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In this episode, Carl King shares TWO Filmmaking Lessons (Big Trouble In Little China, Escape From New York), tells us Why Social Status Is An Illusion, and gives Documentary Advice from his experience on Morgan Agren’s Conundrum. Finally, the Headphone Album of The Week: Godzilla by Alexandre Desplat.
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SHOW NOTES / LINKS
BEST OF FIVE: The Classic Tetris Champions
Carl King on YouTube
Big Trouble In Little China on Amazon
Escape From New York On Amazon
Seth Godin Podcast: Status Roles
Morgan Agren’s Conundrum – A Drummer Documentary
Metallica’s Some Kind Of Monster Documentary on Amazon
Godzilla On Amazon
I’m Carl King, and this is The Carl King Podcast, where we learn about music, filmmaking, and the other creative arts. To support this podcast, head over to Patreon.com/carlking, and join for just $1 or $5 per month. Special thank you to my Illusionist $51 level patrons, both Hank Howard III and Chewbode.
Quick shout-out to my music endorsements: Vienna Symphonic Library, Fractal Audio, Ernie Ball Strings, Toontrack, and Millennia Media. All 5 of those companies make amazing musical gear that I love to use.
Now let’s start to prepare to start getting started!
The Carl King Podcast has a LOT of new listeners in the past couple of weeks, so THANK YOU for tuning in and joining us. This is the 30th episode overall, and the 13th episode in this recent format. This week, I’ve got TWO filmmaking lessons for you, and a Philosophical Feature Segment on SOCIAL STATUS. Then I’m going to share some tips I learned from making Morgan Agren’s Conundrum, that drummer documentary from 2013, and we’ll have a Headphone Album of the Week. But let’s start with a Carl King The Human Update.
CARL KING THE HUMAN UPDATE
Chris Higgins and I are making massive progress on the documentary series called BEST OF FIVE: The Classic Tetris Champions. We’ve pretty much locked the 50-minute Episode 1, and Higgins is kicking a lot of butt with his B-roll and graphics. I’ve synced up the temp score with rough piano parts. The next step is to dig in on assigning instrumentation, which is going to incorporate elements of metal, orchestra, and 8-bit video game sounds. You can hear the rough mixes and follow my progress inside my Patreon. That’s patreon.com/carlking
In other news, I’ve been waffling back and forth about… not only waffles… but also the VIDEO aspect of this podcast. I’m in the process or refiguring some equipment-al things, so until that gets sorted out, this show will be audio only. Still, if you’re not subscribed on YouTube, head over there. I post complete audio episodes as well as all of the individual segments. YouTube.com/carlkingdom
On the Carl King The Human side of things, there’s been a relieving temperature change here in the Los Angeles area. Right now it’s 99F, but on most days it has been cooling down. Which means I’m not always simultaneously freezing and sweating here in Plosive Central.
And that also means I can start getting back out on my daily BICYCLE RIDES. Can’t tell you how therapeutic that is, to get out in the peace and quiet in the middle of the day, riding through the wilderness on my Specialized Crossroads. I’ve owned that sucker since 2008, and I call it The Ramsey One. Because I’ve listened to endless episodes of Dave Ramsey on it. There’s also the Ramsey Two, which is my road bike.
Remember listeners, get outside at least once a day. Look at the trees. Go for a walk. It’s good for you.
I have been inside, at my various computers, WAY too much in recent months. Because, this podcast is a TON of work, but it’s growing every week. So it makes my day every time I see a new Patreon Patron show up. Really, it’s a big deal. So THANK YOU to all the Patreon Patrons who are helping me out.
Now let’s get into this week’s Filmmaking Lessons.
FILM REVIEW #1 – BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986)
First up, we have Big Trouble In Little China, from 1986.
Directed by John Carpenter.
This was supposedly John Carpenter’s final big budget movie. $25 million dollars in 1986 which equates to about $71 million dollars today. About the same as Don’t Look Up on Netflix. Anyone see that movie? I enjoyed it, particularly Jennifer Lawrence obsessing over how that military guy stole her vending machine cash.
At $71 Million dollars, Big Trouble In Little China was just a little bit more expensive to make than Jordan Peele’s NOPE… for comparison. That film was $68 Million dollars. And I STILL need to see it.
Unfortunately, Big Trouble In Little China was a box office bomb, earning only half of its budget back. But people are crazy about it, qualifying it a Cult film. Or an example of the long tail, as Chris Anderson would say.
Folks. Fooolks. I’m surprised at how much I ended up enjoying this movie. Because about 1/3 of the way in, I didn’t even think I was going to review it. I couldn’t think of much to say. But it grew on me, and got me thinking about what I consider an important topic.
It’s useful to know that Big Trouble In Little China was originally written as a WESTERN set in the 1880s. Jack Burton was literally a cowboy who rides into Little China. WD Richter was brought in to rewrite it into a modern setting. Trading Kurt Russell’s horse for a Truck.
Some of the production design nears Flash Gordon level. And by that, I mean the costumes and spectacle in the Little China Underground.
Bit of trivia: according to Wikipedia, last words Walt Disney wrote on a piece of paper just before he died, were: Kurt Russell. 1966. This film… perhaps… attempts to answer WHY.
In the opening scene, Kurt Russell broadcasts his own radio show on the CB. And maybe nobody’s listening. Kind of like a narrator in a western. He does it again in the final scene, as a bookend. It’s charming. It’s a character thing.
He’s the the typical everyday dumb white guy who doesn’t understand anything. Basically a Homer Simpson. He does almost absolutely nothing useful until about 1/3 of the way through the movie, when he goes undercover in the brothel. But even then he fails to accomplish his goal.
The character’s purpose is to be out of place in Little China.“You are not brought upon this world to get it.” He plays the straight man, gives the audience a way in.
Now here’s my own way in to this film. At the end of my Oracle of Outer Space pilot, the narrator asks the question: “Is Masculinity a Mental Illness?” I think this movie says YES, IT IS.
My argument is this: Kurt Russell’s character, Jack Burton embodies what it means to be American. A loud mouth who’s wrong about everything. American hero. 100% incompetent.
Now to clarify, he’s not an antihero, because that’s something different. That’s where a morally ambiguous or even villainous character, or at least a character with a lot of bad traits, is cast in the role of protagonist.
As a writer, I had to think: but what would happen if you took him out of the story? Because it’s not his story at all. It’s really Wang Chi’s story. But then it would have lost its angle. A bunch of white 80s Americans wouldn’t have watched it.
Kurt Russell is basically a henchman who is treated as if he’s in charge. He’s loud, stupid, never knows where he is or what’s going on, and says so. Constantly. He never stops asking: what’s that mean? Where are we? Who are you? I wonder what percentage of his lines are exasperated, bewildered questions.
I realized, wait a minute… Kurt Russell’s character is STRIKINGLY similar to Captain Kirk played by Chris Pine in the JJ Abrams Star Trek Movies.
Because he gambles, gets in fights, drinks, chases women, and charges right into things. He’s surrounded by a diverse, talented, qualified crew who are FAR beyond him. But somehow he ends up being the boss. I would not be surprised if that version of Captain Kirk was entirely based on this Kurt Russell character. Maybe someday if I ever meet JJ Abrams I’ll ask him that. And JJ Abrams will look at me like I’m crazy, ask me: Why Are You In My Back Yard, and I’ll be escorted out by the FBI.
Anyway, back to Big Trouble In Little China. Jack INSISTS on being an action hero, but can’t fight.
According to Wikipedia, Kurt Russell said: “At heart he thinks he’s Indiana Jones but the circumstances are always too much for him.” On the DVD commentary, John Carpenter said “the film is really about a sidekick (Burton) who thinks he is a leading man.” Now isn’t that EXACTLY what American men are raised to believe?
Small detail: he takes his jacket off in the middle of a crawl space for no plausible in-world reason. And miraculously, it seems like he has it back at the end of the movie. I don’t recall if he grabbed it on the way back out, but I don’t think he did. Maybe it’s a different jacket.
The character is similar to Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski (1998) in that he will occasionally say all he wants is his truck back. The Big Lebowski is another movie where the protagonist is in the wrong genre. In The Dude’s case, he’s a hippie in a detective story.
As in most hero movies, there are witty, sarcastic comments in times of stress. Those action hero comebacks. But more importantly, there’s that trademark dialogue style brought in by writer WD Richter. Much like his film Buckaroo Banzai, just 2 years earlier.
They did give Kurt Russell one single plot-related thing to do. Spoiler alert. He kills the big bad with a quick toss of the knife, saving the day. What a miracle, the useless idiot finally does something right. It wasn’t the greatest payoff for the reflexes line, at such an important moment. He had an entire action movie to use those reflexes, but didn’t.
So, where does this idea come from, of the proud ignorant American? Every situation, every experience in life, should be teaching him, hey man: you’re wrong. But he remains 100% confident through the whole film. He never learns.
And I think this is what being an American is all about. It’s the fantasy that you can be totally uneducated, uncultured, unqualified, unprepared, but you still deserve to WIN. Because you’re loud, lazy, and proud of it. Just act on impulse, and that will save the day.
The fact that he wins, in spite of his uselessness, is even more proof of how much of an AMERICAN MAN he is. I wonder how many people out there watch this movie and think, “yeah, that guy’s great, that’s totally me!”
I’m curious: was this the first American hero who was a complete jackass? If you know, let ME know. Post a comment or send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anyway, all that aside, I loved this movie. And now that I’ve actually watched it and paid attention, I feel a sense of loss. Because there should be more movies in this genre.
And finally, here’s the Lesson I extracted from this movie: Contrary to all of the screenwriting advice out there, as a writer, you can find your way into a story with an outsider hero, even if he’s entirely passive. Had Jack Burton been a more straight-up competent action hero like Arnold Schwarzenegger, this movie would have lost a lot of its charm.
Carl King gives this movie 5 out of 5 stars on Letterboxd, and a little heart, too.
FILM REVIEW #2 – ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)
Up next is Escape from New York from 1981, directed by John Carpenter. And hey, starring Kurt Russell. It’s a Kurt Russell Double Feature!
Somehow I never saw this movie as a kid. My introduction to this movie was through Jon Schnepp, maybe 10 years ago. When I met Schnepp he and co-creator were in the process of pitching what I think was an animated show based on the main character, Snake Plissken. I think he showed me a bunch of artwork for it. I might be getting my memories mixed up, but maybe Samuel L. Jackson was involved in it?
Schnepp recommended I watch the movie, so I went home and watched it, but didn’t really understand it. So this week, after watching Big Trouble In Little China, this film seemed like a good pairing as a double-feature double-review.
Now. This film came out in 1981. What else was coming out in 1981? Well, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Clash of the Titans. Time Bandits. And most importantly Porky’s.
By the way, I tried watching Porky’s this week, and wow.
Escape From New York was made for $6 Million, which is the equivalent of 19.5 million in 2022. As far as I can tell, that’s about the budget for a romantic comedy. Definitely not a proper budget for an action movie of this scale.
John Carpenter was about 33 years old when he made this film. He had already done Halloween and The Fog by then, which were big financial successes.
So the film starts. First 3.5 minutes is just white film credits over black with music. Could any movie get away with that in 2022? I don’t think so? Maybe. Almost any action movie these days starts with a teaser, full of combat and explosions. You know, to make sure you keep watching.
Here’s something: the star, Kurt Russell doesn’t really get brought into the movie, as an active character, until almost 18 minutes in. There’s a brief scene of him earlier, but at that point his part in the plot hasn’t started. These days a movie will start right in on the main character in the first shot.
Tip: a way to drill in a characters name to the audience. “Call me Snake.” Characters say his name constantly. But then again, he’s kinda famous, like a rock star in that world.
Coming off viewing Buckaroo Banzai and Big Trouble In Little China, this movie felt super dry. It lacked catchy dialogue. Because I was expecting it after watching the other Big Trouble and Little China. Which was also directed by John Carpenter and starred Kurt Russell.
There’s definitely not as much surrealism or oddity, aside from the chandeliers on the front corners of the Cadillac.
Here’s a concern I had, how is Snake Plissken, a dude with an eye patch, able to fly a plane through a city at night with no depth perception? I read that Kurt Russell had to keep taking breaks and remove the eye patch, because it was messing with his eyesight.
And what kind of bad-ass vigilante flies in a GLIDER? Kinetic wind energy? Definitely not macho and loud enough. The tough backwards-parking muscle-car dudes in my neighborhood would never put up with that. Plus a lot of the glider was painted WHITE. Could have at least painted it all black for flying in at night.
There’s not a lot of character in this movie, as it’s very plot-driven. Except for the cab driver, named Cabbie, played by Ernest Borgnine. He’s a big change in tone, in contrast to the seriousness of the rest of the movie. That character woke me up. Got me paying attention again. According to Wikipedia, Cabbie was made up by Nick Castle, John Carpenter’s co-writer.
But then Cabbie takes Snake to a guy named Brain. He’s played by Harry Dean Stanton, and he lives in a public library. And he’s converted it into his living room. Here’s something surprising: he has an OIL RIG running in there. Going up and down in the background. As much as I like that actor, it felt kind of pointless to meet a guy who will take Snake to the other guy who takes him to yet another guy. It’s a series of these. It felt tedious. In fact much of this movie felt tedious. Another term for that might be Shoe Leather.
Ever notice, when someone gets stabbed in a movie they instantly die? Well, there’s a technical term for it. It’s called an Instant Death Stab. I’m just full of terminology today. But that’s what you get here: a free filmmaking education.
Due to budget constraints, the set they built of The World Trade Center only had one floor. Taking the stairs, they only had to go up one flight of stairs to get to the roof. Instead of over 100. Because that would have taken up a lot of screen time and would be a major cardio workout. Imagine having to reshoot the take.
The ending seems to wraps up neatly, but I was hoping for a couple of different possible endings. 1 – Either they refuse to save Snake, the countdown ends and he dies, or 2 – he finds out there never were explosives. I thought, ah, what a let down. But then there’s a second twist at the last moment that reminds us: Snake is always going to be Snake.
Overall this was a plot-heavy movie with not much time spent on character. And that makes it not my kind of thing. But still worth the viewing, at least once.
It was a cool concept. Snake Plissken was a memorable main character. And striking poster art of the Statue of Liberty’s head knocked off. That is some iconic, and powerful… world building. But in the initial scenes, the Statue of Liberty still has her head. Folks, Fooolks, I might be insane or just forgetful, but I never saw her head get knocked off in the actual movie. That’s more of a Planet of the Apes thing.
In my opinion, the execution didn’t live up to the super cool premise. And I’m going to guess that was due to its very low budget. That’s not to diminish the nostalgic importance of this film. I know a lot of people love it.
So I think the Filmmaking Lessons to extract from… Escape From New York… might be:
Number 1 – double-check to make sure the movie lives up to its poster. It can be useful to spend as much time as possible on concept art — hire artists to play with ideas. Because those ideas could help you come up with even better scenes for your story. It might seem like working backwards, but it actually works. Start with what COOL VISUAL SCENES need to be in this, for it to live up to its concept? And find a way to write them in.
And Number 2 – When John Carpenter wants to make an action movie set in New York City, give him more money. I’ll have to watch Escape From LA and see how that one came out.
I gave Escape From New York 4 out of 5 stars on Letterboxd.
So let’s move on to this week’s Philosophical Feature Segment.
PHILOSOPHICAL FEATURE SEGMENT: WHY SOCIAL STATUS IS AN ILLUSION
I listened to a Seth Godin podcast episode in which he answers a listener question on the topic of status. It hit a nerve. I’ll post a link to that episode in the show notes, because it’s too long to quote.
Seth, and others, talk about how status works. But I don’t see anyone questioning whether it should exist at all.
So here are my thoughts on status, since no one is asking.
I started my creative career as a small-town nobody. And in most ways I am still a small-town nobody.
I grew up Venice, Florida, a retirement community on the beach. I had no money, no resources, no status. I relied on the generosity of my friends to help me do whatever crazy artistic thing I wanted to do. I had big dreams!
I convinced a handful of people to contribute time and money to my multimedia projects. Sometimes they were collaborators and co-creators. They’d let me borrow their acting, painting, writing, instrument playing, programming, or drawing skills. (Or, sometimes all I needed was a ride to Taco Bell.)
Because I felt like a small-town nobody, I threw everything I had at my creative career. All in an attempt to make it, as they say. Or make a LEAP IN STATUS.
I believed all of that frantic creative activity would pay off, somehow. If I could just make enough noise, someone of high status would notice me and let me join the secret club. It was like I was sending out a beacon, and the ship would return to pick me up. It’s the way it works, right?
Maybe Mr. Bungle would let me open for them. Maybe I could be on Alternative Tentacles and be as cool as Victims Family. Maybe I could play bass for Steve Vai. They’d take me back to my home world and we’d live rich and famously ever after. Or at least it would get me out of Venice, Florida.
Eventually I manufactured a hit, a 2005 album called How To Sell The Whole F#@!ing Universe To Everybody… Once And For All! I moved to Los Angeles the next year to capitalize on the attention and get to the next level of fake status.
Soon after arriving, I quit music for a long time due to a car accident. That’s another story. But going from a nobody to sort-of-a-somebody and back to a nobody in a short amount of time taught me how stupid it all is.
I didn’t understand it consciously, or at least as well as I do now: I have always been dealing with and battling against this idea of Status. Even while selfishly embracing it, I was challenging it, subverting it.
Bottom line: I hate status. At least, I do now. I hate the idea that one person can be perceived as godlike and another as worthless, simply because of their name or credits.
So much human potential, and so many opportunities are wasted because of this. So many talented people are overlooked, so many creative ideas thrown in the trash. Never heard, never seen.
I am absolutely certain that there is no correlation between credits and talent. I’m talking about the entertainment industry here. Film, music, books, TV. People who don’t know what they’re doing at all can succeed with their social skills alone. I’m talking about charisma, ass-kissing, and plain old dominance. Acting big and important. Hats and sunglasses. Strategically playing the right role at the right time to open doors. Using people. Climbing the ladder.
I know people who do this stuff full-time, love it, and are proud of it. They’d never admit it in public, but they will brag about it behind closed doors. By and large, the ability to do creative work is secondary to social skills, like it or not.
Of course, some people are so good we can’t ignore them. We notice outliers like Jim Carrey. An outrageous talent, no question. I don’t think he could have not been successful. Exploding with comedic energy. But for every Jim Carrey there are infinitely more who have stumbled their way into the Friend-ocracy.
That’s right. Sometimes you simply need to stand in the right place and look the part and the rest will take care of itself. (Or be white and male? Although I’m still waiting on my privileged screenwriting career to fall in my lap.)
Because status seems so arbitrary and unfair, my own creative projects have always had this thing going on: giving high status people low status roles, and vice versa.
I want my creative friends to have just as much opportunity as Mr. or Mrs. Famous. I want to show that we’re all valuable, regardless of our names. I always find a way to sneak some of my talented nobodies in. From listening, can you even tell who is who? (Metalocalypse did this with voice actors, although maybe not for the same reasons.)
This process of giving high status people low status roles could be called Redistribution of Status.
I’ve been on both sides of the status absurdity. People have treated me like I’m famous, and people have crapped on me. There’s no sense to it. After all the status flip-flopping in my life, the magical opening and slamming of doors in my face, I feel like I’m living in a Dr. Seuss cartoon.
So in my opinion, Status is an illusion. A sick game I do not want to play.
Well, now that we’re all in a positive and uplifted mood, let’s move on to our LISTENER QUESTION OF THE WEEK.
LISTENER QUESTION OF THE WEEK: MORGAN AGREN MOVIE
This week’s Question of the Week comes from: Professor Emma Afterthought. She asks:
Could you talk about what it was like making your first documentary, Morgan Agren’s Conundrum? Any advice for someone who wants to make a documentary?
Okay, let me take you back in time, and tell you how and why this documentary REALLY happened. And to do that, I need to explain WHY I was motivated to make a documentary.
Well, the answer might be unexpected.
In May 2011, Dream Theater put out a sort of YouTube documentary series, where they were auditioning drummers. And boy, was I angry.
I felt like those guys were taking advantage of my favorite drummers. I knew some of those guys, like Virgil Donati and Marco Minnemann. They had played on my records. And their own music is, from a technical standpoint, so far beyond the music of Dream Theater. Do you seriously think Virgil Donati or Marco Minnemann would struggle with that music, or even have to audition? I felt it should have been the other way around. I can’t speak for them, but I felt insulted on their behalf. I didn’t like the cheesy reality-show aspect of it, how their tiny mistakes in rehearsal were hyped up, for the publicity.
Well, I’d show them!
I would make a Drummer Documentary. Or maybe even a SERIES of Drummer Documentaries. I would avenge those darn Dream Theater videos.
So in March the next year, I decided, For the first one, I decided I’d focus on THREE drummers: Virgil Donati, Marco Minnemann, and Morgan Agren. Morgan would be coming to the US in May, just two months later, so the timing was perfect.
But there was a problem. I HAD NEVER MADE A DOCUMENTARY BEFORE. I had done a lot of sort of low-budget video work, but it was mostly in-studio corporate stuff. Very stiff, very dry.
I honestly don’t even think I had a camera that could shoot in 1080p and look good. My friend Zeke had shot several documentaries on the Sony EX1 and EX3. So I rented one of them just 3 DAYS before Morgan arrived in the US. I had to learn, FAST.
I don’t think I even really understood the exposure triangle. And I filmed the whole thing in 30 frames per second, which I now regret.
I put together a little crew — me, Zeke Piestrup, and Mark Thornton, and filmed Morgan at Drum Channel, Musicians Institute in Hollywood, and what was called Los Angeles Music Academy in Pasadena. I leaned heavily on Zeke, as he had so much experience physically shooting documentaries, running around with a camera.
After the first day of filming Morgan, I decided I would make the documentary only about him. I felt good about what we were making together.
After Morgan flew back to Sweden, I drove around interviewing as many musician people as I could. Dweezil Zappa, Brendon Small, Dave Elitch, etc.
The next month, I launched the Kickstarter. We raised $17,000. In the end, that was barely enough to cover all the total expenses and Kickstarter rewards. By the way, none of that budget was used to pay me. I made zero dollars up-front.
We bought Morgan a plane ticket to come back a few months later, in September. He brought a GigPig, which is a bizarre Swedish all-in-one drum contraption. We put everything in my car and I drove him around Los Angeles, playing that thing in unusual places. We rented out Bell Sound in Hollywood for a couple days and invited Tosin Abasi and others to jam with him. I even took him out to Marco Minnemann’s house where they did some impromptu jams.
It took a year of editing, and the film was released October 1, 2013. The DVDs were released a couple months later, on December 12, 2013. Later, I put out 3 MORE HOURS of scenes called Conundrum Undone. Extended full-length interviews and extra scenes that couldn’t fit on the DVD.
Now here’s something that people might not realize. I split the profits of the film with Morgan, 50/50. I don’t know how many documentaries do that, but I’m guessing it’s not many. And it’s one of the few creative projects I’ve made that continues to generate SOME monthly income. But it’s not a lot — Morgan and I have each earned about $2,500 total in the 10 years it’s been out. That comes out to about $250 a year. Or $20 a month.
And the majority of that income came from Timeo rentals and sales, because it’s the only place it’s available. And the has worked out well.
In the DVD liner notes, Morgan sent me a huge Thank You list. In contrast, I simply thanked “my wife, my animal friends, my crew, and Dream Theater.”
For the record, I’m no longer angry at Dream Theater. I’ve learned to accept that people will make and enjoy whatever music they want. There’s no point on focusing on things I don’t personally like.
If you want to hear more about that topic, I have a feature segment called How I Conquered My Anger, in Episode 23.
Because… you know what? In the end, Dream Theater probably exposed more people to my drummer friends, with those millions of YouTube views. AND it motivated me to make a documentary about Morgan. So, it sounds like a win-win.
And hey, a lot of musician people enjoyed it. And it DID directly help Morgan increase his visibility and grow his career. Devin Townsend attributed his interest in Morgan partially to this documentary being made. So I’d say: mission accomplished.
Now, lemme share some bits of trivia about the film.
1 – The opening scene? That was filmed by one of Morgan’s friends in Sweden. The movie starts and ends there, in Morgan’s back yard, being happy with his wife and his musical soulmate, Mats Oberg. I thought that was a nice touch.
2 – Back then, I didn’t know much about color correction. I over-exposed and oversaturated everything in post. I did what seemed to look good to me on my Apple monitor, but there are industry standards for a reason. Watching it at home, I had no idea why everything looked totally bleached out. I thought it was just my crappy TV. Oops. So that was an important learning experience. At least one mistake I’ll never make again.
3 – My favorite scene is Morgan and Marco Minnemann playing tennis. That was the only scene where I felt like Morgan opened up psychologically, talked a bit about his OCD tendencies. I wish the film could have focused WAY more on that. But here’s the thing: when Morgan isn’t drumming, he’s a gentle, quiet, and calm person. He lets loose and expresses himself through music, but he didn’t have a whole lot to say. Part of that could be that English isn’t his native language. But even during interviews, he would mostly return to the point that he… simply loves music. I couldn’t get a lot more out of him. I think that shows where his heart is.
3B – My second favorite scene is the one where we visit Simon Phillips. It was HILARIOUS to me that Simon was as picky and technical about coffee beans as he was about the fancy potentiometers in his mixing board. The cutting back and forth between him preparing coffee and mixing music — is movie magic, in my opinion.
3C – But you know what, I laugh every time I watch that non-sequitur scene with Mike Stone doing water tests at the pool store, and his parrot falling asleep. So maybe that’s my favorite scene of all.
4 – There are a few Fake Characters in the film. One of them was named Milldrix Pulchers, which I think is a nod at the name Millard Mulch. He was played by Jon Schnepp. He used to wear a blonde wig to parties, so I bought him a Zildjian hat and some drum sticks and practice pad. I told him to play the part of a jealous, rival drummer. I fed him content and references and he improved all around it. We shot all of that at Titmouse, the animation studio where they made Metalocalypse. That little studio room was their actual VO studio. So many people hated Milldrix Pulchers and didn’t realize he was fake. There’s another fake character, which no one ever said anything about, and that surprised me.
OK, now to answer your questions, Professor Emma Afterthought. Here’s what I strongly recommend to anyone who wants to make a documentary. Four things.
1 – Try to time your “documenting” on an important event, so that your subject or main character has a goal. Try to find or set up danger or risk of some sort. So that you can film the lead up, the actual event, and the aftermath. It builds suspense and forward motion. The subject is going to try to “BLANK.” Will they succeed? Or “This is the first time this has been attempted.” Otherwise, you’re just rolling the camera and hoping something happens that makes it all worth it.
For example, Some Kind of Monster, the film about Metallica. That was actually a fantastic documentary, despite how silly it made them all look. It was a critical time in their career: Metallica were going to get back together to record a new album, in the midst of James Hetfield’s battle with alcoholism. It’s a story about recovery, and a band trying to reinvent themselves. Discovering how to make music again. The results were unpredictable, and super entertaining.
What I ended up with, for this Morgan Movie, was a pretty casual series of events with no stakes. There is no narrative flow. There’s no “Story” to it. It was more of an artist biography with commentary. Kinda like a home-movie of a family vacation. We went here, then we went there. It’s Morgan coming to the US and doing some great drumming. And famous musician people talking about him. Which is fine, but it’s not too compelling as a human story. Still, I do believe it’s a warm — and at times funny — tribute to one of my favorite creative musicians.
2 – If I were to make another documentary, which I probably will someday… I would cut down on all the talking heads and celebrity interviews and simply add a narrator where needed. I would focus on interviewing ONLY people who were central to the narrative / events. My production model for this movie was Behind-The-Music music specials on VH1 in the 90s. Which is… not the ideal template. But that’s all I knew how to do at the time, and I did my best with it.
3 – Ask yourself WHY you want to make a documentary. Is it to get revenge on Dream Theater? Is it because you’re simply passionate about a subject? Or is it because you want to make $250 a year? Being clear about the purpose is going to help you focus on what’s important. Because it’s an incredible amount of work, with a great deal of creative risk. You can’t entirely control the contents of a documentary, unless it’s fake and scripted out. But then it would be a Mockumentary.
4 – Last, the best way to learn to make documentaries is to make one. Just decide you’re going to do it and work backwards from there. It worked for me.
To wrap this up, the ten year anniversary of Morgan Agren’s conundrum is coming up NEXT YEAR. So, I’d like to do a 10-year anniversary re-release in 4K. I want to fix the coloring and exposure, and properly convert it to 24 frames per second. And with updated cover art, because Morgan was never happy with that photo of him. I insisted on it because it’s funny to me, and I thought it would be attention grabbing. But I plan to have Lance do a new concept that better represents Morgan’s personality. I will also submit it to more platforms, like Amazon, Apple, etc.
So hang in there for that. And to watch the film, go to MorganAgrenMovie.com.
And now, onto The Headphone Album of the Week.
HEADPHONE ALBUM OF THE WEEK
If you haven’t noticed, for the Headphone album of the week, I like to alternate between complicated, surreal art rock and film scores. So this week’s Headphone Album of the Week is a film score: Godzilla, by Alexandre Desplat. 2014.
The dude was 53 YEARS OLD when he wrote this thing. So maybe there’s still hope for me.
By the way, this Godzilla movie was the only of those recent Legendary Monster movies I personally enjoyed. It has a serious, adult tone and was directed by Gareth Edwards, who was also the director of Rogue One. And Rogue One is possibly my second favorite Star Wars movie. Desplat was originally hired to score Rogue One, but stepped down due to reshoots, according to Wikipedia. These things happen.
So back to Godzilla… the main title track, simple called Godzilla! might represent the beast rising out of the ocean and destroying everything. You can hear it rising up dynamically to a chaotic fury.
Be sure to put on headphones to appreciate all the layers and depth here. You won’t get that out of external speakers. Get in there. Put yourself right inside that orchestra.
Check out that heavy, lumbering 15/8 rhythm. Listen closely to those staccato low string lines and imagine that played by a metal band. I’d love to hear it done that way. In fact there’s a rhythm VERY SIMILAR to the hook from One by Metallica.
There are several elements here working together: The pitched and non-pitched percussion sounds primitive, and remind me of the spiney bones sticking out of Godzilla’s back.
There’s also an instrument that whines like an air raid siren. And I’m wondering if that might be the electric violin mentioned on the Wikipedia page.
AND we get some synths that give us the technological aspect.
Track 2, Inside The Mines has a scary as heck swarm of strings playing atonal clusters.
If you have not listened to Alexandre Desplat, he is The Master, and this is a wonderful introduction, particularly for a metal audience. Because there are a LOT of similarities between metal riffs and these sorts of chromatic film scores.
Track 6, Muto Hatch, has my favorite exotic percussion instrument: bamboo sticks.
On Track 14, Golden Gate Chaos — check out those dissonant choir clusters and the low one fingered riff slamming on those piano keys. I can’t believe what I’m hearing.
To get an idea of this composer’s range, right after this movie he scored The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley. So pop over to that as a double feature.
And if you’re ready, dive into the score for Little Women. Yes, I’m serious. Try to follow those shifting modes and modulations.
I don’t think you can’t go wrong with any score by Alexandre Desplat. And he has over 70 FILM SCORES to choose from, which is totally insane.
OK, that’s the end of this Episode of the Carl King Podcast. Remember to subscribe on Spotify, Apple Music, or anywhere else you listen to these dang podcasts. And support the creation of more episodes by joining my Patreon for $1 or $5 a month. That’s Patreon Dot Com Slash Carl King.
And as always, special thanks to my $51 a month Patrons, at the special Illusionist level, Chewbode and Hank Howard III. And thank you to ALL of the Very Good Friends of Carl King for listening, and as I always say: folks. foooolks.