It’s been a while since I’ve written in this online journal. Over two months. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to post anything meaningful here due to a condition that I’ve been battling with… a condition that’s affected not only my writing, but my social and professional life, eating habits, and overall wellbeing. A little over a week ago, I decided that enough was enough and that I needed to take control of the situation… so I put my mind to constructing a cure.
One steel strainer: check. One wooden dowel: check. Three clean towels: check. Three gallons of water: check.
Armed with the above supplies, I locked the doors to my studio, closed the blinds, turned up the radio, and chugged water until I felt I could burst. I then placed the strainer between my legs and the dowel between my teeth, and bit down, hard.
After many hours of wincing, heaving, and screaming, it was finally over: I’D PASSED A FEW MILESTONES!
That’s right; November is the month of milestones. This past weekend marked the fifth anniversary of Repo! The Genetic Opera in movie theatres. It also signaled the conclusion of a year of collaborative songwriting with Saar Hendelman on the music and lyrics of The Devil’s Carnival: Episode Two.
Like most artistic endeavors, it’s the end result that’s celebrated (if you’re lucky). The journey towards that end result, however, including the slow and painful milestones along the way, are usually unsung, forgotten, or dismissed, as if all successes were in fact overnight ones.
Repo!‘s cinematic life was triggered five years ago this month, but the pilgrimage to bring The Genetic Opera to the big screen began seven years earlier. It included multiple live stage productions, a short film, and a whole lot of love and sweat from everyone involved over the years.
The film’s “overnight success” was launched in 2008, but even the post-filmmaking journey was wrought with struggles and sacrifice. To that end, one of the main reasons that there’s a five year film anniversary to celebrate is the relentless labors of Repo! fans and shadowcasts that for years have kept our underdog project alive and relevant—thank you, all!
My current musical film undertaking, The Devil’s Carnival, is newer, but—as those of you following the project know—its “success” thus far has taken considerably longer than overnight.
There have been a lot of mini and major milestones on The Devil’s Carnival adventure thus far, including the completion of the above-mentioned songwriting for the upcoming feature-length episode. This milestone includes twenty-two musical pieces—some traditional in song length, others brief incidental passages.
This songwriting voyage commenced just before Thanksgiving 2012 and ended only prior to Thanksgiving 2013. This three-hundred-and-sixty-some-odd-day-undertaking was crowned with a demo recording of all twenty-two numbers: a stripped down piano arrangement with Saar and I singing all of the parts. This demo is being used for copyright purposes and will serve as guide tracks by which the actors can learn their singing parts when the movie goes into production.
Saar’s and my demo recording exploits included a tracking session on Halloween night where we turned the porch and studio lights off to deter trick-or-treaters from making “guest appearances” on the album.
On the one hand, it’s exhilarating to be able to listen back to a recording of a year’s worth of artistic labors. In many ways, the recording validates our work. It also allows us to clearly and concisely communicate our ideas with others. Most rewardingly, it moves the music from being hypothetical into something tangible.
On the other hand, it’s depressing to know that an important phase of an all-consuming artistic process is over. Further: the demo, while comprehensive, will remain incomplete until we’re able to produce the final soundtrack with expanded musical arrangements and performances. Lastly: as my friend and TDC collaborator, director Darren Lynn Bousman, was quick to point out when I handed him a demo CD, “It’s sad that an entire year’s worth of work can be distilled into one plastic disc.”
It’s equally daunting to realize that a thin plastic disc represents only one leg of the journey… one that began much, much earlier…
For example, prior to Saar and me beginning the episode’s songwriting venture together, months had already been spent drafting TDC2‘s script. This script served as an outline for the sorts of songs that would need to be written, and where each number needed to fall in the context of the overarching story.
Songwriting can be a grueling process. With a project like TDC, the songs not only need to be good, but also need to forward a plot and, in many instances, define the characters that occupy the world of that plot. As such, our collaborative process is quite involved.
Here’s a video of Saar and I describing our working relationship on TDC and the phases a musical idea goes through on its journey to becoming a full-fledged song.
Below is a screenshot of a section of the playlist created for our episode two song drafts. To arrive at the final twenty-two pieces featured on the demo, we explored over three-hundred discrete musical ideas, most of which were recorded on our cellphones as inspiration often strikes in inopportune situations (like at the grocery store, or while pumping gas). These raw recordings constitute over six-hours of material—the overwhelming majority of which will never see the light of day.
Songwriting trials and tribulations aside, I’m excited to share with you the news of our milestone passing. I’ll be even more excited to share with you the finished soundtrack once we reach that leg of the journey.
To celebrate our overnight songwriting success, Saar and I indulged in an evening of food and adult beverages at a Los Angeles restaurant named “The Hart and the Hunter”. It gets its namesake from Aesop’s Fable, which seemed an appropriate setting to commemorate a TDC milestone!
Who else is excited for new music?