We’re normally off for most of October each year. Ever since FOX Sports started broadcasting the MLB Playoffs and World Series, THE SIMPSONS has been mostly off the air in October and often the first Sunday in November. Well, this year the San Franciso Ginats cut through Al Jean’s beloved Detroit Tigers in four straight games and suddenly we had to fill a couple of Sundays that were supposed to be preempted. Fortunately we had one episode “in the can” but we had to hurry up a bit to get more episodes ready to air. I am composing this blog from the dubbing stage as we finish up this little period of rush-work and prepare for a little time off for Thanksgiving.
We finished all the post-production audio work on episode PABF18 “Adventures in Baby-Getting” on October 15, 2012. This is the episode that had the special opening showing Homer casting his Presidential ballot. We prepared two versions of the opening of the show. The first had Homer voting, the second had a couch gag. The Homer voting sequence was released early on the Internet but was also intended to be used on FOX’s broadcast of the episode if it aired before election day (which, thanks to the Giants, it did on Sunday, November 4, 2012). The couch gag would then be cut in for all subsequent airings, Hulu, and DVD release.
While the music for this episode was pretty much “straight ahead”, the one cue that seems to have captured the attention of fans (and generated a bunch of questions on my Twitter feed) is the old-time music used when Bart & the boys are following Lisa around town trying to find out what she’s up to. We used the music again for the end credits. The name of the piece is “That’s You, Baby” composed by Con Conrad, Sydney D. Mitchell, and Archie Gottler and made popular in a 1929 recording by George Olsen. The script, written by Bill Odenkirk, gives the direction to use this music for the scene but I can never be sure if the credited writer came up with the musical suggestion or if it was made by another writer or even one of the animators. This is one of the tricky parts of my job…tracking down the source of a musical suggestion in an episode by the time we get to post production. Many many people have had a hand in shaping the episode by the time I get to work on it and sometimes it’s easy to find out who suggested a piece of music (and more importantly what the piece is) and sometimes it’s more difficult. Orchestrator Dell Hake’s “take-down” and arrangement of the tune did a really nice job of capturing and recreating the flavor and spirit of the 20s for our recording. I really enjoyed how the End Credits version of the music fit so well with the visual of the cursive font. I thought they perfectly complimented each other.
We expected to be on a mini-hiatus until the first week of November, but when the World Series ended on October 28, we had to step it up to have more episodes ready to go. Next up was PABF16 “Gone Abie Gone” which is a flashback episode about Abe Simpson’s love affair and marriage (!) to a sultry chanteuse named Rita LaFleur, voiced by Anika Noni Rose. This episode aired on FOX on Sunday, November 11, 2012 and was written by Joel H. Cohen. Anika gets to show off her fabulous singing talent in a song written by Abe back when Homer was just a little boy. Of course the song was actually written by Alf Clausen with lyrics by Joel H. Cohen. I was privileged to direct Anika’s singing performance for this episode back in October, 2011. She lives in New York, so it was another case of Internet magic where I was able to direct her from the comfort of my home studio. She was very gracious and a total pro to work with. I hope it isn’t the last time our paths cross.
Sidebar: I was first introduced to Anika’s wonderful voice back in 2004 when she was in the cast of “Caroline or Change” on Broadway. She played the part of Emmie, the daughter of the title character, and she won a Tony Award for her performance.
A few weeks after we recorded Anika’s part, Dan Castellaneta came in and recorded Abe’s singing and I was able to make a sweet, romantic duet by two performers who were never in the same state (much less the same room) when they sang. Gotta love technology!
The couch gag for the episode was a parody of the Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning classic, “Wacky Races”. The animation style is taken directly from the original, Travis Powers used old Hanna-Barbera sound effects, Dan Castellaneta provided the voice of the announcer, and Dell Hake did a spot-on faithful “take-down” of Hoyt Curtin’s original theme. A “take-down” is a very labor-intensive job where someone (Dell, our orchestrator in this case) sits down with a recording and listens to it over and over and OVER, transcribing every possible detail onto sheet music. This has to be done any time that we can’t get our hands on the original score when we do parodies or sound-alikes. Digital tools now make it easier to perform this job because the music can be slowed down without changing the pitch.
Earlier this week we wrapped up episode PABF19 “Penny-Wiseguys” with guest voices Joe Mantegna and Steve Carell as fat Tony and his accountant Dan Gillick. When Fat Tony can’t get out of jury duty, he leaves Dan in charge of the mob. Meanwhile, Lisa asks the eternal question, “Am I still a vegetarian if I eat bugs so I get enough protein?” Written by Michael Price, the episode airs Sunday, November 18, 2012 on FOX. Listen for more classical music as we perform works by Liszt and Delibes. As always with a Fat Tony episode there will be visual and musical references to “The Godfather”.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’m dubbing an episode right now. PABF22 “A Tree Grows in Springfield” will air on Sunday, November 25, 2012 on FOX. The main story is that Homer wins a Mapple MyPad and wonders how he ever lived without it. Many funny jabs at Apple and Steve Jobs. Apple lovers should hate it and Apple haters should love it. The episode was written by Stephanie Gillis and also includes a “bonus” segment at the end of the show which has wall-to-wall music. The music crew had a very good time recording the cue for this sequence and I’ll talk more about that next time.
Let me give a Twitter shout-out to some of the great SIMPSON tweeps who work so hard every week to make the show so great and who will also give you some behind-the-scenes peeks at their work on the show on Twitter. Writers Mike Scully, Tim Long, Marc Wilmore, Dan Greany, Matt Selman, and Michael Price. Animators and artists David Silverman, Erika Isabel Vega, Nikki Isordia, Liz Climo, Fill Marc Sagadraca, and Luis Escobar.
Also since my last post I have directed a few more guest stars who stopped by to sing: Zooey Deschanel, Jane Krakowski, and next week, Jackie Mason. Be on the lookout (listenout?) for them in the near future. It’s been a very busy start to season 24 and I’m so glad to be along for the ride. I hope you are, too.