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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

BARREN LANDS/ATMOS270 (Killer)
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

DISMAL THIRD WORLD /  NM302 (Killer)
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

JUST SHY OF ZENITH FULL/E60-002  (espn)
BIRCH STREET MUSIC  ascap / Neil & Matthew Deluca
All Media Synchronization, Performance and Master

AT PEACE IN THE WILDERNESS /Br475  (apm)
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

Friday, April 5, 2013

Music for “The Ball”




          In “The Ball” producer Mike Johns tells the story of a soccer ball that became an international ambassador.  Lost in the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of March 2011, it was carried by ocean currents to a remote Alaskan island, where a middle-aged couple found it, and returned it to its teenaged owner in Japan.  Actor George Takei narrates the piece.
          The music in “The Ball”, said executive producer Andy Tennant, “is used incredibly well.”
          “Watching it without the music doesn’t have the same experience. When you see the visual of the vast ocean and you hear George Takei’s voice with the majestic score - those three things coming together create a certain mood and experience for the viewer.”
          Following is the music in “The Ball”:

          THE GREAT LAKES / Bbcpm006  (firstcom)
          Bbc Production Music ascap /Unwin Wayne Tyrone
          All Media Synchronization, Performance and Master

          SUSPENDED EMOTION/ ATMOS289   (Killer)
          Atmosphere Music Ltd  prs / Chris White & ANTHONY PHILLIPS
          All Media Synchronization, Performance and Master

          ALL HOPE LOST /bbcpm014  (firstcom)
          Bbc Production Music ascap / Barnaby Taylor & Ben Salisbury
          All Media Synchronization, Performance and Master

          INTO THE DEPTHS /ATMOS244  (Killer)
          Atmosphere Music Ltd prs /David Goldsmith & Andrew Britton
          All Media Synchronization, Performance and Master

          LIFE CHAIN / Bbcpm014  (firstcom)
          Bbc Production Music ascap / Barnaby Taylor & Ben Salisbury
          All Media Synchronization, Performance and Master

          PASSING GENERATIONS /Bbcpm014 (firstcom)
          Bbc Production Music ascap / Barnaby Taylor & Ben Salisbury
          All Media Synchronization, Performance and Master

          MIRACLE OF BIRTH /Bbcpm014 (firstcom)
          Bbc Production Music ascap / Barnaby Taylor & Ben Salisbury
          All Media Synchronization, Performance and Master

          SIMPLE LEGACY /ATMOS266  (Killer)
          Atmosphere Music Ltd prs /Mark Sayer-Wade
          All Media Synchronization, Performance and Master


          The first track, “Great Lakes” was not Johns’ original choice.  Tennant wasn’t satisfied with the original track.
          “You need something bigger - not overpowering - but something that compliments those grandiose shots of the Pacific Ocean,” Tennant told him.
          Johns tried two or three tracks, and finally hit upon “Great Lakes”, which is orchestral, soft and majestic.
          “Perfect,” Tennant said. “This is the way we want to set the table.”
          When “The Ball” was completed Tennant felt it was special.
          “In terms of just a story I think it was one of the most powerful we ever told,” Tennant said. “It’s a story of how we are all connected in this world - it put a human face on global tragedy.  It captured humanity - acts of kindness and being connected as neighbors - what we’re supposed to be about.
          “After I watched that I will never look at a soccer ball in the same way again.  In some way it symbolized survival, the same way ‘Wilson’ the volleyball did in the film ‘Cast Away’ to the Tom Hanks character. 
          “Mike’s use of music in that feature is a classic case of where it enhanced the experience but didn’t take over.”

Posted by Steve Marantz on April 5, 2013

Friday, March 15, 2013

Putting Sound and Music to Ray Lewis, Part 2

         
         E:60’s profile of Ray Lewis in 2012 called for music and sound to match the dark hues of Lewis’ story.  Producer David Salerno focused on Lewis’ relationship with his father, distant and troubled in youth and early adulthood.  Only in recent years have they reconciled.

Marlon Hidalgo

          Marlon Hidalgo of Anderson Productions edited the piece and explains the music.  It starts with Lewis meeting children in Harlem for his charity foundation.  A music cut, “You Will be Home”, runs for about 30 seconds.
          Hidalgo: “Very light and neutral for that part of the story.”
          Then Lewis answers his cell phone.  His father, Ray Jackson, is calling.  We hear Jackson singing a gospel tune, “I Feel Like Going On.”  At 1:05 the story moves forward with the reporter’s voice-over.  Lewis’ career success is summarized before his ordeal as a quasi-fatherless child is introduced.  The section uses four sound selections that start with a driving percussion and end with mysterious-spooky. The four cuts are called “Jump Cut”, “Antarctic”, “Harbor”, and Incantation.”
          Hidalgo: “I love to combine songs and audio design on my own.  The next four cuts were used for a total of 45 seconds.  I used them to jump from a fast-paced action to pensive and reflective mood.”


          The story transitions to Lewis’ Florida childhood at about 1:55.  The music is “Travels”, a light piece with strings.
          At 2:10 Lewis’ father is introduced as an absent figure in and out of jail for drugs.  The music, “Rainy Days”, a dark piano cut, runs for about 10 seconds.
          Hidalgo: “We thought it fit the mood.”
          At 2:45 come details of the father’s drug habit.  The tense music,  “The Basement”, is followed by “Mist on the Lake”, to 3:15, wherein the story turns toward Lewis’ fatherless childhood.
          Hidalgo: “We go from a dark mood to a mood of uncertainty.”
          Lewis’ loneliness and yearning for his father, and his immersion in athletics, is underscored by a melancholy piano in “Still Water” at 3:25 to 4:05, followed by a slow horn in “Earth Drama” at 4:15 and a soft percussion and ‘whistling wind’ in “Pensive” at 4:30 to 5:00.
          Hidalgo: “We went from a mood of emptiness to a resentful mood as Ray started training to forget about the pain his dad left in him.”
          Lewis coped through athletics at Kathleen High, and erasing his father’s achievements from the school record books.  This covers two cuts, “Floating Current”, and “Adventures in Relaxation”, from 5:30 to 5:50.
          Hidalgo: “They are both sort of atmospheric cuts that went well with the training and pain Ray felt in high school.”
          Lewis’ career advances to the University of Miami, where he becomes an All-American linebacker.  He begins to see more of his father, but their meetings tend to upset Lewis.  The music, “Future World”, runs from 5:52 to 6:15.
          Hidalgo: “It is a neutral cut that finishes with a down side.”  
          At 6:25 Lewis’ career takes off with the Baltimore Ravens, but still he craves a relationship with his father.  The music,  “Reading Your Words”, runs until about 7:00.
          Hidalgo: “A dark and somber cut.  Ray never got to have a father/son conversation at that time in his life.  Song was perfect for that.”
          The story becomes darker, as Lewis’ father flits at the margins of Ray’s life, mooching money but avoiding a relationship. 
          In 2000 Lewis is convicted of obstruction of justice, and in 2001 he wins a Super Bowl, but his father remains distant.  “Call for Help” runs from 7:16 to 7:36.
          Hidalgo: “A mysterious cut.  Ray testifies about the stabbings -- we thought the cut fit the mood.”
          The father talks about his relapse into drug addiction at 7:55, to a sound called “Suspensory”.
          Hidalgo: “It has a sort of dark investigative mood.”
          At 8:15 the father rejects Lewis’ offer to pay for treatment of his addiction, and determines to do it on his own.  The music, “Great Salt Lake”, which runs to 9:00, is “very dronie and a little dark”, Hidalgo said.
          The reconciliation of Lewis and his father began with a six-hour motor trip to visit Lewis’ grandfather and Ray Jackson’s father.  “Sun Rise and Shine”, at 9:15 to 9:30, is described by Hidalgo as “very reflective”.
          From 9:30 to 10:45, as Lewis’ father recounts how, during the drive, he poured out his guilt and remorse to his son, and Lewis recounts how he received it, no music or sound is used.   Catharsis begins in this segment.
          The story advances to their meeting with Lewis’ grandfather at his North Carolina home.  Lewis had never met his grandfather, Shadie Ray Whitehead.  The music, “Earth Rise”, was “another reflective and mysterious cut,” Hidalgo said, that ran for about 45 seconds.  As three generations talk of the family “curse” of paternal abandonment, and Lewis vanquishes his bitterness, catharsis is achieved.
          The mood swings upward at 11: 55 as Lewis vows to be a good father to his six children and to help disadvantaged youth through United Athletes Foundation.  Hidalgo used “The Waiting” because it is “reflective and light”.
          The story comes full circle at 12:35 when it returns to Lewis taking the cell phone call from his father, who belts out “I Feel Like Going On”, by The Five Heartbeats.  The tune gets a 20-second run, and then reappears at 13:45 as the story wraps.
          Hidalgo:  “The best cut of the piece.  This is Ray’s Dad singing and it fits the mood of the whole piece.  We all thought it would be the perfect way to end a father and son feature.  It is very powerful and has a great message.  It gives the perfect ending.”

Posted by Steve Marantz on March 15, 2013.  

Putting Sound and Music to Calvin Johnson. Part 1

Phil Hanson


          Sound and music, as production elements, distinguish E:60 stories among ESPN content.  That’s the opinion of Phil Hanson, music coordinator at ESPN.
          “What you get with E:60 is music that ties you here,” says Hanson, tapping his heart.  “We’re taking viewers into other people’s lives and worlds.  Music is part of that storytelling.  We have a chance to go in different directions with music and film score.  It’s a more elevated form of storytelling.”
          Hanson helps E:60 producers use sound and music to define and reflect emotion, mood, action, location, pace, and time period.
          As with food and flavors, sound and music are better understood as sensory experience than in words.  That’s why Hanson took us into the Music Room, 4th Floor, Building 13, to show how sound and music are used.
          Within the music room is a library with thousands of licensed selections labeled descriptively: suspense-tension, bebop jazz, kitsch, easy listening, percussive, world travel, mambo madness, surreal images, glued to the box, tribal dance, popular Dvorak, gator legends of rock and blues, questioning and curious, comedy classic, earth horizon, scenic emotions, computers and robots, lite whimsy, aggressive punk, electro rock, Latin pride and glory, moods, surf score, swamp rock, and country hard rock.       
          It also contains 20 custom scores composed for E:60’s exclusive use, soon to be 30 custom scores.  None were in the E:60 piece about Lions All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson, first aired in 2012, that Hanson queued up as an example.
          The story highlighted Johnson’s supportive family and comfortable upbringing in Georgia, his work ethic and humility, and his steady ascent to stardom.  It was relatively devoid of struggle and darkness, save for his second year in the league in which the Lions were 0-16.
          The sound and music had to match the story.
          “We look at three key areas,” Hanson said. “The location of the footage -- Georgia for the most part.  The period is contemporary.  And the overall mood -- nothing too dark or dramatic.  You also have the fact that he’s an NFL player, which lend itself to a hard-hitting sound.”


          The piece opens with “Sandstorm Tambur” against a montage of Johnson’s on-field feats.  Sandstorm Tambur is a driving percussion, or as Hanson put it, “Kind of action-adventure.”
          In succession followed “Stars and Sand”, “Undercover Agents”, and “Epic Action Combat”.  More of the same.
          At 2:10 the story shifts to Johnson’s family and upbringing in Georgia.  The music is “Central Position” -- a slower tempo with folksy strings.
          “That’s a major shift - more of a background score for storytelling,” said Hanson.
          As the family story unwinds a slow cut, “Hidden Valley”, is followed by “Sparxx”.   At the mention of Sparxx Hanson lit up.
          “That’s one of our ESPN country drama sounds,” he said. “The story is looking into his background in the south.  Basically it combines some country elements with drama.”
          Asked to describe Sparxx, Hanson said, “It’s not a melody you can easily hum.  It’s going to give you drama and rising moments, with flavors that are southern.  It’s also called ‘crunk’, which is country funk.  It goes with long-form storytelling on athletes from the south.”
          Something called “Tribal Landscapes” is used for a few beats before the story shifts to Johnson’s high school and college feats.  The music becomes “Illest in the Game Instrumental”. 
          “Rather than the traditional highlight music we’re giving it a dramatic twist,” said Hanson.  “You can take any kind of basic music style - country, hip-hop, rock, pop - and give it different dramatic twists by putting in more minor chord changes, and changing the pace and the beats underneath.”
           As the story winds through his high school and college (Georgia Tech) career, the sound is “A Change of Sky”, which is soft, and “Epic Fight Action”, which is used for highlights, often in montage.
          A reflective cut called “Pensive” plays under the account, at 10:50, of his dreary 2008 season in which the Lions went 0-16.   After Pensive comes more up-tempo percussive sound to underscore the arrival of quarterback Matthew Stafford, and Johnson’s first Pro Bowl.  Lively strings accompany his signing of a huge new contract. 
          The summation, at 13:30, of the enviable and admirable world of Calvin Johnson is accompanied by “I Guess We’re Friends”, a bright pop acoustic number.
          “That’s for a happy ending,” Hanson said.

Posted by Steve Marantz on March 15, 2013