10
May
13

Interview: John Paesano on Dragons: Riders of Berk

John Paesano at the Annie Awards

Back in March I mentioned on this blog that one of my favourite films in recent years, How to Train Your Dragon, had been spun-off into a TV version, Dragons: Riders of Berk. Airing on the UK’s Cartoon Network, the series has proved to be a fine addition to the Dragon universe and I was keen to find out more about one its most important aspects, the score by composer John Paseano.

Here, Paseano explains his musical background and inspirations before going on to discuss his work on Riders of Berk, which will soon have a sequel series in Defenders of Berk.

Jonathan Melville: Over the last few years you’ve worked on a number of TV and film projects. How did you come to work in this area? 

John Paseano: I really love it all. I have wanted to be a film composer as far back as I can remember. It really hit me about the age of 10 after seeing Steven Spielberg’s Empire Of the Sun. I was so drawn to that film, and of course to John Williams amazing score. There was just something very magical about that film, which sounds strange considering the content of the story. A young English boy who struggles to survive after being separated from his parents during Japanese occupation during World War II.

The main character in that film, Jim Graham (young Christian Bale), had a fantastic imagination, and had uncanny ability to always find adventure in whatever task or circumstance he was put too or up against. I was so amazed how John Williams was able to use his music to show the viewer how a 10-year-old boy would view the events of that war say vs. an adult.

I was amazed how the music functioned in that film, and how integral it was in order to help the viewer see this story through Jim’s eyes. The score really grabbed me and I remember having a conversation with myself and said “that’s what I want to try to do when I get older!”, and I stress the word TRY.

So private music lessons started around the age of 12-13 (Piano), music school after formal school (Berklee College Of Music), and then out to Los Angeles to start the long road to become a film composer. So it was a very premeditated music journey, it was never about anything else besides scoring film. People always say “oh you are in the music business”, and always have to correct them and say “actually, I consider myself more a part of the film business”.

Do you have a preference for live action or animation?

Live action, animation, video games, commercials, trailers…anything where you write music to moving pictures, I love.

Which one is more difficult?

Sometimes doing a 20 second advertisement can be more challenging than doing a 10 minute action sequence. I think that is the beauty of this job. It’s never about the complexity of the music, or elaborate counterpoint and harmony. It’s about what fits the picture. Sometimes intricate counterpoint, harmony, rhythm, orchestration works great in a scene, other times three piano notes work much better.

How did you get involved with Dragons: Riders of Berk? Were you approached or did you audition?

I have always been a huge John Powell fan going pretty far back as well. When I heard that they were doing a TV series based on How To Train Your Dragon I called my agent and said “let’s try to go after this”. I had worked on another Powell property prior to this, an Ice Age short called Ice Age: Mammoth Christmas, so it just seemed like Dragons might be a pretty good fit.

So, we started working the channels to try to get music in front of the right folks at DreamWorks. They interviewed a couple of composers that they were interested in. I am sure from that point they developed a “short list” of composers that they liked, based off music reels and interviews, then we all had to demo a couple of scenes for show, and by some miracle I ended up with the show.

Dragons: Riders of Berk

Ad for Dragons: Riders of Berk

Had you seen How to Train Your Dragon before you discussed working on Riders of Berk?

Let’s see…about 1,000 times.

John Powell’s original score for the film is one of the finest in recent years, winning various awards and being nominated for an Oscar.

Was it daunting knowing you would be effectively “inheriting” the score?

I remember when I booked the Ice Age short. I said to myself “sweet i get to try to be like John Powell” and then almost immediately after that thought i said “Oh shit, I have to try to be like John Powell”. Nothing makes you feel smaller than listening to John’s Ice Age scores, How To Train Your Dragon and some of John’s other scores.

He is one of the best in the business live action or animation, and when it comes to animation, in my eyes, he is the best.

Continue reading ‘Interview: John Paesano on Dragons: Riders of Berk’

04
Mar
13

Dragons: Riders of Berk arrives on UK TV

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There was some good news at the weekend for British fans of 2010’s animated film, How to Train Your Dragon, as the TV spin-off arrived on the Cartoon Network.

Dragons: Riders of Berk picks up a short time after the events of the Dreamworks film, when (and this is a spoiler if you haven’t seen How to Train Your Dragon) the Vikings of Berk and their dragon neighbours are living in harmony.

Well, as harmoniously as can be expected when you’re talking about flying beasties that breathe fire.

Now it’s up to the humans to stop killing the dragons and train them to help them in their daily chores, with the first double bill of episodes neatly reminding fans what had gone before while informing newbies what they’ve missed.

The young voice cast from the film has been retained for the TV series, including Jay Baruchel as lead Hiccup, while the adult actors are now Americans pretending to be Scottish as Gerard Butler and Craig Ferguson are off doing bigger things.

Thomas Wilson (Biff from the Back to the Future series) is Bucket while ex-Doctor Who David Tennant is also due to pop-up in a future episode as Spitelout Jorgenson, recreating his role from the movie.

The series retains the computer generated look of the feature film and much of John Powell’s terrific score, a soundtrack I’ve been listening to regularly for a few years now. Composer John Paesano joins the series for weekly scoring duties.

Two seasons have been commissioned and 40 episodes are in the works, with season two to be called Defenders of Berk. Season one began in the US in August 2012 so we’re a bit behind, but judging by these first episodes it’s a programme worth sticking with and I can’t wait to follow the adventures of Hiccup, Toothless and co.

We’re also promised two new feature films in 2014 and 2016, meaning the How to Train Your Dragon franchise should be a long and fruitful one, something worth celebrating in this world of soulless sequels.

Dragons: Riders of Berk airs on the Cartoon Network on Saturdays at 10.30am and 6.30pm.

28
Dec
12

Anthony Newley podcast

The Small World of Sammy Lee

It was over a year ago that I mentioned the Network DVD release of 1960s oddity, The Strange World of Gurney Slade, a title I soon came to cherish and recommend to anyone who’d listen.

Having become slightly obsessed with the work of the series star, Anthony Newley, since that release, I decided to join with some friends to record a podcast celebrating his career.

The podcast was hastily recorded – we made the decision over Twitter one morning and recorded it the same night – but if you’re a fan of Gurney Slade, The Small World of Sammy Lee, Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? or a number of other titles, you may enjoy this hour of chat.

Head over to the first Four Men Just Anthony Newley podcast to hear it.

10
Dec
12

Knightmare celebrates 25 years

Knightmare at 25

With most old TV shows I find it hard to believe I was watching them 25 years ago; surely I was far too young to even know what a TV was 25 years ago?! Sadly, I was probably happily watching telly 35 years ago, I just don’t like to admit it to myself.

Anyway, the point of this brief post is to point you in the direction of a nice little reminder of days gone by, when after school TV consisted of series like Blue Peter, Tony Hart in his gallery, Grange Hill and some teenage reporters on the Junior Gazette (I will get around to a Press Gang post one day).

Joining their ranks was ITV’s Knightmare, a fantasy adventure game which took invited children to don a helmet and make their way through a cunningly designed dungeon, under the guidance of Treguard (Hugo Myatt), a friendly(ish) dungeon master.

Each week a team would move from room to room, with the helmet-clad child, the dungeoneer, taking instructions from his or her teammates in another room. They watched proceedings from a monitor and advised their friend which direction to take or how best to interact with the various denizens of the dungeon.

It was a simple enough premise but one which was captivating. Judging from an article on Knightmare.com, I probably watched every season of the show, I certainly remember most of the characters and changes to the basic set-up. I’ve not seen an episode years but would welcome an extras-laden DVD set of the first series if anybody fancies making one.

In the meantime, the owner of Knightmare.com, James Aukett, has done fans proud by making his own documentary to celebrate the programme’s 25th anniversary. James has interviewed many of the cast and crew, including Myatt and creator Tim Child, for this internet-only production, and he’s done a grand job with zero budget and a lot of love for the subject.

Thanks James, you’ve made an old(ish) fan very happy!

27
Sep
12

Introducing Cannell Channel Day

“I sit down and I try really hard to do something I’d want to go home and watch myself. How could I know what 30 million people want? I didn’t, but I know what Steve Cannell wants. If I sat in a screening room looking at an hour of television that was really good I’d go “yes, that’s what we’re trying to do!” Stephen J Cannell, Pioneers of Television

Stephen J Cannell was the guy who brought us such TV classics as The A-Team, The Rockford Files, 21 Jump Street, Hunter, Wiseguy and The Greatest American Hero back in the 70s, 80s and 90s.

Here are a few more of his series to jog your memory:

Cannell knew he wasn’t writing Shakespeare but he also knew that popular hour-long dramas didn’t have to appeal to the lowest common denominator. He entertained the masses and is still doing so years after his biggest hits have left prime time TV schedules, these days through DVD releases, cable channel reruns and YouTube clips.

Sadly, Stephen J Cannell passed away on 30 September 2010 at the age of 69, soon after a film adaptation of The A-Team had hit cinemas and a 21 Jump Street adaptation was being mulled over in another part of Hollywood.

I’ve written on this blog before about Cannell’s influence on my life and my love of TV and film, with one of my earliest memories involving the watching of The Greatest American Hero on Australian TV in 1982, at the age of five. Those memories mainly involve Ralph (William Katt) flying into walls and hearing the incredibly catchy theme tune over and over again…

With The A-Team pulling in audiences around the globe during the mid-80s, Cannell cemented the reputation he’d built up with his earlier award-winning drama, The Rockford Files, as one of the most successful, and most prolific, creator/writer/producer/directors in the business.

He not only made deals with the networks to make his shows, he made a deal with the viewer. We gave him an hour of our time and he gave us some dramatic, funny, smart, knowing and memorable TV in return. Everyone was a winner.

OK, so what’s the point of this lengthy preamble?

Well, with Sunday marking the second anniversary of Cannell’s passing, I wanted to celebrate his life by rewatching some old episodes of his TV series, as I’ve got a fair few in the house…

Part of my Cannell collection

Part of my Cannell collection

But, in this age of social media (if Cannell was making The A-Team now you could probably tweet the guys for help), I realised I could spread the word a bit further than my living room, alerting a few others to the fact that Sunday is a day for sticking on an episode of a Cannell production, effectively tuning it into the Cannell Channel for 50 minutes.

As a result, I’ll be sending out a few tweets from now until Sunday using the #cannellchannel hashtag, advising that anyone with a passing interest in Stephen J Cannell take some time to remember his legacy by creating their own Cannell Channell.

Perhaps you have The A-Team on DVD (TV show or film) or fancy downloading an episode from iTunes, have Netflix in the US to watch The Rockford Files or want to sample an episode of his series via YouTube, including:

Then simply tweet your thoughts on the show using the #cannellchannel hashtag or leave a comment below, including suggestions for any other videos worth checking out. On the off chance that anyone who worked with Cannell is reading this, please feel free to leave a memory of him in the comments.

You can also find out more about Cannell over on IMDb or hear him discuss his career on the excellent Archive of American Television website.

In the event that nobody else wants to join in on Sunday I’ll watch a few episodes of Cannell series I haven’t got around to yet, mainly from the Prime Time Crime Collection.

Of course I do hope a few others can find the time to remember Cannell, after all I love it when a plan comes together…

07
Aug
12

The Search for Fraggle Rock

It shouldn’t happen to a TV show. The result of months of work by a team of professionals, who then pass it on to a broadcaster to transmit to a few million viewers who then (hopefully) embrace it to their collective bosoms, a great TV programme should then be allowed to retire to an archive somewhere, occasionally receiving visitors in the shape of satellite channels or a DVD company.

In the case of Fraggle Rock, Jim Henson’s 1980s series which brought weird puppets and conflict resolution to teatime telly, something seems to have gone badly wrong in those archives.

Henson’s dream was to have series that appeared to be small-scale to the casual observer, but which underneath was a complex network of international co-production deals and filming schedules. The theory was that children would react better to a series made in their language and with references they understood.

Each episode would start in the “real” world with some business about an old man called The Captain (Fulton Mackay) living in Fraggle Rock lighthouse with his dog, Sprocket. After a few minutes the scene would then switch to an underground world of Fraggles, led obstensibly by young Gobo (Jerry Nelson). There would then follow an adventure in which one Fraggle would get into trouble and the others would save him/her while learning a valuable lesson about life.

If you watched Fraggle Rock in the UK then the lighthouse “wraparound” bit will sound familiar, though Fulton Mackay was replaced by John Gordon Sinclair and Simon O’Brien in later years. If you lived in America, Australia, Scandinavia, Spain or numerous other countries you would have seen Doc (Gerry Parkes), an inventor, interact with Sprocket. Doc’s mini-adventures took place in his garage.

French and German audiences again got their own wraparounds with local actors playing Doc.

Though Fraggle Rock went on to become a huge success around the world, spawning 96 episodes in total, that simple idea involving co-production deals would be the series downfall when it came to repeats, at least it was here in the UK thanks to TVS, a now defunct TV station, producing the UK wraparounds.

When TVS lost their licence in 1992, their back catalogue, and the documentation detailing it, was a victim of massive upheaval behind the scenes, resulting in only 12 episodes of the UK Fraggle Rock now officially remaining in the vaults. These were released on DVD a few years ago from HIT Entertainment on Region 2.

A bit of research (well, Googling) over the years from yours truly leads me to believe that, despite HIT contacting The Jim Henson Company to enquire about the episodes, the original master tapes are indeed missing. As is usually the way of these things, the fans are also doing a bit of digging around and, according to some recent posts on a missing episodes forum, we can add a further 17 broadcast quality episodes held by the BFI to the 12 that came out on DVD.

According to that post, fan Alex Taylor has a further 28 episode recorded off air (on his own video recorder), bringing the total number of Fraggle Rock UK episodes known to exist up to 57 – he’s kindly listed them all over on his own website.

I was fortunate enough to interview the producer of the UK wraparounds, Victor Pemberton, a few years ago and he mentioned that he at one time had every episode on VHS but that he wasn’t sure if he still had them in the basement.

The reason for my summing all of this up is that this week saw The Jim Henson Company upload six new clips to their excellent YouTube channel featuring Fulton Mackay as The Captain. Of the six clips, three now only exist as fan owned, off air, non broadcast quality episodes – The Trash Heap Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Sir Hubris and the Gorgs and The Garden Plot – and yet they all look in perfect condition to me:

So what does this mean for the existence of more UK episodes at The Jim Henson Company? Are these merely clips that have been lying around that have now been put online in isolation? Or are these excerpts from full episodes held by Henson that could, theoretically, be released in full? Do they have more clips still to be put online?

I’ve been holding back publishing this post for a few days as I’ve emailed the team at Henson to ask what the situation is, but assuming they’re busy with more pressing issues I may not hear back for a while.

It’s also useful to raise the subject once again in case any reader of this post has an episode on VHS that is missing, presumed gone. If so, feel free to let me know in the comments and we can try to get it into some new archive…

13
Feb
12

Tom Baker returns as The Doctor

A friend pointed me in the direction of this Doctor Who-themed clip over the weekend, a series of short ads for New Zealand superannuation services featuring Tom Baker in full-on Fourth Doctor mode.

The ads were made in 1997, long before the return of the show to BBC One in 2005, and I wonder how much they had to pay for the rights to use the character and the music.

Tom’s on fantastic form and it’s evidence, if it was needed, that he’s still got what it takes to play the role. Here’s hoping the BBC decide to bring him back for next year’s 50th anniversary celebrations…




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