The World's Finest caught up with Dynamic Music Partners to discuss their work in scoring the Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders animated feature. In this Q & A, Dynamic Music Partners - consisting of Michael McCuistion, Lolita Ritmanis and Kristopher Carter - touch upon their score for Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders, their influences, their favorite tracks and much more. The soundtrack for Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders, available from La-La Land Records as of November 8th, 2016, can be purchased through the label's official website or other digital retailers. To read more from Dynamic Music Partners, just continue reading below!
The World's Finest: To get right to it, what were your first thoughts when you accepted to gig to score Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders Was there an opportunity to perhaps flex some new creative muscles?
Michael McCuiston: More like "dormant" creative muscles! Since the style of the project was retro, it was really fun to be able to connect to the musical styles of the golden era of television scoring from the 60’s through the 70’s. We knew we’d be following in the foosteps of Neal Hefti and Nelson Riddle (very big shoes to fill!); it was a daunting but also exciting challenge.
WF: What thrilled you about the idea of scoring an animated movie based on the 1960s Batman series? And, as you got to work, how did your idea on how you wanted to score the project evolve as you started through your process?
Lolita Ritmanis: I watched the 1960’s series (in reruns) when I was a kid. With Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders we most certainly paid homage to the series by scoring in the style of the original show, but we added a bit more density to the orchestration at times. The musicians really brought our score to life. Having Hollywood’s A-list players on this score, musicians who absolutely knew the feel of the original series made for a great experience. Our trumpet section was: Wayne Bergeron, Larry Hall, Dan Fornero and Erick Jovel. Trombones: Andy Martin, Charlie Morillas, Erik Hughes and Bill Reichenbach. We knew from the get go that we would be using John Yoakum (our go-to woodwind player) on all the woodwinds and saxes, as well as Greg Herzenach on guitar, but the ability to record live trumpets, trombones and drums really added a much needed authenticity to the sound. It was a very complex and involved process, recording woodwinds at MBM Studios- with Mark Mattson, drums at David Crigger’s studio, guitar at Greg Herzenach’s studio, and finally our marathon day at Capitol Studios where we recorded the brass.
WF: What type of influences, outside of the 1960s Batman series, did you draw upon for your work on the score? We hear the classic Batman theme and end credits, but the rest of the score is wholly original. Was it more of an attempt to grab the sound of an era, and not just mimic the source material?
Kristopher Carter: Much like the entire movie, the score needed to feel like it was an extension of the original series, and the series was scored using the sounds that were popular during the time. We absolutely were inspired by more of a broad cross-section of music from the 60s, both what was happening in jazz and popular music as well as scores from other great series of the era: Mission Impossible, Mannix, The Man From U.N.C.L.E, Lost in Space, etc.
WF: How difficult is it to score a project like this one, one that you know has a very particular fanbase with particular expectations. Not only that, but a project that has the potential to reach a wider audience given the massive appeal of the old 1960s Batman series? Is it intimidating or, given you past works, is it just another day at the office?
Michael: I don’t think we ever consider any project “another day at the office.” Every project is an opportunity for inspiration, and it’s just a matter of finding that unique perspective that allows something fresh to emerge creatively that then becomes synonymous with a project. No matter what the audience, our goal is to create something special, and in the case where there’s a fanbase and a history with the story or character, something that speaks to that legacy. Our vision is that the score becomes a part of that lore and lives on as a vibrant part of that universe.
WF: You jumped from Batman: The Killing Joke to this 1960’s-influenced Batman movie. Is it jarring to jump from two vastly different interpretations? Is it difficult to get your feet steady as a composer?
Lolita: Batman: The Killing Joke is a completely different experience on all levels. That is the beauty of being a film composer, to have the opportunity to explore an array of moods, styles, orchestration choices, etc. I actually think it is more challenging to stay within the same style for an extended period of time. Having something new, something fresh to look forward to at the beginning of a day of composing is sheer joy.
WF: Now, given the two vastly different Batman projects you scored this year, do you have a particular preference to what type of Batman stories you like to score – fun and colorful or dark and serious? Why?
Michael: The best part is being able to do both at once. It's essential creatively to approach composing with a fresh perspective, and the best way to do that is to juggle several projects that have opposing styles, switching back and forth. We do that constantly, which is a terrific asset for the three of us. We all have our favorite styles of music to write, but if we only wrote in those singular voices we’d quickly grow tired creatively. Given the number of different projects we’ve had (including Avengers Assemble and Wacky Races to name a few) this was a banner year for the full spectrum of expression for us!
WF: With the Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders soundtrack available from La-La Land Records, can you walk us through some of your favorite tracks from the collection?
Lolita: My personal favorites are: "Jokermobile Chase” - mainly because of the great performances by our live musicians. This cue really moves, and David Crigger's flare on the drums is spectacular. "In Search of Criminal Activity" - is another cue I really enjoyed composing. Knowing that it would serve as a montage, and would be free and clear of sound effects allowed for that moment to be solely about the visuals and the music. Last but not least, I had the great joy of composing a theme for Catwoman. We hear several versions of this, my favorite being “Catwoman is in Her Element” - featuring Andy Martin on trombone.
Michael: My favorite tracks are probably the "Gotham Palace TV Theme" and "Gotham Crime Spree." I’m always up for writing anything in a classic Hollywood film scoring style, and the "Gotham Palace" show provided the perfect opportunity for that. "Gotham Crime Spree" was a classic crime montage with spinning newspaper headlines, bank robberies and other fun visuals—a great opportunity for a twisted big band tune! Another fun scoring moment for me was when (spoiler!) Batman and Catwoman kiss—because of the full-on campy nature of the project I was able to really go for the romance there and I was thrilled at how those moments turned out. Each of these cues sounded especially great with the live musicians—their contribution to the score was invaluable.
Kristopher: From a compositional standpoint, I’d say the the "Zero-G Brawl"—it was so much fun to explore using atonality and improvisation with theremin and jazz combo for the disorientation of a fight in weightlessness... also the usual "WHAM! POW" musical stings replaced by echoing flute swoops. But my favorite moments from the score would be the cues that included arrangements of Neil Hefti's iconic theme. Having only heard that tune live before in middle-school jazz band (with dubious results), hearing the piece come to life with these incredible musicians was a pretty glorious experience!
WF: Some of your other recent DC Comics animated work is also available from La-La Land Records. Any particular title you’d like to point the fans to?
Kristopher: We are so grateful for all the amazing CDs La-La Land has released! They really know how to create packages that truly celebrate scores and their movies and series. Following up on the theme of the diverse projects we have contributed scores to, two other recent releases — Batman: The Killing Joke and a massive, four-disc CD set of music from Justice League - might be interesting to check out. But in general, I’d love to see fans go to www.lalalandrecords.com and support this cool company both through purchasing interesting scores and also to write and let them know what soundtracks they’d like to see in the future. They are very interested to know what other projects are in demand for a release so let them hear from you!
WF: Lastly, can you give us the rundown on where we’ll be seeing you next? Perhaps your next project, concert or appearances? Let us know!
Michael: You can hear our latest music in a Marvel animated video we scored featuring Dr. Strange and The Hulk called Hulk: Where Monsters Dwell. We have another series coming your way in 2016 - something totally different but we can’t give details - along with another long-form project too, so stay tuned for more as these and other projects we have in the works are officially announced!
Note: Click here to see what Dynamic Music Partners has to say about "Batman: The Killing Joke"!
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The World's Finest would like to thank the Dynamic Music Partners for taking the time to participate in this Q & A!
Interview conducted by James Harvey.