Monday, September 27, 2010

Laying it Down with the Mayor

I am exhausted out of my mind from a long weekend of nonstop creativity, which ended with a glorious bang at David Bickford's lovely Laurel Canyon abode. And I'm proud to say that we have laid down a magnificent track for the next Buffy song, "Ooh, Mr. Mayor." Pardon the bragging, but I do believe this is the best one yet!!!

The song is a sort of slinky, jazzy lounge tune sung in the style of Marilyn Monroe's "Happy Birthday Mr. President.” It plays on the idea of a seductive lady making a man with a seemingly wholesome fa├žade admit to having a slimy, dirty, kinky alter ego. I think that it's pretty much in line with Joss Whedon’s intent when he created the character. Here is a guy who claims to be all about family and leadership and good behavior (to the point where he doesn't even use swear words!), and yet he engages in all sorts of extremely unwholesome behavior in which he breaks pretty much every law in the book. So I took that premise and then added a metric ton of sexual innuendos, which is basically what I do best.

David and I had figured out the arrangement last week, which took a bit more time than "Wherefore Art Thou Juliet?" since the song had a much more complicated melody. I arrived at his place at around 3 PM on Sunday, despite the fact that we weren't sure if we could get the recording done because the power was out in Laurel Canyon. We practiced it, worked out the transitions, and waited. Still no power. So we took a little trip down to the West Hollywood Guitar Center where I purchased a keyboard for $99. It was a very exciting thing, and it will be quite useful when I compose my next round of songs, since I've basically been writing all of the melodies in my head, then clumsily attempting to translate my wacky ideas to David.

The power returned shortly after our little excursion. Long story short, we laid down a drum track, which required some interesting mathematical calculations. We recorded several versions of the piano melody and spliced the strongest parts of all of them. At around 8 PM, we were only partially done, and David looked like he was fading fast. He said, "I don't know if we can get this done tonight. You may have to come back tomorrow." I was really hoping knock it out in one session so we wouldn't have to worry about it later. I also had the inkling that he was feeling incapable because his blood sugar had dropped so I offered to cook him a meal. I foraged around in his kitchen and whipped up a lovely combo of pasta Primavera, arugula salad with homemade blackberry vinaigrette, and pork stew in a tomato sauce. "Once he’s eaten," I thought, "he'll probably have his mojo back." Surprisingly, he successfully recorded most of the track while I was in the midst of cooking. After dinner, we finished the rest of the recording. It took a lot of strange little tweaks to make sure that everything timed right with the percussion and piano. At 1:30 AM, we were finally done!

We were both a little concerned about whether or not the recording was accurate enough. It was the best we could do, given our energy level and the hour. One could only hope that it sounded okay the next day. I've listened to the track probably 20 times today, and to my great delight it sounds AWESOME!!! I'm scheduled to record the next video on Thursday of this week. Keep your eyes and ears peeled!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Whedon Whirlwind

It's been a whirlwind of a week in Whedonland (excuse the alliteration). On Sunday, I found out that my videos had gone viral after being posted on the Joss Whedon Facebook fan page as well as (So far, "Wherefore Art Thou Juliet?" is at 1622 hits and "You Renegade Vamp" is at 956.) I have been feeling the love from far and wide. I even got a message from two Buffy fans in Sweden! It's amazing how art (and Internet) can link people who are seemingly worlds apart.

It also astounds me how small the Whedon world actually is. On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, I was working on the set of Make It or Break It -- the ABC Family TV show about gymnasts. One of the crew guys randomly struck up a conversation with me after seeing me breaking out into random yoga, which I am wont to do. As it turns out, his name is Tom Caton, and he was one of the sound guys on Buffy! He told me some really fun stories about Joss and the Buffy set. I gave him a flyer for my videos, and he totally dug them. He even offered to possibly introduce me to Joss!

Meet Joss Whedon – that’s the ultimate, right? Isn’t that what I’ve been striving for? Isn’t that the purpose of this whole crazy fan video project? Theoretically, yes. But in actuality, I’m really not sure. I mean, if we happened to stumble into each other at a cocktail party, I wouldn’t avoid him like a plague of Reavers. But I’m also not jumping out of my skin to meet him this instant. First of all, I’m superstitious that meeting him might jinx my creative mojo, and I’ve got songs to write! Second, he’s like the geek Mecca and I’m not sure if I’ve studied long and hard enough to merit making the Hajj. I guess what it really comes down to is that—given my fan piece, as well as the fact that I have 1° of separation from him from about 50 billion different angles -- I’m pretty positive we will meet at some point, probably sooner rather than later. And when it happens, it will be glorious. But it doesn’t need to be now. For the moment, I am content knowing him vicariously through his dancing dialogue, quirkily crafted characters, and deliciously delightful demons, whose praises I will continue to sing.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Buffy Thought of the Day #5

The whole Buffy-in-love-with-Spike thing caught me totally by surprise the first time around. But looking back at the clip of when he first sees her in "School Hard", I'm like, care to join me in a game of double DUH???

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Flabbergasted Fan Girl

I was just publishing a summary of my blog posts on the Lockitdown website, which I do every week. In the midst of writing the post, I visited my youtube site to get a link for the Drusilla song and found 1200 hits that were not there yesterday!!! And my Spike song had 500 extra hits! As someone who is completely unfamiliar with the world of viral videos, I am positively tingling.

Also, a brief follow-up to the interactive Buffy Thought of the Day #2: The Shakespeare reference in "Wherefore Art Thou Juliet?" comes from Juliet's line in Romeo and Juliet, "Tybalt is dead and Romeo banished. That banished, that one word banished, hath slain a thousand Tybalts." So I switch it around saying, "That Juliet, that one word Juliet, had slain a thousand fantasies."

Buffy Thought of the Day #4

One of my favorite quotes ever, from the episode "Help" in Season 7. The Scooby gang decides to do a Google search on Cassie, the Sunnydale high student who prophesies her own death. Xander finds some of Cassie's poetry, pointing to it as a sign of suicidal tendencies. Willow promptly rationalizes it by saying:

"I mean, a lot of teens post some pretty angsty poetry on the web. I even posted a melodramatic love poem or two back in the day...You join chat rooms, you write poetry, you post Doogie Howser fanfic. It's all normal, right? (Buffy gives her a look indicating that no, that's not so normal.)"

First of all, did Joss just HAPPEN to be looking through a magical crystal ball predicting his Internet future with Neil Patrick Harris? And second, the fact that this particular episode is based on the theme of prophecies adds a meta- aspect that is simply uncanny.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Buffy Thought of the Day #3

"Warren's the boss. He's Picard. You're Deanna Troi. Get used to the feeling, Betazoid," says Andrew in "Seeing Red." Excuse me Andrew, but last I checked, Betazoids are a) telepathic and therefore badass and b) totally dropdead sexier -- at least in the case of Deanna and Picard. Even if Picard was technically higher-ranked and-- more importantly-- your type, gives credit where it's due.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Buffy Thought of the Day #2

First, massive kudos to Jason Miller who correctly named the Shakespeare reference in the first Spike-Drusilla encounter. He got both parts of the answer. First, the red herring: Drusilla says she plants daisies, but everything she puts in the ground withers and dies. Although Joss Whedon is definitely drawing a parallel to Ophelia, it is not a direct quote from Hamlet. The specific Shakespeare quote I was referring to was Spike's line "I'll chop her into messes," which Othello says about Desdemona in Act 4, Scene 1 when he thinks she's being unfaithful to him. The full line is actually, "I'll chop her into messes, cuckold me!" Very different context from the Spike-Drusilla scene. Although, on second thought, it actually kind of resonates given the later love triangle between Spike, Buffy, and Drusilla. (Spike, of course, is the one who does the cuckolding to Dru.)

Now, for the next Buffy Thought of the Day. This one's also interactive: Name the Shakespeare reference in my Drusilla song (including the original quote). This one should be a cinch.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Buffy Thought of the Day #1

True to my word, I am kicking off my
"BUFFY THOUGHT OF THE DAY", to be continued for the next... however long. The first one is interactive:

Name the Shakespeare reference (including play, character, and context) in the very first Spike-Drusilla appearance. Hint: it can be found between 6:00-8:15 of the above clip.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Fan Girl Has a Fan!!!

If feelings could be transmitted over cyberspace, you would even now feel me brimming with delight. Three words managed to sneak their way into my youtube comments list: “This is great.” If someone used these three words to describe a chili dog or a roller coaster ride or the latest Justin Bieber single, I could probably care less. But Juliet Landau saying them in reference to my song to her – WOW!!! What a weird town I live in and life I lead where I can be watching someone in rapt admiration on my 14”x20” hand-me-down standard-def TV set (on DVD, mind you, because my broke ass can’t afford cable) and the next thing you know they are praising my work over the web for the world to see! Are you brimming yet? Are you? Are you?

In other news, I have been madly brainstorming my next set of songs. I have some ideas for Andrew, The Master, Principal Snyder, and/or The Gentlemen. Nothing is crystal clear at the moment. It feels like a giant jigsaw puzzle with a corner pieced together here, an edge there, and a big pile of parts that haven’t yet figured out how they’re supposed to fit. I’m thinking I need to “throw my hat over the wall” once again. The gears have been spinning, but some kind of real-world manifestation is in order. But what to do?

Here’s my thought: Buffy Deep Thoughts. One a day, posted to this blog as well as my Facebook feeds. I already have a couple in mind, and now that I’m rewatching all of Season 1, I’m sure a ton more will emerge. This will keep me on my toes and keep the project hot on the front burner.

Also, I’ll hopefully be meeting with David Bickford tomorrow to work out the music for the next song “Ooh, Mr. Mayor.” Stay tuned for more! And brim a little extra on my behalf.

;) k

Saturday, September 11, 2010

This is sooo going on my blog!

I’m pretty sure I said those exact words after stepping away from my photo op with Tom Lenk. It was a brief moment. I went up to him after The Thrilling Adventure Hour show, said hello and told him how much I loved him, had somebody snap a few, and went on my merry way. I did get in a word about my fan piece, for which he already had a flyer. That was pretty darn cool. I guess that means we’d both heard of each other before we actually met!

It was a very interesting evening for me. Fun-filled, delightful, intense. I flyered like crazy before the show, making my mightiest efforts to find the people who would actually be into the piece. It’s always a daunting thing to go out and push your propaganda, but here’s the way I look at it. I’m not asking people for money. I’m not even asking them for very much time – a few minutes of youtube thumb-twiddling. And if they’re excited about Buffy, they’ll be genuinely happy to know. I caught one guy named Joe who looked like he would probably be a Buffy fan. Boy was I on! After I accosted him and got to talking, I noticed a “Sunnydale High School” T-shirt peeking out of his button-down (the very same T-shirt I, in fact, own). It was a wonderful feeling to see people’s faces light up when I mentioned the word “Buffy.” Like a secret little language we all shared.

I noticed Juliet Landau shortly before the start of the show. She seemed to be occupied with other people, and I, in turn, was occupied with how petrified I was to talk to her. Under any other circumstance, I’d be less intimidated to meet someone the second time around. But having just put the fan video up, ironically I felt shy. What was I supposed to say to her? “Hi, I met you a couple of months ago and proceeded to write a love song about a character you played 10 years ago and slap it up on the web for all to see.” What if she hadn’t seen it? What if she’d seen it and not like it? Would that be better or worse than her not seeing it at all?

I found her after the show (which, by the way, was absolutely AMAZING and everybody should go see). As it turned out, she indeed hadn’t learned of my video, since her Facebook site gets rather inundated. I gave her a flyer and told her to check it out. Ice broken!!!

We exchanged a few more words later on in the night. She is an extremely kind and down to earth person. With her, as with the others I don’t know very well whose work I admire and respect, I feel a little bit torn in two. There is the plain-old-person in me who says, “This is a cool guy/gal who is an actor and person just like me.” And then there is the fan girl who is jumping out of her skin with puppy dog delight saying, “They were that… person who did that… thing that was so… freaking… cool!” Which brings me to the essence of my most recent fan song.

“Wherefore Art Thou Juliet?” is all about coming to terms with breaking the fourth wall; the moment when you realize that the gorgeously crafted illusion of a character is … well… an illusion. Of course, a lot of the lyrics were exaggerated. I knew Juliet was American, and not psycho, and – much as it pains me to say so – not actually a vampire. We all know this, on a cognitive level, about the characters we love in movies and TV. But they become so real to us, in a way more real than any actual person, because they only exist in a few intense, carefully crafted moments in which they are boiled down to their essence. Don’t get me wrong, Juliet – along with most every actor I’ve admired from afar – has impressed me thoroughly face-to-face. But in a way, it’s inherently a letdown to meet the person behind the mask once we've fallen so deeply in love with the mask.

So knowing both sides of the equation, how do we proceed? One can be jaded and say, “Why waste time on silly flights of fancy?” I prefer to remain fanciful; to respect and protect the precious illusion; to honor the love story, even if it mostly remains tucked away in a corner of my imagination ... or a box of Buffy DVDs.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Nitty Nuts and Gritty Bolts

Next entry, I promise I'll wax all political. But first, a bit of the nit and grit.

On Tuesday morning, I released video #2 "Wherefore Art Thou Juliet?" I'm not saying it wasn't exciting or fun because it absolutely was. But I'd be lying if I said it was easy. There were lots of little steps, all of which involved numerous nuts and bolts, many of which got screwy along the way (pardon the pun). The first video, "You Renegade Vamp", I decided to do quick and dirty. As much as I'm a sucker for perfect execution, it was more important for me to get it on its feet and out into the world. This time around, I decided to up the production value a little. Rather than shoot it on my Canon PowerShot, I waited until I found a cameraman. Being the type of person who wants it all done yesterday, this in itself was a challenge for me. But I had the feeling that recruiting a DP (director of photography) would really pay off. And it did.

I had contacted one cinematographer friend who had not responded. It's a funny thing, though -- as was the case with my pianist, the perfect person found me in the nick of time. Just as I was starting to get antsy about finding someone, I got an e-mail from my friend Kerri Kuchta, whom I know from Scary Cow Productions -- the Bay Area filmmaking collective that got me started on all of this movie madness. Kerri and her boyfriend, Andre Lomov -- also a talented filmmaker from Scary Cow -- moved down to the LA area to pursue careers in screenwriting and film. (Andre didn't have a website so here is the link to my favorite film of his, Smash Grab Therapy.) The e-mail from Kerri, written early Friday evening, said "Andre just bought a camera if anyone you know needs a camera guy." Gee, Kerri, funny you should say so...

We agreed to meet and shoot the thing on Sunday. I went over to Kerri’s Sunday afternoon, thinking it would probably be a 1-2 hour ordeal. (Famous last words, right?) Of course, there were tons little kinks to work out. The camera Andre bought was a Canon 7D which, for any of you who are unfamiliar, is a high-quality digital still camera that also shoots extremely nice-looking video. The downside of the 7D is that it doesn't record very good sound. We thus had to use an external mic and capture the audio via Garage Band. Luckily, Andre had a lavaliere that suited the purpose nicely. Or at least, it would have had it been working properly. For some reason, we couldn't seem to get any sound. We tried and we tried. Nothing. Finally, Andre realized that the issue was with the battery, which had not been changed in 12 years. It was one of small silver disc batteries; not the type of thing you'd have lying around your house. So he, Kerri, and I had to go out and find another one. First stop: CVS. Fail! Second stop: RadioShack. Ding ding ding!

We went back to Kerri's and tested out the mi. It did indeed work, but for some reason the levels were low. "You're going to have to boost the gain on this when you cut it together," Andre told me. Okay, I thought, not knowing exactly what that meant, much less how to do such a thing. But I figured I'd cross the bridge when I came to it. For now, we needed to get this thing in the can before it got too late.

By the time we solved the mic problem, it was already approaching 6:00. The daylight was fading fast. Andre relit the shot to accommodate the change in lighting. In hindsight, the new lighting actually worked a lot better. We added more artificial light to compensate for the lack of natural light, which created some shadows that were highly appropriate to the vampire theme. 13 takes later, the video was done. We copied all of the video files, along with the external audio track, into my computer. As the files were importing, Kerri sang snippets of my lyrics back to me, which amused and flattered me to no end. The video looked beautiful -- a vast improvement from the previous song. I went on my merry way, knowing that my work had only just begun.

After recording "You Renegade Vamp", I really didn't do much besides slap some titles on and upload the thing. Wherefore Art Thou Juliet? required a lot more work. First, I had to sync the external audio with the image. This wasn't too difficult since I had done a clap at the beginning of each take (make a note of that, young filmmakers!). Still, my mind played tricks on me, which prolonged the process. Once that was done, I had to sync the music track to the vocals. Because the lavaliere captures only direct sound, I had to do it completely by feel. This was a bit of a challenge since the rhythm of the music shifted slightly throughout the piece, due to us recording it in a short amount of time without using a metronome. Again, I kept doubting myself. Is the music ahead? Behind? Should I shift the audio a frame forward or back? (This process went on for what seemed like forever in the wee hours of the morning.) Somewhere toward the end of the piece, I realized that my vocals were significantly behind the music, probably because I ended up using the last take (Lucky 13). 13 was by far the strongest performance-wise, but I was also pretty tired by that point and consequently my timing was off. I split the music track, adjusting the timing on the final section. Lucky thing about post-production: everything can be changed.

Now, for a dirty little secret. I'm almost ashamed to admit it, but if you guys are hard-core enough to be reading this blog, you deserve to know. As I was doing all the sound mixing -- which involved lots of boring tasks like tweaking the volume levels on each track, quieting the hotspots in the vocals, and fiddling endlessly with the gain (whatever that means) -- I realized that my voice cracked in the final phrase. I was set on using Take 13 because everything else about it was awesome, but I needed a strong finish. Take 9 had the ending I wanted so I cut and pasted the final phrase of Take 9 onto Take 13. It synced up surprisingly well. There is probably no need to feel guilty, since people splice and mix and tweak in the recording studio all the time. In fact, in this day and age, it would be considered peculiar not to. I wanted to have a single audio and video track without any cutaways so that people could see the "real me". Splicing the audio seemed somehow deceptive. But I did it anyway, and I think the song is stronger because of it. I do, after all, want to put my best foot forward. And I didn't actually do anything to alter my voice so for all intents and purposes it's the real, raw me.

Wow, this entry is getting pretty long. I suppose it's appropriate, given the process I went through. Video editing is rather addictive. Once you start tweaking, it's very hard to stop. Even though I was only dealing a single shot, I found endless audio glitches that needed fixing. Finally, when I was through, it took several rounds of rendering to get the perfect compression settings. Each render took the better part of an hour, which meant a lot of anxious waiting around. On Monday afternoon, after long, nearly sleepless night, I got my perfect video image -- or so I thought. Little did I know that uploading AVI’s to YouTube is a very bad idea. I kept looking at the counter on the upload screen, counting down the minutes from 418. At 6pm, I went out to meet a couple friends. According to YouTube, my video still had a few hundred minutes to go. Later that night, Eric Chauvin -- bless his soul -- told me that my video would be YouTube compatible if I made it into a flash file. By Tuesday morning, it was correctly formatted and up on the web. What an ordeal!

Hopefully when you see the thing, it all looks effortless. But for the record, here's how it really went down.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Thank Blog for Accountability

A smudged attempt at a fan T-shirt. This was where it all began. Actually, it began with my last blog entry promising the picture of said T-shirt. That's the beauty of blogs. You get something down in writing -- a promise or a wish or a goal -- and no matter how many people read it or don't read it, the fact that you've put it out there starts the wheels a-spinning.

So I wrote the previous entry last Friday, made the T-shirt on Saturday, and then decided to kick it into gear. I had the T-shirt so I may as well, right? I held off on the craigslist route, hoping that one of my pianist friends would bite the bait. After not hearing back, I thought, "Am I ready to take the craigslist gamble? Am I prepared to get bombarded by a bunch of potential lunatics who may not be right for my project or, worse yet, have no knowledge of music and are out to rape/kill me or at least get in my pants?" On the flipside, there is always the chance I'll strike gold. So I decided to go for it. Unfortunately, by that time, the weekend had passed me by. I hung out and wrote with Robert LeMoyne, rehearsed a Sam Shepard scene with Robin Thomas, and had an amazing photo shoot with Eric Chauvin. Before I knew it, it was Sunday night going on Monday morning. But I thought, "What the hey? May as well slap something up."

At 8:36 PM on Sunday, I published my ad with the subject heading "Are you a pianist that likes Joss Whedon?" At 12:33 AM, the following reply appeared:

Dear Karuna (I think that's your name, it was in the video credits...)
I saw your message on Craig's List and just watched your YouTube video. Really enjoyed it! Very clever, and you can really sing. The Good News .... I think I am the pianist for you. First, as a pianist, I'm pretty darned good. As for Joss Whedon, not only do I love his shows, I also know him... he's an alum of the same college I went to, and we have a favorite professor in common. Plus, I played a role on Angel Season 1. Now, the Bad News, I am leaving town Tuesday for the east coast and won't be back until Sept. 9th. Can you wait a bit...unless you want to meet up later today (Monday)?
David Bickford

Wow. I mean, I understand the power of manifestation, but... wow! This was too wacky to believe, and too wonderful to pass up. I called him the next morning, and we arranged to meet at 2 in the afternoon. I e-mailed him the lyrics, chords and the key I thought the song was in based on my soupy strategy of singing and matching the notes with a pitch pipe. When I got to his place in Laurel Canyon, I knew I had found my guy. His recording space was lovely, homey, and well-equipped. He was bubbling over with giddy, happy energy. We had an immediate rapport. And that was BEFORE he even played a note.

We sat side-by-side at his keyboard as he played the chords in the key I had given him. I didn't have to explain anything. The sound was rich, full, far superior to anything my imagination could've composed. I started singing along, getting giddier with each note. It was a dream come true! In fact, it was better than a dream come true. He added his own sassy spunk, which synced perfectly with the intention of the song. Not only did he get Joss Whedon; not only did he get my project; I had the strong feeling that deep down, he really got me.

Of course, we did have to tinker with the nuts and bolts. He helped me figure out the chords to the opening verse, which is in a minor key and has a campy, spooky feel. (Looking back, it reminds me of Scar from Disney's The Lion King.) We had a few kinks to work out with some of the trickier chord progressions at the end of each verse. We tossed my original idea for the bridge, which involved a key change, and came up with something much more appropriate and dramatic. (And thank goodness we ditched the key change -- it was becoming the bane of my existence!) And lastly, we came up with some delightful phrasing for the end of the song. Whatever ideas I had on my own (along with the ideas I never knew I had but were somehow buried in the undercurrents of the writing), David brought to the surface and took two whole new level. We laid down the track surprisingly quickly, listening to it, singing to it, and dancing around the room like lunatics. (I guess craigslist did in fact lead me to someone crazy, but it all worked out okay.)

At the end of our session he showed me around his house, which contained all sorts of strangeness, including a sword made out of a swordfish, a painting of elephants that was actually painted by an elephant (I kid you not!), and a life-sized replica of a rhinoceros head. I thought to myself, "How the heck did I end up here?"

An ad on craigslist. Smudges on the T-shirt. Words in a blog.