Starship Farragut: For Want of a Nail
Winner of the 2008 "Best fan film" award from the 'Wrath of Con' Convention.
Hetoreyns account of working on Starship Farragut
Starship Farragut was something I came across after having watched an episode of the "Star Trek: New Voyages" series. And I saw a trailer for a new spin-off series called "Starship Farragut". A series all about a new crew and a different ship. Of course anyone who had seen the many Star Trek fan films would not have been overwhelmed by this idea, seeing as how there were many stories out there about different starships. But the advert promised great special effects (FX), and the use of the most impressive New Voyages sets and props. And so I headed over to the Farragut site to see how far they had come with their production. I was quite delighted to see their pilot episode all ready to download and watch. And so I downloaded the hi-rez film and began to watch.
My first thoughts were that they must have paid a fortune for the CGI work. The most impressive shot being the camera pan from the inside of the captain's cabin .. all the way out into space. A shot that, in Hollywood, surely would cost a considerable amount of money. It told me then and there that this was a show that had real effort put into it. The title credits were the best I had ever seen visually. It was a long shot but I decided to send the production team an e-mail and let them know that I would love to be involved musically in some future episode. Although I had thought that there would be no chance of this, seeing as how most composers who get into this work seldom leave it, as it is a great opportunity for us to learn and grow. And so I sent a link to my Pro Demo, and hoped for the best.
But as fate would have it, I was contacted within a few hours by the producer, John Broughton, saying that he loved the demo and would send my details on to their FX guys, NEO f/x. And soon after that I had an e-mail from Michael Struck asking me if I would like to do some of the smaller work they had in store. This suited me fine as I didn't want to get into anything I couldn't handle. And so I was asked to write music to the 2nd trailer for "For want of a nail". After roughly 12 hours worth of work I had made and completed the music and impressed the Farragut team sufficiently to warrant more work.
The next thing they wanted was a re-recording of the main theme. I was not initially happy about this as it means crossing into other people's work. John Seguin (composer for the pilot episode) had gotten there first and I didn't want to step on his toes. But Michael Struck assured me that John was happy for someone else to use and remodel his theme. And so I set to work on re-scoring the main title, whilst John would score the rest of the episode. The first few versions were pretty much identical to the Seguin version. But then something very unexpected happened ... John Seguin didn't want to do the music for the second episode.
As Patrick Philips, who is a well known composer for Trek fan films, had also declined to work for the film, it was passed on to me. Again I was initially overwhelmed at the idea of scoring a one hour movie, but I was all charged up from doing the trailer and main theme, so I said yes. Also it meant I could watch the movie before anyone else.
I've been a huge fan of Star Trek and the music of Star Trek for many years. It has long been a dream of mine to write music for such a film and so I saw this as the chance to do just that.
So there I am with my first movie. And it's a "Trek" fan film so I'm pretty stoked about it. And Michael sends me the first piece of video. This is the films teaser. Only about 3.5 minutes long. A perfect tester to see if I could actually cope with the demands of this kind of work. I had notes from the Director (Mark Hildebrand) and so I set to work. Fortunately I had spent the past year preparing a mix template for my music that would give me a very nice sound straight away. (Any composers who have Logic Pro 7 and 8 can download the template that I used from this site.)
I had no idea about melodies or themes yet, only that I knew I had to create a whole environment for the ship, the crew, and the events to follow. I knew that this episode would involve time travel to 1770's America and that I would need to write some Fife and Snare music in some scenes .. which I wasn't looking forward to seeing, as how that kind of music is rather alien to me. But none the less I took it all one step at a time. And in retrospect I'm glad I didn't think too far ahead, or I might have given up. What started out as .. in my mind .. a 50 minute episode, became 80 minutes. I had based the schedule and everything on what they had done in the pilot episode (only 48 minutes), and though this one would be similar.
After spending 2-3 days on the opening teaser I had gotten my main motif down. This is a descending chord (that you can clearly hear at the end of the 2nd trailer .. played on the brass). The motif has a very unsettled quality about it and I could rework it many ways. And play it on different instruments. This motif is heard throughout the film. This motif is really the signature of this episode and for me represents the drama. I also had gotten the Farraguts main theme down which was quite different from the Seguin theme. Also it was told to me that my main title theme would not be required as they had decided to stick with the Seguin version.
However after several beta versions of the music for the Teaser and Act 1 the team noticed that the production on my music and Johns was quite different. With some cajoling from Michael Struck they decided to let me go ahead and do my version. Although they did ask for me to keep some of the elements of the Seguin version. And so I did. The director had also asked me to use specific instruments that would be similar to what they used in the original TV show for "Star Trek". Although this posed a problem for me. My mix was designed for a big film orchestra, and not a smaller ensemble. The thing you have to know about using virtual instruments is that it's very hard to get them sounding real .. and good. More often than not they sound fake and I had spent a long time trying to get my orchestra to sound like the real thing .. or at least as close as I could.
I did a test with the smaller sections and the sound was just not impressive .. as it was the bigger recording. And so I was allowed to go on and use the instruments that I wanted to use. I did make a point of writing in a similar manner to the TV show. But I think I ended up with a sound that was between movie and TV show. But that worked fine for me.
For the colonial themes the director had sent me a few snippets of royalty and copyright free music that I could adapt into the films theme. The one that seemed to stand out was a piece called "Over the hills". Which is around 250 years old and would have been a marching tune back in those days. Also it was a British tune which I thought was appropriate seeing as how the army in the film were fighting the battle of independence against the British .. whilst the film heroes are caught in the middle of this. (Although there was no fighting going on in the film, the tune served to set the mood for the continental army nicely.) You may wonder why I'd choose a British marching tune over an American one .. well .. first, I'm British .. and second, out of all the songs submitted to me it was the one that could be easily adapted for these dramatic scenes.
It took roughly 10 days to write the music for Act 1. There was one really big drama scene and that was the transporter accident. As the beta versions of the score were handed in I had some notes back from the team and many changes were asked for. For my first film experience I can say that this part was the hardest. Getting used to feedback and changes. Michael Struck really showed his talent for managing and communicating here as he helped point me to the right direction to implement these changes. The changes ultimately helped the music and the film although it did add considerable time to the writing process .. which brings us to a problem:
The film was going to be shown at a theatre .. finished or not. And the release date was roughly 1 month after I started to work on the film. With an average writing time of 10 days per act .. and then about another 7-10 days on top of that for changes it became clear that the score would not be finished in time. And also add to this the fact that I had picked up a bronchitis and had been working very long hours, so I had become very exhausted and I really began to feel the pinch. Of course the film makers had done their part. The film was edited and ready, and the final dubbing for voice and sound FX was in work, and would be in a much more finished state than the music. I figured that I could finish Act 2 by the time this was going to be shown.
Act 2 really beat the living daylights out of me. As some scenes demanded ambience and emotional tones that I couldn't quite identify. Again Michael was my rock as I constantly referred to him for what I should do. Funny enough, all Michael had to do was make a vague reference to another piece of music and it was usually enough for me to get an idea and go ahead. But suffering headaches and the bronchitis, it seemed that the film would be shown without any music for Acts 3, 4, and 5. And no ending either.
At this point I took a few days off to recover. And had a chance to digest what I had done before. And so I would listen to the music on my iPod and roominate on what themes I had done. This proved to be very useful as I went back to the Teaser and Act 1 to re-do some cues which had become weaker due to the better themes that I had done for Act 2. Michael had said that I should just try to finish Act 2 and make and ending for Act 5. And then we could use the music that had already been done for a temporary score for the rest of the acts. And so with only 2 weeks to go I put together an ending for the finale of Act 5 .. which I'm still very proud of .. and tempt the rest of the film.
The theatre presentation was a success. Everyone had enjoyed the experience, despite several scenes being unfinished with regards to audio and music production. But I was then relieved as I had much more time to finish the score. I was asked how long I would need and at first a month seemed to be enough. But after a while it became clear that more time would be needed. Why? Well, one of the biggest problems with "For want of a nail", is the pacing. And musically it is very difficult to perform music that underscores a conversation .. or an emotional undertone that just seems to be constant. Throughout Act 3 and 4 the mood was very similar, with scenes that required long dialogue. Trying to write music that is similar and interesting .. but not the same .. is quite hard, especially when one has to do it over and over. It was pretty much my fault that the Internet release took longer than was hoped but after the initial release the team relaxed and gave me the time I needed to finish the job properly.
One might think that the experience of scoring the film was unpleasant. And parts of it were I suppose. As you can imagine having a horrible head and chest cold really didn't help, and the amount of work that had to be done was enough to make me really feel the pressure, but even so all the while it was still exciting. And I never wanted to give up. The film has many good elements, and musically I really wanted to make the film as exciting and original as possible.
The area that I felt really needed work .. musically .. was in the theme for the ship itself. In the pilot the ship is accompanied by music, but not really with a theme per se. (Although this was most certainly due to the time constraints that the composer was given). When you see the Enterprise you almost always hear with it the fanfare that we all know is the Enterprise's theme. And so I wanted to do something similar for the Farragut. And if you pay close attention to the 2nd episode .. you'll notice that whenever you see the Farragut the music is telling you the emotional state of the ship. When we first see the ship, the theme is proud and firm. But when we next see the ship, after the accident, the theme is serious and unsettled. The same theme is used for the ship but in different ways as it tells you the feelings of the ship. This to me is important as the ship is an entity in Star Trek. As it is with the Enterprise, and I feel it's important to acknowledge this connection.
All in all it took about 6 more weeks to finish the score and to have it all ready for the Internet release version. I have to say that Michael Struck really was an excellent manager for the project. Not only is his FX and CGI work second to none, but he really helped me to work better and any problems we had with the score were quickly settled and smoothed out. For my first film music experience this was a text book learning example. Certainly I think the next time we work together will be more fun and more creative because of the experience we got now. Working for the Farragut team has been a real highlight in my music career thus far. It's nice to have provided music for them and to have had it appreciated the way they have done. And certainly I'm working .. even right now .. on some future Farragut projects, and I'm looking forward to doing their next big release.
I think the Farragut team did a really excellent job on this film .. in all aspects. And having looked at some of the future material yet to come I think this is one of the best fan films out there, and I'm damned proud to be part of it.
I was prompted by the team to make the album soundtrack available and to sell it. And so I spent 2 weeks doing some re-scoring and re-recording of the film soundtrack. In some cases there were parts of the score that had been changed which I felt didn't sound good musically and so I changed these parts back the way I wanted to hear them. And also I had to combine many short pieces of music into bigger tracks. The album is now my pride and joy and available to buy from iTunes as well as many other online digital stores. But beyond that it is my first film soundtrack and I really feel very proud of the work I've done here. It's one thing to impress and please the fans (which I hope it has done), but to be personally happy with a finished score is very gratifying.
I've grown up listening to sci-fi music and the music of Trek, so to be a small part of this collection of composers is a real treat, and a dream came true. I hope that if Paramount ever do a new Star Trek series that they'd consider me to score an episode or two.
I watch all of the fan films I can. And I've been rather envious of the composers who get to work on these films. Because this is a great genre to work for, a great opportunity to learn and to grow musically, and of course your work gets seen by many people, possibly paving the way for paid projects. Some fan films are better than others production-wise, but they all share a common spirit. I was hugely impressed with Starship Exeter and New Voyages because they employed a terrific use of set design, costuming and CGI FX. I have to say though, without bias, that Farragut has some of the best Starship Model work I've ever seen. NEO f/x are constantly pushing the envelope and the shots they develop are just breath-taking. And I love writing themes to such terrific imagery. As for what the future will hold, I'll just have to wait and see.
The guys at Starship Farragut really put their hearts and souls into this production and I think it really shows. Everything from set design, to costume making, filming and acting. The post production side is just as driven when it comes to making the sound design, foley, CGI, and film editing. And of course then there's me. Putting the final polish on the product with the musical score. Now I would like to finish the description of a long process that led to success. In the end, it took me three months to fully finish the score. I feel really lucky to be working for this series with all this tremendous talent. Let's hope that Paramount finally decides to endorse us!
Thanks for reading, and if you buy and listen to the album I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
See the film at Starshipfarragut.com