In most action or genre based films it’s easy to think that the original score (the music that plays in the background of the film) can be an afterthought of sorts, especially when the project in question is based on a video game. There’s no questioning about whether we’ve seen memorable scores from high profile genre films, but we’ve also seen a rather high amount of extremely generic if not downright painful original scores in action films which has led to the mood totally being spoiled. Equally films based on video games have also faltered of capturing the spark found in their counterparts with the only notable exceptions being Silent Hill (a lot of elements were borrowed from the compositions of SH game composer Akira Yamaoka) and the original Mortal Kombat film, if only because it gave us dozens of amazing techno beats.
With Mortal Kombat: Legacy we’ve been lucky enough to receive a project that bucks the trend when it comes to the quality of its original score. Personally I wasn’t expecting a lot from the soundtrack since most web series aren’t known for including compositions that really stick with you. But as we’ve heard over the past seven weeks, Mortal Kombat: Legacy is a massive exception since we’ve been greeted week after week with compositions that are unique, perfectly match the action and vibe that’s happening on screen and more importantly feel like they fit what Mortal Kombat is all about.
Given their extremely busy schedule I was lucky enough to chat with Mortal Kombat: Legacy composers Tyler Weiss and Dane DeViller. Over the past seven weeks Tyler and Dane have given us some extremely memorable tracks and have added another layer of detail to the worlds of Johnny Cage, Raiden and most recently Scorpion.
Ian Fisher: Can you talk a bit about how you both entered the world of music and eventually made the leap to composing music for film, TV and video games?
Tyler Weiss: I started out as a musician and was able to keep myself going in a number of different groups. I did that for quite some time until I was randomly offered to do some music for a film in Taiwan. I was fairly green to the world of film composition and it was quite a learning curve. Since then I have been active in the video game world.
Dane DeViller: Everything has happened organically, and I have been lucky enough to have four different careers in music: as a gigging musician, as a session player, as a song-writer, and as a composer. You can just draw on your experiences and skills as you grow in music and for me there wasn’t a huge leap.
Ian: Occasionally the budget dedicated to the music side of things may not be that high, whether it’s a TV show or even a movie, which obviously can be a bit limiting from a creative side since it doesn’t allow the use of a forty person orchestra or other elements. So when you find yourself in situations where the resources and budget is limited, what sort of approach and overall style do you like to take to the music you compose?
Tyler: When budgets are low we have to rely on technology as much as possible. Software and libraries have become very good in the past 5 years and keep getting better. With that said, we do our best to hit the style and sonic expectations of the director but it is known that there are some limitations. The example would be a director wanting an orchestral score and giving us reference for a blockbuster film that clearly had a much larger budget and a “real” orchestra. There are some tricks and we keep adding new ones up the sleeve to get the results we need.
Dane: The approach doesn’t change. You have to flush out your score before an orchestra is hired anyway. Because of limited budgets you have to rely on sample libraries, which are getting better all the time.
Ian: Some video game compositions tend to be on the obnoxious side with music that is a bit too boisterous for its own good along with not really gelling with the tone of the project. How do you approach a project like Fight Night Round 4 in terms of figuring out what sort of tone and type of theme the music should have without it being far off from what the project represents or falling into a familiar pattern that we’ve heard before?
Tyler: For games like that which carry a huge fan base it is difficult to lock down a specific genre or theme. There are usually ways that the player can select the soundtrack they want to hear. There are literally millions of fans, each with a different taste in music. For games like FN4 and FIFA it is important to take elements from a variety of styles and try to make something that is non-offensive to any taste. A universal sound, if you will.
Ian: You’ve both worked on a fast array of projects ranging from the video games and movies along with work in the music industry with people like Jessica Simpson. The variety of these projects allows you to inject a little added flavor and personal touches but do you have a preference to doing the video game or pure music industry (writing/producing song) stuff more compared to the theatrical and commercial projects?
Tyler: The majority of the work that I do is now in the video game and film industry and I enjoy that the most. It allows for more a variety of creative work as each of the franchises usually has different vibes. The projects are always changing and that keeps me on my toes to keep learning and evolving.
Dane: You can’t help but inject your own flavor and personal touches to the work. You are always bringing your experience and everyone has their own take on things. I feel thankful and lucky to be involved creatively in any project whether it’s a song production, recording an artist, feature or game. The skill set is similar. The big difference between song writing and any other composition work is that you are dealing with lyric, and that’s a separate skill set.
Ian: A bit of a riff on the last question, but outside of working on quite a few video game projects, are you much of a gamer? Also, is there a particular genre of video game that you may like in particular more than others, if only because it allows you to do more things creatively or simply allows you to draw upon an element that you may like a lot, like creating a sweeping score for an epic action game?
Tyler: Due to my time being concentrated on working, I wouldn’t say that I am a huge gamer but I do make sure to play most every major title that comes out. I really liked RED DEAD REDEMPTION. I thought the score they created was exceptionally good. They really set the tone for the game and I think gained video game composers some well-deserved recognition. I believe all songs were composed in A minor and at 130 beats per minute. This allowed them to create stems that were programmed in for specific moments that always kept the score. I am playing LA NOIRE at the moment. I am waiting by the phone for a call from Rockstar. Call me.
Ian: One of your most recent projects is composing the music for Mortal Kombat: Legacy, which has been an immense hit amongst gamers so far. Can you talk a bit about what has been like to work on that project and how challenging it may be to pump out music for the series given the somewhat limited or hectic production time?
Tyler: The MK project has been a fun project as well as a challenging one. The timeline for completing the music is aggressive and we have been definitely having some long days. I am happy with the way it has been turning out.
Dane: The challenge with MK is the scope of the score and the different genres and getting it done in the short amount of time. The series is well shot and Kevin the director has been great. We have had a lot of fun writing the music and it keeps it interesting and challenging when you are able to go from orchestral to atmospheric to heavy guitar to electronic. And if definitely helps having two people working on the score and bouncing back and forth ideas especially with the time limits.
Ian: What was the breakdown of responsibilities as far as composing the music is concerned on MK: Legacy? Did one of you focus more on the action stuff while the other did the dramatic elements or was it entirely a collaborative process throughout?
Tyler: The process is a collaborative one. Each of us has a different set of skills and we bounce ideas back in forth, in terms of the style, feel and what elements to use that will achieve it. I have been very fortunate to work with Dane on this project. He is a very creative guy with a great deal of musical knowledge. It is hard to find someone with a mix of creative and technical expertise that he has.
Ian: Ever since the mid-1990s the Mortal Kombat series has been known for providing a mixture of heart thumping techno music inspired by the franchise and some more subtle but memorable music directly from the game. Jumping into MK: Legacy did you both have a clear direction of what sort of approach you wanted to take with the music or did it take a while to figure out the proper tone to take since the series goes from featuring episodes involving fallen TV stars to having cyborg ninjas fighting one another?
Dane & Tyler: Although that worked in that era, music obviously evolves and we thought we would take a more current approach. Dub step and the gritty dark orchestral stuff. Kevin had some reference and gave some very clear direction on some of the episodes , which helps greatly when under such tight time constraints. Some episodes, such as the Scorpion/Sub Zero, the musical style was not as defined. We all had our opinions but it is interesting to hear how they came together .
Ian: Since the anthology nature of MK: Legacy covers a lot of ground and goes from episodes that are almost grounded in reality while others take place in different realms, was there something that you found to be really inspirational when it came to composing the series? Were the characters and vision MK: Legacy Director Kevin Tancharoen created inspirational in itself or were you perhaps inspired by another creative outlet?
Tyler: Kevin had a clear vision and the visual look of it was inspiring enough to get the creative juices flowing. Not to mention the great composers of our time all downloadable on iTunes whenever we needed some extra inspiration.
Ian: Since you composed music for nine episodes of MK: Legacy all of which feature some really unique tracks that stand apart well from one another, is there a particular episode that really stands out for you in terms of what it offers or merely because you had a fun time composing everything?
Tyler & Dane: We really enjoyed Raiden and Scorp 1. We had fun throughout the entire process. I can’t say that one is better than the other. We have created a large amount of original music for this project and it is something to be proud of.
Ian: Was it necessarily hard to compose the music for MK: Legacy and not having an obvious connecting theme in the music across all nine episodes due to the radical approach and eras that each episode encompasses? Or was such a thing creatively rewarding since you could literally come up with whatever you felt was best for the episode without having to make sure you had the definitive MK: Legacy theme note inserted somewhere?
Tyler: It is always a little difficult when having to write original music but it does get easier when the project is cut together so well. Kevin was also very open to ideas and did provide reference and had a vision on how the music should sound. From a creative standpoint Legacy has been a very rewarding experience. The Scorpion episodes were especially fun because we had to go in a completely different direction than the other episodes.
Dane: The approach was episodic and the first two episodes did share some themes. We kept the themes and style consistent across the episodes that were related and any themes we had, we kept within those episodes. Each episode gets it’s own score as well as “theme”. In Raiden we tried to keep certain instruments with characters and kept re-introducing throughout it.
Ian: So far the reception to Mortal Kombat: Legacy has been extremely good so everyone is hoping that a 2nd web series is commissioned or a full-on TV series is prepped. Moving forward what sort of things would you do differently, if anything, when composing the music for a Mortal Kombat project? Or are you both genuinely happy and pleased with the overall direction you took with the series, even if things were a bit hectic with the time limitations?
Tyler: This is a difficult question. We are always learning and trying new things. Always try to do the best that we can and hopefully everyone is happy with what we do. Moving forward and looking forward, but in general we are happy with what we have done for the project. Hindsight is always 20/20.
Ian: I don’t know if you can answer this or not but since I really dig the music for MK: Legacy I have to ask: is there any chance that we can see the soundtrack released via an old-school CD or through digital services like iTunes?
Tyler: I am not exactly certain what will happen when the series is over. It would be nice to see an official release but in the end it is not up to us.
Ian: Outside of the remaining episodes of Mortal Kombat: Legacy, what projects can gamers and fans of MK: Legacy expect to hear your music in next? Are there any recent films or video game projects that you’ve worked on that you’re excited for people to check out and hear your music?
Tyler: For me there are a few projects in the beginning phase but nothing that can be discussed. Always open to hear about new projects.
Dane is currently working a project for Microsoft and is currently writing songs in Los Angeles with a number of different artists
The production of schedule for Mortal Kombat: Legacy has been hectic to say the least but week after week Tyler and Dane have given us some extremely memorable music which I think is a true testament to their skill and talent. In some cases it may be hard to build up a proper aura with the music when dealing with a short web series in which the main attraction is seeing characters beat the crap out of one another, but Tyler and Dane has created a definitive mood and musical theme for MK: Legacy which I think gamers and fans of the series totally appreciate.
Huge thanks to Tyler and Dane for taking the time out of their busy schedules to participate in the interview. Also, special thanks to actor Aleks Paunovic (Shao Kahn) for setting the interview up.