Messed Up Pop Song is a HD short written and directed by Cassandra Tytler. As with Cassandra's earlier work, she performs a series of characters (with complete changes in costume, hair, make-up and gender). The uniting thread in Messed Up Pop Song is the way in which these characters are themselves 'putting on' or 'performing' themselves. While the title references the world of pop music, the characters are depicted with pathos: each of them is somewhat lost and insecure within themselves - hence their resorting to these types of uncomfortable 'fronts' or performances in public/social situations.
The result has a certain 'camp' veneer, but there is also something sad about many of the characters. Each is the result of an attuned character study, as if Cassandra has at some point encountered these people in real life and observed them from a distance. The details of their look, attire and mannerisms are foregrounded, and the voice-over commentary scripted by Cassandra imagines what might be going in the minds of these people living in their own messed up pop song.
Messed Up Pop Song was completed as part of the Tyger! Tyger! series of collaborative projects curated by Philippa Murray at Westspace, Melbourne in 2012. Philip Brophy contacted 3 filmmakers to collaborate with by providing a film score for their work prior to the films being either shot or edited. Philip worked exclusively by reading the script and engaging in detailed conversation with the writer/directors. The other films in this series are Emile Zile's Jack and Johann Rashid's The Man Who Folded Himself.
Script, direction & editing - Cassandra Tytler
All characters - Cassandra Tytler
Voice - Amélie Prévot
Camera - Catherine Ames & Mikael Ayele
Lighting - Camila Ewelina
Costumes - Lisa Liveri
Make-up - Virginie Berthelier
Music composition, all instruments, sound design & 5.1 mix - Philip Brophy
Premiered at TYGER! TYGER! - curated by Philippa Murray, Westspace Gallery, Melbourne
The score provided by Philip presents a song-type for each of the different characters. The concept is to reflect the inner 'pop' world within which they are performing themselves. Some of the songs feature lip-synched singing; the bulk play while we hear the voice-over commentary. The result is like hearing the energised space within their minds, while simultaneously hearing Cassandra's part-poetic/part-objective description of these characters as she perceives their frailty, foibles and facades. The aim by both Cassandra and Philip was not to use 'pop music' as a vehicle for ridiculing people (which seems to be a standard deployment of pop music in the cinema especially) but to synchronise with the psychological state of the characters:
A retro-rock chick sneers and sings a vocoded Velvets'-reboot version of Elvis' Teddy Bear
A nervy too-cool-for-school guy strikes poses and drinks from a hip-flask to the tune of a modern jazz combo
A bimbo blonde giggles in the bathroom mirror at a nightclub as electro-rock pounds away
A fresh-faced boy practices his boy-band dance moves to the sound of fractured dubstep beats and shiny synth textures
A pouting whimpering girl throws herself in despair onto her bed as synthetic tones ring and resonate in the background
A freaky petty-crim runs toward the camera from the dark to the sound of pulsing drums and deep panting
Lush strings and acoustics guitar and piano swirl around as an aggressive tarty mole walks through a beautiful park.
As Cassandra had been based in Paris for a few years, the decision was to record the voice-over commentary in French (with an actress in Paris, where the film was also shot). The final film is subtitled in English. The voice-over is mixed into the centre-speaker. All the music is composed and mixed in quadraphonic audio.
For Messed Up Pop Song Philip worked solely from Cassandra's script. The script had a brief description of each character's attire and general demeanour, plus the full text of the voice-over commentary. Early discussions determined that the score would require a suitable 'type' or 'genre' of music to match the attire/demeanour of each character. Philip met with Cassandra a few times while in Paris, and within a week there composed all 7 theme songs, each lasting about 3 minutes and containing verse/chorus structures and/or standard 'build-up/build-down' arcs.
These 7 theme songs were handed over to Cassandra before she commenced the shoot. The aim was to give Cassandra an idea of what these characters' sound/music world could be, and to give her that information prior to shooting. Additionally, a version of Teddy Bear was required before the shoot so that Cassandra could lip-synch her performance. As Cassandra was unsure what type of 'reversioning' of the song would work for her performance, Philip produced two versions - one with a slightly slower tempo, and one with a more electro-rock feel. Cassandra listened to each version before the shoot and decided on one.
Cassandra then edited the film with the 7 theme songs. Her 1st edit basically positioned the songs with their appropriate character. The 'build-up/build-down' arcs of the tracks allowed her to choose a rough level of intensity for her placement of the music. This 1st edit followed the sectional structure of the script. A meeting was held to discuss the edit and rough placement of the music, and it was decided that it might work better if Cassandra re-edit the film in a much more fractured way, as if one was flicking through channels to randomly encounter each character. Cassandra completed a 2nd edit that achieved this, which in turn allowed her to dramatically cut-up the music tracks into smaller fragments. This was a major advantage which Philip had intended: that the director take over shaping the music by cutting it up and placing it exactly where they think it matches their idea of shaping the drama. Usually composers have difficulty when a director does this to their cues, or a director/editor will do this with temp tracks as a way of providing a template for the composer to replicate (which composers tend to find a bit limiting and prescriptive). However Messed Up Pop Song blends both options by presenting an original score prior to the editing rather than after the editing. By formulating music sketches for the director to play with, the director can better articulate their preferences, and the composer obtains a clearer preparatory idea for the final shaping of the compositions and their mixing.
Philip then met with Cassandra and in Final Cut Pro checked the timing of Cassandra's edit to check on how the tempo mapping and timing of all the cross-cutting and cross-faded music tracks would work. This involved some tweaking to produce a 3rd edit: various black-out sections which were trimmed to fit in perfectly with the intro of outro passages of the music tracks, passages of music were checked to see if their density muddied the voice-over commentary, etc.
Philip then returned to his studio in Paris to reconfigure and reconstruct the music tracks to match the shapes and fragments which were in the 3rd edit - which had become the final edit. At this stage also, the voice-over commentary was placed, and many of the music tracks were re-performed or had the MIDI events of their notes or beats shifted where possible so as to not overlap with the vocal recording. Mostly, the voice-over was treated as lead vocals in a song: the music mix stayed full and 'busy' but care was taken to not interfere with the diction or legibility of what was being spoken.
Once all 7 theme songs had been reconfigured this way to match the final edit, a quadraphonic remix was undertaken back in Melbourne at Gelatin. This mostly entailed reshaping the stereo spacing and instrumentation into 4 interconnecting spatial locations. In one song, the on-beat snare is placed in the front while the off-beat snare is in the rear; in another, some jazz-tetrachords are distributed so that the lower triads are in the rear and the upper triads are in the front. Sometimes completely different instruments are in the rear; sometimes either the rear or the front contains an effected (reverbed, echoed, distorted, etc.) version of its 'dry' sound in the opposite field.