I’ve been producing theater with my husband Ed as “Fredrick Byers Productions” for some time now, since 2002 I believe. Now that we are producing a short film I thought it was about time I realize my vision for our production company’s logo, so it may be used in the film’s opening title credits.
I brought my ideas to a graphic design company, and after a week of concepts and revisions, here is the result, the Fredrick Byers logo, in four iterations, color and alternative color, black on white and white on black. It’s the white on black version that will open our new short film “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre“:
It was one of the least difficult set-ups of the Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre shoot. Just me coming down the stairs – a flash back to when the murderer, fresh from depositing the remains of his victim under the floor boards, goes to open the door for three officers of the police.
All I had to do was go down the stairs while putting on my jacket, hit my mark to pause on a certain step, and then exit out of frame.
Which I did every take.
But on this particular take I left the frame in a particularly dramatic, unintentionally funny fashion:
It helps to keep your eyes on the steps you are descending. Otherwise your foot might overshoot. But looking down at my feet would have not been as good a look for the character at that moment for the movie.
The pratfall brought me down to the floor, and as you can hear from the responses of the crew, it first looked alarming. But after I got up and assured everyone I was OK, it quickly became a source of mirth. Everyone looked forward to this clip being part of a future Tell-Tale bloopers reel.
I needed new head shots. I also knew I’d be shaving my beard for the Tell-Tale Heart shoot. So I scheduled a head shot photo shoot right before the Tell-Tale film shoot in order to schedule my shave in the middle of the photo shoot and get a bearded and a clean shaved 8X10 pic.
To show I am a versatile actor. I can play bearded and smooth cheeked fellas.
The shoot went pretty well and I have lots of nice options to choose from. But in a two hour session with hundreds of clicks of the camera, some unfortunate shots are about to happen.
So I thought it would be fun to share some of these photo blunders in a Head Shot Blooper Gallery. Enjoy.
One cardinal rule of head shots is to look into the camera…
Last week was production week for the short film “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre“. One day of set-up, 6 days of shooting, 9-10 hour days that by the weekend became 11-15 hour days. Everyone worked very hard and very well. I am extremely grateful to Jason, Austin, Ja’Rel, Harry, Nick, Mara, Anthony, Bethany, Stephen, Martine, Mark, Mathew, Henry, Ed, the on set crew and cast.
I have tons of on-set pics and videos and stories to share, and hope to regale you with them on this blog over the next months. All while busy in post-production and eventually bringing our little gothic musical short film to the world at large.
So, to start off the Tell-Tale Shoot Diary series here on Notes from a Composer, I thought I’d share this fun video shot by best boy/key grip Austin Nepri (who also took the photo at the top), giving you a good glimpse into the monitor showing what the camera is filming while watching the performance live in the same frame (you will note that the monitor is a smidge time delayed).
It’s a cool example of getting the on set experience simultaneously with the unedited take right as it is being shot:
A fainting spell nearly derailed the whole concert.
But it was still a rousing success.
When I plan choir concerts for elementary student performers, I hope to choose songs that will appeal to the age group but also to adults, since the kids’ parents will be our audience. I also like to choose some musically exciting pieces that may seem unusual or difficult, but which I believe children can master and will enjoy. It challenges me as a teacher and artist to push against the boundaries of what is expected from a grade school choir concert.
So it was also with an all-Beatles program for 3rd graders at a Tribeca public school in Manhattan, a few blocks from the World Trade Center. Choosing only Beatles songs of course limited me to some extent, but the breadth of their output still allows for much stylistic variety. And although I may not have been able to include as many foreign languages as last year (where a “Joy in the World” medley included Xhosa (“Pata Pata”), Portuguese (“Mas Que Nada”) and German (“Berliner Luft”), yet, as you will see and hear, even The Beatles dabbled in some foreign languages.
View of the new World Trade Center from the school
The whole 3rd grade of PS 234 performs. Over a hundred children. The only time I get to rehearse with them all together is once or twice during the week of the concert. Otherwise I meet with each class individually once a week for 12 weeks. Every Tuesday, five classes in a row, without a break. Me singing in a high tenor range to teach them their parts. Yes, it’s exhausting.
Nine songs in 12 weeks. It is all a bit ambitious, I admit, but it came together just fine. The concert was proceeding well, until… well, what I couldn’t have anticipated was the fainting spell that nearly derailed the whole performance…
Before that, before the children were even led into the auditorium stage risers by their teachers that morning, I had lamented to the arts coordinator that I couldn’t record the concert to share on my blog, because getting media releases from over hundred families is impossible. She said to me, oh no, everybody signs a blanket release at the beginning of the year. Ah, if only I had asked earlier. I would have brought my portable professional recorder. Instead I made due with my phone’s voice recorder. Which does effect the sound quality of the following, I’m afraid, but hopefully not so much that it still can’t be enjoyed, albeit with technical caveats:
3rd grade choir performance: Love & Life with The Beatles
In “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre” the music is scored for three cellos. And Friday evening three cello players were sitting in my living room practicing their cello parts for the shoot. Because for key scenes, you won’t just be hearing the cellos played, you will be seeing them played too.
That’s Mark Peters, Martine McKinney and Mathew Gnagy playing in my living room. The 3 Ms, as I like to affectionately refer to them. And you will see them on screen in “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre”.
But you won’t hear them play. They actually will be play-syncing. Acting as doubles for the three cellists who were recorded months ago performing the Tell-Tale score.
Todd Maki, who is responsible for the sound of “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre” made this video while in his engineering booth monitoring the three cello players being recorded in his living room.
I was following this all live from my laptop in Brooklyn. I could hear all perfectly well, yet my view of the players and Todd was via video monitoring screens sharing space with other elements on my MacBook.
I have yet to meet Todd in person, or the three cellists who beautifully played my score.
That is the Poe Cottage in the Bronx. The last home Poe resided in before he died. We had hoped to make it our Tell-Tale musicabre movie murder home.
But alas, it is not to be!
Most of the short film adaptation of my chamber music theater horror show will be filmed on constructed movie sets. But there is one half day of location shooting scheduled to shoot the entrance (and some interiors) of the home where the man who insists he is no madman kills the old man with the pale blue vulture eye, only to be driven to frenzied confession by the beating of the heart of the dismembered corpse under the bedroom floor boards.
When we heard about the Poe Cottage in the Bronx, run as a museum by the Bronx Historical Society, then learned it was available for film shoots, and perused pictures of it, we knew we had to shoot our location scenes there.
According to the Poe Cottage website, “the historic house museum is famous as the final home of the writer. At the time that Poe, his ailing wife Virginia and mother-in-law, Mrs. Maria Clemm moved in during the spring of 1846, the house was owned by John Valentine. Poe rented it for $100 per year. Virginia died in the house in 1847 and after Poe’s death on October 7, 1849 while in Baltimore, Mrs. Clemm moved out.”
How cool would it be to put in the credits of a film of the Tell-Tale Heart: “filmed on location at the Edgar Allan Poe Cottage, Bronx”.
It’s time for another Notes from a Composer musical quiz!
All musical tracks and/or musical quiz queries will be somehow related to air travel, to tie in to these shots I took out the cabin window of our sunset flight west from New York City to Madison, Wisconsin. We took off with the setting sun, and kept pace with it – almost – for several hours, for what would be the slowest setting sun I remember experiencing.
High Flying Music Query #1 – Which fab rock band recorded this track called “Flying”?
(as always here at Notes from a Composer, answers to the quiz queries are embedded in the tags below)
At one point the phone camera turned its lense around for this unplanned selfie of me trying to make a shot avoiding the smudges on the cabin window pane…
High Flying Music Query #2 – Who is the High Flying Adored person being sung about here in what titular musical (and who are the two Broadway stars doing the singing?)
High Flying Musical Query #3 – In which new movie musical do we have Nowhere to Go But Up (if you listen to the track and still can’t guess, I despair for your inner child)? And which icon is heard handing out the balloons?
A trip to the magnificent Louvre museum with Mark Twain. Well actually Mark Twain himself never got there, but he wrote about not getting there in “The Innocents Abroad”, and that satirical anecdote about what happens to unwary, blustery Americans tourists overseas when paired with guides with lucrative side lines (and I know from experience this still happens to tourists in many places overseas) made its way into my musical beTwixt, beTween & beTWAIN. I’ll share that little musical bon bon of Mark Twain’s bon mots, along with pictures of the Louvre as it stands now.
And I do mean to focus on the Louvre, the French royal palace of old, turned into a museum, and a magnificent work of art in its own right. A closer look at art work exhibited in the Louvre itself, with one or two exceptions, will be reserved for another time, I think. For today the Louvre itself is the star, this grand sprawling museum/palace; accompanied by a musical rendition of Mark Twain’s ill fated attempt to get there by carriage with a group of American tourists he affectionally calls Pilgrims, who have been taking the first cross-Atlantic pleasure cruise in history in 1867.
The carriage – an open barouche – was ready. Ferguson mounted beside the driver, and we whirled away.
We’re riding by barouche to the Louvre
Americans en route to the Louvre
The point is surely moot that the Louvre
The Pilgrims in Pa-ree
Dan happened to mention that he thought of buying three or four silk dress patterns for presents.
After twenty minutes the carriage stopped.
Zis is ze finest silk magasin in Paris – ze most celebrate.
We told you to take us to the palace of the Louvre
I suppose ze gentlemen say he wish to buy some silk.
You are not required to ‘suppose’ things for the party, Ferguson. We will do such ‘supposing’ as is really necessary to be done. Drive on.
Always a crowd around the Mona Lisa. Follow my journey to her in “Mona Lisa & Me”
Listen to this. It’s rather creepy, isn’t it, not just because of the unsettling nature of the text, but because of, well, I’ll explain later, just listen now:
I kept quite still and said nothing.
For a whole hour I did not move a muscle,
and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down.
He was still sitting up in the bed, listening; –
just as I have done,
night after night,
hearkening to the death watches in the wall.
It’s by Edgar Allan Poe, a selection from “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre“, my musical adaptation of the Poe short story about the murderous roommate, which I am turning into a short film, currently in preproduction. Hence the recording of my vocals, including the spoken sections. Even if my vocals will also be recorded on set, or later again in post, it is necessary to record all vocals, sung and spoken, as part of the film’s pre-production.
In my adaptation of The Tell-Tale Heart, I adhere very faithfully to the original Poe text throughout, with only occasional minor adjustments. The words here are unadulterated Poe, and one of the few moments of pure speech in the piece. Usually I am singing, or alternating speaking with singing, and the three cellos are playing their alluring, alarming accompaniment…
But for this moment, a moment of stillness and dread, right before the murder, the deadly calm before the storm, so to speak, I decided when adapting “The Tell-Tale Heart”, this moment, this paragraph, would be the longest, most self-contained section of pure speech, nothing sung, no cellos, right before launching into the musical centerpiece called “The Groan of Mortal Terror”:
Ed and I had just seen Julian Schnabel’s movie about Vincent Van Gogh, “At Eternity’s Gate”, and were exiting one of the more tucked away screening rooms at the Landmark 57 multiplex, which required walking down a long, narrow, and lightning bolt cornered exit hall.
And, perhaps inspired by the idiosyncratic cinematography of the movie, constantly challenging the viewer to appreciate light and perspectives and movement in unfamiliar ways…
… I felt compelled to hang back and take some pictures of the hallway, with the red exit sign, the lights creating shapes and shades on the grey walls, the flares and blurs of light that erupted in my camera phone even more than before my own eyes…
I went down the length of one leg of the exit hall, where it takes a lighting bolt shaped corner…
But then first took a look back at a spare, red free hallway… like a corridor of a sci-fi space ship…
A woman walked down the corridor as I was taking the picture. She joked I will have to pay her for the photo. I sheepishly explained I felt compelled by the movie to capture the unique lights and perspectives of this exit way. We talked about the movie, its depiction of the artist and artistic process. We talked about how after a hundred years of people accepting the story that Van Gogh committed suicide, the world is finally understanding that, at a time when his mental health had improved and his fortunes were looking up, he was most likely shot by a youth (under still uncertain circumstances), which this expressionistic movie and the recent “Loving Vincent” (an uneasy if fascinating melange of crime procedural and animated oil paintings) dramatize.
Meanwhile, Ed, already out in the lobby, was wondering what had become of me…
“Was ist passiert?” he texted me.
“What happened?”, in German.
Using German was a way to couch his annoyance in bemused terms.