So I had the opportunity to go to a scoring session, a couple Sundays ago, at the world famous Capitol Records Tower. But it was not just any scoring session. This was the scoring session for Star Wars Fan Film gurus, and up-and-coming digital artists / sound designers / directors / producers / editors / etc, Michael “Dorkman” Scott and Ryan Wieber. If you’re not familiar with their work, they are the creators of a fan film choreography competition entry titled “Ryan Vs. Dorkman“. It really got my attention when I first saw it at 20th Century Fox, and once the internet got a full hold of it, it got the attention of the entire world.
So when Ryan and Michael returned to film RVD2 – Ryan Vs Dorkman II, they had the support of so many devoted fans. Along with that support, they also found they had resources they did not have on the first short. 24p / 1080i HD glory, better digital fx resources… all this meant that the backscore needed to rise to the level of the rest of the film. It couldn’t be another out-of-the-box piece written by Horner, Williams, or Poledouris. So they looked to fellow Eastman graduate Kyle Newmaster and “Monkey’s Paw” uber composer Gordy Haab. Now, by “fellow Eastman graduate”, I do mean ‘I auditioned for their BFA Music Performance program in Percussion and got wait listed and went to the Mason Gross School of the Arts instead (John Beck is still the best orchestral timpanist out there)‘… and by “uber composer” I mean SPECTACULAR COMPOSERS. The following interview took place after the session with Kyle, Gordy, Ryan and Michael.
David (to Ryan and Michael) – So when you started seriously considering RvD2, were you always looking to get scored music with a live orchestra?
Michael - Never even crossed our minds. We had always intended to get an original score written for the sequel; the track we used from Dark City worked perfectly in RvD, but I had wanted to use that track in a fight scene for years and going into RvD2, I had no other piece I was interested in using. But we figured it was going to be mainly a synthesized score. It wasn’t until Gordy brought Kyle on board that the suggestion of a live orchestra was made, because Kyle had just recorded the score to another fan film with a 40-piece orchestra and wanted to bring the same quality to RvD2.
Ryan – It still wouldn’t have been a possibility at all if it weren’t for our fans. Once we decided to seriously consider an orchestral score, we put up information about it on the website and requested donations via PayPal, which is something we did for the film in general. There were quite a few people who supported us, and that’s when we decided to really go for it. Up to that point, we really hadn’t made any compromises on the rest of the film, and we didn’t want the music to be the one thing that wasn’t the best we could make it. We spent several times as much money on the score as we did for the entire rest of the film, but I think it really helps step everything up to the next level.
Gordy Haab – “Doomed”
David – How did you link up with Kyle and Gordy?
Michael - Early in 2006, I made a short horror film, “The Monkey’s Paw”, and I put out a call for composers on Craigslist. I was about to make my decision when I got Gordy’s submission. I checked out his site and, even though none of the samples on the site were precisely what I was after, the variation of styles and his general composing skill was obvious and I could tell that he would be more than capable of getting the sound I wanted.
After the great experience we had working together on “Monkey’s Paw”, and of course the outstanding score he provided for that short, there was no question that Gordy would be our first choice to score RvD2. It was after he started working on the film that he decided to bring in Kyle to help him compose the score within the very small timeframe we gave him. It’s ironic that we met Kyle in such a roundabout way, as he had actually been posting occasionally on Fanfilms.com , in the same forum where Ryan and I post, for over a year.
Kyle Newmaster – “The Chase”
David (to Kyle and Gordy)- Well, are both of you Star Wars fanatics?
Gordy – Yes. And the great scores are one of the many reasons.
Kyle - I am definitely a big fan of star wars. I was a fanatic as a kid and if you visit my parent’s attic in MN you can find just about every original Star Wars toy from 1976-1984. I also remember waiting in huge lines of people to see “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” on their opening days. I still love revisiting the old films and am very excited about all of the upcoming productions that Lucas has in mind.
David – Tell us a little bit about the scoring process for RvD2 and working together on this piece. What roles did each of you play?
Gordy – Basically Kyle and I sat together and developed a couple of themes. After we agreed upon them, we divided the film in to 6 segments, did “rock, paper, scissors” for them and went to our respective studios to write.
Kyle - We each composed about 3:20 of music for it. We settled on two main melodies and a variety of rhythmic and harmonic ideas. We wanted to make sure that the score sounded like it was written by one composer and agreeing on our musical material was very important to this process.
Gordy – We would get together every couple of days and compare notes and give orchestration ideas to each other. It really sort of fell in to place naturally. I tend to write dark music, so if I had a role at all, I guess it was to bring this element to the table, but this said, Kyle can write some dark stuff as well…so. Honestly we both feel a great composer is someone who can write any style or genre, so once we had made the initial decisions about what to do stylistically, we sort of just went off and did our thing, and because we had made these stylistic decisions ahead of time, and because we both do have the ability to write in any genre, it all really just fell in to place.
Kyle - The only tricky part about this was the transitions. For example, in order to compose my first cue I needed to know how Gordy would end his first cue both harmonically and melodically. Once he had a landing point for his ideas I was able to start from there. After we finished our writing we put it all together in a notation program called Finale. From there we analyzed our music and orchestrations to make sure that it all flowed together. We tweaked a few things and… Voila!
Gordy Haab – “Horror Main Title”
David – What about the process and working relationship you have with Ryan and Michael?
Gordy – My relationship began with Michael. I worked with him on his most recent film, “The Monkeys Paw” and discovered that we worked very well together. His musical ideas were very similar to mine so scoring Monkey’s Paw was a breeze. It wasn’t until maybe halfway through the process of scoring Monkeys Paw that I discovered he was one of the men behind RvD. He mentioned he was doing a sequel and I immediately told him what I thought I could do with the score. Once working on RVD2 I discovered that Ryan was essentially the same as far as clarity of what he wanted.
Kyle – Ryan and Michael were very cool to work with. They had very specific ideas about what they were looking for and it helped in getting to the right music quickly and efficiently. We first met with them and watched the film back in November I think. At that time we discussed how to get the best possible product for their film. We also discussed the possibility of recording with a live orchestra to really kick it over the top.
Gordy – Essentially the process was Kyle and I would write a cue, mock it up (synthesize it) they’d listen and give notes, Kyle and I would explain what, if any, of their notes would be completely negated by performing the score with a live orchestra, and the notes that would not, we’d adjust. In all cases, after this first round of notes/revisions, our cues were approved.
Kyle – We began scoring the film in mid January after they had a locked edit of the picture. Over the next couple of weeks we met a few times discuss the music and how it was playing to the picture. Ryan and Michael were very good at communicating their vision for the music and it made the process go very smoothly.
Kyle Newmaster – “The Duel”
David – I know you are both involved in The Novo Philharmonic Orchestra along with Dave Chiappetta… How does your approach to writing music to picture differ from that of writing a piece that would be performed in a concert by a symphony or ensemble?
Gordy - Not too much. The only difference to me is that when I’m writing a concert piece, I come up with an elaborate form that I must “fill in” with my musical elements. With picture the form is given to me. I always try to make even the most subtle of cues musically interesting. If for nothing else, for my own sanity. Nothing is more depressing than writing boring music.
Kyle – Writing film music and concert music are very different tasks (for me). As a concert music composer you are always thinking about how to develop your ideas naturally. It is all about saying what you want to say and you are not bound by any specific timeframes or rules in general. As a film composer you must always consider what is best for the film first. You still want to say something cool musically, but it is especially important that the music you compose enhances or supports a scene. Also, as a film composer you are a part of a larger scheme of things. It is all about communication with the filmmakers to come up with a score best helps tell the overall story.
David - Technically, what do you guys use to start the scoring process? I know Kyle mentioned Giga-Studio as a sample controller along with a custom built computer. Any preference to sample packages (Garritan, Akai, E-Mu, etc.).
Kyle – I use a Mac as my control computer and mainly use the programs “Digital Performer” and “Pro Tools” to record and sequence my music. Gigi Studio is one of my sampling devices and is on a completely separate PC computer. As far as the actual sample libraries, I think that I use a bit of everything. Honestly, I prefer to hire live musicians over sampling, but when necessary I will use a variety of samples. Sonic Implant Strings, Vienna winds and percussion, Miroslav, Garritan and many more are part of my collection. I also use some VST plug-ins and it seems like that is the way that things are going now. “Ivory” piano is a good example of a VST plug-in.
Gordy – My studio has a bunch of expensive computers and devices that do some stuff. When they all work, my studio is a great place to work. I use Digital Performer and Gigastudio primarily. Samples vary, but for strings I still use the Sonic Implants, because they sound great to me and they are easy to work with. I have a bunch of mixers that mix things, good speakers, about 5 monitors, etc… but I still choose to write everything by hand. For that I use the P-209 mechanical pencil. I remove the metal end cap and replace it with a standard pink elementary school end cap eraser. (which I tend to use more than the lead end) The .09 mm lead is great for filling in dots for note heads. Anything less tend to break every 3rd note or so, causing violent outbursts. The P-209 also doubles as a a conductors baton. All in all, I have a great studio. There is certainly no limit as to what a composer could have in his studio, but this said, without a great pair of ears it’s all pointless. I have heard crap come out of multi-million dollar project studios and brilliance come out of modest ones.
David – So it really is about composing ability more so than gadgets and gizmos…
Gordy – To me its all about knowing what you want to hear, and making it happen with what you have.
Gordy Haab – “Survivors Fight Back”
David (to Ryan and Michael) – So having gone through the scoring process, anything stand out in your minds?
Ryan – Well, you just can’t get around the fact that we had two huge rooms at Capitol Records studio full of 60 musicians rocking out this action music that sounds (to me, at least) on par with anything in “real” movie action sequences, and it was all for a 7 minute lightsaber fight between two geeks. There’s something very absurd and very awesome about that.
Michael - Two things eclipse everything else for me. The first, obviously, is that we got a 60-piece professional orchestra to record the score. But the second was the way Gordy and Kyle came to the plate for us, working long hours which they essentially donated to the project. I don’t like asking people to work for free, or even dirt cheap, but it’s the unfortunate reality of the budgets we have to work with right now. When you’re in that situation and you’ve got great artists who are still willing to bring their A-game, because they believe in you and in the project, that’s when you know you’ve got someone on your team that you will always be able to trust.
David – If we were to ride along in a car with you on the 101 or 405 freeways, what music would you be listening to?
Ryan – I’ve been into Muse’s last album pretty heavily lately, as well as Ok Go. But since we managed to get MB Gordy, who does percussion for the new Battlestar Galactica, to work on RvD2, I’ve been listening to that soundtrack a lot as well.
Michael – The majority of the time, I have my radio tuned to Jack FM (93.1). I’m into classic rock stuff. The rest of the time, the radio’s off and I’m talking to myself, trying to brainstorm some idea or another.
Kyle – I listen to a variety of music and go through listening phases. I love listening to anything that sounds pure, real and has energy. You can always tell when an artist is really feeling their music. Right now in my 6 CD changer in my car I think that the cd’s are 1) RadioHead “amnesiac”, 2) John Coltrane “Blue Train” 3) Shostakovich’s Symphonies 1 and 7 by the Chigago Symphonyy 4) The Soundtrack to “Planet of the Apes” Jerry Goldsmith. 5) Stevie Wonder “Talking Book” and 6) Beck “The Information”.
Gordy – I have Stevie Wonder, Talking Book – My own score to Behind the Mask the Rise of Leslie Vernon (I know…narcissist – I’m listening because we just had the CD mastered and I’m getting a feel for the final product before its release in a few weeks) – John Williams – War of the Worlds, and Stravinsky – Firebird Suite. Stravinsky’s Firebird held the longest running place in my car’s CD player over any other CD. I once listened to it exclusively for over a year. This is all said granted that you can hear ANY music over the noise of my blown speaker rattling and the profanity spewing from my mouth at the car in front of me. Maybe not so much on the 101, but certainly the 405.
Kyle Newmaster – “Soaring”
David (to Kyle and Gordy)- Anything else you would like the readers to know about yourselves or the RvD2 score?
Kyle – I just want to say that it was a pleasure to work with Gordy, Ryan and Michael on this project. It is a really cool film and I am very happy with all aspects of the final product. Also, I would really like to applaud Ryan and Michael for going the distance and hiring an orchestra. In today’s world of technology and sampling music most filmmakers make music an afterthought. Ryan and Michael understood the value of music in post production and by hiring live musicians to perform their score it really made all the difference. They refused to settle on any aspect of the scoring process and always thought about quality first. They are the kind of guys that have a vision and go for it without looking back. I hope that the end result of the film and the score recording will help other film makers see the importance of using live musicians to record a score.
Gordy – I would say regarding RvD2’s score, be sure to listen to every section- I feel Kyle and I did a great job of developing our themes in numerous ways and keeping interest throughout. With this type of project already having the notoriety it does, and being a sequel, we felt it was necessary to throw in the kitchen sink so to speak, so there is plenty of cool stuff to listen for. Enjoy it!
Gordy Haab – “Bali Junk Store”
David – Well thanks for the insight and great interview. I know we are all looking forward to seeing and hearing the final product!
The score, and the project as a whole, is really solid. Unfortunately,
I did not have a music clip from the final film to post here. SO, the clips above represent some of the work that Kyle and Gordy have completed (and are available on their home pages). But it is my understanding that the score, and a behind the scenes DVD, will be available for sale in the near future.
I can tell you that the strength of the visuals is rivaled by the quality and intensity of the score. There are some great little sonic moments that pop up here and there that made me smile. I noticed a cool little snare drum part during the premiere that I had not noticed during the recording session. MB Gordy (Bear McCreary’s Battlestar Galactica taiko slammer) lent his percussive talents to the RVD2 score… keep an ear out for the little percussion breaks. If there is one thing I love in an action score it’s French Horns and LOW BRASS (is that two things?) … I’m talking Contra Tuba / Bass Trombone low… actually, my Drum Corp days and love of T.O.P makes me automatically love good brass arrangements… and RVD2 does not disappoint. Nothing against the spectacular performance by the violins (led by concertmaster Mark Robertson), woodwinds or MB… but there’s something about the full, rich, stirring sound a brass section can deliver. But brass aside, I can not say enough about this score. It’s only about 6 1/2 minutes of music and I wish there were more picture for them to score! It really says a lot about the composing talents of both Gordy and Kyle to establish a theme, paint the picture and wrap it up in such a short span of time. I’d love to hear a full-length liet motif style score from these guys eventually.
Make sure you give the score a listen when the film is released in March. With any small budget, or no budget, project, you have a group of people that just love what they are doing. In this case, everyone involved in the production also happened to be really talented. When that happens, the final result is something that looks good, sounds good and makes you want more and more. So on March 1st, when you hop online to check your latest round of spam, make sure you stop by the RVD2 website and check out the project. I’m sure we’ll be seeing and hearing more from Kyle and Gordy in the future.
The Los Angeles premiere of RVD2 – Ryan Vs Dorkman II took place on Saturday, February 24th, 2007 at the Wilshire Fine Arts Theatre. In case you missed it and can’t wait for the film’s March 1st Internet release, check out the EPK:
For more information on composers Gordy Haab and Kyle Newmaster, please visit:
For information regarding The Novo Philharmonic, Kyle and Gordy’s Orchestral project, visit www.Novophilharmonic.org
For information about Ryan Vs Dorkman, RVD2 – Ryan Vs Dorkman II, and to listen to the completed score, visit:
** RVD2 Main Theme clip – JUST ADDED **
** RVD2 ON YouTube! JUST ADDED **
Thanks for reading and stop back soon for more music that doesn’t suck!
*NOTE* Portions of the interview transcript were edited for content.
- by David Schatanoff, Jr.