As with a lot of films, the music and score that accompany it can easily make or break the film. In Jack Plotnick‘s Space Station 76, the funky, ’70s vibe of the film — coupled with the future-of-the-past outlook — it’s imperative to the many different things happening (comedy, drama, melodrama, etc) that the music work very delicately so as to not overpower or misinterpret the emotions of what’s going on within the story. So we chatted with Plotnick, as well as Marc and Steffan Fantini, the film’s composers, to understand the unique challenges that come with making the music for a film like this really work.
NERDIST: Well one of the first things that stuck out to me was how the music had this sort of Guardians of the Galaxy vibe to it in terms of just how, I don’t know, solidly ’70s the tunes were. Funky but poignant.
JACK PLOTNICK: Oh yeah, that was super important to capture that time and everything but in particular to capture the part of the ’70s that felt the most futuristic, you know?
N: There was something in the music that did that, too. Like it was all very fun and bouncy and playful, but if you listened to the lyrics? It’s something I often love about music from the ’70s, that juxtaposition of a funky vibe, sweet beat, and then lyrics that portray something that might actually be kind of sad.
JP: [Laughs] Totally. I love that easy listening music from the ’70s and classic rock as well. We have a number of Todd Rundgren songs, who is a genius, and he was always ahead 7 years of his time if you real listen to his music.
I also love the opening song in the film, that we found in the middle of this 14-minute long live track and in the middle of it there’s this little song called “Utopia” that so beautifully summarizes the film.
JP: The thing about the score was that we really wanted it to blend seamlessly into the authentic 70s songs that we had. And that was something that really excited me about Marc and Steffan [Fantini, the film’s composers] was that they used the actual instruments and equipment they were using in the ’70s, so it really captured that feel and the sound. It just blends with the vintage music so well. And on top of that they really understood what I was looking for in creating music that had a futuristic sound with a 70s bent.
And you hear some great sounds from them. That was my favorite music from the ’70s; the music that felt futuristic. And it was all over the 70s, not just in music, but in design in clothing, too. Maybe because we just landed on the moon, I guess everybody just thought ‘Oh my god we did that so quickly, I guess we’re going to live on the moon soon!’ So everybody wanted to live on the moon. And you’ll see in some of the architecture from the ’70s — they look like space ships.
…Which led us to exactly that — chatting with the brothers Fantini about what it took to create the sound for something so embedded in those two worlds. Turns out? It’s a LOT of fun. The brothers Fantini are no strangers to composing for the screen — their previous work includes Army Wives and every season of Criminal Minds, now in its 10th, thus far — but this project was far different from most anything they’ve ever worked on. Which made for exciting and new challenges, netting interesting and wholly unique results.
N: I may be wrong but this does seem very different, thematically, from what you usually do on Criminal Minds and Army Wives.
MARC FANTINI: This movie is a kind of departure for any composer because there’s no blueprint. My brother and I had a long process to get the musical voice for this movie — an enjoyable one, but a difficult one as well. There were a lot of discussions with Jack, and a lot of soul searching to figure out what this vision of the future-past would be.
STEFFAN FANTINI: What we kind of discovered early on was that this was going to be its own entity. Some movies or television things we work on, they’ll have examples of what they want … but in this case they really didn’t know what to put in there, so it was kind of a blank slate. So what we had fun doing was stripping away anything we might use in today’s scores, for the most part, as if we were a band in the ’70s writing new music from that era, now. So we had to rethink certain chord progressions and certain instruments. We tried to stay away from anything too glossy that might be kind of perceived as modern because it would be out of place. So we limited our palette, which was fun.
We’re both collectors of old instruments, so we pulled out some old synths that we had. We said [to each other], “Let’s research that era, let’s think about what was used and listen to that music, get it back in our head.” Wurlitzers were big at that time, certain guitar sounds — so we tried to live in that world. And of course you still have to be cinematic — it’s not a matter of just creating kind of song-y things. Although we did have to blend a bit, because there were some really cool songs that they used and Jack and everyone wanted us to seamlessly go between score and songs — so some of the stuff we did had flavors from the songs, and some of it was score. We had a lot of fun revisiting that era.
N: Watching it I couldn’t help but get this almost Guardians of the Galaxy vibe to what was going on.
SF: Jack’s vision was to keep it more like what we was going through in suburbia at that time, which might not have been so trippy and psychedelic as you might think. So we tried to live in that suburbia of the 70s. Once we found the voice of that, then it worked.
On any film or TV show we work on, it’s always a matter of “What are we going to do? We can’t ruin this movie, we’ve gotta bring something to the party.” You throw a lot of things at the director and the team, and in this case they were very receptive. They said to us “We don’t need you to be safe, we’re not looking for a traditional comedy score.” It’s its own thing, so the music and the feeling about it were very liberal in that sense. When you have a relationship like that you’re not afraid to make mistakes and throw things at them that might be way off the mark until you find the mark.
N: That must be a really exciting way to work for you guys.
SF: It was a dream but part of the dream was also a nightmare, because he let us work without a net, which is a great way to discover new areas and go places, and Jack was very open, but it was a little bit daunting. In that whole journey, though, we found the sound.
It is sort of a voyeuristic kinda of thing: you’re watching these people’s very personal lives but then there are these big moments that are evocative Star Wars or, like you said, Guardians of the Galaxy — that kind of borders on the ’70s but still feels fresh and new, so there is a bit of that.
And then there’s the kind of quirkiness of the movie. Once we figured out those three things, which took the majority of our time — to flush them out — and make it one with the story that he was telling; to feel organic and not this forced piece of music.
N: I heard from Jack that you guys used a lot of vintage stuff from the 70s to get the sound.
SF: We dusted off all our old synthesizers that were used for sounds of games and worked with those and rearranged them to make them the sounds of the ship. Little ear candy, is what we called it, the stuff that’s going on in and around the ship and you’ll hear little synthesizer lines and echo-y things.
MF: My brother and I have old video games and televisions and original Ataris and stuff like that — old, old Nintendo from before it was cool [laughs] — and we played all those games and there’s a cheesy quality in those older games and it kinda worked well for some of the things we did.
N: That must be such a fun way to make something sorta familiar but also completely new, which puts the audience in an interesting place, emotionally, as you go through the story.
SF: There are some really interesting story lines that probably would’ve been a lot easier if we had the palette of sounds from 2014. We were relegated to the sounds we came up with, and in the end it really worked out well, but it was a challenge bringing the emotions of the scenes that needed it [without that], but we just stuck with it and said “it’s got to be this, it’s gotta be in this fee and just say “oh, new program came out and I could just use that and it’ll distill all the feelings and be fine.” So it was a challenge but as composers you want to be challenged to do something you’re not sure you can do.
I was talking to Jack the other day and I said “Well, when we first saw the screening of this movie, I said ‘Jeez I hope they hire somebody really cool to do the music for this movie because it’s a really interesting thing.’” And once we had it, it was a daunting task at the very beginning, but we did not want to mess this movie up.
N: Well everything that was going on sonically bridged that emotional gap, which is helpful with a film like this, where people could very easily misinterpret the emotional earnestness of the actors as it is juxtaposed to the comedy in the film. The music was sort of the guiding hand for navigating those moments.
SF: That’s actually an interesting way to put it. What we avoided was playing the jokes, so the music might let you know it’s OK to breath here or it’s OK to be sad here, but we didn’t play the jokes. Other comedies we worked on, a director might really want to accent the jokes, but it really wasn’t like that at all in this movie. Sometimes the silence was the joke, and the awkwardness was the joke — the uncomfortableness between Patrick Wilson and Liv Tyler. If you play that as a comedic score it might get tacky and weird. Whereas if you carve out that space and leave it for the actors, that uncomfortableness is what people really seem to laugh at.
N: It came together because everyone really seems to have understood Jack’s vision even though it was pretty unique since he was playing with a lot of different things.
SF: If you play one wrong chord or a note that’s too many notes in, or your chord progression is evocative of something else, it would completely throw you out of the movie and ruin a whole scene. … So that was a fun thing, to remember all those old songs from that era and chord changes, and when you hear those now it really does remind you of the ’70s. So it was fun to limit ourselves and create in that sort of way.
MF: Yeah this was a very collaborative process, even beyond Jack — who obviously was a great captain — but all the producers and executive producers, they all kinda waited on the music and it was like a family working together. All kind of rallying around. So when we had a meeting to go through the music — with other projects it might just be with the directors — we had all the producers, the sound guys, the editors, writers getting involved because everyone had a lot of passion for this movie.
N: And honestly, if you’re not doing that — and it’s a cumbersome bear to work through — often times it feels tedious to the people watching it.
MF: So true.
SF: Yeah. This was a lower-budge movie, obviously, and Marc and I are giant dorks, [laughs] so it was never about money with this project, it was about doing something special that hasn’t been done and that was a contagious thing. Once everybody got involved, we all felt we’d be doing the same quality work no matter what. Once we said “yes,” we were all in and that was the same for everyone. There was a lot of camaraderie.
What’d you think of the music and score of Space Station 76? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.