When Batman: The Killing Joke comes to theaters and home entertainment systems next month, the music will be from Dynamic Music Partners.
Lolita Ritmanis, Michael McCuistion, and Kristopher Carter have an impressive resume working on film and TV together, which includes a handful of different iterations of the Dark Knight, from Batman: The Animated Series to Batman Beyond to Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
With The Killing Joke, though, they're taking on one of the best-known and most-loved Batman stories of all time...and they're doing so while adding an original song to the mix.
Of course, in The Killing Joke's graphic novel, The Joker did have a little song he sang...but no melody was ever
Ritmanis, McCuisition, and Carter joined ComicBook.com ahead of next week's pop culture convention to get the skinny on composing for The Killing Joke. You can meet them next week at Comic Con International: San Diego. Details on their panel and signing appearances in San Diego are in the interview below.
Are you guys pretty well-versed in the Comic Con experience at this point?
Michael McCuistion: We had been there many years ago to do a panel on...I think it was just on, generally, scoring for superhero animation, so we've been there once or twice before.
We've also been to other cons. WonderCon and...have we been to DragonCon, yet? I don't think we've been in there, but I know we've been to WonderCon. I think at this point we could be considered somewhat of a veteran con people.
I can't actually think of having interviewed folks who score for specifically animation before. Most of the people who I've been hooked up with for music interviews are, like, the folks who did Guardians of the Galaxy and X-Men: Days of Future Past and things, where it's live-action. What do you perceive as the key differences there, in terms of scoring for animation versus scoring for live-action, especially in the world of superheroes?
Kristopher Carter: Well, I think the first that we say about it is that it's actually not as different as you would think because music both in animation and in live-action is about telling a story. We're telling a story, getting the audience excited. We're showing the audience what they're seeing on screen, also what they might not be seeing on the screen.
I think the difference between animation and live-action is that animation typically happens at a faster pace. Something that might take several minutes to unfold in a live-action ends up happening a lot faster in animation.
Lolita Ritmanis: Yeah, and that's also maybe just a difference between writing for a series versus a longform project, where if you're writing for a half-hour show, it's 22 minutes of content, and of that, maybe there's eighteen minutes of music or something like that.
McCuisition: Or 22.
Ritmanis: For a film, like, we're going to be at Comic Con for the premiere of The Killing Joke which is our big, huge tent-pole event, really, that we're there. That's one of the big things that we're going there for, which will be happening on Friday night in Ballroom 20.
That's as cinematic as you can get, even though its animated, it very much has the feel of a live-action. We used a big string orchestra just as we would if it were a live-action feature. The performances by the actors are so compelling that you almost forget that it's an animated project. It's very deep and complex, and I think the fans are just going to really enjoy it.
That's kind of a main thing that we're there for, the big thing that we're there for. Also, there's a song in there that Mark Hamill sings that we wrote. That's going to be one of the big things.
One of the things I wanted to bring up, was was that something that you were brought in and immediately told, like, "Okay, we want you guys to do it and there's going to be an original song.", or did that come up at some point in development?
McCuistion: Well, that was kind of a surprise for us. Although they'd asked us to do the project and we were very excited about it, and then we sat down in our first meeting.
We had the first meeting very early because of this song, because in the world of animation, the songs are always done first, because you have to write the songs so that they can then perform the song, and then they animate after their performance is recorded, once the voice performance is recorded.
That was our first meeting, was "Well, there's this song," and so we sat down and talked about that, and that was actually the first thing we did for the entire production, and we didn't get to the underscore until many months later.
Ritmanis: It's a very interesting juxtaposition. The song has a lighthearted feel to it juxtaposed over this very dark story. I don't know, some people may perceive it as pretty intense, and some people might welcome the fact that it's a lively kind of romp in the midst of all this darkness, so we'll let the fans judge.
See, it's funny; I recently had a conversation about Phil Ochs, who has a song called "Outside of a Small Circle of Friends." It's about the murder of Kitty Genovese, but it's got this kind of ragtime sensibility, and it's very similar. The things he's saying are just terrible, but it's ragtime, and as a result of that, you get this really cool juxtaposition of tones that I think really kind of sells it.
McCuistion: You'll have to let us know what you think after you hear it, because I know this is one of those things where this graphic novel has been out for so long, now, and so many people know it and have imagined, in their own minds, what this is like, and I think it's going to be really exciting for them to watch it all come to life before their eyes. We'll see what you think. Let us know.
I feel like one of the things that's interesting about this particular book is that it's fairly short, and it's one of the very few things they've adapted for these DC animated movies that wouldn't have filled an 80-minute movie on its own. I feel like these additions are going to be really, kind of looked forward to and scrutinized and things, because people are going to be like, "Okay, so what did they do with all the extra time?"
Ritmanis: Well, I'll tell you. They give the story a whole heck of a lot more depth, which doesn't seem possible, but it is, and it gives you the ability to sort of climb inside the story a lot more, and then when we're actually talking about the material that's in the graphic novel, when you get to that material, you're really inside the story at that point. You're not really starting off there, you're really climbing in, up into that point.
Switching gears back to specifically the music, one of the things that struck me when you said that the original song was the very first thing done, since it has a very different kind of tonal element than a lot of the storytelling, my first question would be, how did that affect the head-space that you were in approaching the rest of the film?
Ritmanis: I think it honestly is kind of just a separate thing, because the rest of the score has nothing to do with the song, so it was literally just kind of this off-kilter thing that happens, and Joker is so unpredictable throughout the history of Joker.
You don't know what's real and what's just in his head. It's very complex, and I think that just adds to the intrigue if the whole project. The rest of the film, if you listen to the music apart from the song, that music has absolutely nothing to do with the song. It's much more about mystery and it has a cerebral quality to it, and heavy kind of depth to it. There's nothing that would say, "Oh this is music for an animated movie."
It has nothing of that aspect to it. I think we have so many wonderful fans around the world that have been listening to our music, and are really excited about this. We certainly would be happy to discuss it after the premiere...
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McCuistion: Yeah, if you don't know this, we are having ... our panel is Friday, July 22nd at 1:00, and it's in room 28DE, and the panel we're doing is specifically about writing songs for superheroes. It's called "I Love That Song."
We're going to be discussing the process that we go through to write these songs and how that works and the mechanics of it, and we're going to be talking about, I know, some songs that we wrote for another production, Batman: Brave and the Bold's "Mayhem of the Music Meister" with Neil Patrick Harris.
One thing, I think, about Batman in particular, certainly not quite on the same level with Superman, I would say, but he's certainly got his own kind of sonic fingerprint. When you guys are setting up to create new music for a character like that, do you spend a lot of time sitting there with like the '89 soundtrack, or is it just one of those things where you're like, "Well, we have all that for background in our brains, and let's just create something new and fresh that maybe shares some DNA with it?"
Carter: I think that- we've written music for many incarnations of Batman, and each one of them has always actually been a departure from what ... we try to make it a departure from what's before while still evoking what you want to hear when you think of Batman.
McCuistion: Yeah, how many different incarnations have we done now? We've done like five or six different Batman approaches, but the all kind of share the same kind of Art Deco feeling, I think.
Ritmanis: Yeah, the approach is often ... it already starts way back before our involvement, whether it's going to be kind of a stylized, really hip thing. Batman Beyond was so different from Batman: The Animated Series, and it was very much dictated by how everything was drawn, and just the overall approach. We always, actually, work with the producer or whoever the main creative force is, and try to collaborate with the producer or director to find the tone that will set that particular series apart. It's certainly not a cookie-cutter kind of thing, where, yeah, here's Batman and here's the big minor chord, I mean, it's definitely not just the cookie-cutter approach. Yeah.
We will be at La-La Land Records' booth on Saturday, and that will be after The Killing Joke screening will have happened, so for any people that want to really geek out and talk about all sorts of things about The Killing Joke and the music, we'll be able to talk even more freely about it at that point, if they want to come and meet us in person, and we'll be signing CDs of our past shows, and maybe some new surprises.