Friday, February 11, 2011

Kevin Hammer on "Inventory's" underscore

With endless smarts and talent, a great sense of humor, and a collegial personality, Kevin Hammer has been a prized collaborator in more than 20 projects with Castparty Productions. And Inventory simply couldn't have been made without his innumerable contributions.

On this project, he was a core part of the story-development team, sometime cinematographer/cameraman, sound recordist, sound editor, video co-editor, title-sequence animator, colorist, and lead FX artist. As is often the case in Castparty films, he also played a major role—and countless instruments, both real and virtual—in the musical scoring.

Inventory features a song-score comprised mostly of relatively unknown powerpop classics. But there was still a need for original music, including two original tunes we recorded under the name "The Bad Pixels" and many instrumental cues.

Here, Kevin talks about the development of the original underscore:

When we started putting together the ideas for Inventory, it became obvious that it would need a lot of music. As somebody who majored in film scoring in college, this brought a smile to my face.

While in the midst of juggling writing, producing, directing, and general ringmastering duties—not to mention a cameo role—Justin somehow found the time to put on his songwriter's cap and came up with the opening song for the film, simply titled "Theme from Inventory."

He passed on to me a recording of himself singing the song while playing piano. It was a charming little tune. I was charged with the task of arranging it to have the charisma of the "Cheers" theme and the pep of the "Friends" theme, which stylistically would prove to fit in well with the powerpop genre we chose for the song score.

After some trial and error, we came up with a final recording that we were happy with. I got to play one-man pop band in my basement studio, and Justin performed the lead vocals with Dennis Hurley, in character as Percy, joining in on backing vocals.

Once the edit of the movie started to take shape and the song score was assembled, we found that there were still several scenes that felt as if they wanted music, but where a vocal song would likely fight the dialogue.

Justin and I are both fans of orchestral film scores. As the resident go-to composer/arranger for Castparty Productions, I started trying to think of how best to add a traditional score to a powerpop song score.

In order to tie things together, we decided to incorporate some part of the theme song into almost every orchestral cue. Sometimes it was a direct string arrangement of the pop tune. Sometimes it was a bouncy re-imagining of the song. And sometimes the melodies and harmonies were woven so subtly into the arrangement that its presence isn't even noticed until it's pointed out.

It became a game to see how far these melodies could be bent and reshaped into drastically different moods and textures. Justin's a big fan of Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye. This approach favorably reminded him of the way John Williams's theme to that film is performed every which way, all throughout the film.

I'm hoping that even if it's not something that is consciously noticed, it will subconsciously add to the overall coherence and enjoyment of Inventory.

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