Wondercon 2018: Mark Rivers on Big Mouth

Composer Mark Rivers shares his experience on Big Mouth during “Music in Animation” panel at WonderCon on Sunday, March 25th in Anaheim, CA.

by Aiyonna White, Contributor      

       I talked to the creative minds behind some of your favorite music pieces in your favorite T.V. shows! I had the chance to interview Ryan Elder, Tim Kiefer, Mark Rivers, and Tom Howe about composing for animation, comics, and their favorite music genres! I also self-indulgently ask them about choir music and show off my music tattoo as an attempt of camaraderie.

 

Mark Rivers

Rivers is a writer, producer, and composer for television. He is best known for his work on Parks and Recreation, and Kroll Show, and most recently Netflix’s Big Mouth.

 

Q: Can you talk to me about your writing process on Big Mouth?

A: Sure! The process usually goes something like… there are a lot of songs in the show. Not a lot, but they’re enough.

Q: There’s a lot.

A: They’re enough. There’s plenty of songs. Usually, as they’re writing the script, the writers and the producers will hit upon a moment where they think, “You know, this moment could use a musical number,” and that’s when they give me a call… “Hey, episode 208, we got a song coming up for you. We want to talk about that.” So we’ll either get on the phone or we’ll meet at their offices and just talk through what they want this musical moment to be. The style of music… we’ve done everything from big band to disco to flamingo… so I never know what’s coming down the pike. My job is to take that moment and to understand the characters’ voices enough, and to understand the story and the script enough to write lyrics that service that moment. So, I’ll go away and shuffle around in my backyard, write a bunch of lyrics, come up with a song, send them a demo, and… cross my fingers that they like it. Usually, they’ll come back with a few notes here and there, and then I’ll run with it… produce it, get the cast members in to sing it. Turn it into something that works in the show. Beyond that, the scoring is very different. That comes much later, when there’s an animatic to score to. We’ll sit down together and we’ll go through like, “That could use some music right there! What about that?” and we’ll have some temporary library music in place. “I can do something better and bigger, that fits the moment better,” It’s back and forth like that. I’ll send them stuff, they’ll have notes, and then back and forth until we’re all happy with it.

Q: How much freedom are you allowed in that process? Do they let you do whatever you want?

BMI Composer Mark Rivers talks working on Netflix’s Big Mouth during “Music in Animation” panel at WonderCon on Sunday, March 25th in Anaheim, CA.

A: Yeah, they trust me to run with it, and if they don’t like what I’ve done they’ll point out why… particularly lyrically. I’m really psyched that they’ve come to just trust me, lyrically. It’s always a bit difficult to inherit a bunch of lyrics… “Stick to these lyrics, don’t change anything…” It compromises the flow of a song. It’s just hard to write music that way. So they give me a lot of freedom… you know, once we’ve agreed upon a direction, the parameters that I should be working within. So yeah. Enough. I’m given enough freedom.

Q: Can I just say that Big Mouth is so, so funny, and I think that the music 

is the funniest part of it.

A: Oh cool! Really? Well, thanks. Thank you

Q: You did Parks & Rec, which is also so funny. I’m just a fan, I guess.

A: Oh good. I’m a fan of the show, too.

Q: What do you do in your free time?

A: I chase my kid around. I have an eight-year-old girl who’s not allowed to watch Big Mouth. I hang out with my wife and my kid.

Q: Do you listen to music? Or is it too much like work?

A: I try to. I have to make the effort to do it. My wife just bought me an Alexa, which immediately my daughter took over. Now she’s got someone to boss around. But I try to listen to more music. I don’t listen to as much as I used to… it’s hard to find stuff that’s like, “Wow, this is new and exciting!” like you did when you were a teenager and in your 20s. I find myself going back to stuff that I liked then… and I watch baseball and I drink beer, stuff like that. But that’s boring.

Q: So I’m really into choir music.

A: Yeah?

Q: Did you ever sing in a choir?

A: Did I ever sing in a choir? When I was a little kid. Well, in high school I sang in the Festival Chorale. I was a band nerd for a while, and then I joined the Festival Chorale because my friends were in it. They got to travel to Washington, D.C. every year and secretly party in the hotel rooms. That’s what I wanted to do.

Q: That’s what everyone wants to do when they go.

A: Yeah, yeah. It was more of the social aspect that drew me than the singing.

Q: Can I ask how you got into scoring, specifically T.V. shows?

A: Yeah… when I was a young man, I knew… I was playing in rock bands forever, but all my friends were comedians. I was living in Boston. I was friends with this whole budding Boston comedy scene. David Cross, who is a very old friend… and Marc Maron, and Louis C.K. and Jon Benjamin… these are all my friends and they liked my band and we would hang out. Years later when I moved to Boston, I had done Mr. Show with Bob and David– an old HBO sketch comedy show-I did that theme song… these guys were starting to get shows. My career as a rock musician had [raspberry sound effect, slams hand on table] grounded out. But these guys were taking off. I got into comedy writing, but also into writing music for these guys because they were old friends. They hired me because they knew me. I suppose they figured, “We can do worse than this guy.”

Q: Do you have a favorite composer?

A: I don’t. I don’t think I do. I mean… Beethoven? Have you heard of Beethoven?

Q: No. Who?

A: I don’t think I do. I have my favorite pop musicians. I was a huge Elvis Costello, XTC fan. That’s what most excited me when I was starting to write rock songs, pop songs. Bowie and The Beatles… other people, too. But I mean, that was sort of the foundation of all the stuff I liked. As far as T.V. composers there are people I like. I’ll hear music on other shows and think, “Oh, that guy’s pretty good! That Dave Porter guy is pretty good!” There’s a guy that does music on a kids show called Masha and the Bear, he writes these great little weird, off-kilter pop songs. They’re really good. Occasionally something will grab my ear, but I wouldn’t say… I’m too old to be a fan of anybody anymore.

Q: Do you read any comics?

A: I don’t. I don’t. The last comic I read… I liked Eightball. I was an Eightball fan. Dan Clowes… I know there are other people sort of like him and in the graphic novel world… I never kept up with it. I have a kid now…

Q: She doesn’t like comics?

A: Not yet! Maybe she’ll get into them. She likes reading. She likes books. She likes Judy Blume.

Q: I loved Judy Blume.

A: She was gonna read Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret and we were like, “No no no no no, not yet!” She’s eight.

Wondercon 2018: SYFY’s Krypton

by Aiyonna White, Contributor

I had the chance to interview showrunner Cameron Walsh and actors Cameron Cuffe, Shaun Sipos, Georgina Campbell, and Wallis Day at Wondercon. They had a lot of insightful things to say about not only their characters but Superman and the purpose of Science-Fiction.

        What if Superman never existed? Set two generations before the destruction of Superman’s home planet, Krypton follows Seg-El (Cameron Cuffe), the legendary Man of Steel’s grandfather, as a young man who is faced with a life and death conflict – save his home planet or let it be destroyed in order to restore the fate of his future grandson. With Krypton’s leadership in disarray and the House of El ostracized, Seg finds himself in a difficult position.  He must redeem his family’s honor and protect the ones he loves while being challenged by familiar DC characters Brainiac (Blake Ritson) and Earthly time-traveler Adam Strange (Shaun Sipos).

        Krypton is from Warner Horizon Scripted Television and is executive produced by David S. Goyer (“Man of Steel,” “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” “The Dark Knight Trilogy”) through his Phantom Four banner, alongside Cameron Welsh, who serves as showrunner. In addition to Cuffe, Sipos and Ritson, the show also stars Georgina Campbell (“Broadchurch”), Elliot Cowan (“Da Vinci’s Demons”), Ann Ogbomo (“World War Z”), Rasmus Hardiker (“Your Highness”), Wallis Day (“Will”), Aaron Pierre (“Tennison”) and Ian McElhinney (“Game of Thrones”). Based on the DC characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
      Watch Krypton on Wednesdays at 10pm ET on the SYFY channel.

PaleyFest 2018: The Orville cast talks social commentary, Science Fiction, and The Muppets

By Aiyonna White, Contributor

 

       When asked about the various social issues the show addressed in the first season, Seth MacFarlane – creator of the Star Trek inspired television show The Orville – stated that “good science fiction should be topical.” 

HOLLYWOOD, CA – MARCH 17: Cast of The Orville attend PaleyFest LA 2018 honoring The Orville, presented by The Paley Center for Media, at the DOLBY THEATRE on March 17, 2018 in Hollywood, California. © Michael Bulbenko for the Paley Center

        “The reaction to that episode [Season 1 Episode 3 “About A Girl”] initially was… a lot of weird hostility about it. ‘Who do you think you are writing about this stuff?’ The reaction 

from the fans was the opposite.”

        The Paley Center for Media hosts PaleyFest once a year to honor exceptional television series. Held on March 17, The Orville panel is the second event of the festival, second to Barbra Streisand herself. The panels begin with an episode screening and are followed by a Q&A between the moderator, creators and cast, and the audience.

        It’s true that the fan favorite series does not shy away from difficult conversations, having covered religion, xenophobia, sexism, and other touchy topics in the first season. It’s also true that science fiction as a genre was created to entertain intellectually and leave the viewer with questions about societal norms (Shoutout to the Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy class I’m taking this semester!) “In this genre there really should be nothing off-limits,” MacFarlane concludes, citing The Twilight Zone, which is known for it’s social commentary. My personal favorite of the cast, actress Penny Johnson added that “fans are smarter than people think,” and could, therefore, handle discussion on tough topics. J.Lee, 

who plays Lt. John LaMarr said, “I like the fact that we throw a lot of stuff at the wall…we talk about stuff with a camera on that we all talk about anyway.”

        The Orville is an endearing series, and the panel was a delightful insight into the casts’ personalities ties and dedication to the series. Here are some key moments:

“More tongue!”

While filming episode 9 “Cupid’s Dagger,” Johnson was told by MacFarlane to do “more tongue,” MacFarlane ended the story with, ”Needless to say, my time was up.”

Chad wanted to sit on the egg

Chad L. Coleman, who plays Bortus’ partner Klyden, asked MacFarlane why Bortus sat on the egg to hatch their child when Klyden was the more traditionally domestic of the pair. MacFarlane

responded, “You’ve thought more about that than I have.”

The Ant Story

Scott Grimes aka Lt. Gordon Malloy told a story about the time when 40-50 ants crawled into Peter Macon’s prosthetic face during a nap, which resulted in a chorus of disgusted groans from the audience. “It was 5 or 6,” Macon corrected, who plays Lt. Cmdr. Bortus on the show. “…and if I rip this [makeup] off I’m ripping my skin off with it, so I had to beat myself in the face to kill the ants.”

HOLLYWOOD, CA – MARCH 17: Cast of The Orville attends PaleyFest LA 2018 honoring The Orville, presented by The Paley Center for Media, at the DOLBY THEATRE on March 17, 2018 in Hollywood, California. © Brian To for the Paley Center

Gross.

 

Ed and Kelly’s relationship  

The season finale ended with a harsh but necessary breakup for the couple. When asked about the future of the relationship, MacFarlane responded, “Watch. You gotta watch. I’m not gonna tell you,” to boos from the audience.

Sealing the Deal

A fan asked MacFarlane how he was able to bring the show to fruition. MacFarlane said, “I tend to do things that I want to watch and space sci-fi has been kind of neglected for a long time. Everything was serialized and everything was really dark, and I missed the optimistic, hopeful sci-fi that is not necessarily a cautionary tale…it just went from there.”

A Light in the Room

“On behalf of the Catholic church, I’m pissed.” A fan opened his question with this joke about the season finale, resulting in a lot of laughs. He then asked the cast to speak on their power to shape culture. Johnson revealed that as a Christian she’s been judged by her peers for appearing on the show. “What you want to do is present the issues and be generous and loving about them to allow people to make their own decisions…If you’re not a part of being the light in the room, you’re just allowing anything to be talked about. My thing is to always be a light in the room.” On playing Claire, Johnson says, “I find it extraordinary. Seth and the rest of the writers have allowed me to be three-dimensional, and not this one dimension that we get stuck on. I get to do everything, and my God I am so excited because if you don’t see me on television it’s going to be somebody else so I’ll be missing my calling which is sinful anyway.” Do you see why she’s my favorite?  

Peter Macon wore a KISS mask for at least a few months

Peter Macon revealed that after the made-for-TV Kiss movie came out in the 1970s, he wanted to be Gene Simmons for Halloween and also all the time. He wore the KISS mask 24/7, including one particular June day on the City Bus with his mom. “I feel for her now being a parent,” Macon says. “I needed to wear that mask. A little black kid in Chicago wearing a KISS mask…I imagine myself as a little kid watching [The Orville] like I watched Battlestar Galactica, and being a part of something that can go into someone’s young consciousness, I see that kid walking around in a KISS mask in June…I wasn’t told that I can’t wear the mask at all. It helped blossom my consciousness and I hope that with this kind of work I can do the same thing for some little kid.”

The Hardest Script for Seth MacFarlane to Write

“Nothing that I’ve found. I’ve been in comedy for years and I’ve never had an easier, smoother time writing than on this show. I was probably in the wrong business.” We can leave it at that.

HOLLYWOOD, CA – MARCH 17: Cast and creatives of The Orville attend PaleyFest LA 2018 honoring The Orville, presented by The Paley Center for Media, at the DOLBY THEATRE on March 17, 2018 in Hollywood, California. © Emily Kneeter for the Paley Center

Season 2 Spoilers?

MacFarlane reveals that there is an episode in season 2 that doesn’t have a sci-fi plot. “It’s all character pieces and that to me is the essence of what a good sci-fi show should be able to do. The character should be so strong that if you want to do a story that is pure drama or pure comedy you should be able to do that.”

What’s the deal with Kermit the Frog?

Viewers of the show know that MacFarlane’s character Capt. Ed Mercer has a Kermit doll on his desk that he idolizes. When asked if his obsession “extends to all muppets,” MacFarlane said, “I love The Muppets. The Great Muppet Caper is one of the best musicals ever made. I’m a big Henson fan. I was always astonished by what he pulled off. Kermit is basically a sock puppet with eyes. There’s so much personality in him and I feel that he never got his due as an actor. There’s so much soul in that character.” I adore Jim Henson praise as -fun fact- he graduated from the University of Maryland-College Park, not far from my hometown. Naturally, the panel ended with MacFarlane’s Kermit impersonation.