunes.

Now, I like industrial music so it shouldn’t be too hard to find something ominous that bangs in an edgy way, but my answer came from, of all things, a classical TV Anime score by YOKO KANNO: Eskaflowne Suondtrack 2 - ‘Machine Soldier’. It had the right feel and it had more more. It’s one of the best TV soundtracks I’ve ever heard from one of the finest Animes ever made. So it got slice into the first 15 seconds and was followed by NOISE UNIT, but... I didn’t feel that the first 15 seconds stayed strong for its entire length: it needed some extra umph at about 6 or 7 seconds to elevate the tension a but. I loved the way it just pounded in shocking a viewer to get their attention (and it worked extremely doing just that), but it wasn’t going to sustain that tension until the main music kicked in, so... back to iTunes to find something I could lay under YOKO KANNO that would add extra atmosphere.

I trolled through ambient tracks and a whole lot of them: from soundtracks to instrumental songs to sound effects. My choice was an old favorite: LAIBACH. What is not to love about them? They covered the entire Let it Be LP!! As I said, what’s not to love? I took a snippet from the song ‘To the New Light’ off Jesus Christ Superstars (you mean you DON”T own it? Hmmm...). It’s an odd song, but it’s also very interesting and it was perfect to lay quietly under YOKO KANNO to keep the musical momentum going into the main section. If you are using computer speakers, you’ll likely not hear this part. If you are using headphones or good speakers, you probably can hear it, certainly if your speakers have a good range: particularly on Rasta’s close up: there is a low moan noise and that’s LAIBACH.

Lastly, I needed a smooth “BOOM” sound to get out of the NOISE UNIT music to cover the edit and allow a tension release at the end that was still a punch in the face. I didn’t want to let up on the audience at all. I figured that we only had 30 seconds to get their attention and have them wanting more so why weaken in the creative resolve of the music? I listened to a whole bunch of “BOOM”s. I selected the first note of KMFDM: XTORT - ‘Craze’ because it had a neat electronic buzzing on the tail and I though that set it apart for a clean boom reverb effect and that matched the ‘dirty’ feel I wanted, in general.

So I sent the 30 second edited music track off to Andrew. I don’t know if he found it helpful or not and if he did, how helpful, but at the very least it was something else that had to get done, done. Tomorrow was going to be another day.

P.S. The music was given to someone else to listen to and he felt it was too intense and maybe something softer should be used. Two things: 1) My creative stubbornness, I mean... conviction was not going to let that happen. What I edited together was perfect to the feel I was trying create and 2) As Producer, there wasn’t time to make any fundamental changes. With Andrew’s help, I won that debate. Remember, music snobs don’t like to lose musical arguments.

-Steve.

Next: Ramen, Rasta and the Shirt and Bikini Girl That Blew My January Holiday

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