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AGENT MX-Z3RO—Making an Independent Movie (Part 3)

My background is in music and I’ve been involved in the creation of many film scores—as well as working on the audio side of Avid for 16 years—so I’d be stating the obvious that our film’s music and sound were of huge importance to me. Early on, Brian Barnhart (our director and my co-writer) afforded me the trust and leeway to line up and handle the sound team, and I did so—long before shooting even started.

 

I asked the extremely talented Sean Halley (former Avid product specialist, now at Line 6) to be the composer, and he was very willing and interested in building a score for us using his ICON D-Command and Pro Tools|HD rig. This would help showcase the possibilities of composing MIDI and scoring with Pro Tools. But we needed more than just a film score—we also needed the magic of a memorable, top-quality “spy movie” title sequence theme song, à la Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better,” or Sheryl Crow’s “Tomorrow Never Dies.”  Besides being a multi-talented musician (guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, and vocals), Sean is a phenomenal sound engineer and producer.

 

Sean Halley records the “Agent Zero Theme” using Pro Tools HD, ICON D-Command, Eleven Rack and other gear.

 

It was extremely important that while we were crafting the script and story, as well as pitching the idea internally, that we had something to help people get a feel for the style, the quality level, and overall possibilities of the project—far beyond what a standard story synopsis, my endless verbal pitches, and a PowerPoint slideshow could do alone. Well, Sean truly came through in short order, writing both the music and lyrics, and I must say, by doing so added a large amount of credibility and positive momentum to the project. As you can hear from the demo version to the final version, there are few changes—with the exception of adding a final chorus to the arrangement.

 

Here’s the original demo that Sean sent me with his scratch vocals:

 

 

And here’s the final version—the one used through the shooting and post process (though we may change it slightly for the final mix in a couple of weeks):

 

 

The final version features director Brian’s lovely and talented wife, Nicole Vinzant Barnhart, on vocals, and was transposed from the original demo for a key that better suited her.

 

Singer Nicole Vinzant Barnhart performs in the title sequence to AGENT MX-Z3RO.


To film the title sequence, we used Pro Tools to play back the final version of the song on set (first day, first shot) while outputting time code simultaneously to two Sony F35 cameras. Nicole lip-synced her performance while choreographer and lead dancer Renee Liskey choreographed the sequence with the other dancers. While we were shooting the scene, pumping the music through the house speakers, several people on set shouted out some cheers because it looked and sounded so cool.

 

We later added a few gun-toting freeform dancers, who appear in silhouette, along with imagery of falling cards to finish the scene off. It’s one of my favorite moments in the movie, and I think it validates the power of matching great music to great visuals.

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About Thomas Graham

Avid marketing manager for Post Audio and Pro Mixing, I am also a veteran engineer/recordist/editor. I've worked on music scores for dozens of feature films, including Ice Age, Collateral, and The Spirit.

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