Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Story of a Song

          “Dream On’ was meant to be about alienation, wrote Steven Tyler, its composer and lead singer of Aerosmith, in his memoir.
           “The song started with a melody in my right hand that rocked back and forth hypnotically, out of the ether,” Tyler wrote. “I began it in F-minor with a C, C-sharp dischord. That gave it a haunting, Edgar Allen Poe kind of feel...”
         By the time the lyrics were completed, at a hotel near Logan Airport, it had become an anthem of hope.
         “I’ve always said it’s about hunger, desire, ambition,” he wrote, “...a song to give to myself.”
         “Dream On” continues to give more than 40 years after its release.  In a recent incarnation, as the finale to the Boston Marathon special of E:60 Presents, Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry performed it with a new wrinkle.
         The E:60 version of “Dream On” is a collaboration with the Southern California Children’s Chorus, which paired 50 fresh-faced youth, ages 11 to 17,  with the two well-traveled rockers.  Tyler, Perry and the chorus paid tribute to the bombing victims of the 2013 race, and to runners everywhere.
         Executive Producer Andy Tennant saw and heard it recorded at the Vibiana, a decommissioned cathedral in downtown Los Angeles.
         “When Steven Tyler played those first notes on piano with Joe Perry’s iconic opening chord, I looked down at the goose bumps on my arms,” Tennant recalled.
         The idea was hatched last fall when Tennant and feature producer Heather Lombardo planned a special to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the bombings.  Tennant wanted a musical endnote to reflect the images and story lines, and thought of Aerosmith, with its Boston roots from the early 1970s.
         ESPN music director Kevin Wilson took the idea to Aerosmith, with whom he had worked on a NASCAR show in the past.  Wilson suggested that the band record a special “Dream On” for iTunes, with proceeds to go to charities for bombing victims.  Aerosmith jumped at the idea.
         “Steven and Joe were excited to do something for Boston, to give back,” Tennant recalled.

         The initial idea was for an acoustic version, with just Tyler and Perry, absent bass or percussion, in a recording studio.
         “They never had done the song like that, just the two of them,” Wilson recalled. “It really interested them.”
         Then Tyler and director Casey Tebo had another idea, to bring in a children’s choir.   E:60 reached out to John and Lori Loftus, a couple who founded the Southern California Children’s Chorus in 1996.  They had overseen its growth to 340 members in seven choirs, and had performed to good reviews at the Oscars in 2012.  They agreed.
         The Loftus’ spent a Sunday afternoon with Tyler at his West Hollywood home where they wrote an arrangement.
         “It was clickin’,” Lori, a keyboardist, recalled.  “He said ‘this’.  I said ‘Do you mean this?’  He said ‘Yeah’ and laughed.  I had ideas. He had ideas.”
         The challenge was to blend Tyler’s voice, “so big and rock and rollish”, as Loftus described it, with the classically trained voices of the choir.
         “You keep your sound,” Loftus told Tyler.  “The children will put the force of hope behind you.”
         The arrangement tucked the choir in “from below and above” Tyler and Perry’s range, Loftus explained. She was determined that the choir support Tyler and Perry without “getting in their way”.
         Tyler suggested the choir echo his signature “Dream On” phrase for an angelic effect.
         The shoot took place over two days late in March.  E:60 had Tennant, producer Martin Khodabakhshian, editor Tim Horgan,  four cameras, and several photographers.  Aerosmith had a crew of about 40, including legendary audio engineer Chris Lord-Alge.
         Visuals were not a concern.  Tyler and Perry were elegant, as was the choir.  The old cathedral was atmospheric and well-lit.
         “I approached it like a music video,” said Khodabakhshian. “What’s the jib shot look like? How to hit certain points of the song to accentuate the lyrics? How to get the emotion on Tyler’s face and Perry’s focus on his guitar?  A lot of it was hands and faces.”
         Audio was a concern.  The choir’s vocals could bleed into the mikes meant to capture Tyler’s vocals and piano, and Perry’s electric guitar.
         “That’s where the Aerosmith crew stepped in and ensured that we captured all the audio channels separate and distinct for the best mix,” Tennant recalled.
         Prior to the first rehearsal Tennant met with Tyler and Perry in their respective dressing rooms.  He showed them the stories slated for the special – about victims Marc Fucarile, Aaron Hern, and Karen Rand; runner Kris Biagiotti and her special needs daughter, Kayla; and first responders Joe Andruzzi and Carlos Arredondo.  Actor Ben Affleck voiced the piece about Fucarile, while Patriots quarterback Tom Brady voiced the others.
         “I wanted them to have an idea of who they were performing for and to,” Tennant recalled.  “Both were deeply moved by the stories that the victims told.”
         Tyler, Perry and the choir rehearsed the song twice on the first day at the old church.  This was “Dream On” as never before, stripped down and minimalist.
         “Not a lot was going on, which is why it sounded so great,” said Wilson.
         After the rehearsal, Tennant recalled, Tyler remarked, “in some ways this is how I envisioned the song would always be performed.”
         Tennant was happy, too. “The choir brought a certain mood, a certain innocence and reflective, melodic tone that hit all the right notes for what we originally set out to accomplish.”
         Said Wilson:  “The choir added a touch of sophistication -- a more inspirational sound.  It evokes emotionally in people.”

          They sang it twice, for keeps, on the second day.  After the second take Khodabakhshian asked the choir to do it again, without Tyler and Perry, to get tight shots of the faces.
         The final edit included two specialty shoots.  One was of items from a makeshift marathon memorial stored in a Boston warehouse.  The other was of Team MR8, a group that runs in honor of 8-year-old Martin Richard, who died from the second bomb blast.  Khodabakhshian shot Team MR8 at daybreak, early in March, on the quiet streets of Boston’s Back Bay.  Those shots, in slow-mo, connected the studio/church in Los Angeles to the horror and redemption of Boston.
         “The key to the edit was to balance the iconic rock stars with the somber and powerful imagery of the runners,” Lombardo said.
         To her taste, it worked.
         “The overall show came across as genuine, not forced or over the top,” said Lombardo.  “We wanted the ending to fit with that sentiment.  Steven Tyler and Joe Perry were very genuine about the reason they participated.  The video is understated, all about the song, and the imagery of Team MR8.  It fits the sentiment of just being genuine and raw.”
         Aerosmith’s new version of “Dream On” was released on iTunes at the end of July.  All funds received by Steven Tyler and Joe Perry in connection with this track will be donated to charities for those affected by the Boston Marathon bombing.
(Posted by Steve Marantz on August 5, 2014)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Almost Perfect

         “Perfect”is the story of one of baseball’s rarities, the perfect game.  Only 23 pitchers have retired 27 consecutive batters, with no hits, walks or errors.
         In January 2013, producer Martin Khodabakhshian set out to interview the 17 living pitchers who threw perfect games:  Don Larsen, Jim Bunning, Sandy Koufax, Len Barker, Mike Witt, Tom Browning, Dennis Martinez, Kenny Rogers, David Cone, David Wells, Randy Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Dallas Braden, Roy Halladay, Philip Humber, Matt Cain and Felix Hernandez.
         “Going in, I thought I would get half the living guys,” said Khodabakhshian.
         Thirteen consented.  Initially, four did not:  Koufax, Rogers, Buehrle, and Wells. When Buehrle heard that 13 were on board, he changed his mind. 
         That left Koufax, Rogers and Wells. Khodabakhshian queried Koufax and Rogers at least six times over a three-month period.
         Koufax’s representative stipulated a contribution to a charity of Koufax’s choice.
          “My response was E:60 doesn’t pay anybody for an interview,” Khodabakhshian recalled.
         “Rogers never gave me a reason.”
         That left Wells.  He was not favorably disposed to ESPN for a past incident that did not involve Khodabakhshian or E:60.  Khodabakhshian contacted the sports marketing agent, Andrew Levy, who contacted Wells’ wife, Nina.  She passed on Khodabakhshian’s number to her husband.  Wells’ call came in to Khodabakhshian as he pulled into a Magic Kingdom parking lot with his son.
         “I Know you’re upset with ESPN for whatever reason,” Khodabakhshian told Wells. “But that shouldn’t keep you out of this.  There are people in my family who hurt me – people I’ve done a lot for – who don’t call on my kids’ birthdays.  But I’m not going to stay away from a family reunion because of one aunt or one cousin.
         “Don’t look at this as an ESPN or E:60 thing.  Look at it as a perfect game film.  You are probably the most favorite of those pitchers, because of who you were and what you did.  If you aren’t in this, millions of fans will say ‘Where was Wells?’
         “You will regret not being in this. You will disappoint yourself.”
         Wells finally agreed.  He sat for an interview at his home in San Diego the week prior to the airing of the 16-minute version of “Perfect” in April 2013.  Khodabakhshian conducted the interview by telephone from an edit room in Connecticut.
         Wells brought the tally to 15 of 17 living perfect game pitchers.  Before each was interviewed, Khodabakhshian and producer Toby Hershkowitz reviewed the films to identify key plays, moments and stats.
         E:60 also interviewed one of four pitchers – Mike Mussina – who lost a perfect game in the ninth inning or later.  (It happened to Mussina twice).  Two others -- Armando Galarraga, Pedro Martinez – declined to participate.  Another, Dave Stieb, could not be reached. Jim Joyce, the umpire who blew the call at first base that cost Galarraga his perfect game, declined.
         But none mattered to Khodabakhshian as much as Koufax and Rogers – especially Koufax, because of his iconic legend.
         “If anything about ‘Perfect’ wasn’t perfect it was that we didn’t get all of them,” said Khodabakhshian.  “The good thing is that it’s timeless.  There will be another perfect game.  You can always add people.”

(posted by Steve Marantz on April 14, 2014)

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Thug Question

         Last summer Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch agreed to be interviewed and filmed by E:60 over four days of charitable activities in his hometown of Oakland.
         Producer Frank Saraceno and reporter Jeffri Chadiha undertook the assignment with some apprehension.  Lynch is famously reticent with media, so much so that the NFL reportedly fined him $50,000 for shirking his obligations.
         On the first day Saraceno tagged along with Lynch to his family picnic and shot video on his own.  He found Lynch relaxed and pleasant.
         But the real test was the sit-down interview the next day, in front of the producer, reporter and crew.  Initially, Lynch was “restless”, Saraceno recalled, and tended to answer questions with questions of his own.
         About 30 minutes in Lynch’s demeanor changed.
         “He opened up,” Saraceno recalled.  “Once he opened up he talked three, four and five minutes at a clip.  Not just meandering – very insightful. It wasn’t contrived -- everything felt original and genuine."
         At that point Saraceno and Chadiha were emboldened to steer the interview into a sensitive area.   Lynch has had several scrapes with the law, including a DUI and possession of a concealed firearm.  In a 2008 incident he was the driver of a car that struck a pedestrian and left the scene.
         Chadiha referenced Lynch's cousin Josh Johnson, who had told E:60 that "some people" perceived Lynch as a "thug".
         "How do you deal with that perception?"
         "Me bein' a thug?"
         Lynch reflected, in silence (at 6:35), as the cameras rolled.  Saraceno held his breath.
         “He kind of went ‘hmmm’,” said Saraceno.
         Then Lynch responded...and responded.  His answer went on for a couple of minutes.  In its candor and self-awareness, the answer belied Lynch's nickname of "Beast Mode". 
         “I remember standing there and thinking ‘Wow, that’s going to make the piece’,” Saraceno recalled.  “Because it gave you not only a window into where he came from, but an answer to his critics.”
         In edit, Saraceno decided to let Lynch’s response run beyond a minute.  He did so, he said, as a matter of context and fairness.
         “We let it go on for a while,” Saraceno said. “He thinks a lot in that answer -- stops talking for gaps at a time.  Normally we would edit that up just for time -- I didn’t want to do that in this case.  I wanted that silence to resonate with people, let it sit there.  You could see he was troubled -- he was really thinking. 
         “As a producer sometimes silence is your best friend – I think what made this answer so special is what he didn’t say.  If we had edited it down for time it would have taken all the emotion and power away from it.”
         “We wanted to do him justice by letting him struggle – because I think people realize this isn’t a guy who’s polished. He’s not a guy who’s blow-dried who is going to give the same answer over and over.  This is a guy who is really thinking through what he wants to say and then it’s up to the viewers to decide whether they like him or not.
         “You don’t want to misrepresent anyone.  It’s not like you’re protecting people, but you want to be fair, and as a journalist that’s always the struggle.  Am I being fair to this person?  Is what we’re reporting accurate?  Is their answer fair and contextually right?
         “In this case I know the way we handled it was definitely the right way.”
Jeffri Chadiha (left) and Marshawn Lynch

Posted by Steve Marantz on January, 20, 2014



Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Bushwacker Interview

         When the opportunity arose to shoot a feature about a champion bucking bull, producer Mike Johns jumped into the saddle.
         He had produced “Monkey Rodeo” in 2012 -- about monkeys who ride on the backs of dogs to herd sheep for the entertainment of humans.  Now he trained his rodeo sites on Bushwacker, a 1700-pound creature known as the “Muhammad Ali of bucking bulls”.
         Johns gathered his crew and headed down to Oklahoma and Texas.  He shot Bushwacker’s handler and owner.  He shot a couple of the cowboys who try to ride him for the required eight seconds in Professional Bull Riding competition.
         He and reporter/narrator Wright Thompson told the story of Bushwacker’s upbringing and emergence as a star, with tongues firmly in cheek, and a nod to the ‘Western Myth’ in American film and literature.  
         No story about a superstar would be complete without an interview, and Johns delivered, so to speak.  At 1:53 Bushwacker rings in with his opinion of...something.  We aren’t quite sure of what, but the good news is that Johns captured it for posterity.
         “It wasn’t like I had to be Barbara Walters interviewing him,” said Johns.  “I just stayed on the other side of the fence.  If you wait long enough he will make a noise.
         “It was easy because he can’t argue or give you trouble.”
         Overall, the making of “Ballad of Bushwacker” went off smoothly, Johns said, except for one hitch.   When he started the work Bushwacker had bucked off 42 straight rides, a record on the PBR circuit.   Then in mid-August J.B. Mauney broke the streak with an eight-second ride in Tulsa.  Mauney’s ride shattered Bushwacker’s aura of invincibility and caused Johns to pause.
         “When he got rode the question was do we even do the story,” Johns recalled.
         After deliberation, Johns decided Mauney’s ride added texture to the story.
         “It gave us a third act,” he said.
         Johns offered up Bushwacker’s handler, Kent Cox, to explain Mauney’s ride:
         “I don’t think the bull thinks he was rode,” Cox says.  “I do think he thinks JB was there longer than he wanted him to be there, but in his mind, he still won.”
         The last word belonged to Bushwacker.
         It was loud.

(Posted by Steve Marantz, November 14, 2103)


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Hail Szczur

          This fall E:60 told the story of a young baseball player, Matt Szczur (pronounced Caesar), who donated bone marrow to an infant born with leukemia.  The story comes with a teardrop warning -- it has a powerful emotional payoff.
         For its producer, Lisa Binns, the airing of Szczur’s story was a triumph of patience, perseverance and organization.  When she pitched it late in 2009 she knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
         “These type of (medical) stories don’t happen in a neat package,” Binns said.
         At the time Szczur was a two-sport star in football and baseball at Villanova.  He had signed up for the national bone marrow registry, and had been matched with the stricken infant.  For a while it looked like Szczur might have to miss Villanova’s Division 1-AA national championship football game.
Reporter Lisa Salters and Matt Szczur
         But the extraction procedure was put off until May of 2010, in the midst of Szczur’s baseball season.  Binns shot his last game before the procedure, shot footage in the hospital, and three weeks later, shot his first game back.
         Then she hurried up and waited.   Recipients of bone marrow transplants are not revealed to the donors until after a one-year waiting period and only if both parties agree.  The first year after transplant is tense, with survival rates at about 65 percent.
         Finally word came in May of 2011 that the transplant had worked -- the recipient had survived.  The national Be The Match registry gave Szczur the name of his recipient.  At this point Binns knew the donor and recipient -- or in this case the recipient's parents --wished to meet.
         The process became more complicated when he found out the recipient was a Ukrainian girl, Anastasia Olkhovskaya, who had been treated in Israel.  Through an agency in Israel, Binns got the family’s e-mail.
Marina Olkhovsky and Anastasia
         “The problem was they only spoke Russian,” Binns said.  
         So Binns reached out to ABC’s bureau in Israel.  The bureau assigned a translator to conduct the initial interviews.  With the translator’s help, Binns sent the parents a flipcam to shoot footage of their daughter.
         Now Binns was positioned for the coup de grace -- a Skype conversation between Szczur on one side of the ocean, and Anastasia and her parents, Ivan and Marina Olkhovsky, on the other.  The translator from the ABC bureau was on board.  All she needed was a camera.
         That need was filled when shooter Bill Roach was assigned to film a feature in Ukraine.  He went to Israel first to shoot the Skype conversation.  It took place in May 2012 -- two years after the successful transplant.
         Binns filmed Szczur, now in the Chicago Cubs farm system, when he finally talked, over Skype, with the little girl, now almost 3, and with her grateful parents. 
          Binns’ reaction?
Anastasia today
         “Pure delight,” recalled Binns.  “Not as a producer, but as a person.  Really touching and heartfelt moment.  I think it was effective for just that reason.”
Szczur is a Cubs prospect 
         By the time the segment aired this fall, nearly four years after her initial inquiries, she had come to appreciate its resilience.
         Had the recipient not survived, Binns said, “I don’t know if you have a story.  Everybody wants a happy ending but with stories like this you can’t predict the ending.
          “I would have said we should still do it, because it’s the reality of what happens, and it’s still about his act of generosity.  But you wouldn’t have all those things that are the total payoff.  You wouldn’t have the adorable little girl with glasses.”

(posted by Steve Marantz on September 19, 2013)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Mellor Off Camera

          In the photo above Red Sox groundskeeper Dave Mellor stands next to E:60 producer Heather Lombardo.   It was a Saturday morning in late April, as Lombardo interviewed Mellor on his struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after 37 surgeries.  The photo shows a mutually respectful producer and interview subject.   What it does not show, due to Mellor’s jacket, is a bracelet on his wrist.
          Off camera, Mellor told the story.   It was about a fallen soldier, Corporal Jessy Pollard, of Springfield, Mass., who was killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq in 2007.
          Mellor said that he proudly wears a KIA (killed in action) bracelet for Pollard.  Army Sgt. Lucas Carr gave it to Mellor after the Run to Home Base fundraiser at the ballpark in May 2011.
          “He said that if I wear it Jessy will look out over me and help me in my challenging times,” Mellor recalled.  “That was an amazingly powerful experience for me.  Waves of emotion washed over me.  I went into my office and called my wife and cried.”
          When he returned to the field a familiar ESPN cameraman saw him rub the bracelet and asked him about it. As Mellor related the story about Pollard, a helicopter flew above the ballpark, and hovered over home plate.
          The cameraman, who filmed military events, identified it as a Black Hawk helicopter, with sonar and radar, instead of guns.  Pollard had gone down in a Black Hawk.
          “I looked up and took a deep breath -- chills ran up and down my spine,” Mellor recalled.  “In my 29 years working on fields in stadiums I had never before seen any type of helicopter hover over home plate -- never before, and never since.
          “I really believe that was a sign from Jessy and a higher power that I am not alone and there will be strength when I need it.  I continue to proudly wear his bracelet every day and feel its power.”

(Posted by Steve Marantz on May 14, 2013) 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Music and Sound for ‘Hayward’s Heart’

          Hayward Demison was an Oregon high school football player who died - and then came back to life - on the field.  His return to action, a year later, after heart surgery, was the basis for “Hayward’s Heart”, a 2012 story by producer Martin Khodabakhshian that has a stylized mix of music and sound.
          Here Khodabakhshian describes his use of music and sound:
          “The story starts off that he’s dead - it tells the story of a kid who died.  We used a lot of stills and screen grabs.  At that point the music strategy was to be spare. Music can be typecast - you want to avoid that.  Droney means something is going to happen.  Piano keys are melancholy.  Triumphant means somebody has won.
          “Leading up to that point, no music, just ‘nat’ sounds from the game - then you kick in the music to set an ominous tone.
          “When he died it was a surreal ambient high, then thunder cracking, and nails of lightening.  Then the music picks up -- the reveal is a quarter of the way into the piece -- then the music comes alive like Hayward does.
          “Where we reveal he’s alive we brought in the chaotic heavy percussion - sound effects more than music.   Then the music stings.  He is staring at the camera - the music does the talking.  When you see him in the interview setting and see he is alive it is underneath music that stings.  Then the piece continues.”
          Following is the music, in sequence, for “Hayward’s Heart”:

TIDES /AZ20   (nonstop)
Non Stop International Publishing bmi / Yoni Gileadi
All Media Synchronization, Performance and Master

COMPELLING FORCE  /Kpm774  (apm)
Kpm Apm ascap / Christopher Willis
All Media Synchronization, Performance and Master

Atmosphere Music Ltd prs / ANDREW BLANEY
All Media Synchronization, Performance and Master

DISTRICT 10 /NM302  (Killer)
Soundcast Music ascap / David Travis Edwards
All Media Synchronization, Performance and Master

LOSING TOUCH /Kpm774  (apm)
Kpm Apm ascap / Christopher Willis
All Media Synchronization, Performance and Master

FAREWELL /DWCD 0422   ( dewolfe)
De Wolfe Music Library prs / Troy Banarzi 
All Media Synchronization, Performance and Master

Soundcast Music ascap / Christian Telford
All Media Synchronization, Performance and Master

THE DUST WIND /CHAP368    ( firstcom)
Chappell Recorded Music prs / Richard Mead
All Media Synchronization, Performance and Master

THE LAST ONE /Chap 368  ( firstcom)
Chappell Recorded Music prs / Robert Hartshorne
All Media Synchronization, Performance and Master

BIRCH STREET MUSIC  ascap / Neil & Matthew Deluca
All Media Synchronization, Performance and Master

Bruton Apm ascap /  Giovanni Parricelli
All Media Synchronization, Performance and Master

THE INVERTED STORY/ Kok2319 (Killer)
Koka Media Universal Publishing sacem / Laurent Levesque
All Media Synchronization, Performance and Master

Posted by Steve Marantz, April 10, 2013