So, this happened...
Back in 2014 we were working on the music for season 2 of Transporter: The Series for Atlantique Productions/M6/HBO Canada and we got this unusual request... The series composer, Nathaniel Méchaly, had been talking with the post-production supervisor and the showrunner about an upcoming episode that included live concert scenes of a big pop star. We had been writing and recording the original songs that were going to be played in the concert scene, also making cover versions of "Killing Me Softly" and "Freebird" for the same episode. Anyway, from there came the suggestion - "Hey, why don't you guys come to Prague for the shoot, and perform on screen as the band in the scene?"
Uhh, sure. Why not?
One thing that often comes up in conversation when people ask about the work I do, is me having to point out that when you work on music, you never go to the shoot. We never meet the actors, we never see them shooting stunt scenes, we never are on set at 5am in the freezing cold watching some super important scene being shot in just the right light... so when the rare occasion comes up to be a part of that, it's fun to get to see how the other half lives.
In this case, the idea of show runner Frank Spotnitz was that since we had produced all the music that was going to be "performed" live, it'd be good for us to be there to help coach the actors with lip-sync, and just generally help out to make sure it looked as authentic as possible. So since we were going anyway, why not get all dressed up and pretend to be the band on stage too? Sure. Why not?
Sadly Nathaniel (who'd called bass player) couldn't get to Prague till later in the day so they had to bring in a ring-in. But David Menke and I made our 5am call (there's a reason why I very much prefer post production to being on set...), got whisked through costume, hair and makeup and we were ready to roll. Since David had already (wisely) put his hand up to be the keyboard/piano player, I drew the short straw and got handed a pair of drum sticks. Not that I have anything but the utmost respect for drummers - quite the contrary. It's just that I've never actually played drums, like not even once in my entire life. Didn't quite know what to say when the crew kept coming over to let me know I could adjust the kit to my taste - when actually I hadn't (and still don't have) the slightest clue of how to adjust anything on a drum kit. At all. At one point I sort of started twisting a screw on something, and then just quickly tightened it back again because I thought the whole kit would collapse. Pretty much the definition of an imposter.
So, turns out that shoots are kinda long. And they involve quite a bit of waiting around... Luckily for us, the shoot was in the stunning State Opera House in Prague, which as far as waiting rooms go is somewhat nicer than a dentist's office. Also it turned out that on the same day, the B unit was also shooting in parallel in and around the same location. So while we were waiting for our call, we got to see some pretty freaky stunt scenes and hand-to-hand combat scenes being shot. One of them included a baddie being thrown off the rafters from up high above the stage and falling to his doom whilst grappling on to the stage curtain to break the fall. This I have to admit was pretty cool.
Probably the funniest thing about the day, no strike that - the most downright surreal thing about the day was the music playback that we had for the concert scenes. Surreal you ask? Allow me to explain... and below you will even find audio clips to play which should give you a good laugh.
Long story short: For each and every one of the songs we had to produce for the "live" performances of the pop star, we needed to record a guide vocal. And since we have no female vocalist on hand in our team, guess who that job fell to? Me. How am I able to sing like a girl in a female vocal range? I can't. So, with the magic of pitch-shifting technology (otherwise known as the way they make Cartman's voice sound like it does), I recorded the vocals in my range and we shifted them up a few keys.
So far so good. Sure it sounded comical, but Actress Antonia Thomas had what she needed to learn the songs and rehearse her performance. Since she's a competent singer with a great voice, the idea was to of course re-record the vocals with her own performance to use in the episode, after the scenes were shot.
But here's where it all goes a bit sideways... Obviously for the shoot day, all we had was the playback tracks of the songs with my voice, pitched up into Mickey Mouse/Cartman territory. So that's what got played. Over and over and over. In the most stunning opera house you could possibly imagine, filled to the rafters with extras and of course, the cast and crew. I'm pretty sure you can imagine the horror of hearing your own voice played at full volume in a concert hall full of people. It's the kind of nightmare that wakes you up drenched in sweat, possibly just one step down from the nightmare of singing naked in front of a live audience right? So basically it was that, with the added bonus of your voice sounding like you've been fooling around with helium balloons. Go on have a listen to the tracks, you know you want to. And when you look at the pictures of the location it was in, it should paint a pretty clear picture of just how ridiculous it all was. Like I said. Surreal.
Finished laughing? OK good.
Anyway, later in the day I happened to be floating around near the stage area when they were about to record Antonia for us to take her vocals to use in the "real" versions of the songs. Turns out she's a great singer! Also, it was pretty weird to see an actor you've never met before belting out the melody and lyrics that you wrote back in the studio, live on stage in a concert hall in Prague. Felt weirdly personal to see her singing from memory the lyrics I wrote and interpreting for herself the melody that I'd put down. A bit like if someone found a lame teenage poem you once wrote and then one day you see it being recited on stage to a live audience. Surreal hit number two!
All in all it was a fun experience. Getting flown to Prague, having drivers pick you up and take you around, being put up in a pretty flash hotel. There are worse things that could happen to you and it was definitely interesting to get a glimpse of how it must be for film and TV actors who are flown around the place all in a day's work. End of the day though I'm pretty OK with being at the other end of the spectrum in the production schedule, without the 4am starts... In film and TV composing, we're definitely not exempt from ultra-long days and periods of work that can go for months without a weekend off. But I think you need to be a very special kind of animal to have what it takes to cut it in that world, and I'm pretty sure I don't!
Here's the final version of the original song we wrote as it appeared in the episode, performed by actress Antonia Thomas.