Christopher Drake is known for his Batman adaptation scores, creating music for both animated films, such as Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, and video games, such as Batman: Arkham Origins, so it's really no surprise that he was asked to be the man behind the music for Kevin Smith's versatile True North horror trilogy.
He sat down with us recently at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, where the world premiere of Smith's Yoga Hosers was held, to talk about the movie, working with Kevin Smith, and more.
CB: So first of all, as a not very musically inclined person, I have to ask, what’s the general creative process of something like this? How do you start out when scoring a film?
CD: The first thing you do is have a conversation with the director. I kind of equate it to painting a picture. (You discuss) what the language or the style of music going to be. Is it gonna be like a punk rock score, an electronic score, or an orchestral John-Williams-type score? What does the movie need? At the end of the day, you have to serve the needs of the film, and that kind of dictates the style.
You have this conversation about the style, and then second part of this conversation – which is called the spotting session – is that you literally watch the movie, without music in it or with some sort of temp track (temporary music typically taken from similar projects).
So we talk about the style of the music, where the music should be, and where the music shouldn’t be, which is just as important. Then I go away and do my own thing, create some demos, and then I have what’s called the “show and tell” session, when the director comes to my studio. And that’s the scariest process for me, because you think you have something that’s cool, but you just don’t know. The director might not like it, so that’s the most nerve-wracking part.
The difference between a composer and other musicians is that a recording artist or a band is writing from an individual, artistic standpoint. As a composer, it’s not my movie; I’m supporting something else. I have to get the director’s concept.
What’s it like working with Kevin Smith, specifically? Is he more or less collaborative than others?
He is super easy. Kevin is the most relaxed dude, and he’s incredibly clever. He comes from a place of, “I’m hiring you, cause you’re an expert, you’re gonna make me look good, and I’m gonna take credit for it.”
So he’s very trusting?
Incredibly trusting. And he really gives you direction, but he’s not very micromanaging. What’s interesting from a composer’s standpoint is that (the music) is one of the very few places where a director can be surprised, because they may have written the script, they may understand acting, and a guy like James Cameron may understand special effects – but music is like alchemy. It’s the one place where they might be like “I don’t get music.”
I can write a piece of a music for a scene that can totally change what (a director’s) concept of the emotional sceneis, and they’re like, “wow, I never thought of it from that perspective.” (The music is) the one place where I think directors kind of have fun, because they’re like, “I don’t have to think about anything. It’s magic time.” It’s very cool to be a part of that situation.
So I do my thing, and Kevin usually has very minimal tweaks. Every director is different, but in this case for Yoga Hosers it was interesting. This is my first comedy; I’ve usually done a lot of Batman stuff, which is more action-adventure. But this was my first time dealing with the “science of the joke” and how music affects it.
Kevin is back to what he does (with Yoga Hosers), which is comedic dialogue. He’s a master of comedic dialogue. So a lot of times he’d be like, “Drake, I want you to hold on this. Let the absurdity of this sink in, then the music will be the punctuation mark.” That was a different way of thinking for me, so that was kind of cool.
Once we’re finished, we go to the mixing stage – where there’s already music, dialogue, and special effects. And generally, this is the most soul-crushing part of the process, because you’ve spent all these weeks or months writing your music; you’re sitting there and you can’t wait to hear it on the surround sound; and instantly the sound effects guys railroad it with explosions and stuff.
But with Kevin, dialogue is king – as it should be, and second to dialogue is the music. He always pushes the sound effects down. When the sound guys are mixing, Kevin will be writing notes, and then he’ll look at me, like, “What do you think, boss? You think the music can come up a bit?” That never usually happens. Usually you’re just kind of quiet, but Kevin is very inclusive.
So I just re-watched Tusk last night – (significant laughter from CD) – and technically, Yoga Hosers is its sequel. How different is Yoga Hosers from Tusk?
It is – no pun intended – a completely different animal. Tusk is like this weird-ass, Cronenberg-like body horror film. I think Kevin was in a different creative space on Tusk, kind of a punk rock, “you think I’m gonna go right, so I’m gonna go left” thing. I think he wanted to do something outside of anything he’s done before, where if people watched it and thought, “I don’t get this. This is not for me,” he’d be like, “That’s a completely appropriate response, and I respect that.” Or if you go, “That’s some weird shit that I don’t know if I want to see again, but I had a good time and I’ve never seen anything like that,” that (would really capture) where he was coming from.
Now, Yoga Hosers is more back in the Kevin Smith wheelhouse, and what’s crazy is that technically it’s a sequel to an R-rated body horror movie about a guy surgically altered into a walrus. But, this is a PG-13 film starring two teenage girls. It’s kind of like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. The tone is completely different (from Tusk); it has elements of a Joe Dante, Gremlins kind of thing. It has some reoccurring character, but even the way the movie starts off is very much like teenage girl culture.
(Smith) wanted to make a fun action-adventure movie, and he wanted to something for girls. He’s totally into the idea that there should be more outlets where girls can be the hero. The whole thing is stylistically coming from the perspective of two 16-year-old girls, Instagram culture, etc., as opposed to Tusk being a weird horror thing, so Yoga Hosers is really just completely different. Even Johnny Depp’s Guy LaPointe character has a heightened style, because it comes from the girls’ perception. Even though it’s the same character, there are little tweaks to his performance and the makeup is way more exaggerated.
How different is it to make music for a movie, as opposed to a video game? Is there more or less work?
Think of it this way. A movie is linear storytelling, but a video game like Batman: Arkham Origins is nonlinear because it’s only as fast as the player makes it. If you’re like me – a person who sucks at video games – you can be stuck in the damn room for like an hour, trying to figure out how to get out, or you can like a 12-year-old and get out of the room in five minutes.
In a video game, if Batman walks into a room, I have to write an ambient track for that, and then if he opens maybe door number two and there’s a bad guy, then another piece of music has to be active and might be have a little bit more tension. Or, if you go through door number three, you fall off a cliff and die, so there needs to be a third piece of music. So what you have is all these layers, as opposed to a film where there is just one piece of music. For a level in a Batman game, I have to write maybe four or five different variations, because it’s like a choose-your-own adventure kind of thing.
Are you really into any comics right now? Is there anything you would love the opportunity to score that adaptation for?
I always like the supernatural DC stuff, like Deadman, the Demon, Spectre. I’m kind of disconnected to what’s going on currently. But if I were to know back when I was in junior high that I was going to do the music for The Dark Knight Returns, that would’ve made me insane. I’m fortunate enough to say I scored that and Batman: Year One, and those are some of my favorites. I’d love to work on an adaptation of Morrison’s Arkham Asylum, and also love Alan Moore and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Do you have plans for the next and final film in the True North trilogy, Moose Jaws?
I’ve read the script, and I can’t say anything about it. It’s great, and it’s really funny. I wish I could talk about it because there are so many things I could get into, but I don’t know much about where they’re at right now. Kevin’s got a few things on his plate, so I’m not sure what the roll out time on Moose Jaws is. But the script is hilarious. The biggest compliment I can give to anything comedic is if it gets the orange-juice-coming-out-of-my-nose thing, and that happened when I read that script.