Last year, we did post-production sound on a short film, Fate Accompli, which was written and directed by our friend Eric Neal. Steve did some fantastic foley work, and I handled the dialog edit, effects and mix. Music was composed by Andrew Edwards. Reviews of the short are starting to show up, and here’s a good one that came out this week.
We love those old horror movies from the late 1970s and early 1980s; the slasher films, the monster-from-outer-space films, the zombie films. What we especially love are the soundtracks. The really low-budget, simple scores that eschewed live orchestras in favor of banks of analog synthesizers and were often composed and performed by the director himself. And we love to use those soundtracks in our games. But invariably, we’ll cue up a track from one of these films to underscore a dramatic moment and realize that the players were thinking less about the game – and more about the movie the music came from.
So we decided to create our own awesome 80s horror movie music. As fate would have it, we do have a few vintage analog synths in our studio (including an old Moog Rogue and a Roland Juno 106), so we fired them up and started playing.
The result is the “Ghost in the Graveyard” soundtrack album: nine dark, moody music pieces performed on classic analog synths in the style of those fantastic 80s horror flicks.
There’s no movie, of course, just a bunch of cool music. But we kinda didn’t let that stop us. Just for kicks, as we were mastering the album, we also rounded up a couple of local actors and shot fake trailers and opening credits for the movie that doesn’t exist.
And we didn’t stop with the trailers! Downloads of the soundtrack from DrivethruRPG or Toxic Bag also include a special set of souvenir lobby cards, 2 movie posters and a reproduction of a 1983 newspaper ad with showtimes for “Ghost in the Graveyard.”
Clearly, we had a lot of fun working on this project. We hope you enjoy it as well.
Special thanks to Stephanie Lewis, Alan Vuchichevich and Ele Matelan for their great work on the trailers!
Over on his blog, my friend and business partner Mr. Blood has posted –at long last– his review of the vastly underrated movie “The Last Exorcism” and discusses what inspiration game masters might draw from it. Enjoy!
Jiang Hu Productions’ film “The Sad Café,” for which we did the sound mix this past April, has been nominated for Best Drama Feature, Best Editing (Feature) and Best Score (Feature) at the Action On Film Festival. Congratulations and best of luck to director Bennie Woodell and everyone at Jiang Hu Productions!
More quick notes on what we’re up to.
• Joe has just finished tech week for Harvest at Oakton Community College. The sound design for this dystopian sci-fi play features extensive computer-glitch effects by Joe and music by Donny Who Loved Bowling. Harvest opens tonight and runs through May 1.
• Joe is doing final sound design and mixing for Getting To Know‘s newest release, Getting to Know the U.S. Presidents: Lincoln.
Or when is an emblematic signifier no longer emblematic?
Back in the 1990s, when a radio script would call for a telephone ring, we’d generally put in a 1980s-era bell telephone ring, because it was still a sound most everyone associated with a home telephone. Office phones and cellular phones could have an electronic beep, but even though more and more home phones were electronic we still hung on to the Ma Bell sound, because it was the simplest and quickest way to communicate “telephone” to a mass audience.
But that was the ‘90s. It’s a whole ‘nother world – not only have I only seen one or two old bell-type phones in use in recent years, but a phone ring…isn’t a phone ring anymore. Barring exceptional circumstances, you really can’t use the Ma Bell ring in a contemporary setting.
Before we go any farther, I want to point out that I’m not some old fuddy-duddy wanting things to go back to the way they used to was. I like being able to customize my phone ring. I like that I can have certain rings for certain callers. It’s all cool. This is more about the challenge in sound design: what sound do phones in commercials and plays and movies make now? In an office setting, you can still do an electronic chirp, though one of my co-workers has his phone set to repeatedly ask “are you there? Are you there?” when he has an incoming call. In a home setting, I have yet to see anyone using custom ringtones…though I imagine by this time next year anyone who still has a land-line will have a phone capable of playing Lady Gaga when the telemarteters call to interrupt dinner. But a character in a contemporary play/film/spot who’s using a celphone? Here we have a challenge.
With that challenge we also have an opportunity. The simplest thing to do is use our 1990s logic, and hold ourselves back in time a little. Just use a standard electronic chirp, one of the preset rings on a phone that are generally too dull for anyone to actually use. But the opportunity we have is that we can use a ringtone to make a statement about the character. What kind of ringtone would this person put on his/her phone? Perhaps s/he is in fact straightlaced enough that one of the flat factory ringtones is just fine, but on the other hand, maybe not. In a production of Cupid & Psyche that had an extensive Radiohead soundtrack, we used a version of “Creep” for Apollo’s ringtone. This functioned on two levels: Apollo is the villain of the piece, and in that regard he is, in fact, a bit of a creep. But beyond just the title, because the song is about self-loathing and insecurity, the ringtone made a comment about Apollo’s character in the show as well.
However, there’s a further issue in that most pop-song ringtones these days are mp3 snippets of the actual recording. This is a dicey thing when you’re dealing with diegetic sounds and scoring, because if the audience hears a short piece of music in a play or film, they’re not going to automatically think “telephone.” They might first think “radio” or “soundtrack.” You could make sure the song is filtered and sounds like a low-quality mp3 through a tiny speaker, but it still may not communicate “telephone” as quickly and directly as the electronic chirps. For Cupid & Psyche we addressed this by arranging the “Creep” ringtone using celphone chirps.
Perhaps I’m holding back too much. Maybe audiences are already cuturally conditioned to the point where an mp3 ringtone in a sound design will work fine. And I’m certainly fine with the old Ma Bell sound being a “period piece” sound effect. Let me know what you think.