Rooster Revue #19 • Behind the Steam!
How we made an indie musical on a train.
We’re excited to announce The Barn’s very own short musical, STEAM!, is available to watch on Revry TV. It will play live on their digital channel (times below) and will be available on demand tomorrow. In celebration, Director Jeffrey Simon shares some behind the scenes stories of how this movie came to be. We're also premiering a new behind the scenes video.
STEAM! is streaming ON DEMAND
You can find the Revry app on all viewing devices, your computer, and phone.
• (1/27) “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” hits #2 on the billboard charts thanks to TikTok. [Vox]
• (1/27) AppleTV’s genre bending new series The Afterparty has a musical episode. [Inverse]
• (1/26) Cinco Paul is ready to make more seasons of Schmigadoon. [The Wrap]
• (1/24) Trailer for Guillermo Del Toro’s stop-motion musical Pinocchio. [Variety]
• (1/24) Tick, Tick… Boom! Screenwriter on Adapting Jonathan Larson’s Autobiographical Show Into a Musical Biopic. [Hollywood Reporter]
• (1/20) Hilarious and profound, the new Fraggle Rock is a thing of beauty [LA Times]
• (1/20) Howard Ho did an in depth breakdown of “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” that blew our minds. [YouTube]
• (1/10) The Bob’s Burgers Movie has a trailer—and yes, it’s a musical. [YouTube]
And for anyone interested, the following musical screenplays were made public by Deadline:
Check out these musical movies added to streamers in the last month.
Fraggle Rock: Back To The Rock [AppleTV+]
It’s a kids show, but it captures every ounce of the magic of the original series, and there’s two original songs per episode.
Hair (1979) [Kanopy]
Jeffrey’s favorite movie musical was just added to Kanopy so get your library card and log in!
Chorus Line (1985) [Kanopy]
Still haven’t seen the movie adaptation, but it’s here for those who are braver than us.
STEAM! Directed, Written & Composed byJeffrey Simon Produced byMatthew Andrews, David Hemphill StarringCoby Getzug, Barrett Riggins, Liam Cronin
The Inevitable Gay Cowboy Western That Almost Never Was
STEAM!—our musical short film—is being released TODAY on Revry.tv. In honor of our premiere day I wanted to take a moment to share some of the journey that got us here.
The movie was originally called Red X and it was about an Uber driver. It had plot holes and convolutions and this song and it wasn’t working and so I did what I always do, I begged (co-founder of The Barn) Matt to help me fix it. He agreed so long as we ditched the Uber driver nonsense and set it on a steam train. I know that sounds like a crazy leap, but I promise it’s not.
Let’s rewind to Matt and me in 2013 in Durango, CO dreaming about filming a western musical on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (D&SNGRR).
We were kind of obsessed with … well you get the picture.
The project was called Many More Mountains and it was EPIC. We wrote a whole bunch of songs, several drafts of the screenplay. We met with the railroad and film commission and interviewed locals about the city’s history … and then realized it was waaaaay too big of a budget for us to do by ourselves in our 20’s. So we abandoned the project.
Fast forward to 2019 where Matt and I saw an opportunity to finally make a train musical.
On my first day at USC I saw David Hemphill wearing a cowboy hat and a motorcycle helmet (don’t ask how) and looking so cool. He’s also obsessed with musicals so obviously we hit it off.
While I was there I made it my mission to master everything I could about how movie musicals are made—from all sides. David was my partner in crime.
The first test to see if I could do it was a super short five minute film called SPARK.
This is David on the left as “Dallas” in SPARK.
It turned out so well that I decided to do every other project at USC as a musical and then form The Barn to do only musicals forever and here we are. STEAM! is my thesis as a Director as well as David’s as a producer.
SIDE NOTE: SPARK is also going to be available on Revry and will be combined with Steam! when it airs on cable to fill out the half hour.
PUTTING OUT FOREST FIRES
We had our script but we needed a steam train so we approached the D&SNGRR again and it seemed like everything would work out. We planned and planned and scheduled and planned some more. And a month out from our production dates the D&SNGRR got sued by the Federal Government for starting a forest fire (the previous year) and they decided they didn’t have time for our short film anymore. But they were kind enough to recommend us to their sister railroad.
In a last ditch effort to salvage the project we flew to New Mexico to visit the incomparable Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad in Chama, New Mexico and we immediately fell in love. The railroad president John Bush was receptive and worked closely with us through the whole process making sure we were safe and got everything we needed. It couldn’t have turned out better.
He even helped us arrange our shooting scheduling so we could ride the sunset dinner train with live music from the Mariachis Azteca.
That’s my fiancé Alex in orange. He’s a better dancer.
FUN FACT: Speilberg filmed Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade on the Cumbres & Toltec 30 years ago.
SECRET FACT: One of the circus signs is in STEAM!. Don’t tell clearances.
IMPRESSIVE FACT: John Bush’s child Rose Bush grew up working the railroad, helped us out a lot with cool ideas of how to film the C&T and was the Director of Photography for the 2021 Oscar® Winning Documentary Short COLETTE.
HOW TO SHOOT A MUSICAL AT 10,000 FT.
“Singin’ in the Rain pre-recorded and lip synced. Think you’re better than Singin’ in the Rain?” —me, paraphrasing my sound professor at USC.
I firmly believe with all of my heart that lip syncing is the #1 sin a movie musical can make. How is an actor supposed to create a nuanced performance if they’re forced to match what they’d done six weeks earlier in a recording studio without sets and costumes and other actors? Sure it might work for something flashy and autotuned, but that’s not what we’re making here.
After giving me shit for a minute, my professor came around and helped me figure out how to accomplish it. For the curious, this is what we did:
Step 1: Record a simplified piano only version of the tracks into a Logic project on a MacBook. EQ the piano so it’s only midrange frequencies. We found this to be required to keep the earbuds we used from distorting. We also went through a lot of different options to find a click (metronome) that worked for our purposes. (We decided on the Wood Block from the built-in Logic Orchestral drum kit: Eb3.)
Step 2: This computer then acts as the playback on set and sends the audio to two places—the on-set sound recorder and to a Comtek transmitter.
Step 3: The Comtek transmitter wirelessly sends the piano and click out to whoever needs to hear the music: the cast, assistant director, director. The cast wear almost invisible in-ear receivers by a company called Phonak. This was invisible in wide shots and we could almost always hide it in the ear opposite camera, but I’d be lying to you if we didn’t have quite a bit of earpiece removal VFX work. The rest of us had Comtek packs and over-ear headphones. You’ll see me wearing them in our behind the scenes video. I’m not ignoring everyone. I promise.
Step 4: In the editing room we end up with multiple tracks of audio that our sound department recorded: the boom mic, a wireless lavalier mic on each actor, and then the scratch piano that sounds awful, but gave us something to sync to. After the footage was synced, our fabulous editor replaced the scratch piano with a much better quality demo with digital instruments. We edited the whole film this way adding measures, cutting verses, whatever was required to make the picture.
Step 5: After the edit was (mostly) complete, we handed the footage off to our incredible orchestrator, Hannah Parrot, who orchestrated to picture, just like a traditional film score works. How it works is that she and I would sit down and watch the edit, decide the in and out points of where music should go (cues) and then she takes the video, lines it up in her software (also Logic for her) and then maps out the tempo changes. She plays all the instruments in digitally and then creates sheet music for the musicians. Hannah also wrote the underscore wherever there isn’t singing.
Step 6: We recorded live instruments and some additional background vocals (like the crowd in the bar) in a recording studio and replaced the temp digital underscore.
Step 7: Finally, we took all the recorded music and foley and sound FX and backgrounds and mixed it with the original live singing to create the sounds you hear in the film. In service of full transparency there were a couple of moments that had problems with the sound (a train whistle over a line or a bang or whatever) and so we ADR’d a few spots. But this was minimal. I’ll buy you a coffee if you can point out where it is.
Step 8: We also recorded studio vocals for the soundtrack that you can now stream on Spotify and Apple Music and a dozen other places. These clean vocals were necessary so you don’t hear footsteps and door slams and cars and all that goodness while you’re enjoying the soundtrack. These vocals are not heard in the film, except over the end credits.
Here’s a SoundCloud Playlist of all of the versions from early scratch recordings of me plunking away at the song on my upright through to the final studio mix.
Okay so that’s all the technical mumbo jumbo, but the hardest part was really done by our cast. They flew into New Mexico from New York and LA (aka sea level) and then had to sing and act at 10,000 ft sometimes in the middle of the night in the freezing cold. Kudos to their professionalism, skill, stamina, and discipline. None of that work would be worth doing without actors who are worth recording. Thanks Coby, Barrett, and Liam!
The cast and crew* on a "Speeder."
*Missing a few, notably our Editor Ogechi Echebiri who was back at the cabins hard at work.
If you made it through all that, or skipped to the end, please enjoy this short behind the scenes look at STEAM!
HOW YOU CAN HELP US
As you can tell, this project is a dream come true after a whole lot of hard work from so many people. But this is only the beginning of our journey. This is our proof of concept to make bigger and better feature length films. The more people who watch the film, the more advertising Revry will put behind it. The more people who follow us on social, the more leverage we have in negotiations. So please, take a moment and think about who you know who loves musicals, or might find this interesting and send them the link.
Listen to the STEAM! Soundtrack on Apple Music, Spotify, and wherever you get your music!
Write To Us
We love hearing from our readers. If you’ve got a movie musical YOU love and want to tell us about it, hit reply and let us know why. We’ll start posting them in future issues.
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"Rooster Revue" is edited by Matt Andrews and Jeffrey Simon with contributions from the entire team at The Barn. Read past issues in the archive.