So I entitled this podcast “How to Work with a Music Composer” because it is a mystery to many filmmakers. As visual storytellers, we focus so much energy and effort to the moving image. For many of us, music is an afterthought.
What would Jaws, Indiana Jones or Star Wars be without the musical score? With technology, it has become more and more affordable to have a beautiful score added to your indie film. A computer can’t do it alone, you still need a maestro to compose that music for you.
A good score can add a great deal of production value to your little indie film. This is why I invited composer Cris Velasco on the show. Cris and I have worked on many projects together. His music has definitely elevated my projects.
Here’s some info on the man:
Cris Velasco is multiple award-winning composers of epic orchestral, dark experimental and modern hybrid music scores for video games, film, and television. After graduating from UCLA with a degree in Music Composition, Velasco pursued his passion to write music for visual media; his first major release was composing for Sony’s blockbuster God of War.
A prolific and versatile composer, Velasco has become one of the most sought-after composers in interactive entertainment, scoring many major titles including Company of Heroes 2, Mass Effect 3, Borderlands 2, ZombiU, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, God of War 3, Tron: Evolution, Borderlands, God of War 2, Darksiders, Clive Barker’s Jericho, and many more.
I wanted Cris to go into his creative process and how he likes to work with filmmakers and creatives. Plus you get a bonus “Star Wars” themed music score he created on the Warner Brothers backlot. Enjoy!
Right-click here to download the MP3
Alex Ferrari 5:41
I'd like to welcome to the show the legendary Chris Velasco.
Cris Velasco 5:45
Hello, nice to be here, Alex.
Alex Ferrari 5:48
Thanks, Chris. So guys, so you know, Chris and I worked together on a few of my on my short films years ago. And unfortunately, we've made we remained friends ever since.
Cris Velasco 6:01
Was definitely one of the big downfalls of working for you.
Alex Ferrari 6:03
Yeah, exactly. So I wanted to I wanted to get into a Chris, I mean, you've worked on some huge, huge video games. And I want to kind of well, first and foremost, how did you Why did you want to become what made you want to become a composer?
Cris Velasco 6:19
Well, it took me a long time to figure it out. And I was just going to a junior college, you know, trying to figure things out and taking, you know, just a lot of different classes trying to figure out what am I interested in. And I had never had any musical training. It did play guitar and a death metal band prior to that,
Alex Ferrari 6:41
That makes so much sense.
Cris Velasco 6:46
And I was I took a music appreciation course. Not even sure why it's just like, Oh, well, that'll give me some units. And it kind of studied all sorts of music from you know, current. You know, whatever it is currently playing on the radio back then, like in the 70s. Got it? Yeah, in the 70s. to jazz to blues to you know, a lot of stuff I just wasn't that interested in and then, and then one day we were studying Mozart. And they played Mozart's 40th Symphony. And I just had this epiphany. It has really moved me and I decided that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to compose Wow. Which was just so weird because I'd never had never had musical training, couldn't read music. I the only classical music I remember listening to up until then was like Peter in the wolf when I was a little kid, right? Of course. And of course, like john Williams. But yeah, I had no idea that I could actually compose, but you know, I started doing it and put together a little portfolio of stuff and then use that to apply to UCLA and got into their composition program. And,
Alex Ferrari 8:16
And it's and that's the way it went down. So how did you get started in this crazy world of composing video games?
Cris Velasco 8:26
Well, I fortunately got into games back when not a lot of people were doing it. And it was really looked looked down on it was sort of the, you know, the redheaded stepchild of of music for any sort of entertainment.
Alex Ferrari 8:43
Is it still is it still kind of looked upon like that? Or is it get our opinions changing?
Cris Velasco 8:48
Oh, no. opinions are changing, at least at least by composers. Everybody wants to do video games now. Oh, really? Yeah. I mean, I'm constantly pitching for stuff against some of the the top, you know, film, composers and in Hollywood. So yeah, it's become very competitive.
Alex Ferrari 9:09
So you got into it early on when no, but there wasn't as much competition.
Cris Velasco 9:13
Yeah, and there was still competition back then. Now it's just seems kind of ridiculous. But when I graduated from UCLA, I suddenly realized, oh my god, they didn't teach me at all like, what do you do when you graduate? Like how do you actually go out and, you know, earn a wage as a composer. So I decided to go back to school and get my master's degree just to kind of hide for another year or two. And, and the head of the department there, told me Yeah, no thanks. We're not interested in having you back at the school.
Alex Ferrari 10:01
Cris Velasco 10:03
And the reason was, because according to the school back then, what I was interested in writing was they considered low art. Wow, really, they wanted people that would write this, you know, obscure concert music that you know that nobody listens to, nobody wants to listen to. And because I wanted to, you know, write something that was melodic, for a medium that would actually be heard by people that I was already a sellout and didn't want any part of that. Now of course, they send me requests for money every year.
Alex Ferrari 10:41
Of course, you're an alumni. So what's the process of working on I mean, you've worked on some like 100 million plus dollar budgeted video games like how do you work on something that big and what kind of pressure you under I mean it must be obscene
Cris Velasco 10:58
No, I just you know, whether it's like an indie title that you know, got most of their money off Kickstarter or like you said like $100 million franchise I just kind of treat them both the same. And you know, it's just I love what I do I come down in the morning to my studio with some coffee I I turn on what I did the day before I see if it's good if I'm going to delete everything. And I just start working and you know, the I try to take on projects that inspire me so there's never any real creative block.
Alex Ferrari 11:41
So just so everybody knows, I mean, I've I've been in in the cave Chris's cave, man cave, if you will, and it is probably one of the coolest rooms I've ever ever been in my life it for for people in the audience who are our age. It's kind of like a silver spoons thing going on. in there, there's like toys everywhere. He's got an ad at he's got giant statues, which I'm going to talk to you about how he got into the statue obsession afterwards. And, and then the best part of the whole piece is he's got this video game stand up video game system, which has how many video games plugged into it? Uh,
Cris Velasco 12:21
I don't know exactly. 2000.
Alex Ferrari 12:23
There's, like 1000 video games like old school, like every kind of Street Fighter you can imagine from every country in the world. Like, it's obscene. So every time I come over, I'm like, I tell my wife. I'm like, I'm not coming back for at least a few hours. I just have to play and have fun. It's a wonderful creative environment without question. And on a side note, the reason why Chris now has become an obsessive purchaser of statues from from aliens of predators and monsters and things like that is I took him to his first Comic Con down in San Diego years ago, and his eyes just opened up he's like, what is this? And he just started buying stuff left and right and then I would piggyback on him so I would buy stuff right behind him I'm like look my boy spending 1000 bucks Can you hook me up with this? He was a wonderful time before I had children, so I can't I can't spend that kind of money nowadays but
Cris Velasco 13:27
Oh man I miss it. See me walking down the streets of Diego. Oh giant Hulk bigger
Alex Ferrari 13:35
Yes I'm staring at my giant Hulk figure right now it is a it was a heavy as a bitch boy I swear and we were just
Cris Velasco 13:41
All the way because it's too heavy.
Alex Ferrari 13:42
Oh, I was just bitching up a storm because I had like a Hulk a Wolverine. I mean, it was a huge, huge like statues I had and we're just walking we didn't have a dolly or anything so we're carrying this for probably about half a mile to our parking spot. And I was I was pitching I was pitching like crazy but those but those are fun. Those were fun time, sir. So um, can you tell me I know you've gone up to the legendary Skywalker Ranch a few times to record and I've never been invited but I'm not bitter. How is it to work there and and how is it to meet George Lucas.
Cris Velasco 14:24
Okay, well, I've only briefly met Lucas one time. I've recorded probably like seven or eight scores up there.
Alex Ferrari 14:34
But you told me you had dinner with him every time was that was a lie.
Cris Velasco 14:39
Oh, George. Yeah, yeah.
Alex Ferrari 14:44
You met him. You met you met him briefly.
Cris Velasco 14:46
One time. Oh, that was Yeah, it was. I think that was Fourth of July and he, I guess every fourth he would throw a big party at the ranch. And everybody that worked for Lucas would would show up and they had you know huge tents everywhere with barbecue and you know horseback riding and baseball and face painting and just you know it was just a whole big thing and we happen to be up there recording the next day so so you know we got to go to this thing and and so George was sitting there and not too far away and you're kicking out like crazy with some clients from from Paris actually on that one and in one of them was such a huge fan he's like oh I want to I want my picture with him and but he was too scared to go up and talk so so he he just basically photo bomb and he's like just taking the time in the background. You see this like this scared French guy like just kind of peeking up over his shoulder
Alex Ferrari 15:56
Cris Velasco 15:58
And then and then my my wife and I were like ah, screw this we're gonna go up and say hi, and apparently nobody had told us this but you're not supposed to approach or speak to George Lucas at these things fair enough. He doesn't like it and so we walked right up and said hey George, how's it going? And he looked completely shocked didn't really know what to do but but Aaron got a nice picture with Oh my God, I invited him to check out this scoring session the next day to which he said no
Alex Ferrari 16:35
Ofcourse so with that said, How was it How is it working in like that I mean that's a legendary place to record isn't it how is it?
Cris Velasco 16:48
Yeah it's amazing it's you know, it's its own self contained. ranch basically it's you know, I forget how many acres it is but it's it's huge. It's, you know, like, almost a mile from the, from the end where you can stay to the recording stage and they've got these beat these Skywalker beach cruisers everywhere. So if you want to ride a bike to the stage in the morning, you can and any ride by and you'll see cows and sheep and deer and chickens and you know they've they do their their own wine there now Yeah, you go past the vineyards. And it's just really beautiful.
Alex Ferrari 17:30
Yeah, I heard that he put I heard he put vineyards in for tax reasons. Up in Monroe County, like if you have a vineyard, you get taxed on a certain amount of tax breaks it. So um, so let me ask you, how does it How does composing the video game different than working on a film for, say, a narrative film?
Cris Velasco 17:51
Um, well, they're nonlinear. So you can't score it like a film where you just watch the picture and be like, Oh, this, you know, this thing is coming up now. And, and it will always happen at the exact same moment, you know, obviously, in a film games, or, you know, the pace is usually determined by whoever's playing it. So yeah, you you really, you're just kind of composing to nothing. And then it's all about the implementation and in the game, when you add to get in there and make it feel like it's interactive with with what's going on screen.
Alex Ferrari 18:31
Now, how much music do you actually make for like a video game like excited, like actual time, the amount of music I'm imagining is a lot more than it would be for a feature.
Cris Velasco 18:41
It just depends. I mean, some games don't require that much and, and I've only, like, I just finished something that only had like, it has maybe 12 minutes of music in it right now and that they felt like more was going to be too intrusive. And I'm working on another one right now to be 100 plus minutes.
Alex Ferrari 19:04
Oh, wow. Okay. And that's when they that's when it starts getting crazy.
Cris Velasco 19:10
Yeah, the deadlines are usually pretty laid back if you if you start with them from the beginning.
Alex Ferrari 19:19
So but I've heard it, I've heard you going crazy during those other kind of deadlines.
Cris Velasco 19:25
Yeah, well, then it's just crunch time, like anything else where you don't really get to sleep, and you're miserable. And I, I really try to avoid that these days and get everything spread out and try to get involved as soon as I can. And
Alex Ferrari 19:43
Well, let me let me ask you, when you approach a composing gig, do you like to break it down per scene? If it's a movie or a narrative? Do you break it down as a whole? How do you like how do you spot How do you like do a spotting session if you will, and it can you explain what a spotting session is
Cris Velasco 20:01
Well on a film or on both for a game that you know, there's not really a spotting session I'll just get a document from the audio director the bigger companies have someone that's kind of in charge of, of all sounds you know, whether it's music, sound effects, vo whatever. And those guys are the audio director and they will usually set up like a document for me that just lays out exactly how much music is required how long each piece is, what it's for, and then we'll have a discussion about the style and and and I'll just kind of go from there.
Alex Ferrari 20:46
Now how about for the net for a feature?
Cris Velasco 20:48
Yeah, so you know that with those usually you'll sit down with the director and watch the film and sort of go scene by scene and decide do you think this needs music? Yes, no? Why not? And
Alex Ferrari 21:10
Then you obviously discuss tone and things like that like what the tone of the movie is the tone of the music is sometimes is a little bit more experimental sometimes it's a little bit more on the nose some stuff like that.
Cris Velasco 21:20
Yeah, and sometimes there will already be attempt score in there it's something that the editor has has used to to you know to help set the tone so a lot of times if if that's been in the film for too long, you know, they get what's called template and then template that's what it's called. stuck to then in some cases, just doing a complete knock off of this music that they have in there.
Alex Ferrari 21:52
Yeah, which is generally Shawshank soundtrack. Isn't that what everyone uses as attempt?
Cris Velasco 21:58
Maybe maybe a while ago now it's all you know, whatever Hans Zimmer has done lately,
Alex Ferrari 22:04
So a lot of bummm so I'll tell you guys the the way that me and Chris met for the first time which is relative to what we're talking about. I come over to Chris's house. We reached out we found each other I won't discuss how we found each other because I don't want to I don't want to share that information. And I don't think it was matched calm All right. Well, you know, it was I didn't want to say it. It was it was a difficult time in my life. Now. We found each other online and I told him I had this short film, it was already done. It was it was red princess blues. And he's like, Yeah, come on over. And then I think once I walked in the door, Chris always told me he's like, Oh my God, this better be a good movie. If not, this is gonna be a really awkward meeting. Because imagine you sit down you put the show over to my house. Before ever seeing a piece of footage ever seeing any of my work or anything. It just like I hope this is okay. Because if it isn't, this is gonna be a really awkward conference. And I just kept thinking to myself, Oh my god, imagine if I would have put down my short and it would have just been you know, a guy naked reading a yellow pages while eating ice cream. And that's the short and I would have just loved to see Chris's face going. How do I get him out of here?
Cris Velasco 23:25
Yeah, like can I realistically pull off a seizure?
Alex Ferrari 23:31
Exactly. So let me ask you something that was always wanted to ask you what is your creative process? Like when you because it's a mystery to me, like music composition is an absolute mystery to me. So like, how do you like find? Like, how do you compose? I know it's a really deep question. Like, can you explain how you compose music? Like know me, but like, What is? What's your inspiration? What is your creative process? Do you listen to other stuff? Do you like it, it just come from you, you just are hitting a key on a keyboard? How does it work for you?
Cris Velasco 24:05
Um, I will rarely listen to other music just because I don't want to be influenced by something else. I mean, I'm already like, you know, you make up your own style over the years, hopefully. But that style has been influenced by everything that you like, right? So in that regards, I am already influenced by what I'm going to write, but I don't want to listen to something too closely. That's going to be similar to the tone of what I'm doing because I just, I don't want to rip it off. You know, accidentally even so I don't listen to too much unless it's a style that I'm not super comfortable with. And in that case, I will I will study that style of music a lot to figure out okay, why does you know whatever. What, why does reggae sound like reggae what makes it that and then
Alex Ferrari 24:57
You start you start deconstructing it.
Cris Velasco 25:00
Yeah so that's when I like to listen to something or a couple years ago I did a game called Company of Heroes and you were playing it was a world war two game and this particular campaign was you were playing the Russians I mean yeah the Russians against the Germans and so the music needed to take on a Russian slant so I listened to just tons of Russian music and
Alex Ferrari 25:30
You were watching Rocky 4 obviously
Cris Velasco 25:33
Alex Ferrari 25:38
A lot of foreigner got it
Cris Velasco 25:41
So you know you figure out why you know, because Russian music has a sound like why why does it sound that way? So I you know, yeah, deconstructed it figured it out and tried to incorporate that into my own writing.
Alex Ferrari 25:54
Now do you write Do you read me You obviously you read music now? Yeah. And you write music as well.
Cris Velasco 26:01
And I write music what do you mean?
Alex Ferrari 26:02
Like you write it like you like you sit down and just draw those funny little things so I can have no idea I'm a complete idiot when it comes to music. Because I know I know that you can write like you can play music on a computer now and in the computer program a lot of times will write the music for you. So a lot of guys that I know of I've known other composers who don't actually know how to write write music, but the program does it for them.
Cris Velasco 26:28
Alex Ferrari 26:30
I'm just saying
Cris Velasco 26:33
So I don't want to second write music because that's because I feel like composing is writing music but right notating music is sort of the you know putting the amps on the page
Alex Ferrari 26:45
On the page Perfect, perfect analogy
Cris Velasco 26:49
Oh yes, I can I can notate music but I don't really do it that much anymore. I know there's still composers out there that that will sit at a piano with their staff paper and a pencil and write it all out that's not really me. I do like to you know, sit at my computer and and play through the keyboard there and have it recorded notate for me as I play it and that's just the other way it's just too time consuming
Alex Ferrari 27:20
It's all it's it's a little bit more old school I gotcha.
Cris Velasco 27:23
Yeah. And you know, especially with film and even more so TV that the deadlines are just so insane that there's there's no way you could sit there and write everything out by hand.
Alex Ferrari 27:36
Now what are you looking for in a great collaboration with a director? Like how do you like to work with a director when they come in on a feature or on a on a narrative piece?
Cris Velasco 27:48
I really like guys that have a really good idea of what they want. Like I'm not so much of a fan of the Tell me oh just do what you want because that's it never works all say well, okay, well here's how I think it should go down. And usually they may not have an idea of what they want but they have an idea of what they don't want and so we'll go through so many iterations you know, finding all these things they don't want and then when you finally get down to it, they'll be like, you know, like the score to ROM Stoker's Dracula like that's what I like it's like, oh,
Alex Ferrari 28:32
Well I've been using Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as a reference.
Cris Velasco 28:39
So you know, a good idea of of the sound they're going for is something I really appreciate.
Alex Ferrari 28:47
Got it and then and then as far as uh you know how i mean i mean when we work together we did It's been a while since I don't remember the exact details but there was a lot of there wasn't a tremendous amount of revisions was there
Cris Velasco 29:00
No, I don't think so.
Alex Ferrari 29:01
No, I think we kind of we kind of vibed and we caught exactly because I was just always so impressed with whatever Chris showed up with I'm like oh wow, that's really great. Do you like to be challenged by the way do you like Do you like a director or a filmmaker to kind of like push you in like maybe a little bit more here there?
Cris Velasco 29:21
Yeah, I I've just I've done like, like in games I've done so many games I feel start to sound similar. Because there's just a style that a lot of people like and and so I am sort of looking for opportunities to be a little more creative. And I have some projects now where I feel like I can really do something different than what then what I'm used to and that is that's very rewarding. And it's you know, it's the only way you can grow as a composer is to be challenged.
Alex Ferrari 29:57
Yeah. being pushed. Now what would what can you explain to the, to the audience? Or to the tribe, if you will? How do you work with a sound mixer because I know this is a big, big thing a lot of filmmakers don't really understand is that, you know, a composer in the perfect world will go in and sit down during the mix, to kind of help the sound mixer. Work with the effects and how to you know, where the score hits higher or lower stuff like that. Can you explain that process a little bit?
Cris Velasco 30:30
Yeah, well, I don't even bother going to the mixes anymore because it How did the composer's ideas and wishes take a backseat to, to sound effects? And I mean, I can't tell you how many times I've written this, you know, huge music where I was asked, like, Oh, you got to make it huge. It's big, it's big. And then the whole thing is covered up by an explosion. And it's like, what, there's no point in even having music there. So I try to not score the big, the big climax things anymore, just because you can't even hear it. It's pointless,
Alex Ferrari 31:11
Right! Because it's just sound effects everywhere.
Cris Velasco 31:14
Alex Ferrari 31:16
Is that why Hans Zimmer's does that bong
Cris Velasco 31:20
That's through anything?
Alex Ferrari 31:22
Through my soul, that damn thing, because
Cris Velasco 31:26
I mean, like Interstellar, you know, you hear half the dialogue, because the music is so
Alex Ferrari 31:32
I know, right? The whole pesky dialogue and sound effects is just just hurting the movie really should all be just visuals and music. Maybe you could create a new genre of movie. So um, so you don't work. But when you work with me, we did do actually do that we actually had you walk in. And in a perfect world. The composer does have some sort of, I mean, there's a balancing point. I mean, obviously, it's not all about the music. But it has to be part of it. And it has to be depending on the scene, major part of it. So mixing it at a certain time. So you know, sound effects don't overpower music is ideal in a perfect situation, correct?
Cris Velasco 32:14
Oh, yeah, absolutely. It's, you know, it really is music and sound effects is, is, is a marriage. And you know, like any marriage, there needs to be compromises. Right? And it can't be music all the time. And it can't be sound effects all the time. And the best movies are the ones where they really get that and spend a lot of time and energy finding that perfect balance.
Alex Ferrari 32:38
So when john Williams, Danny Elfman, or Hans Zimmer is there they're in the mix generally, is what you say.
Cris Velasco 32:44
Yeah, I would imagine that they've they're in the mix. Maybe not the entire time. Sure.
Alex Ferrari 32:49
But but some, but somewhere, yeah. Now, in your opinion, what does a great score do for a scene or film? And can you give us an example of when you thought a score just kind of like took it over the top?
Cris Velasco 33:06
Well, I mean, I think a score is, is great when it's enhancing the scene, like a lot of times people don't even notice that there's music. And that's generally good, because it means it wasn't sticking out in a bad way and detracting from the story. Because, you know, the music is just another voice. It's another character in the film. And, you know, it's like, if you had one annoying actor that was screaming all his lines, right? You know, it's like, oh, my God, the movie was great. But that one guy that was just screaming. So you know, music. I've definitely seen films where the music was that loud screaming guide, like, Oh, this is awful. Like, if there was ever a time for sound effects to take over. It was this one.
Alex Ferrari 33:55
All right. And these are big. I'm assuming these are big, big movies you're talking about?
Cris Velasco 34:00
Yeah, you know, I don't
Alex Ferrari 34:01
No don't name names, of course. But I mean, you want to work again. But But yeah, some big budget movies sometimes.
Cris Velasco 34:09
But, uh, oh, god, what the hell was I going to say? The Oh, so. So that's the, my idea of a good score is when? When it's just, it's just another player and the movie, it doesn't stand out. It really enhances the experience. Like you may not notice it's there. But if it was gone, you would definitely miss it.
Alex Ferrari 34:31
And then there's those wonderful cues that are legendary, like jaws.
Cris Velasco 34:35
Yeah, and then, exactly. And, you know, my favorite living composer is john Williams, like a lot of composers. And I, he's just a brilliant musician. And he's got such a, it's a little old school, maybe the way he he does things, but I absolutely love it.
Alex Ferrari 34:56
He's been nominated what like, like, I think like 50 times. For an Oscar, right? Something like that. Yeah, every year, every year he gets a nomination no matter what he does every year. Yeah,
Cris Velasco 35:07
Every year that he's written something there's been a few years, where he took a little hiatus from film. He wasn't nominated cuz he didn't have anything but
Alex Ferrari 35:16
And sometimes he's nominated twice in person. And then sometimes he's nominated twice in the same year. Like, I've seen that, too. It's, it's obscene. He's won, like, I think five or six times out of all those times, but it's insane.
Cris Velasco 35:29
Yeah, he's the real deal. Yeah, but he's the guy that comes to mind when I think of what makes a great score. And it's not only does it just enhance the scene, but there are those moments where the music comes in, and you just you get goosebumps, because it's just so good. And it just elevates what's on the screen and like one, like jaws perfect example. But the one that I think of is the is the bicycle saying at the end of et. Oh, coming in, it's like, oh,
Alex Ferrari 36:03
No, no, I get I get I get like goosebumps thinking about that. I still remember that. It's like a mate. Yeah, absolutely amazing. I thought one of the like, I mean, he's done we can talk about john for a second. He's done because I know him. Now he's done I mean, so many legendary scores, Star Wars Indiana Jones. What like one of the more recent recent being 15 years ago, when he did the Harry Potter score, because he only scored I think the first movie and then after that he don't think he's scored any of the other ones.
Cris Velasco 36:32
Its incorrect. He scored the first three
Alex Ferrari 36:34
First three. Exactly. Okay, thank you for correcting me, sir. But I know that that theme now will live on forever, because that's the theme of Harry Potter. But I just remember just thinking how beautiful that it just captured Harry Potter so beautifully. Just so so wonderfully. That I mean, but like, like we've talked about before and as and I think it was on the trip that you and I went to Comic Con. You got the jaws poster, right? Yeah, yeah, that when we went to Comic Con, he got a Chris bought a autographed john Williams poster. But he actually drew the notes for jaws theme on it. Yeah, pretty cool. Which is pretty cool. But that I mean, how many notes is that? It's like, three notes. Or two notes. How many notes? Is that for the jostein?
Cris Velasco 37:22
Well, it's a minor second. So if you think just like, well, now you're not gonna know what the hell E to F means. But hey, but, um, so that's obviously two notes. But then it goes, bump, bump, bump, bump, bump, bump, right? Right, really three notes. Right.
Alex Ferrari 37:38
So but that's how genius that is. Because that that's one of the most genius cute music cues in in all of movie history. I would
Cris Velasco 37:46
I love to in his interviews, how he always has a reason behind everything. He's not just sitting down like, Oh, that sounds cool. But apparently came over and was like, oh, here let me play the theme for jobs and in play, you know, this little two, three note motif. And instead was like, you know, what?
Alex Ferrari 38:12
I love that. Like, did you were you in the room? That's Buber goes What?
Cris Velasco 38:18
He kind of like looks off to the sides, like, Oh, I made a huge mistake. But, but then he you know, john Williams explains it as like, no, this shark. It's just a, an eating machine. it you know, it's just, it's just constantly on the hunt. It's, it's driven by this internal motor to just just hunt. And so it's this kind of perpetual motion thing. And so the this little bump, bump, bump, bump, bump, bump, bump Bump, is that that's the shark. I mean, you don't want to get fancy. It's just it's it is what it is. And then so he describes that and then you know that Spielberg was like, Whoa, okay, you're right. And you know, now it's one of the most iconic film score themes ever.
Alex Ferrari 39:09
Oh, yeah. I mean, and but the thing is, he doesn't have one of those. He's got like, dozens.
Cris Velasco 39:14
It's not enough that he can just do one iconic theme. It's he's got it, you know.
Alex Ferrari 39:21
So let me ask you, what would be some advice? You can give a filmmaker when interviewing a composer? What are the things that he he or she should look for?
Cris Velasco 39:32
Yeah, well, I, you know,
Alex Ferrari 39:38
I mean, obviously, besides just calling you, but
Cris Velasco 39:43
Um, well, I would say like, have a passion for what they're doing. You know, it's not like, ah, I wanted to write string quartets, but they're not really taken off. So I thought I thought I'd try my hand at film school. And I hear there's a lot of money in that. Like those those kind of people just sort of make me crazy it's like a lot of people want to do games because all their you know, it's like hands low. They're so hot right now.
Alex Ferrari 40:15
Right? But they don't have a passion for the medium.
Cris Velasco 40:19
No, it's Yeah, it's like oh, so What games do you play? I don't like games, like well, why do you want to work in games? And that seems crazy. And same thing with film. Like, you know, you ask somebody like, oh, what's your favorite movie? And I don't really like going to the movies. Like oh really? For my film like
Alex Ferrari 40:38
So So in other words, look for someone who has passion for what they're doing in the medium that you're trying to have them compose if they've they've done if you if you're looking for a composer for documentary work, and they're really passionate about documentaries that's something you should look into and same thing for features or video games.
Cris Velasco 40:53
Yeah, I think so. Now and then you know, just see if you I like to work with people I kind of over the last few years have develops what I call my my no asshole policy,
Alex Ferrari 41:06
Oh, thank god you only develop that a few years ago, sir, if nobody would have never worked together,
Cris Velasco 41:10
You are grandfathered in. And I just sort of figured, God let life is too short. Like, I really love my job. And I don't want to bog it down working with people that I just don't enjoy. And, you know, no matter how good their project is, it's gonna stress you out, if you're working with somebody that you just don't get along with. And that's just not for me, I you know, I want to, I want to work with somebody who, you know, on the weekend, be like, hey, you want to grab a beer and, and you know, go see whatever new film and you know, if you can't do that, if I have no desire to see somebody, socially, besides just work, then I just kind of figured, you know, this project may not be for me. And if it's if you start to feel that way, then I don't see how you can do your best work.
Alex Ferrari 42:07
That makes perfect sense. And that's a good that's a good piece of advice that almost with any avenue of the business, you know, having being able to sit in a room with somebody is is sometimes more valuable than than talent you know, to a certain extent I'd rather have a like a genius aihole or a really good nice person I'll go with a really good nice person even though the other guy might be a genius, but his other issues
Cris Velasco 42:36
There are some composers that I think are genius angels and and you always wonder you know, I was asking an agent that represents one one time like hey, how come like this guy's so good? Why Why isn't he working? It seems crazy. And his agent was like well, because he's kind of an asshole he's like yeah, he's so amazingly talented and but that's why like people will kind of just fade away you're like, oh man, whatever happened to so and so it's like well, that guy just couldn't pull it together and be like a normal person he had to he had to ruin it.
Alex Ferrari 43:17
There's a few directors and actors I know of like that that have gone down that road.
Cris Velasco 43:24
Yeah. That no one wants to deal with it it's already you know hard enough it's a fun job it's it you know bring some serious stress to the table. And you know on my side like trying to be creative every day of hours a day it drains me and I don't want to I don't want to have to deal with some aihole on top of that,
Alex Ferrari 43:46
Right exactly no no question what you do what composers do is it's not like I said it's a magic trick to me it's it's magic to me because I it's something that's so far beyond anything I could ever do that I've just looked at it like my god it's just you know, like how do you just sit there and come up with something like on the fly it's pretty it's pretty remarkable
Cris Velasco 44:08
Well, you know, each each person has their own thing I feel the same way like I love art earlier you talked about what's you know what gets me going creatively and in art is one thing and I know you haven't been to the studio for a while but is
Alex Ferrari 44:25
No I it was it was obscene when I was there Well last time I was there Yeah, no, I know they buy they buy so much are you and your wife you guys buy so much art that now I think you've you've tacked it onto the ceiling because there's only so much more wall space you can actually use
Cris Velasco 44:42
Well that's next and and I kid you not I've had that discussion with her. And so
Alex Ferrari 44:48
Like, I mean, just a few on the ceiling. I mean, it's it's not a lot, just a few I think it will be. So um, so I wanted to ask you something about working with this legendary storyteller that you worked with. Clive Barker How was it working with someone of his magnitude because he's i mean he's a legendary writer and legendary storyteller and you got to work with him on Jericho the video game How was how was it working with someone like him Did you learn anything from him on a storytelling or a creative level We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor and now back to the show
Cris Velasco 45:32
I did learn from him and I'll try to make this short kind of a long story but like I absolutely adore Clive Barker and I this is a this is really a story of like my persistence and in the lengths I willing to go to work with the people I want to so I started out just being well before I was into music, I was a fan of his books and if I found out he was doing a book signing somewhere you know I would travel there to to go meet him get my book signed shake his hands and just be around you know one of my my creative idols and and then a few years down the road I started getting into music and and put together a little little demo reel on a on a CD which nobody does anymore.
Alex Ferrari 46:37
What is this CD thing you speak of?
Cris Velasco 46:42
All you know except vinyl is back now which only means cassettes are going to come back and then CDs will be back again
Alex Ferrari 46:48
A track maybe I'm holding out for a track
Cris Velasco 46:52
I just can't wait for the cassette boom and everybody learns how to tape boom.
Alex Ferrari 47:02
So you left them a demo?
Cris Velasco 47:04
Yeah, so well i saw i put something together Oh, it was just so awful. I've I shudder to think of what was on that now. Okay. And and plus back then technologies is not where it is today in terms of like producing something that sounds great coming out of your computer. So oh god it must have just been horrible. But I gathered up the courage to make this demo and then give it to him at a book signing and tell him Clive just so you know. We will work together one day
Alex Ferrari 47:40
You stalked him No, you had I you had I heart Clive Barker all over your Trapper Keeper sir okay.
Cris Velasco 47:53
I practice writing our names Yes exactly.
Alex Ferrari 47:58
It's like a twisted Heather's even more so.
Cris Velasco 48:04
And you know then two years later he another book came out and another book signing happens and so I brought him an updated demo and after all these times you know he started to remember me
Alex Ferrari 48:18
Security security there's he's here like the guy the Velasco is here again please security there's a picture of you out front and the book signings Don't let this guy in
Cris Velasco 48:34
Well, it could have easily gone that way but he was instead like so encouraging and and even told me whether this is true or not Oh, I listened to your your last CD I thought it was wonderful like I can't wait to see how you've progressed over the last couple years. I you know I'll listen to this in the car on my way home and that's pretty cool. And and yeah, you know, that's he didn't mean to do that. And Clive is in a position where he doesn't need to lie to some you know, 20 something year old about his stupid demo CD You know, he could just tell me to go to go eff off
Alex Ferrari 49:14
Don't don't don't be so hard on yourself.
Cris Velasco 49:18
But But he didn't is the point he's just a really a genuinely nice person. And so this continued on, you know, for last time, and then one day, I am I'm at my old apartment. So this is probably Oh gosh, like, maybe 13 years ago or so. And I get a call at home and it says private number or blocked call or whatever. And and the only people I knew that had that were my parents because they were scared of telemarketers so they blocked their their number. Okay? I always thought someone was calling in you know going to bother them at home so block number and and I was like oh it's my mom like okay, I better see what she wants and and answer it and it's Clive has a very unmistakable voice
Alex Ferrari 50:22
Yeah I know.
Cris Velasco 50:24
Very raspy and and so you would I wouldn't mistake it for anything and then suddenly there's Clive saying you know Hello Is this Chris This is Clive Barker and I you know my my legs literally buckled. I had to I had to take a seat because I felt like I almost blacked out just like First of all, how did he even get my number and he's Clive Barker and like Clive and Clive is calling me at home like what the hell is going on? And so we talked for a bit and he said well Chris you've been
Alex Ferrari 51:06
Please don't please don't contact me again Chris
Cris Velasco 51:08
Give me me hear your music for all these years. I've really enjoyed seeing you grow as a composer. I have a project coming up and I think it would be amazing to collaborate with you and I think this is the time where you finally get to say like yes we're working together so he said Chris if you're interested I would love to have you on as my composer and wow yeah after so I blacked out again. And no but so this was not Jericho It was a game call I forget what it was supposed to be called but they got cancelled so it was just devastating for me because well in for Clive as well he spent all this time developing this thing and so I got to go to his house and NBN on Creative meetings he wanted me there to like throw out I like musical ideas talking about so this is like a dream job for you like it was absolutely ridiculous like
Alex Ferrari 52:15
You would have paid him for this
Cris Velasco 52:19
Absolutely would have paid but so that got cancelled and it was just a huge bummer. And so I tried to stay in touch with them but nothing really came up and then yeah, maybe whenever Jericho was I was at like seven eight years ago or something or whatever. Yeah, but yeah, same thing I I get a call again. And Clive said hey, I've got this new game called Jericho it's gonna be amazing I want you to compose the music for it and and again it's like oh my god this is gonna be so rad and then a year goes by I told you I was gonna make a story short it's super long just stop me We'll just go Chris okay we get it we get it
Alex Ferrari 53:09
We get it we get a Chris so a year goes by you get you finally work with Clive but what
Cris Velasco 53:16
Yeah, that well the developer actually hired somebody else instead they decided no, we're not gonna hire press we're gonna hire this other guy because he's cheaper
Alex Ferrari 53:24
And then Clive went to bat for you.
Cris Velasco 53:27
And then yeah, a year later the game was almost done. They go to clubs house to to show him the progress in the game and he goes he goes What the hell is this music? That's like this first comment is like wait a minute What the hell is this music? Is this Chris Velasco like he couldn't believe it. He was just completely incredulous that I would I would write something so horrible. And they're like, No, we hired this other guy instead and Clive just blew up in and yeah, he was he was my 800 pound gorilla on this one. Like he told them literally told them if you don't hire Chris, you know, in the next 48 hours to rescore the game. I'm taking my name off the project. Wow. So they got in touch with me and you were in a good negotiating
Alex Ferrari 54:21
Cris Velasco 54:23
I was I found out later we could have asked for it anything would have happened but I'm glad I didn't take advantage because that's just not cool. All right. But by then so the the game was almost ready to ship. And so I had to score like two hours of music in about 12 days.
Alex Ferrari 54:48
Oh my god that's
Cris Velasco 54:50
And that included going up to Skywalker Ranch to record some choir
Alex Ferrari 54:55
And it's and it's the best thing you've ever done.
Cris Velasco 54:57
It but It was crazy. And that was really when I decided I don't want to do this crunch mode anymore if I don't have to, because it is a huge bummer.
Alex Ferrari 55:08
So what did you so what did Clive teach you give me a couple of like things that you kind of learned from him?
Cris Velasco 55:13
Well, just being around him he is, he's so positive. And he just like rate radiates creativity. And you just you go over there, if you're in any kind of creative slump, you will leave his house with just with like, a million ideas just bursting out of you're like, Oh my god, I have to go, I have to go create. He just, it's just this weird persona that he has. But I, I was at his house, we were talking about how the music for Jericho should sound. And, and I'm dead, he's painting while we're talking. We're down in his big art studio. He's throwing on soundtracks, stuff that he likes. And we're just talking about the game and about the sound of the game. And and then I was I was lamenting the fact that there was only, you know, two weeks to score this, and that we didn't have the budget to record a whole orchestra. And Clive was telling me He's like, you know, this is this is a mismanagement of of energy. Why complain about what we don't have? Because it's not going to change. So why don't you just focus on the positive, and write the best score you can and two weeks, and I've just any time now where I start to feel like I'm going to complain about something I just, you know, I just think about like, wait, why am I doing that? I can't change it. So if I can't do anything about it, why, like, bring all this negativity onto it, like, just move on and do the best with what you've got.
Alex Ferrari 56:54
That's amazing. That's amazing lesson. Most people go through life without learning that lesson.
Cris Velasco 57:00
Yeah, well, you know, I'm still learning it. But
Alex Ferrari 57:03
Yeah, we all are. So let me let me have a few more questions for you. Because I know you're a very busy man. I want you to name three composers that have influenced you the most and why.
Cris Velasco 57:18
All right. Well, I would start off with with Mozart. Because without his music, I don't think I would have ever begun composing in the first place. Okay. And Goggins got to give it up for john Williams. Obviously, I mean, just, I think what I get most out of him are just the just the colors of the orchestra, you know, he that he's able to produce, it doesn't sound like another generic action score, right? It just, and he doesn't really rely on any kind of electronics to, to add different, different sounds that way. I mean, you know, the orchestra is a pretty finite thing. There's only you know, so many different kinds of instruments that fit into a typical symphonic orchestra. But just the way john Williams orchestrates it, just it just sounds magical to me, and then pop that with his just kind of unparalleled ability to write melodies.
Alex Ferrari 58:33
How old is he now? He's like, 150 years old. I mean, that guy gave me when by the time he got to Star Wars, he already done like, 20 years of stuff.
Cris Velasco 58:41
I think he's like, 84 80s, I can't remember it's like, between 82 and 84, I believe,
Alex Ferrari 58:49
And he's still going and he's still like, the most well,
Cris Velasco 58:51
He just finished up, you know, BFG for Spielberg, so we've got another score, or Williams coming out this year,
Alex Ferrari 58:58
Another Oscar nod. And then who's there and who's the third guy?
Cris Velasco 59:03
Okay. Um, and then, you know, I have to say that John Powell has been really influence on me. Do you know John Powell?
Alex Ferrari 59:16
I don't know. John Powell. I thought it was gonna be Danny Elfman, honestly, but
Cris Velasco 59:20
Well, yeah, I don't know. Yeah, of course, there's so many composers that have had an influence on me but but john Powell did just because of the way that he blends traditional orchestra with electronics, okay. I mean, everybody does this now, but, but he was one of the first guys him and Skye Harry Gregson Williams, they just did it so well. And so tastefully, and, and still do to this day, and, and for me, like trying to learn that that hybrid orchestra meets electronic They really like trying to light on that for me
Alex Ferrari 1:00:03
Very cool now these are the last three questions is the one that I asked every every one of my guests so what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn in life or in the film business
Cris Velasco 1:00:18
Well okay I'll there's one that I'm still learning at so I guess that's the longest one and that is to just take some me time. I work a lot and I don't often give myself weekends and I always feel like I'm slipping behind if I don't work on a weekend and I enjoy what I do sometimes I just like to do it but I really I don't want to look back and think why didn't I spend more time you know with my friends and family or or traveling or whatever because there's so much to do and see and I I sometimes get wrapped up in the whole like I just got it I just got to work.
Alex Ferrari 1:01:08
Got it. Now what are the three your three favorite films of all time and that could be today? It doesn't have to be like you know, I'm not no no pressure just three of your favorite films.
Cris Velasco 1:01:19
Okay. favorite film was Empire Strikes Back
Alex Ferrari 1:01:23
Cris Velasco 1:01:26
I think my second favorite film is The Big Lebowski Okay, good choice. And I mean those two movies I've seen more than anything else
Alex Ferrari 1:01:36
And they both really encompass your personality you combine those two films the vibe of both of them and you got Chris Velasco I think
Cris Velasco 1:01:48
I guess I have kind of a you know you're kind of a dude you're on the Yeah, I'm sort of the dude at home
Alex Ferrari 1:01:54
You are the dude but yet but yet you have an AD AD in your on your desk so yeah, that makes sense.
Cris Velasco 1:02:02
And then third film there man there's so many films that I love but if I had to pick a third favorite I'd probably say Raiders of Lost Ark
Alex Ferrari 1:02:13
Very good very good. Now originally we were talking about was weekends and Bernie weekend Bernie's two Sister Sister Act Two and what was the third one?
Cris Velasco 1:02:24
Everybody to Air Bud to
Alex Ferrari 1:02:27
You just only like two's
Cris Velasco 1:02:29
Yeah, so that those really would have come I think Empire Strikes Back as my first like oh the sequel is always better movie and and sure enough it is man you give me Air Bud Sister Act and Weekend at Bernie's too and
Alex Ferrari 1:02:43
It's a party party. So Chris, where can people find you?
Cris Velasco 1:02:51
Well, my website is monarchaudio.com. Okay, um, find me on Twitter which I believe is monarch audio. And or you can just look me up on on Facebook. I have a fan page there that's that's the music of Chris Velasco. I think
Alex Ferrari 1:03:10
I like when you talk about yourself in the third person that's nice
Cris Velasco 1:03:15
George is getting upset. Good reference. Yeah, honestly, though, I I always forget to update it, and I feel bad. And so you need to get people you need to get up on on Facebook that CRS know ah, God. But yeah, if you want to listen to any music, I'm redoing my website right now. It's still it's up and running. But it's missing a little content. But it's all a bunch on there.
Alex Ferrari 1:03:46
And if anyone's looking to hire you, they can find your agents information on on the website, right? There's on the website. Fantastic, Chris, man, thank you so much for taking the time out. I really appreciate it was it was a joy speaking to you again.
Cris Velasco 1:03:59
Yeah, well, thank you, man. And, you know, I thought I'd made a huge mistake. All those years ago when we met. Turns out it was only a slight mistake.
Alex Ferrari 1:04:12
Cris Velasco 1:04:13
All right, talk to you later.
Alex Ferrari 1:04:15
Man. I love working with Chris man. He is awesome. I've worked with him on multiple projects. And I hope you got a little bit of insight of what it's like to work with a composer, especially composer of Chris's statute who's been doing this for quite some time and has worked on some very very big projects. And as we move forward on this is Meg and me working with Chris will definitely keep you updated on what what we're doing and how we're working together and that will hopefully be as well in the indie film syndicate. Micro budget filmmaking masterclass. That is, this is Meg. So don't forget to head over to indiefilmsyndicate.com that's indiefilmsyndicate.com And check out the over 40 hours of online filmmaking courses, ebooks, articles, the entire indie film hustle podcast library at your disposal. And we're going to be adding new courses and new content every month to the new community. So definitely check it out indie film syndicate.com. And of course, if you want to help us out on this is meg, just head over to thisismeg.com. We're going to be going until July 21st 30 days, so anything you guys can do for us, please, please, please help us out, I would really, really, truly appreciate it. And don't wait to the end, please, we have some really cool incentives like autographed pictures of James Cameron for my private collection as well as my autograph book of the fall by Guillermo del Toro, which he actually does a character as well, as well as being a guest on the indie film, hustle podcast, if you have a film that you want to promote, or a company or yourself or you just want to come down and come on the show and just chat about film geek stuff. That's a possibility, all you have to do is look at that incentive and hit us up. So thank you guys so much. I really hope you're learning a whole lot from this process that I'm going through with this as Meg I'll be continuously putting out more and more new stuff as I go through this journey together. And thank you, by the way, thank you for giving me the courage to to go out and do this because honestly, I'm doing this not only for myself to make my first feature film, but I'm also doing it so I can share that experience with you guys. So I'm not sure if I would have gone through with it without having you guys around to share this with so I do truly appreciate that. And of course the Show Notes for this episode are indiefilmhustle.com/082. As promised, I'm going to now close out the show with Chris's Star Wars demo, which is quite remarkable. So keep that hustle going keep that dream alive. And may the force be with you!
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.
- Cris Velasco – Official Site
- Cris Velasco – IMDB
- Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
- Audible – Get a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook
- Rev.com – $1.25 Closed Captions for Indie Filmmakers – Rev ($10 Off Your First Order)