Friday, October 19th, 2018
by Ed Sinclair (director and co-writer)
Stock music: one of the things that drives indie film-makers insane. It exists because a lot of productions don't have the budget or perhaps the turnaround time to allow for a dedicated music composer and a gang of session performers to pluck out bespoke arrangements. It can be a great tool or a real pain in the posterior, depending upon how you look at it.
When it came to Anoraks series one, I was so busy trying to get the picture edits done in time for our (admittedly, self-imposed) launch date, that I hadn't really given the opening credits the time they deserved to properly develop. The titles for season one was me basically playing with a paid-for After Effects template and a separate stock audio track from a very good indie-music writer.
But for series two I had in mind something special, something unique and identifiable as our own. I mean, we had already created our own logo early on in the process of writing series two, so we were no longer riffing on the Doctor Who brand, we had moved the scripts in a new direction that started considering other sci-fi and fantasy properties and we were taking control by working with new people both behind and in front of the camera. There was a significantly different energy emerging around this new incarnation of the project and that fostered the desire for a new aesthetic.
Enter Steve Johnson, who is a good friend of mine and is as big a sci-fi geek as Darren and I, (though I think Steve manages to come out looking way cooler because he is also a bona fide musician who has got his own band and everything!) A fan of Anoraks from the beginning, Steve had previously mentioned that he'd like to take a crack at writing some music for the episodes and when we started filming the first of the new series eps, he brought up the issue of possibly writing and performing a new theme song, which seemed like a good idea as we would need to prepare an entirely new title sequence any way. So, after some vague direction about pace and tone from me and I think a copy of one of the scripts, I left it in Steve's more-than-capable hands.
Steve: “I originally wrote a synth-based theme, which was oozing with retro goodness, and I was really happy with it, until I saw the episode and realised that it didn’t fit.”
Steve's observation was bang-on, despite the fact that I liked his first attempt very much. It had something in common with the theme from series one, had just the right amount of energy and bounced along nicely. It was catchy and very reminiscent of television serials of the past, but when put against the new aesthetic and look of the show, it just jarred and didn't effectively compliment the feel of the episode at all. I was relieved that Steve recognised that incongruity himself and was pleased that even after all of his hard work, he wanted to go back to the drawing board and approach the theme from a completely different angle. As I continued editing the second episode and prepared to film the third and fourth, Steve messaged me and said, “Hey, I'm playing with a lyric idea... what do you think?”
It struck a chord with me - so to speak - because I hadn't even considered the theme would be anything other than an instrumental piece. As Steve says: “After seeing the first episode of the new series I felt strongly that the theme should be a song, and started thinking about what goes on inside our heads; us ‘fans’ of sci-fi. I’m sure we all fantasise about saving the world, or the universe; being our own superheroes. The lyrics grew from that really.”
Steve then sent me his initial lyric idea and I was intrigued because it seemed to open up the concept of the new title sequence in a similar direction to what we were achieving in the scripts:
We are superheroes
Reaching for the stars
It doesn’t matter
If we only get to Mars
I can save the world
If I have you by my side
Our imaginations and anoraks
Will get us through the night
Steve: “This time round, it was lyrics first; then I recorded a very basic drum part (on keyboards), with the vocal phrasing in my head. Things tend to pop into my head while I’m in the shower, walking to work or staring at the sea. When I can, I’ll record them as a vocal dirge on my phone and hopefully decipher them later. I have been known to walk round the flat dripping wet and naked looking for my phone. I also like doodling with sounds, though with the variety of instruments available in Logic these days, that approach tends to be as productive as trying to decide what to watch on Netflix. After that I recorded a guide vocal and the rest of the arrangement attached itself to that. The first rough idea I sent to Ed had an original guide vocal which had been recorded at about 9:30 pm, so I was deliberately trying to be quiet for the neighbours’ sake.”
As a director, I am fully aware that I have to assess elements of any project that is in production in their very basic and possibly unpolished forms and then have to look beyond that and see the potential of what they could and will eventually become. This is true for all aspects of a project – from the first drafts of scripts, to the rehearsal period where the actors have input and things can then change because to our ears, a line of dialogue doesn't sound right or we come up with something better for the character to say, to the DOP on set suggesting new angles, to viewing the raw footage as rushes all in unconnected bits and pieces that need assembly. The craft is in putting all these things together and everyone doing their bit to add to that final assembly. So, for me, based on hearing the rough draft of the new theme, I basically okayed Steve's process because I had faith in yet another creative person adding their own unique ingredient to our aesthetic melting pot.
Steve: “I wanted to take us on a little journey, which meant I had to be very concise in order to squeeze the sentiment into an opening theme. I wanted to convey that sense that to a sci-fi/superhero/comic fan, the hum-drum of everyday life is so easily brushed aside by the escapism of our secret identities. We have worlds to rescue, and we need to join forces. In the case of our Anorak protagonists, that means regularly putting the world to rights over coffee.”
Eventually the lyrics evolved into:
Forget about the 9 to 5
The office can do one
Beyond the fifth dimension
Is a war that must be won
We are all that stand between
The Earth and the unknown
We are superheroes
The fire inside us burns
With our imaginations and anoraks
You and I can save the world
For me, I got to hear the rough track a few weeks before I completed editing on episodes three and four and before we were due to film elements for the opening credits. The song really fuelled the creative vision for the credits, which was exciting for me because I could tailor-make visuals to go along with the driving nature of the theme. I feel it is a huge departure from series one, but the theme has really grown on me and I am so proud that we have managed to insert the word “anoraks” in there! I'm such a geek!
Steve: “I have a second verse written, and there are plans to turn it into a full-length single very soon. I will of course be making it available to Anoraks viewers. I loved the first series; loved the Who related in-jokes, but realised it could have been a little too niche for casual viewers. This new series seems to address that very nicely, and it's beautifully shot too.”
Thanks Steve! You can meet Steve along with other creative Anoraks at Turn Left, our one-day convention in Cardiff on December 1st. Visit our Welcome page on the website to buy tickets, and for a limited time, if you use the code “Anoraks2018”, you will get £5 off the entry price! Happy Launch Day!