I always start work on a new film with an idea of how the opening and closing sequences are going to sound. When I wrote the first treatment for This is Flyball the only well-articulated idea I had down on paper was the opening sequence. The cold open of the film is meant to draw the audience into the world of flyball slowly. The opening sequence is about five minutes long but it shows all the little details that go on before a flyball race. The idea here is to achieve a feeling of immersion by the time we hit the opening credits sequence and the only audio the audience has heard thus far is barking.
Music is critical to the art of filmmaking. Stanley Kubrick thought of 2001: a Space Odyssey as “a sort of machine ballet.” The music in the film reflects this. The first ideas I had about the music for This is Flyball revolved around blues music. If only we could get Joe Bonamassa to score the film. Ah, we indie filmmakers can dream, right? I thought the slide guitar element would fit in well with the slower editing strategy that I had in mind for the film. Once I started breaking the film down second-by-second however I had to change course completely. Blues music doesn’t move that fast. Moreover, it wasn’t a sense of sadness or longing that I wanted my audience to feel. If anything – as we spent more and more time in the field filming – it became apparent to me that I wanted something a little more upbeat. That’s when it hit me: we need ‘80’s music.
It can’t be ‘80’s music from the ‘80’s though. People would wonder why a film released in 2016 had a soundtrack that sounded like the 1980’s. That’s when my co-founder and Producer Heidi came to me with the idea of having a band write the soundtrack. I have to admit, at first I wasn’t that excited about the idea, but then I thought that if they performed ‘80’s covers that were well done this could be a unique advantage that our film would have. I mean, who else is going to have a soundtrack filled with 18-20 legit ‘80’s covers? So, I sat down and looked at the sequences I had filmed and how I wanted the music to impact the feeling of the film. What I kept coming away with from the editing room was a sense that the music had to have an edge. It had to be almost rugged like rock n’roll with a little industrial sprinkled in it. That’s when the soundtrack started to articulate itself to me.
I still have no idea what song I want to use for the opening credits. Ideally, we’d use a version of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Ramble on’ or Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Bulls on Parade.’ The more I think about it the more I like the idea of ‘Bulls on Parade.’ It’s badass in a way you can’t quite identify kind of like the sport of flyball itself. The only thing about that song is that we’d have to use the original Rage Against the Machine version because no cover could ever do that song justice. That could – unfortunately – be a financial impossibility. The next sequence is what I call a regression to the mean. We opened with an action packed sequence, so after the credits we need to establish what everyday life is like in the world of a flyballer. Three short sequences introduce us to our main players. The music: ‘Brandenburg’ by Black Violin along with covers of ‘Just like Honey’ and ‘Steady as She Goes.’ Yeah, if I don’t have your attention now I’m never going to have it.
I wanted to focus on covering the music of three bands in particular: Talking Heads, Fleetwood Mac, and the Eurythmics. A mix of ‘Rhianon’ and ‘Say you Love me’ make up the next sequence followed by ‘Secondhand News.’ Now, this next part is where things get interesting. I wanted to use some covers of Britney Spears because there is a badass edge to some of her later music. ‘Hold it Against Me’ and ‘Do Something’ mark two of the plot points in the film. It is in these points that having a sound strategy that is largely dominated by – but not limited to – ‘80’s music really pays off. A nice cover of ‘Go Your Own Way’ transitions us into the second half of the film. After that we’ve got a nice blend of ‘Burning Down the House’ and ‘Who’s That Girl.’ I like the idea of having a string quartet or even orchestral covers for key points in the film. I’d like to do a version of ‘Pumped up Kicks’ and ‘Just a Dream” for the climax of the film.
I’ve been debating if we should attempt some covers of Fall Out Boy in here or not. I think ‘This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race’ would fill in nicely towards the end of the film and ‘Centuries’ packs the right kind of dramatic punch to finish out a middle sequence nicely. Of course we’ll be using ‘The Chain’ in the third act and ‘Take me to the River’ at some point as well. I think the Allman Brothers’ ‘Midnight Rider’ would sound good in the film as well, but I’m not sure where I’d put it. Other notable songs without a place include the Eurythmics’ ‘Missionary Man’ and ‘Sweet Dreams.’ Then there’s the question of whether I want to incorporate some Peter Gabriel into the mix. I’d like to honestly, but not having all the footage done yet I’m not sure where I’d put the stuff or how exactly it would fit. I’ve always been a big fan of ‘Games Without Frontiers’ and is there any uplifting segment that can’t be improved with a nice version of ‘Solsbury Hill?’
I wish I could say that these ideas just came to me overnight, but the reality is that as a filmmaker you need to sit down and give this stuff a lot of thought. The nice thing about doing a documentary or rather one of the things that doing a documentary does for you is change which decisions you have to fret over. Were this a feature film I’d be concentrating on lighting, blocking, set design, and working with my actors, but because this is a documentary I don’t have any control over any of that, so I get a little extra time to think about things like sound design. When you’re doing a sequence heavy film like we are the soundtrack can make or break the film. That’s why it’s so vital that we have awesome covers of the music we’re using. Simply using the original music wouldn’t add any value to the audience’s experience. They’ve heard the music before and they’ve probably seen dogs run around before. The goal that I have as a filmmaker is to bring everything together in a way that makes the act of viewing the film more than just another trip to the theater, but an experience that will stick out in their minds as a memorable time at the movies.