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Bricktalk: Furst Words
Posted by Purple_Dave on September 27, 2003 at 01:44 PM CST:
The following interview was transcribed from a 3-way phone conversation on September 12th, 2003 between Nathan Furst (composer for BIONICLE?: MASK OF LIGHT), Jill Swartz (Senior Publicist from CurrentPR), and Purple Dave (interviewing on behalf of MoD). Minor alterations were made for the sole purposes of making the text more easily readable and removing any major spoilers for the MoL movie, while staying as true as possible to the original conversation.

Purple Dave: Many fans might be aware of your father's work on Animal House, and voicing Booster on the Buzz Lightyear cartoon, and probably most famously as Vir Cotto on Babylon 5. You're brother, I see, is also in acting.

Nathan Furst: Yeah, he's gotten into it. He's sort of just, um, I don't want to say starting...he's sort of an up and coming guy, you know. I think he actually, this week, he's got to fly to Bulgaria for some sort of monster movie he's doing. I don't know anything about it, but I just know he has to take off come Monday for another thing. Yeah, but he's done a couple smaller parts and I know he's out there hustling and doing the audition thing. And waiting tables, like every other actor.

PD: And you compose. That seems like a bit of an odd jump. I've heard of a lot of actors having kids who get into acting, but...

NF: Yeah, I did the acting thing as a kid, but there's a couple reasons why I wasn't really able to continue persuing it, one of them being that I can't act. It's the details, you know. It's easy to get away with not being able to act when you're a kid, but it just wasn't for me. I'm just not a very good actor. I love being around the sets and being in that environment, with all the people and everything, but it just didn't work out, and I just sort of gravitated towards the piano.

PD: What kind of training have you had in this?

NF: Not a whole lot, to tell you the truth. I basically taught myself how to play the piano. When I say it I literally mean it, I gravitated towards the piano. I didn't really have any real amount of formal lessons. I basically sat down and taught myself how to play, and wanted to take a couple lessons. I took a couple lessons and that didn't last very long, and then I started just discovering it myself, you know, started writing pieces of music, and then playing them in concerts, and the comment I always got was people come up to me and say, "Hey, that sounds like it belongs in a movie." So I was like, "All right, well, I'll do that." So I just did that, and I went to college for a couple of years, and majored in music, and promptly left. I was bored as hell. And I just figured, since nobody cares what actual degree you have, why not be doing movies at nineteen and twenty, instead of just starting to do them at twenty-seven or something. So that's what I did.

PD: How did you get hooked up with the BIONICLE movie?

NF: This is an interesting story. I happen to know the guy who turned out to be the sort of post-supervisor kind of guy, and we could call him that. He was the re-recording mixer, and he's a sound editor...he's sort of a one-man band. A guy named Tim Borquez, a great guy. And basically he knew me, and he said, "Hey, I think your music's perfect for this movie that a friend of mine named Sue (Sue Shakespeare, who's the Executive Producer) is doing called BIONICE, so why don't you give her a call?" So I left a couple messages, and eventually sent in a demo, and it just went from there. She'd heard about me through this contact, and when I sent in a reel, I had just included a scene that I had written for BIONICLE as a sort of idea that had popped in my head, and for whatever reason they took to it. It felt right for them, and from there on out it was a process, and happily, we got the opportunity to work together.

PD: So I take it you didn't have any previous experience with the BIONICLE line, or the story before this?

NF: No, actually I had no idea what it was. I had absolutely no idea what it was, and I was actually talking to a friend who has kids, and I mentioned the word BIONICLE, and he like freaked out. This is a forty year old man and he's freaking out, right, because he's not per se into them, but he's constantly buying them for his kids, so when I told him yeah, they're making a movie he's like, "Oh my god," you know. So that's pretty much how I first learned about it before really talking to Sue, and Bob Thompson, and David and Terry (David and Terry being the Directors of the film) about, really, the life of it. And also, before going into these meetings I sort of got the word that I should maybe check out And I was sort of blown away by how this sort of universe had been created online, where it looked like there were updates, on this website, about what was happening particular characters and cities, and it was almost like a CNN for BIONICLE on this website. So it was just a pretty intense environment. I was actually quite impressed. It just goes to show you, you know, I think we underestimate kids a lot, because the first instinct is to say, "I can't imagine kids are able to follow this," but they're probably able to follow it better than we are. But yeah, it was just amazing, it's own universe. And Bob's crazy, man. He has all these ideas, and when we were starting the first one, he was already thinking of ideas for things to come, or different ideas for major backstories, as far as what the characters are. Just sort of their history, where they're from, what they're about... He sort of really reads into it, and even though you might not catch everything of what a character is all about in the movie, it is there. If you watch it, and you pay attention, there's little sort of droplets that really give you this element of what these guys are about. I call him a Mini-George Lucas. He laughed at me when I say that, but, you know, he's pretty intense, man. So anyway, that's how I learned about it. That longwinded explanation.

PD: So I take it, then, that you're signed on to at least the next one, possibly both of them?

NF: Um, so you know about them, that's good. Yes, I'm actually about to start work on the second one. Um, I guess I can't talk about that, right Jill?

Jill Swartz: Right.

NF: So yeah, there is a second one, I guess I could say that I haven't really started on it, but I have read the script and it's just amazing. It's MASK OF LIGHT...I don't want to say times anything, but it's just...let's say it's a great follow-up. It's really exciting.

PD: How many pieces did you have to write for this first movie?

NF: Pieces, being, in the orchestra? If everything were to be played by live players, the recording studio would be an airplane hanger. It would literally be (it's been about five or six months since I wrote that score)'s no doubt a hundred piece orchestra. And then, after a hundred piece orchestra, there's specialized instruments throughout. The score features heavily things like Chinese temple flutes, and different sort of native, like sort of just general vague native drums, you know, big, thick, animal-skin drums, lots of whistle effects, chanting, I even have chanting through the film.

PD: Yeah, I noticed that.

NF: Oh, you've seen it?

PD: I got a copy of it last Friday.

NF: Yeah, those are actually different things, some of them depending on what it is I'm doing musically at that moment. Some of it is the London Choir that I'm playing, basically through samples. The London Choir will go in and sing every single note on the piano, and then I could replay it, and I essentially wrote my own music triggering the London Choir. So I've used that kind of stuff, there's native Pacific island chants, there's lots of things I used that we would call "native instruments" that are not loyal to any one location in the world. Basically the idea was to sort of, like BIONICLE, I suppose, take bits and pieces of different things, and sort of put it together to make our own new thing. And basically that's what we did. It's a fictitious island, but obviously has many parallels to what we know to be reality, as far as like life, you know, trees and water, etc. And so that's what it is. There's elements of Asia, there's elements of the Pacific islands, there's elements of even Western Europe. So all those things are in there, one hundred ten, one hundred twenty pieces. It's a huge score, sizewise.

PD: That's really interesting, and I'm glad you talked about it, but I was actually asking how many different sections...individual songs, I guess, did you have to write.

NF: Oh, I get it! I thought you meant sections in the orchestra. So you mean how much music is there in the movie?

PD: Yeah.

NF: Oh, god, it's almost wall-to-wall. I think it's a seventy-five minute film, and there's sixty-four minutes of music, sixty-five minutes of music, something like that. And they're long cues, or songs, or whatever you want to call it.

JS: Sequences?

NF: Sure, they're called cues, but, you know, songs, some people like to call them starts and stops, but as far as some starts and stops, some single pieces of music in this film, especially the end, with the final confrontation, that's a ten minute piece of music, which is relatively long. It's a single piece of music that goes for a little over ten minutes

PD: So even though, in the movie, it might sound like it's four, five different individual pieces kind of all strung together, it gets composed as one single unit?

NF: Oh, yeah, many times that's one piece of music. Many times.

PD: That's got to be really interesting in the editting room, trying to keep it all lined up.

NF: I think it's more interesting for the film-makers, because it's a common technique in film-scoring, what some people call bridging scenes together. And that's on the music side of things. That's actually written that way. I will sort of time out all those scenes, and literally write a piece of music that goes across those scenes, and stopping to hit certain moments. You know, a guy jumps from behind somewhere or something and you want to sting that, and so it's not really editing on my part, but it's an interesting thing for the film-makers, because sometimes they've been watching this film for a very long time without music, so a scene is a scene, and then the next scene is its own thing, and when you bridge it together you can create a sort of new emotional quality.

PD: Now, without going into any story details on it, because we don't want to give away the plot yet, which section do you feel is your favorite?

NF: It's been a while...there's a few moments. Well, the KOHLII match is just a ton of fun. That's just great.

PD: Yeah, I heard they had to edit that completely around your music.

NF: I didn't know that. Or maybe I did, I don't know. I'm sort of in zombie mode right now. They edited the KOHLII match around my music?

PD: Yeah, they mention that in the Directors' commentary.

NF: Oh, yes they did. I completely forgot about that. What actually happened was I wrote, you know, it needed to be a sort of islander "MATA NUI native" beat. That's something that Bob Thompson absolutely envisioned. And so what they asked me to do is write essentially a starter groove, and that's what I did. I wrote a beat that literally was like three minutes long, it was nothing but beat, it had big drums in it, it had wooden bamboo sticks clanking, you know, it sounded like some sort of native cadence. And they took that and they cut the whole thing to it, and then I went back in and rewrote a groove that was more fitting to what I was looking at now, because, of course, the first time I wrote the groove I couldn't see anything. And then I built the orchestra cue around that.

PD: So now we get the full story.

NF: Yeah.

PD: We have to ask this of everyone, but which character is your favorite?

NF: I think I've got to go with...I've got to default to the comedy. Is it ONUA? The big boisterous guy. He's my favorite because he's just so, like, boisterous, and he's really funny. And I guess I like him because I immediately know if it was a live action movie, I know what actor would need to play him. I just picture him being played by John Rhys-Davies, who, if you've ever watched the Indiana Jones movies, he was the middle-eastern friend.

PD: And Gimli in Lord of the Rings, of course. Can't get away without mentioning that right now.

NF: Yes, that was John Rhys-Davies too, but that's a different vibe. Anyway, ONUA is one of my favorites, and I think my second favorite's got to be KOPAKA, the snow guy. Yeah, I dig him. And I say those guys, I mean, TAHU's okay, he's cool and all, but everybody's favorite is TAHU.

PD: I find it's pretty evenly split between TAHU and KOPAKA as far as the lead favorite, and everybody else kind of fills in behind.

NF: Oh, really? I guess I like them all, because, obviously I've seen this movie like five hundred times, with having to write music to it. LEWA's great too, because he's funny because he's just weird. He's kind of weird, you know? He almost strikes me as like nobody quite gets him. I don't know, maybe I'm reading more into it than I should.

PD: I don't think they do quite get him.

NF: He's like that guy who keeps quiet when you guys go to the bar or something. He's just that guy, you know, the guy who just kind of sits there, like he wants to say something, but he doesn't.

PD: Well, with the Treespeak, they might not even understand him.

NF: Right, exactly.

PD: It's been great talking to you

NF: Good talking to you, too.

PD: Maybe we'll be able to do another interview with you in a year, when the next one comes out.

NF: Oh, yes, of course, anytime.

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