Monday, August 22, 2011

Geeky Things Are Worth Waiting for

The picture above has little to do with this blog entry. It's a birthday gift I received from my friend Chris Bowers -- a ceramic statue of Spike that is just bad-ass enough to possibly merit the creation of an entire Buffy shrine. (There is one more object that definitely belong in said shrine; photo to be displayed at the top of the next blog entry.) Speaking of pictures, the picture for the next Buffy Ballad is now in clearer view. Unfortunately, filming will take a little longer than originally planned, but I promise you it will be worth the wait. In the meantime, I will keep you posted on all the juicy (or should I say gory) details of the creative process.

Before I tell you the story of how I found my cinematographer, let me just say that the Buffy-verse works in strange and wondrous ways. In fact, that is exactly how I found Bill McClelland, the very talented man who will shoot the video for "Love you... With a Vengeance." Although he himself is not a Buffy guy, I found him through 2 people who actually played super villains themselves.

Rewind to beginning of story. A couple of months ago, I saw an absolutely stunning staged reading of A Streetcar Named Desire starring Juliet Landau as Blanche DuBois. Watching someone on the small screen is one thing. Seeing them perform in front of you, up close and in the flesh, for two hours straight, is something entirely different. After seeing Juliet as Drusilla, I was a fan. My sentiments now surpass the superficiality of fandom. I have such deep respect for her strength, bravery, and commitment to her craft. She took a character who could easily be seen as a victim; embodied her through and through; put up a fight from lights down to curtain call. A few friends and acquaintances tried to make small talk with me moments after the show, and I was absolutely speechless.

It was a serendipitous night indeed, for I also met my now friend Camden Toy, who played not one but two of the villains on Buffy. Most notably, he was one of the Gentlemen in the Emmy-nominated episode Hush. He also played Gnarl in Same Time Same Place. (He did the voice for me at the screening, and I almost jumped out of my skin [pun intended]!) I'd been hearing his name for a long time from my piano player, David Bickford, who had also been friends with him for many years. So it seemed -- in a way -- like I was meeting an old friend.

After a long string of online communication, Camden and I finally hung out for the first time a couple of weekends ago. He also introduced me to his friend Bill, who is a steadicam operator. Bill and I hit it off, and he told me that if there was anything I needed to shoot I should let him know. At the time, I thought to myself, "It would be totally fun to shoot with this guy, but I don't have any projects I'm doing in the foreseeable future." The next morning, it occurred to me that Andre, my trusty camera guy for the past three Buffy Ballads, was headed off to Puerto Rico for a shoot and would not be available for the next video. Can we say biggest DUH moment ever??? So I called Bill, and he was down for the shoot. Yipeeeee!!!

We met last week at the Valley Village Starbucks to talk details about the shoot. He had pretty much all the equipment I could ask for (and then some!). The only thing we were missing was a prime location. His place had tiled floors, which are horrible for acoustics, and my place-- along with being totally out of the way-- had no interesting backdrops. And while while a boring background wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, we had such a cool one for If I Were a Robot, it seemed like a shame to downgrade. As we parted ways, I told him I would rack my brains for a better location. At the time, I was totally at a loss.

Shortly after I got home, I had DUH moment #2. Good location? I had the PERFECT location!!! Not only was it super geeky and cinematically awesome; it was also conveniently located between Bill's neighborhood and mine. I just had to coordinate it in a way that would work for me, Bill, and owner of said location. As good fortune would have it, the owner said yes. Unfortunately, he's off to Burning Man so the location won't be available for another three weeks. We could settle and shoot with the boring backdrop in the meantime, but given the three most important elements of filmmaking (location Location LOCATION!!!), I figured we'd better wait. In the meantime, I could polish up the sound mix, possibly work on new songs, and -- of course -- blog. If you can stand to hold out for another few weeks, I'm pretty sure you will be glad you did.

Next order of business on the Buffy blog: Buffy birthday present #2 and how it led me to the title of my previously title-less song. Stay tuned!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Working in Anya-log

Soon, the new Buffy ballad -- "Love You... with a Vengeance" -- will look like a video on YouTube. Right now, it looks like the picture you see above. I know you all have been waiting forever for this new track. (I bet you're all at home right now on this beautiful August Sunday saying to yourself, "Man, where the heck is that new Buffy track? Just kidding...) Well, there are couple of reasons why this song has taken longer to produce than the others. The main reason is probably the fact that I've been working two jobs, but that's pretty boring so I'll talk in more detail about the other ones.

As I mentioned before, I had used a different musician -- a guitarist named Gary -- for "Love You... with a Vengeance," the country Western ballad that sings the praises of your favorite vengeance demon and mine, Anya Jenkins. Gary is a little more old-school than David Bickford, who did the tracks for the last three songs. Whereas David works in digital, Gary works in analog. (Or as I like to say, Anya-log.) With David, we would record music on one piano or keyboard track, possibly adding or splicing an electronic percussion line or different keyboard voice. We would then sit down together while he fiddled with the volume levels, swapped takes, and polished the whole thing up in Pro Tools. This could take hours, but we usually knocked out in the course of a single session. With Gary, on the other hand, things took a little bit longer. First, we recorded the main guitar line. The actual recording took a very short time -- maybe about an hour from start to finish-- but I knew he wanted to bring in a drummer, which would be another session. (For him, it would take more time and energy to find and incorporate an electronic beat than to actually do it with a live drummer.) So we had a session with his drummer Cyrus, which was pretty freakin' cool. (Collaborating one-on-one with an accompanist is awesome, but having a drummer brought in on your behalf really makes you feel like a rockstar!)

After the drum session, I expected Gary to mix the two tracks onto a CD and that would be that. But Gary decided he wanted a fuller sound in some parts of the song. "I think I'll add an organ, a slide guitar, and maybe a bass," he said. Who was I to object? When it comes to music -- especially this project -- I consider myself pretty easy to please. So anything more than the bare minimum is really icing on the cake. Well, we ended up with a pretty amazing sounding song that has SEVEN (count 'em, seven) live instrumental tracks!

Now that I have the tracks, I have to figure out what exactly to do with them. I've got to mix the levels, choose what to keep and what to cut, and before I do any of that stuff I have to actually learn how to use the free audio mixing software I just downloaded off the Internet. So yeah, I've got my work cut out for me. But let me tell you, before I even lay a finger on it, it sounds GOOD!!!

Also, once I mix the audio track, I've got to find a new cameraman, since Andre is leaving tomorrow for a shoot in Puerto Rico. But something may be conspiring on that front even as we speak. I'll let you know the details once I get a clearer picture, so to speak...