A Wedding Gift

One of my best friends in the world got married this past weekend.  As a gift for the newlyweds I wrote them a song.  Here’s the story:

Last November, I went on a weekend road trip to Pittsburgh, the city where the engaged couple resided.  Over the course of the 5 hour trek across Pennsylvania, I had a lot of time to think (it’s a pretty boring drive).  I was thinking about my friend getting married, and how I wanted to do something special for him.  In the past, I’ve heard of composers writing an original piece of instrumental music for a friend’s wedding (usual for the ceremony, because everyone could use a break from Pachelbel’s Canon).  This is a concept I could get behind, and would take on the task as if I was scoring a film, except that it would be for a real event and not something on the screen.  Obviously, I did not want to impose this idea on my friends.  They might already have music picked out (Pachelbel or otherwise), or they could be uncomfortable with the proposition.  I don’t like to make anyone feel obligated.  So I put the idea aside, even though it excited me.

When I finally got to Pittsburgh, we spent the first night in a pretty relaxed fashion, catching up over drinks.  They were filling me in on the known details of the wedding, and then began to solicit my opinion for musical selections.  They played a recording of a song they were considering for the first dance – a song that I liked but honestly thought was a little too fast and energetic for that particular moment.  They agreed with my assertion, at which point the bride-to-be blurted out, “well, why don’t you just write something for us?”

I had to accept, but with some reservations: I’m not actually a songwriter.  In fact, I’m barely a composer.  I’ve never written a pop song in my life, at least not from start to finish, and not without any sort of collaborative effort with someone who does know what they are doing.  But, I did want to write something for their wedding, and these were the terms.  My job was to compose a song for the first dance, where all eyes would be on the bride and groom, and all ears would be on the tune.  Every musician dreams of having the undivided attention of an audience, right?  I really didn’t want to screw it up.

The most difficult part in the process, by far, was writing the lyrics.  As much as I love to read good books and listen to poetic songwriters, I am by no means a writer.  But I started to think about the nature of their relationship, and a concept emerged: my friend is one of the most indecisive dudes I know.  He overanalyzes, weighs all options, and generally second guesses himself as matter of habit (to prove my point, not only did I help him order the engagement ring one night last summer at 2 AM, hovering over a laptop after a night of heavy drinking, but I also had to forcefully nudge and guide him in writing his wedding vows only hours before the ceremony).  Despite all of this indecisiveness, there was never any hesitation or doubt when he first told me that he was going to propose to his now wife.  It was really the only part of the ordeal he was sure of.  Thus, the song “I’m Sure” was written.

It was a tremendous honor to be a part of the wedding in this way, and to have such trust to make the song happen.  I was nervous as a hell leading up to the first dance, but seeing the happy looks on the faces of the bride and groom made it all worth it.

I pulled on my generous network of friends, contacts, and musicians to do this recording.  Here are the production credits:

Vocals: AlyCat

Bass: Tim Wolfe, Jr.

Drums: Joe Shattls

Piano, organ, guitar: Brendan McGeehan

Produced, mixed, and mastered by Brendan McGeehan

The piano was recorded at Forge Recording in Oreland, PA.  All other other layers were recorded in my apartment.

 

How would you like to be in the pictahs?

Read this in your best rumbling basso, movie trailer announcer voice:

Garfunkel is a courier who needs to deliver some fancy beer to a rough saloon, against the advice of his faithful steed, Tutu. Garfunkel discovers the delivery is for the very man who killed his paw, a villain with discernible tastes by the name of Il Postre (he ain’t sweet, that’s just irony). Bullets, spaghetti and hooves fly in a dramatic showdown. Revenge is served al dente.

It all started fairly simply.  Towards the end of January, I saw a listing on Dogfish Head’s Facebook page saying that they were now accepting submissions for the 2012 Off-Centered Film Festival.  There were only three requirements: 1) each film had to be under 5 minutes 2) there had to be some reference or product placement  to Dogfish Head beer, and 3) a “Western” theme had to be incorporated.

After reading the listing, I thought to myself, “I like Dogfish Head beer, and I’ve been itching to score a film,” since my last scoring gig was in the fall of 2011.  So, I made a few calls to see if I could get a crew together.  The next thing I know, I’ve got an accomplished director, animator, editor/director of photography, special effects compositor, and the beginnings of a cast.  And to my surprise, I became de facto producer.

Since I often collaborate with my good friend Brandon Cater on all things funny, I also called him to see if he would like to figure into the mix, and how.  Our brainstorming session went into overdrive, and it was decided that since this needed to be a Western, that we had to at least try to secure Frontier Town as our location.  For the uninitiated, Frontier Town is a Western Theme park in Ocean City, MD.  Having grown up there, I have many fond memories of going on bank robbing train rides, playing with lassos and whips, and in general feeling like a cowboy (emphasis on “boy”).  

Being the indispensable jack of all trades/formidably persistent dude that he is, Brandon locked down Frontier Town as our location.  He also built a bar from scratch.  He also secured costumes.  He also helped with casting.  He also starred in the film.  Brandon runs on Red Bull and cigarettes.  This is not an endorsement, but maybe I should try it considering all he can accomplish in a short period of time.

Our cast was a mix of trained and untrained (but willing) talent.  Brandon played our dubstepping hero, “Garfunkel,” foiled by Charles Keenan, our villain with a sweet tooth who goes by the name of “Il Postre.”  It should be noted that the devotion of Charles to the role did not include shaving his head or eyebrows.  He was, in fact, battling cancer during the shoot.  In February.  In a theme park with no heat because they are only open during the seasonal warmer months.  When he wasn’t shooting a scene, we huddled Charles in front of a heat lamp and piled blankets on him.  What an inspiration.  As a fantastic footnote, I’m also happy to report that Charles is now cancer free (!!!).

Garfunkel’s trusty steed Tutu was played by my good friend and neighbor, Martin Wellard.  From the moment I read the script, I thought of Martin.  We were making an absurd/acid Spaghetti Western where the horses are played by people, so naturally my British friend was the perfect man/horse for the role.

Katie and Jeremy Bohall from The Hard Times Magazine stepped in as Loretta the sassy barmaid, and “Sumplace Else,” the dim but lovable friend of “Here,” played by me (our original choice for “Here” did not show up, so I had no choice but to fill in).  Our actress for “Cute Horse” was only secured the night before shooting, and it took a few pints at the local brewery to convince her that playing a horse in yoga pants in the freezing weather for some unidentified film with a bunch of people she didn’t know was a good idea.  n.b. In retrospect, taking the entire crew out for beers the night before a 12 hour work day wasn’t the smartest move as my debut job as a film producer.  But it was fun as hell.

It was a mild winter in 2012.  So the last thing I expected when I was the first to woke up on the day of shooting was finding snow on the ground.  There would be snow in our Western.  OK, let’s roll with it.

More road blocks came up: our 82 year old “Paw” called out due to heart palpitations (he is fine now).  Brandon pleaded with his own father to come play “Paw,” who begrudgingly obliged.  Our dubstep dancer flaked – Charles and Brandon came up with their own choreography on the spot for the “duel” scene.  It really seemed like nothing could stop us, because we truly had a fantastic cast and crew with that perfect dynamic and mix of personalities that all wanted to see a great end product.

It was windy and bitterly cold.  I honestly can’t believe how overwhelmingly awesome the cast and crew maintained during the whole, grueling day.  At one point, I counted 17 people, all working with their specialized talent towards one common goal.  

Post production was equally fruitful and fun.  Jonathan Dubrowski is a Final Cut wiz.  His former student, Johnny Sullivan, gave us bullets, gun flare, and other effects that were simply incredible.  Morgan King lended his animation talents for an awesome opening segment, credits, and other surprises during the film itself.  Matt Martin did such a great job with the location audio and lighting that minimal post work had to be done (and the planets aligned for us to get Matt on the gig anyway – he’s busier than me).  I had a blast with the music.  It allowed me to go from a cheesy 60’s Western TV show style theme to woozy honky tonk piano to Morricone inspired underscoring to my first forray into dubstep.  I love a good challenge.  And all of this was done under the careful direction and supervision of Dom Hilton, who also wrote the hilarious script.  Dom and I have similar taste in comedy and art in general, and it was a real pleasure to work with him on this project.

This was an amazing experience for me.  The culmination of different aspects of performance, production, film, music, and overall execution was simply addictive.  I’ve totally been bitten by the film bug.  Stay tuned for more developments on my next production.

And lastly, I really hope that you enjoy our silly film, “Trouble’s A’Brewin,” which received its premiere at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, TX on April 21st, 2012, as part of the Off-Centered Film Festival.

Also, check out some production photos.