(MAKING ORIGINAL MUSIC FOR AN INDIE FILM ABOUT MUSICIANS)
THE CRUMBLES is a slice-of-life tragicomedy about a talented but directionless indie band that is stuck in their garage. The film is not an idealized portrait of what it means to be in a band—it’s grounded in reality. This includes battles with oversized egos, personal demons and insecurities, but also everything else that is great about pursuing a creative endeavor with friends.
The film is set in Echo Park, one of LA’s oldest neighborhoods, and I find it to be one of the most eclectic and interesting neighborhoods in LA. The population is currently generally made up of working class Latinos, hipsters, and artists of all stripes. The odd mixture of people and cultures creates a funky and flavorful milieu, which is why our characters – and the music they create — fit right in.
While writing the script for THE CRUMBLES, I didn’t know exactly how I’d create the music for the band in the film, but I always intended to ask one person to be involved – Quetzal Flores, leader of the East LA band QUETZAL.
Working with Quetzal and creating the sound for THE CRUMBLES, I learned a few lessons along the way.
I met Quetzal in the early 90s, when his band was first starting to become noticed in the burgeoning East LA music scene. I’ve had the privilege of making several music videos for his band over the years, and I knew that Quetzal and I understand each other and work together well. Even though the type of music his band plays – Latin Alternative/Chicano Roots Rock – was not what I imagined for THE CRUMBLES, I knew he had a deep musical knowledge and was capable of capturing the vibe and style that I wanted for the film.
After Quetzal read the first draft of the script, he agreed to do it without hesitation – even though our budget was practically non-existent. I felt fortunate that he was willing to take a leap of faith with me from the beginning, and I knew that the film would eventually be filled with great music. Our production would be able to avoid the trap of not being able to secure music rights – or be stuck with really bad music – that so many independent filmmakers fall into.
Lesson #1: Make friends with good musicians.
We initially decided to hit up an existing band (that shall remain nameless) to see if they’d be interested in writing and recording original songs for the film. We made the mistake of asking their manager first, who rejected us without even looking at the script because of our lack of serious money.
Lesson #2: Try to gain direct access to the artist before going through a manager or agent.
Quetzal and I decided to take a completely different approach. He suggested that instead of spending money on hiring a band and paying for expensive studio time, we should purchase recording equipment and he would write and record everything himself. We would then own the means of production, and not have to rely on anyone else.
At this point, it was my turn to take a leap of faith. I had to trust that Quetzal would be able to create original songs for a 3-piece indie rock band, all by himself. When I placed the order for the recording equipment and handed over my hard-earned cash, I was finally placing my bet on a long-held dream.
Lesson #3: In filmmaking, there is no such thing as a safe bet. But with no risk, there’s no reward.
I didn’t know exactly how THE CRUMBLES’ music should sound, but I had a clear set of influences – mainly female-led bands like Cibo Matto and Buffalo Daughter, and other well-known bands like The Clash, The Kills, The Stooges, and The Ramones. The Rolling Stones’ “Exile” album was on auto-repeat the entire time I wrote the script. I also wanted the music to echo the early 90s, when bands like The Beastie Boys and Rage Against the Machine were seamlessly meshing musical genres and expressing feelings of rebellion in righteous and funky ways. Because I don’t have the ability to write music, my reliance upon Quetzal to deliver on this idea was complete.
Lesson #4: Choose your collaborators carefully, then trust them.
The band’s instrumentation and “sound” also turned out to be dependent on the actors we cast.
Our first discovery was Teresa Michelle Lee, an actress who is also a trained pianist. But there was no way I was going to include a keyboardist in our band because, visually speaking, they’re static and uninteresting. (Sorry, keyboardists). I was at a loss because we didn’t have time for her to learn another instrument. Thankfully one of my good buddies joked that Teresa should play the keytar. I thought it was a stroke of genius, because it would allow us to give a nod to the music of the 80s while also keeping things visually interesting.
Lesson #5: Let your good friends in on your creative process early – you never know what they might add.
After holding more auditions and trolling the clubs for female musicians, we eventually found Katie Hipol in Northern California, who could act and sing beautifully. She was also a self-taught ukulele player and guitarist, and we decided to make use of her skills on the six-string.
Quetzal wrote and recorded songs based on Katie and Teresa’s abilities and personalities, but we struggled to find an actor to play our drummer.
Only a few weeks before we were scheduled to start shooting, Jeff Torres came in to audition. I handed him a pair of drumsticks and he started twirling them, telling me instantly that he was a real drummer. He also nailed the audition and had good chemistry with the other actors, so our band was finally formed.
Lesson #6: Casting can be a long process. Take your time and don’t rush it.
Quetzal had already spent several months working on songs. Every time he sent me a new track, I was blown away – they always exceeded my expectations. He was able to write and record music that fit the tone of the film, the personalities of the characters, and the development of the storyline.
THE CRUMBLES “sound” became characterized by strong female vocals, a beefy electric guitar, an other-worldly keytar, and solid, funky drums. It’s upbeat, driving and catchy, with an authentic underground vibe. It’s sometimes happy, sometimes crunchy, and always compelling.
Quetzal stretched far beyond what I’d previously heard him do. When I told him how everyone who heard the tracks couldn’t believe that he was capable of writing that kind of music, he said it was easy. The songs came naturally because they were inspired largely by the music from his teenage years – bands like The Smiths, REM, Los Lobos and The Pretenders. Even though that’s where the inspiration came from, the finished tracks sound completely fresh and original.
THE CRUMBLES is a truly independent film, currently without the marketing muscle that is required to catch the attention of people in our media saturated world. Though our film has talented young actors, we lack the star power that is often needed for distribution. My hope is that the music created by Quetzal will be one way of connecting with audiences and introducing them to the film. Our plan is to release a soundtrack and sell it at our festival screenings, on-line, and at QUETZAL’s concerts, along with getting it into the hands of any college-radio DJs that will play it.
Lesson #7: We’re living in the Digital Age. Old ways of doing business are dying. Take advantage of it.
Whenever we shot scenes of The Crumbles playing a “live” show, our audience extras went wild over the tunes. There was no need to hype up the crowd because they already loved the music. Just like I love the music. And I hope that audiences who hear it and see the film will feel the same way.
For a FREE DOWNLOAD of one of the music tracks, visit our website: www.thecrumbles.com
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THE CRUMBLES Los Angeles Premiere is on Friday, May 11, 9:45 pm at the Directors Guild of America. Get Your Ticket Here
QUETZAL’s latest CD “Imaginaries” is available on Amazon
AKIRA BOCH began making short films and music videos with his friends while in his early teens. He made several shorts and documentaries in college at both UCLA and UC Santa Cruz, and later went to film school at UCLA, where he honed his directing and writing skills in the MFA Directing program. His thesis film, Finding Fire Under My Grandma’s Fingernails, earned UCLA’s Spotlight Award and Excellence in Writing award. Since then, he has been directing music videos and short subjects, while also making documentaries at the Media Arts Center of the Japanese American National Museum. His work has been broadcast internationally on MTV, on PBS, and screened in film festivals across North America and Japan. Some of his directing credits include : music videos for Quetzal, Steph Pockets, and Calling All Monsters; the documentaries 9066 to 9/11 and Big Drum; and the narrative shorts Perfect Girl and Mamo’s Weeds. He currently lives in Los Angeles.