Sam Kitagawa chats with composer Raul Vega…
Raul Vega chats with Flickering Myth about working with Hans Zimmer on the scores of Man of Steel, Interstellar, Dunkirk, and Blade Runner 2049, as well as his new mystery podcast Rose Drive. The podcast follows seven friends in the wake of a tragedy that occurred at a high school reunion in the small town of South Hampton. Vega also touches on new trends in sound design and the potential future of podcast adaptations.
What’s your background?
Above everything, I’m a music composer. I originally grew up in the Bay Area playing piano in my teens and quickly found a love for film music and decided that was what I wanted to do. I was lucky enough to land an internship right out of college at Remote Control Productions, which is Hans Zimmer’s music studio. So, I started interning for him in the studio for about five weeks. Then I moved over to Henry Jackman, who’s another composer there before the internships ended and I was like, well… shit, what do I do now? How do I get back into this? I just had this really cool opportunity working for these top composers. But I was fortunate enough that they had an entire department that had moved on – the sampling department – and they wanted to try me out for a few months. I think it was July of 2012 when I started officially working on Man of Steel. I went from making coffee to making digital instruments. It was really a kind of crazy experience.
Can you describe what digital instruments are?
I record musicians, instrumentalists, performers playing their instrument in every which way possible, every single note, every articulation, and every volume. Basically anything you would hear them play live. I dissect those piece by piece, I record it in Pro Tools and then I edit it, chop it up, make it sound all nice and then I put it in the software that you can then play on your keyboard. So, I’m essentially converting a live musician into a digital format. Then we can manipulate, adjust, and push the boundaries of the instrument, or the instrumentalist, in ways that humans can’t. I extract all these things that go into a performance so that we can build them back up and really, really have full control.
And you worked with Hans Zimmer all the way up to Blade Runner 2049?
Yes, and I’m still there right now. We have a couple of other projects coming out next year – both The Lion King and X-Men: Dark Phoenix. So, I’ve been with Hans through Man of Steel, Interstellar, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Blade Runner 2049, and Dunkirk – which was the really big one a couple of years ago. Everything that he’s been involved in, for the most part, from 2012 till now, I’ve had some involvement with. Most recently Widows, which came out a couple weeks ago. That really helped me get an ear for, and appreciation of, sound because it’s a very meticulous job to make sure every take is right and every sample that gets in the mix is clean. It’s a lot of listening, a lot of listening [laughs].
Moving on to Rose Drive, what is your brief logline for the show and also what was the germ of the idea that kicked it off?
Sure, the logline is that seven friends are interviewed after a ten-year high school reunion tragedy happens. That’s the basis of it. As you listen it expands a lot beyond that, but that is the source of it. It’s a story of desperation, of revenge, and of acceptance. There are so many different elements that play into it. The idea started when I first started listening to podcasts a few years ago, I got really into them. I listened to most of the NPR shows like Serial, This American Life, and Radiolab. I really appreciated the method of storytelling, as well as the structure of all the shows. The sound and music all play a major role, even though the shows are non-fiction. Me being such a huge fan of TV and film, I was searching for narrative fiction podcasts but I couldn’t find too many, and the ones I found weren’t really jumping out to me. I had this idea when I was driving back from visiting my family up in the Bay Area. I was on Highway Five; that’s a six-hour drive, four hours of which is just nothing [laughs] you’re just driving through farmland. I had all this time and I was just thinking, man it would be really cool if we made some sort of murder mystery/noir story. Something that’s really engaging, fun, and just as entertaining as watching a movie. That was the genesis of it. I was just driving and listening to so many podcasts, wanting something that didn’t exist yet. So, I said, why not try to make it myself?
So, what was your development process?
Well, I am a composer. Music is my language, that’s what I speak. Music will always make more sense to me than any written language [laughs]. So, my process goes a little differently, I didn’t study any sort of creative writing or anything in college. My form of storytelling comes in music and my process stemmed from listening to all this different music from all these different scores, from various composers, because it’s my job and my career and I love it.
Which scores did you listen to while making Rose Drive?
Some of the stuff we did after the podcast came out, working with Hans on Interstellar and Man of Steel. I’m a big James Newton Howard fan, so I was listening to some of his earlier stuff like The Sixth Sense and Signs. Steve Jablonsky – he did The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which is a more obscure one because he’s known for Transformers. I went to a lot of composers from different realms. Initially, I listened to a lot of horror scores because I thought this was going to be a horror story. It’s moved a little bit away from that. It still has elements of horror in the series but it’s moved into more of a mystery format. I think there’s a lot more longevity if you can really engage your audience and keep pulling them back with these cliffhangers and little pocket stories. I think that makes for more of an engaging concept to digest.
The show uses the central mystery the same way as Twin Peaks, where the mystery serves as a way to peel back these different layers of this small American town. What was intriguing to you about structuring a show that way?
I have always been very conscious that, above having an engaging story, it had to be about the characters. Rose Drive is a very character driven show and that’s intentional because I feel that no matter how interesting the story is, if you don’t care about the characters then why are you watching? That’s one of the things my friends and I will do if we’re watching a TV series; we’ll joke that, “oh you’re such a this character,” or “you’re such a that character.” I wanted to have a full cast and have the characters be rich and diverse with their own moment to shine, rather than just throwing them at you and expecting you to care. That way you see more of a well-rounded thing, instead of just saying, here they are and this is what they’re all about. You get to see them before they even meet up with this guy they went to high school with. I found that made it a lot more of an open landscape to explore. Like I said, it started out as horror because I love horror movies and I love the sound design that that’s used particularly in horror. Originally, this whole Rose Drive thing started out as something wildly different from what it is now.
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