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CAGE THE BEAR - Scoring "The Intervex"

"It's been 7 months since the film's release and you are just NOW releasing the soundtrack album?!?!" said no one but the voices in my head.

Okay, so yes it's true - there's been a significant delay in getting this baby out there. But I have very good reasons, I promise! Let me explain...

In early 2019 I started hearing rumblings from my pal and longtime collaborator Adrian Horodecky about a new CAGE THE BEAR film idea he was working on. It was going to be epic in scale (on our modest budget anyway) and embrace the science fiction aspects of the continuing saga as never before. He was gently warning me that I was going to have a LOT of work regarding special effects and post-production. I was undaunted and enthusiastic about the challenge but I knew it was going to be the biggest workload I've had since we began producing films together many, many years ago. The first script arrived that June and by late Summer we were rolling picture. The latest adventure had begun!

Every film poses its own musical challenges and the CAGE THE BEAR series has been particularly interesting for me. The first film was an international spy thriller and my score reflected that in its heavy use of jazz and classic Russian and Ukranian-inspired musical motifs. The second, THE BLACK BANG, moved into science fiction territory and I responded with a heavier reliance on orchestra and electronics while retaining some thematic elements from the previous film. STELLAR INTERVEX was full-on sci-fi and I knew that I wanted to further explore the electronic soundscape side of things while again incorporating already-established musical motifs to give the trilogy a cohesive sound.

Olga, the Wak Maxx girl

But before I could wrap my head fully around the music I would be writing, the timeline of production required me to come up with a song that our actors could interact with on set while filming. WAK MAXX is the nefarious ditty that drives the plot of the film, an insidious ear worm that turns the population of Earth into manipulated drones to serve the bad guys - Eclipsys. My intention, due to time-constraints, was to create a quick demo that our actress could dance to and then go back and create the 'real' version. I sent the song to our actress Olga and she enjoyed it so much that the 'demo' became the final version... augmented later with variations as needed to suit the plot. I tell ya', it was one of the unintentionally easiest things I have ever written.

Production rolled along through the Fall, shooting almost every Sunday with a small crew and myself directing. The rest of the week I spent collating and creating rough assembly edits of the footage while prepping for the next shoot, This is my preferred method of filmmaking, allowing me to keep things moving forward on all fronts. However it doesn't allow me much, if any, time to get creative with the editing - no big deal, that's what the long post-production period is for. However, the opening sequence of the film was such a personal investment for me in terms of setting the tone that I wanted to attack that as early as I could. I didn't have music written for it, but the temp cue I was using - Mozart's Requiem Lacrimosa - fit perfectly.

So perfect, in fact, that I began to kid myself that me 'the Director' was making it exceedingly difficult for me 'the Composer' to create a suitable replacement. I put that particular dilemma aside for months until, by sheer happenstance I stumbled upon a long-forgotten piece of music I'd created for another film but never used. In fact, I had no recollection of even writing it! But I liked it quite a bit and, as luck or fate would have it, the piece fit perfectly. So "goodbye Mozart, you've been fired!" LOL. Not only was it my new opening, but NARVASSA became our heroine's recurring theme throughout the film. The climatic ostinato also served a variety of functions as needed. Sometimes you just get lucky.

Another fun discovery, much earlier in the songwriting process, was a plug-in called APARILLO which allows a user tremendous flexibility in manipulating synthesizer soundscapes and waveforms. Playing around with this nifty little toy, I came up with a couple of menacing electronic sounds that I could call on whenever Eclipsys were on the screen. Every bad guy needs a signature, right? The sounds make their first appearance in the opening moments of the second cue THE FUTURE IS AT STAKE and weave their way inexorably throughout the score thereafter, letting us know that 'evil deeds are afoot'. That cue also gives us our first taste of the WAK MAXX theme.

Natasha reborn

As mentioned previously, my personal directive on this trilogy has been to incorporate previously established themes to reflect a cohesive whole. One such theme I found critically important to bring back was Natasha's theme, a little doodle of jazz brushes and electric piano. It has served her character well throughout the journey but in NO MORE SAVING WORLD (syntax intentional) it represents her rebirth, from Soviet spy to happily-retired ex-pat living in the USA. It introduces her, in silhouette, before giving way to a pretty and joyful orchestral movement representing her steadfast insistence to never return to her previous life of globe-trotting hero.

SIDEBAR: As I alluded to at the beginning of this post, there were many reasons why it took me so long to release this album. A primary one was my post-production workload and all that entailed - editing, sound design and a ridiculous amount of Special FX's in practically every scene. That forced me into 'borrowing' a lot of cues from the previous films to use as temp score to guide my editing. It's a convenient way to do things - all films use temps during this process - but it served me particularly well because it was MY music and already fit the world nicely. The downside was that, in many cases, these temps became THE final music for the movie. Of course I tweaked and remixed them all to avoid being too repetitive. But the end result was a body of music that I didn't feel would be original enough to warrant a full-blown soundtrack release. And so, upon completion of the film I shelved the idea of releasing the accompanying score album until I had the time and energy to revisit the music and see what I had and what I could actually do with it. Fortunately, that 6 month wait and a new perspective allowed me to discover how much new stuff there was and dang, it wasn't half-bad! Re-invigorated, I attacked the project with new-found purpose and to my delight discovered 45 minutes of material worthy of release. Maybe not the length of a modern soundtrack, but certainly longer than the original Cage the Bear and right in the sweet spot for the good ol' vinyl days of yore. Many of these older themes can be heard, some in their entirety, in the tracks SHE'S IN THE WAY, WOUNDED BEAR and THE MAP OF PLANETS. Snippets abound elsewhere throughout. A little bit of cheating, to be honest. But needs must.

Discovering the power of The Intervex

Two significant new themes get full workouts in the cues MASTER OF THE MASSES and THE INTERVEX. From an Editor's perspective, I knew these sequences in the film would be montages intercutting between the different characters in the story and they needed a propulsive underscore to drive them cohesively. It was also a great opportunity to exercise some electronic synth muscles and there's a lot of fun to be had with an unrestricted synthesizer palate at my disposal. Once they were in the toolbox, elements of these themes would appear throughout the picture.

After a brief intro (a piece of music originally intended as a major theme but alas, only appears here) Narvassa's theme reappears in its original demo form as PALAMIN, leading us into the moment when another hero, Vexxxtra, is born. From there, the new theme TRANSHIFT propels our characters into confrontation and in SAFE HOUSE (Bring Down the Straps!) the success of our heroes' mission is in dire jeopardy. These cues were a a lot of fun to write and arrange, relying on heavy percussion and rock drums to give them the necessary power and import. One good thing about being Director, Editor and Composer - there's no one there to tell you "no".

Project Moonbeam

The last major motif that begins to show itself in the back half of the film is EYE OF THE AI. It's a pulsing little electronic rhythm that anchors several cues that follow, most notably the penultimate climax on Earth - PROJECT MOONBEAM. This was another fun one, probably because I got to throw in a house beat loop, a rarity for me. One of my favorite visual and musical sequences in the film... DJ Kunk, at your service!

As the film reaches its climax, all of the established themes dovetail together in CONFRONTING ECLIPSYS and FINALE, bringing the Cage The Bear saga to its exciting conclusion. Despite its appearance throughout the film, this is the only album appearance of the bombastic RUSSIANS theme I wrote for the previous film. I felt that including it as a stand-alone track would be redundant, even though in this film it is a remixed and beefier version. And with the crescendo of that final NARVASSA ostinato, the film finds our heroes flying into space, victorious and seeking new adventures.

But the music doesn't end there. Scoring the closing credits to a film is always a reliably daunting task. I'm usually exhausted by the end of a film's production life cycle and usually end up just creating a suite of the film's major musical themes. This is a pretty standard approach in the industry - not the most exciting and creative approach but a time-tested and acceptable method. But as fate would have it, Adrian approached me with a set of lyrics he'd written for a song called IT'S ALL SO STELLAR, hoping we could use them in some, as yet unknown fashion. This was still during Post and because my hands were full, I gave it only a cursory thought at the time. But as deadlines approached, I had the dawning inspiration to go for broke and create the James Bond-inspired end title sequence I've always dreamt of. And because this was the final film of a trilogy that had begun as a spy thriller, it seemed obvious and perfect. So I dove in, cherry-picking the lyrics I thought would best fit the theme I was beginning to piece together. Obviously, the song is a shameless homage to all things Bond visually and musically, the Thunderball theme most specifically.

Filming Lauren for the credits sequence in my cluttered workspace

To me that music encapsulates what I love about those films' credit sequences best. I raided the toolbox for everything at my disposal - big horns, soaring John Barry-esque strings and, staying true to our trilogy's sonic soundscape, the theremin. I even did my best attempt at a Bond vocal to seal the deal (I'm no Tom Jones but you get the point I hope). Once the song was recorded, I dove into the visuals, using whatever green screen footage of my actors I could find and shooting some additional moments with Lauren (Natasha) to accentuate the big moments in the film I wanted to illuminate.

I have to be honest, that song and credit sequence is my favorite moment of this film's journey... hell, I'll fess up and admit it's one my favorite things I've ever done. Rarely do things turn out better than you could possibly have imagined - this is one of those times. I'm exceedingly proud of it and hope it comes across as the loving tribute to the Bond films I intended.

Well, that's enough of my rambling. I hope you enjoyed this latest glimpse behind the scenes of my musical process and, more importantly, the music that was borne from it. I'm a lucky guy to have the tools and support to indulge myself fully in the making of these films. Always challenging, always rewarding and for that I am eternally grateful. So until next time... be well and "Nostrovia!"


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