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S2: When I was trying to play these flutes for them, for the team, and I have lots of notes to play very fast. But because these flutes are so big and I need so much air in between, every note, I’m grabbing as much air as I can and very fast. So my throat makes a noise like it’s me asphyxiating.
S1: Welcome back to working. I’m your host, June Thomas,
S3: and I’m your other host, Isaac Butler.
S1: Isaac, please identify the owner of that charming voice we heard at the top of the show. And what was the music? He was asphyxiating himself to play June.
S3: That was the voice of the composer and musician Cristobal Tapia de Veer. And he’s talking about nearly killing himself, playing the music. Our listeners will know him best for the score from HBO’s hit The White Lotus’.
S1: Wow. I’m so glad you were able to connect with Cristobal, because I’ve seen so many people talking about this music. The actress Sarah Paulson recently tweeted, quote, My days and nights are entirely scored by the theme music from the White Lotus’, and lots of people I know have said the same thing. Before we dig into that, though, you recently tweeted a photograph of yourself holding a copy of your upcoming book, The Method. So obviously you have physical copies of at least some version of it. I know this isn’t your first boot, although I think it is your first solo nonfiction book. But what was it like to open that parcel?
S3: You know, it was a really wonderful surprise. I am currently judging a literary prize, so I get a lot of books in the mail. And so I was like, oh, it’s a box roughly the size. It’s going to have more books in it. And then I opened it. It was my own book. How cool is that? And then when I was picking Iris up from summer camp, my wife saw it. She was even more thrilled than I was. You know, it’s in galley form right now, which is it’s a weird place to be in as a writer, because galleys are uncorrected, proofs that are sent out to advance readers, reviewers, people. You might want to get blurbs from press offices that you might want to get coverage from. It’s a way for people to read the book well before it comes out. But the book isn’t actually finished there. Tons of of fine tuning things that need to be done. So it is a little nerve wracking to have the book out in the world. And then also, no, it’s not the final version, but you ultimately have to have faith that like if someone is receiving a galley of the book, part of what that means is that they know what they actually are, you know what I mean? So, you know, if this was a movie, it’s not a rough cut. It’s not its final screening form. It’s pretty close to that. And I’m really excited for people that get to read it over the next few months. And when it comes out in February.
S1: Well, I guess so. Right now, it’s what the TV companies would send with like temp effects or temp music or something like,
S3: yeah, you know, I saw one of those ones. I mean, those can get pretty extreme, right? Like I saw one of those once where none of the rooms had ceilings and I was like all the ceilings were done in post. So it’s not quite that. But there’s some you know, there’s some little tweaks here and there, things like, yeah,
S1: OK, back to Cristobal Tapia de Veer and the White Lotus’. I have not yet watched the show come out, me listeners. But for listeners like me, what do we need to know about it? And why is this music driving our greatest actors to score their lights to it?
S3: Well, what you need to know about the White Lotus’ is it’s a thriller, a satire, a drama, a comedy. It’s kind of all of these things at once about a group of very privileged, almost entirely white people on vacation at an exclusive Hawaiian resort. But the reason why I really wanted to talk to Cristobal in particular is that the music is extremely present in the show in a way that is not normal. It was halfway through watching the first episode that I paused it and texted Cameron said we have to get the white Lotus’ guy on. And that’s because, you know, the music doesn’t sound like the music on other TV shows, but it’s also just really present in the mix. It has a lot of personality, and that is absolutely key to the show’s success.
S1: Amazing. I can’t wait to get to this conversation. But before we get to the interview, I also want to mention that Slate plus members, we’ll hear a little something extra from your conversation. What will they
S3: hear? They will get to hear Cristobal Ambae talk about how to maintain your creativity on a long term project, how to stay fresh and keep going, and how he gets past procrastination.
S1: Ooh, that sounds fascinating. We also have a listener question today about procrastination, so I look forward to hearing that. But if you want to hear Cristobal Tapia de Veer thoughts on procrastination, you just need to join Slate. Plus, fortunately, it’s incredibly easy to subscribe. You’ll get exclusive members only content zero ads on any Slate podcast. Full access to articles on Slate dot com without hitting a paywall. Bonus episodes of shows like One Year and began with little mood with Daniel and Laborie. I’m out of breath and you’ll be supporting the work we do here on working. It’s only a dollar for the first month to sign up. Go to Slate dot com slash working plus. All right. Let’s hear ICIS conversation with Cristobal Tapia de Veer.
S3: Let’s just start with the very basics. Who are you and what do you do?
S2: My name is Cristobal Tapia de Veer. I was born in Chile, and then I moved to Canada when I was 15 years old. I’ve been always in music. When I came to Canada, I started the conservatory in classical music. And then I did a Masters degrees there, and when I was done with the conservatory, I dropped classical music and I went just for pop music. So I was in pop music for a few years producing albums, and I had my own bands and stuff.
S3: So how did you get into writing scores for TV?
S2: I met director Mark Mounding, who is the director from Utopia, the U.K. version. He heard an album that he did, which is not film music or anything like that, but it kind of sounded like it could be cinematic. And he preferred that to the regular composer thing. He was looking for something different for his show. And then he went on a leap of faith. We met. He thought that maybe I could do this kind of job. And then we tried and he went, well, it was our show for BBC called The Crimson Petal and the White. And then the next year, she called me back to do a utopia. And I liked that so much that it became kind of obvious that I was just going to keep doing this because it was a first. It was more much more fun to me than doing this stuff for the radio. But music is very I mean, you can experiment, but I just I didn’t feel free enough to to try different things then. And with this, I just could do try anything I ever wanted to to experiment with. And every show, it’s different characters and everything. And it’s it’s like having different bands. So, yeah, somehow it became my thing.
S3: What instruments did you grow up playing as a kid when you were in conservatory?
S2: When I was a kid in Chile, I would play with whatever was available. I would make drums, you know, with cardboard boxes and whatever, you know, inventing things and production tricks. But then when I went to the conservatory. So I started with the classical percussion and well, percussion is in in classical music. It’s like a vast is all the keyboards. So keyboards, like, you know, vibraphone, the xylophone, marimba and all that stuff. And then you have all the drums, like a timpani, bass drum, snare drums, all of that,
S3: the triangle,
S2: the triangle, lots of exotic stuff, you know, like gongs and things like that that have become part of the orchestra. I mean, you always have like a secondary instrument. The conservatory had some saxophone and a piano and stuff like that.
S3: Do you think starting from a percussion background, you know, does that shape how you compose? Like do you start with thinking about the rhythmic feel of something or, you know, before you get to melody or whatever the rhythm?
S2: It’s always a big helper in the sense of when there’s some kind of rhythm or loop going on, it’s just much easier for me to start getting into a melody or something like that. As far as starting something, I start with whatever sound. I would say that it’s inspiring and it’s evoking a world. Maybe it feels like a place or something like that. So I can get started with any weird sound or or melody on a guitar or anything, really.
S3: You know, many of our listeners are becoming newly familiar with your work, thanks to the White Lotus’, which recently aired its season finale on on HBO. I’d love to just talk through the process of how you develop that music. You know, at what point did you sign on to the project where there were the scripts written? Was there anything in the can yet? I mean, how early on were you involved in it?
S2: I got a script in January and they were looking for a composer, and he was pretty late in the production. We were they were like a month from the mix. So I read the script and it was like the best script I’ve read in a long time. I think it’s one of my favorite things. So right away, I wanted to meet Mike and then we met and we talked just a little bit. It was really easy.
S3: And what did he say he he wanted when you were talking to him? Like, what was that early conversation about?
S2: He wanted something that is, you know, an energy that is bubbling all the time under the surface. And that is, you know, he wanted things to feel like there’s going to be a sacrifice at some point. So we came to a point where I mentioned to do some kind of highway and Hitchcock, and he really liked that idea. You know, after the meeting, we I just went to a studio and started recording for three weeks. And it’s all just jams of all this percussion and flutes and stuff.
S3: One month from mix is an incredibly tight deadline. Yeah. Is that tighter than your usual schedules?
S2: Yeah. This is the tightest schedule ever that I had. And you could fall into using all the cliches and doing just whatever works because you don’t have the time to be gambling and trying and try experimenting and stuff. So it’s either that when you don’t don’t have the time or you. I think I went kind of a bit kamikaze with this where I just tried the the whatever the weirdest, you know, tribal, primal stuff that it felt intuitively that is feel that it works for for the characters, for the story and everything. And then I started sending the music and and right away it worked. Mike was super happy with the age that the music was giving to his show. And he was like exponential. Like we started trying things. And it’s like every week it became more and more positive and everybody was tripping.
S3: And that was all just based on the scripts. Like you hadn’t seen any footage of the show at that point. You’re just really going off. You know, that one brief conversation with Mike White and looking at the the teleplays. That’s it.
S2: Yeah, that’s that’s only by the conversation and on the script. And then afterwards I was working to the image. Yeah. With the same kind of music, just making different versions, you know. And I was really surprised when I got the images because he was so beautifully shot. And the art direction and the editing, everything was beyond what I expected, really.
S3: And, you know, in a normal process, when you have more than a month to develop an entire score for something, do you like to do like a lot of research? Do you do a lot of that when you’re working on something, or do you usually follow kind of your intuition and your impulses wherever they take you?
S2: Or I realize with with this project that I had to keep on check when I had too much time to do things, because I do a lot of research and I’m going to watch lots of maybe movies that are related to something I’m doing or just trying sounds and instruments and stuff. But I don’t know that their results are any better when I have too much time or lots of time. Like, for example, this project came out and I almost didn’t realize that it was over and that we’ve done that or anything and some other projects. It was like endless know. It’s like for a year of working on their project and then like maybe six months before that. Yeah. Preparing and thinking about stuff and blah, blah. So I guess from now on I’m going to try to keep the mining of juice working fast. Not to do lots of stuff fast, but just to keep to, you know, put myself out of the way because overthinking stuff, I guess I could, you know, sabotage things easily.
S3: Yeah, you can get in your head, right? You just you
S3: start overthinking things. Yeah, totally. Yeah. And it’s hard to know when you’ve reached that point, isn’t it? When you’re like, well, am I just being a good critic of my own work or am I obsessively getting in my own way here? It’s really tough to know when you’ve crossed that line, I feel like.
S2: Yeah. And sometimes you realize you’ve made twenty five version of something, and the first one was the only good one. So it’s hard to know.
S3: Yeah. You know, one thing I really love about the score for this show is how present it is and how idiosyncratic it is, you know? I think we’re so used to it in TV, particularly, you know, oh, we have some gentle, sad string pads in a sad moment. So we feel sad or whatever. But here it’s like it’s really like doing its its own thing, you know, like someone might be getting French toast from a buffet. But what we hear sounds like madness. And I’m just curious, did you did you always know that it was going to be used that way? Were you both very clear that like this is going to do something and have a clear point of view and be very distinct in a way that is not typical?
S2: I think so. I mean, I didn’t know that they were going to mix the music like super loud. I haven’t seen the actual show finished, but I’m told the music is like super loud in the mix. And he was always bringing some perspective to what’s happening and even making jokes. Sometimes it feels like the music is laughing at the characters.
S3: Yes, definitely.
S4: I think you could have dinner with me at the hotel. Tonight, go on, because I woke up this morning and I swear to God I feel better today than I’ve ever felt in my life, and I just really need to know how you did that.
S2: And we were always laughing every time we would try some music on a cue and we were like, oh, man, this this is insane or OK, this is too much. But let’s, you know, tame this this a little bit. But but it was always like, OK, let’s go all in. You know, maybe it’s because I was dealing with Mike. I’ve been thinking about too about that is that, you know, in a project sometimes you have twenty five producers and everybody has an opinion. And most producers are not necessarily don’t have a like a musical language or they have all kind of, you know, different tastes and whatnot. But in this, having only Mike, I suppose he was always very clear, very fast where we needed to go.
S3: There’s a few kind of dominant musical themes that recur a few times in the score. You know, one is, of course, the melody and chord progression of the show’s theme song, which comes up in a few different contexts. Yeah, I’m just sort of interested in how you assembled that sound for the show. Yeah.
S2: Just by, you know, trial and error. I had this melody for the theme. Uh, she sees the beginning, and I didn’t exactly know how I was going to use them during the show, but it did feel like, you know, like the theme like title theme material. Obviously, I didn’t sing to the girls voices, and I often use the same Seegers. Most of the voices here, it’s a Colombian friend and her little girl who do all these tiny voices and the singing.
S3: And did she record it remotely and send it to you? I mean, because, you know, with Covid not having everyone’s. Or was Wishy was she here in the barn with you working
S2: so for the team? Most of the voices really. We went to a studio, too, which is like a scoring studio is a really big studio. Montreal. Goes Piccolo. And it’s weird because I wanted to have like big, big room for the voice. Just feels large. But the place is like huge and there’s only one person in the middle singing any score. And then I would ask her to do all this weird stuff like, you know, the whole Lulu Lulu thing, you know, things like that. So we were there on the end. The engineer there, the kid, he couldn’t understand what we were doing. The all all these weird sounds is you’re in a huge studio doing this nonsense. So but anyhow, so once I have those voices, she wasn’t singing a melody like the female. She just did one note, one long note. And with that, I just changed the speed of her voice in places to to give me different notes. Oh, it’s so
S3: it’s a pitch shifted, human voice doing mostly like that’s how you get the melodies and stuff. That’s amazing. Yeah.
S2: But I did it with the least amount of digital processing. So it’s changing the speeds and not not changing like like, you know, a vocoder thing or anything that would make it sound like like it’s not like it’s a robot or anything like that. So because I wanted that to feel really like a primal scream. I don’t know how you would call that, but it’s kind of screaming is it’s usually all around Latin America, four or North America, to fill in like native Indians has, you know, related to could be a war call or things like that or party or depending on their culture. But so I wanted that to feel really human. I suppose this an unsettling element maybe to the fact that you’re listening. Yeah. You can tell that it’s not, you know, a plug in. There’s not a robot, but there’s something odd about it because you couldn’t sing something like that, like a human couldn’t exactly do that. So maybe that’s unsettling, too, for people. I don’t know. Kind of like when you watch a horror movie and there’s a character that is almost like a human, but you can tell there’s something wrong with it and it’s like more scary than if it’s a monster or anything like that.
S3: Yeah, it’s a little uncanny. It’s just like not quite right.
S2: Yeah, it’s just a little thing. Yeah.
S1: We’ll be back with more of Isaac’s conversation with Cristobal Tapia Veer. One of the things we’d love to do with the show is help solve your creative problems, whether it’s a question about working with collaborators, finding a way to improvise anything at all. Send them to us. Working at Slocomb or give us a ring at three or four nine three three w o r k. And if you’re enjoying this episode, don’t forget to subscribe to working wherever you get your podcasts. Now let’s return to Isaac’s conversation with Cristobal Tapia Veer.
S3: So how do you like to work, what’s your workspace like? Is it just a room full of instruments and you’re tinkering around on them or, you know, what’s what’s the what was the day of writing the music like this like for you?
S2: Yeah, it’s pretty much. I have this big space, which is a barn that has been, you know, renovated and it’s like three feet high ceilings. And it’s just a big space in the countryside. And I sit up all my drums and I started by one instrument at a time. I would start, you know, doing the Shakers and then record Saker’s for, I don’t know, half an hour. And I would do all these patterns that I imagine other things building on top. And once I have all those ideas lined up, I go back to the beginning and I’m going to start jamming with my shakers and I’m going to add all these drums. And then I’m going to add some other drums. So I’m basically multitracking myself.
S3: So you have like let’s let’s say you have that 30 minutes of shakers. And so that’s playing in your headphones or on a monitor. And then you’re simultaneously recording yourself on, I don’t know, 10 Balis or whatever. Right. That’s that’s basically. And so you’re just layering and layering and layering to create different ideas.
S2: Yeah. And then the really interesting stuff starts happening because we each pass that I’m doing, I’m doing something that surprised me. I wasn’t expecting for this to work with that shaker. And something happens and something there’s a sound there. There’s like a musical idea. So in every house, there’s going to be more of those ideas. And then at the end, I’m having real fun jamming with myself because it feels more like a unit, like I’m jamming with lots of people and there’s reactions and I’m reacting to myself and all of that. So it becomes a lot more alive. And then afterwards, he’s just editing is very much like shooting a movie where you have to make sense of all the scenes and, you know, and tell a story with that. So it’s kind of like shooting a movie almost.
S3: Interesting. So you’ll take like a chunk of that jam. Right. And then, you know, once once you’re done with the day. So you’ve done all of your improvisations. They’re all multitrack. And then you’ll listen to and you’ll you’ll what you’ll like, extract a couple minutes of it and then fiddle with it and play other stuff on top of it until it becomes a piece of music. Yeah. Or a finished piece of music. It’s already a piece of music. A finished piece of music, I should say.
S2: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, sometimes I would grab themes that appear by accident and then develop that’s, you know, add chords and this and that. Sometimes I find melodic lines like I would play all these flutes and then they’d be like native flutes that are really hard to play and they require a lot of air. So I was trying to play these flutes for there for the team and for the score in general. And I have lots of notes, notes to play very fast. But because these flutes are so big and I need so much air, like every note in between, every note, I’m writing as much air as I can and very fast. So my throat makes a noise. Like it’s like like a note, almost like I’m was singing. So lots of what you hear the screaming and mumbling stuff like that. It’s all it’s me asphyxiating. I’m trying to keep enough air and then becoming, you know, you become dizzy and all that. So at some point I realized that that makes for a very anxious induced anxiety inducing sound. And people really groud that that stuff. I mean, when I started reading comments and people everybody saying that how anxious they feel and they feel like, you know, things are going to explode and they become super nervous and this and that, that that might be one reason, you know, that’s that anxiety inducing, you know, the breathing and the screaming and all of that stuff, because it’s real. I mean, it was there was some real, you know, problem going on.
S3: But I’m glad you survived the process.
S2: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But yeah. So I didn’t have the time to correct speech to you know, there’s no auto tune, there’s no quantizing. There’s not anything like that. So it’s the exact opposite of pop production today. And then the main reason is because for me it was because of time. But when I was doing it, it felt OK, that nothing was really in tune. That’s if things felt really loose and not, you know, maybe dissonant here and there. And there’s no bass. There’s no real bass. The root of the notes, it’s all these drums that they’re not really in tune either. And at some point, I just got used to it because I do like things that are natural and not, you know, pitch correctly and everything. But maybe if I had more time at some point, that would have started, you know, making things prettier or I don’t know, you know, correcting stuff and whatnot. But I’m I’m happy we did. And I just left everything, Azeez.
S3: You’re playing all the instruments, right? It’s all you.
S3: Yeah. Are there samples and synthesized sounds in it? I mean, I know obviously, like sometimes we hear a seascape and stuff that are all the instruments kind of analog or are they all.
S2: That’s another thing that these last couple of years I’ve been trying to get away from, from the computer. I mean, I’ve done a lot of electro and take note and pop and whatnot, and everything is always based on the computer. And it’s just become tiring to be sitting at a desk working on a screen. So, yeah, this project, I suppose it was a conscious move to not be sitting at the computer or the least amount possible.
S3: So, you know, you have all these ideas, you’ve developed them into tracks and stuff, but then they they do have to be kind of adapted for, you know, they have to be fine tuned for the show. Right. Like I need two minutes and 10 seconds of music here or whatever. What what was that part of the process like? Because it sounds like it’s not like you had time to go back and forth with tons of demos and rework and rework. Right.
S2: Yeah, we we beat music. I would say so anything that has that Ghesquiere tempo. So like here have all these precautions and stuff. So I’m going to call them just beats. It’s like you have songs or pop music. It’s a lot easier to get in and out of a scene than if you’re doing an orchestral thing just for that particular scene, because you need to the violence to start here. And then maybe you you need these to change there and stuff. But when you have a beat, it’s you can just mute this and that, and then you stop the beat when you don’t need it anymore and you leave it just the shaker. Let’s say for the end of the conversation.
S5: Sir? Sir. Dude. Oh, hello.
S2: How is everyone this morning? And you can juggle around editing a much easier way that if if the music was, let’s say, if you didn’t have like ask where tempo, like if you have like classical music or something like that, it would be a lot more complicated.
S3: So you might need like a string note to hit at a specific second in the. Yeah. You know, if it was if it’s like an old string score or whatever, whereas here you have to loop around it. Got it. OK.
S2: Yeah, you can operate and then you can add a sound just to punch in one place when you need it. And I need feels all seamless. It’s not it’s it’s easier to do. Yeah.
S3: Got it. You know, obviously filmmaking, making TV, it’s a heavily collaborative process. And, you know, there’s lots of back and forth and any collaborative process going to have disagreement. And at at some point, probably, although maybe this one was too fast. But, you know, how do you handle disagreement with your collaborators? How do you keep your eye on the ball of, like, trying to make the best thing possible and work with them and get feedback?
S2: Sometimes your instinct is telling you that, you know, this track needs to be on this scene no matter what. And then like, you go crazy. You need to convince everybody that that’s the way to go. And for some reason, sometimes that does happen. And maybe people are not convinced, you know, you need to really talk to them or give them time or whatever. Um, I’m learning in every project because at some point you realize that, for example, if you send you music and the music, it’s it’s like a gamble. It’s like music that is not safe. It might be odd. People might need that week, you know, to digest before they tell you something. And if you get an email on the same day that they don’t like the music, then you feel that maybe something wrong because they just went, OK, what is this noise again? And I forget it. And they really didn’t get into it at all. So then it feels like there’s a problem there. It feels like this might be a good idea if you have allies in the production, for example. Most of the time it could be the director exclosure. I may be more understanding of what you’re doing. Maybe he likes that idea. And he you know, he’s going to work with me to convince other people or he’s going to manage like for the show Utopia. I remember until the last day of Beeks, we we were not sure what the scene was because I had two teams and one in different styles. And then at some point they say that maybe they’re going to leave the intro of the show without music. They intro the show, meaning the first scene. There’s like a long scene, like an introduction to this show, which is like ten minutes or something. And that scene, it feels to me like there was something really important happening. And the editor had put all these precautions that I did. It is so weird, but great at the same time. And some people were not convinced. And at some point I was really telling them, OK, if you don’t put this music in there and you’re killing this show. I was I was so convinced. I was so convinced that we had to do that because I knew that the music was weird. And if we didn’t present the show like that from the start, then at some point we have this very violent intro, which is very serious. And then we get to a show and the music is kind of funny. Each side is quirky. People would be OK. But I thought deal with this was like a criminal show, like an end of the world thing. And all of a sudden this is all funky y. So it’s feel to me that we needed to start with the music right away. So that’s one situation where I felt I was being pushy. I’d just to get that thing there because I felt like compelled. I felt like the right thing. And in the end, it worked out great and it became kind of a cult thing. Even just that scene, you know, so. But you never know. I mean, it’s all a gamble. I mean, how do you know when people are going to like your stuff or not?
S3: It’s so out of your control.
S2: Yeah. Yeah.
S3: Do you? I know my own work. Sometimes I have to work to shut off the voice. That’s like, what are people going to think of this when it. You know, so you can have the freedom to actually create. What do you do to shut that voice off or is that not a voice that bothers you very much?
S2: Yeah, no, it bothers me a lot. I am conscious all the time, though, that to do things and leave them, just see if I record a sound that it’s in good for five minutes, then then I just leave it and then come back some other time, because maybe later I’m going to understand what’s the other or what why. I thought that was a good idea, because I’m the same person as the producer who gets music. And it’s like, what the hell is this noise? I’m that person, too, you know, and I’m going to do something. And then five minutes later, I Mike White, am I wasting my time with this nonsense? So but it’s really it’s only time I tell myself that it’s only, you know, give it a day or two days or whatever. And that’s some point he’s going to make perfect sense. And it’s just that you just trust it. I suppose trust, I would say that’s the main thing.
S3: Well, Cristobal, thank you so much for joining us this week on working and teaching us all about your process.
S2: Thank you so much for having me.
S1: Isaac, I think my strongest impression from that conversation is how much fun Cristobal has when he’s working. Like when I picture him in his barn, madly shaking, Shaker’s playing all those percussion instruments and pushing air through giant flutes, jamming with the tracks he’s already laid down. I’m a little envious of how joyous that process sends. Did you share my envy?
S3: Well, yes and no, because I feel like our process is very joyous. You know, you enjoying seeing your face over zoom and recording this. So it’s not like there’s no joy in our creative process. But indeed, I mean, the idea that you can sort of do that all day sounds like a dream. I mean, especially because when we were zooming with Cristobal, he was actually in the barn that he was talking about. So we could see it in the background there. It’s a very beautiful open space in Canada. And, you know, I am sure there are days when it actually isn’t a total delight to jump around a barn playing against your own backing tracks. Right. It’s like everyone who has a creative job on some level, you know, you’re going to hear what that job entails and be like. That sounds like a dream. But sometimes making that dream into your day to day work can make a kind of a drag. But at the same time, it’s it’s hard not to feel like it sounds like he has the life. You know, it’s like, oh, my God. But I think it’s also a good reminder to try to figure out a way, as you design your own process, to figure out how to make it more joyful, because joy can really motivate creation in really interesting ways.
S1: Yeah. And it gets you in your chair. I also love the idea, again, something that I pictured of him jamming with himself, like laying down tracks that you then experience almost as if other people had created them. You can be surprised by them. You know, I can see him, you know, smiling and nodding and then kind of riffing off that music in the next instrumental track records. I’m having a little trouble picturing how a writer could do that. But it must be possible, right. About, you know, is there a writerly equivalent of that layering that’s so productive for him?
S3: I mean, in a way, isn’t that kind of what a drafting process is? You know, you might you might lay out your notes and then a couple of days later, come back to those notes and turn it into something generative. And then the next day you look at that and and you start fiddling with it and changing it and rearranging this thing in that thing, and to make it better, to make it more of what it wants to be. I mean, I think that’s the closest we get. Normally in writing practice. But I agree it would be nice to figure out a way to make it really feel like you’re improvising. And then later you are improvising against your own improvising, et cetera, et cetera and so forth. And and have that turn out to be a cohesive piece of writing, although it feels I don’t know how you do it, but we’ll figure.
S1: Yeah, we’ll figure it out. I can’t wait. You let me know. Speaking of joy, there’s something wonderful and again, envy inducing about the freedom that Cristobal finds in writing music for film and TV. You know, compared to being a member of a band and trying to get your music out there before the masses. Just last week after your interview with Antoinette, you know, you wonder. We talked about how playwrights have to win over gatekeepers to get their work produced. And quite reasonably, from my point of view, that was something that Antoinette experienced difficulty with. It’s even worse in the world of movie music, but Cristobal seems to find that to be a feature rather than a bug. He seems to like that even though there are very few people who can greenlight movie or TV music, at least he knows who he needs to kind of perform for or who he’s working with, who he needs to please. He knows what the brief is. And I guess once you prove yourself, you get to work, as he said, in a different style every time you sit down to work. That structure seems to suit him, even though it seems really overwhelming to me.
S3: Yeah. I mean, I do think, you know, there’s a couple of kind of realms of the industry where once you get in the club, it feels like you’ll probably work forever, even though the club is very hard to get into. I mean, one of the ones that I think of as BCTV actors, you know, like once you’re John Simm, you know, you’re going to be in a show a year for the rest of your life. It might get very few people get to get to that point. But there is a certain steadiness and reliability about that. Yeah. I mean, in terms of composers, I will say there are different kinds of composers for film and television and different models for how to do it. There are composers who have a signature sound that they really excel at. And when you hire them, that’s what you’re hiring them for. You know, I think of someone like the late Johann Johansson, who came from an electronic music background and an ambient music background and all the music he did with for Dennie news films, particularly Sicario and Arrival. But then there’s people like, you know, Michael Giacchino, who works on like every Pixar movie, and they all sound radically different. So, I mean, I think it’s about kind of knowing which kind of artist you are and then building a career that suits the kind of artist that you want to be. I don’t know that there’s necessarily something better about being versatile or not.
S1: Yeah, for sure. He also seemed to respond very positively to the incredibly tight deadline that he was set for the White Lotus’. As he said, that could go two ways, play safe or just jump. And he went for it. That wouldn’t work for everyone.
S3: Yeah, I got a sense during the interview that maybe he really learned a lot about his own process from that tight deadline. You know, it was the shortest one he’d ever had to work on something. And it seems like, you know, he had this kind of epiphanic moment about like, oh, maybe you don’t need the whole apparatus of a long research process and tons of conversations with the director. Maybe you can just leap right in with that first impulse and build off of it and build off of it and build off of it and see where it takes you. You know, I’ve had pieces for Slate that I spent two years working on IPEC pieces for Slate that I wrote that went from first sentence to on the website in under six hours because someone had just died. You know, both of those processes work. The ladder is much, much scarier, though.
S1: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. So as I mentioned earlier, I have not yet watched the White Lotus’, but I need you to tell me honestly, if the dissonance that you both talked about really works, because that’s an artistic choice that will often read as a misstep. So the reason what’s informing this question is my partner and I watch a lot of old British mysteries. And in the 80s, it seemed like they were randomly putting music in. You know, sometimes we’ll comment about the music, makes it sound like somebody is going to be strangled any minute. And then what actually happens is someone spills their teeth like it’s just out of whack. And I guess I’m asking if it’s clear that it’s an intentional bit of mood setting in the White Lotus’.
S3: Yes, I think it is clear in part because the music is so loud. There are scenes where intentionally you can you almost can’t hear the dialogue because the music is that present. I also think it works because one of the white Lotus’ dominant modes is comic. It’s very fun to watch someone getting food from a buffet while loud drums and shrieking are going on. There’s just something very charming, you know, I’m like, yeah. And it’s Cristobal said, you know, a lot of times it’s almost like a character commenting on the absurdity of what they’re seeing, you know, play out. But I also think this is my theory, and I just want to be really honest about this, that one of the things the music does very effectively is gousse the stakes and narrative tension in the first couple of episodes. One of the problems with current TV and this moment, with all the options that we have to see is that there’s this assumption I don’t know if it’s accurate or not, but clearly there’s this assumption that viewers need to have high stakes established immediately and maintained or they’re not going to keep watching. Often it’s with a murder or with some sort of high concept framework. And there’s less room for a character driven story that needs time to develop and flourish. And so one of the things Mike White does in the White Lotus’ is he opens the show with a coffin in the first five minutes, and you don’t know whose coffin it is. And the rest of the show is in flashback. So there’s this little question burbling about about, you know, who’s going to die. And then the first episode, the music and cinematography are constantly telling you on a sort of subliminal level that something crazy and high stakes is happening, even though nothing crazy or high stakes happens in the first episode at all. The entire first episode and most of the second is actually just about establishing the characters and their problems and their conflicts that are going to come to a head. And so he sort of tricks you into thinking you’re watching a high stakes thriller. And then by the time you sort of figure that out, you’re so invested in the characters. It has the stakes of a high stakes thriller anyway. And a lot of that is actually the music and how it’s used.
S1: Amazing. Well, OK, we’ve got to finish recording this so I can go off and watch, obviously. But before I do that, we have another listener question, which is great. Ariel asked. I would love to hear you describe your thoughts on procrastinating on a creative project. When do you most often find yourself procrastinating on something? Are there certain types of procrastinating that you always succumb to? Well, this is a great way to answer this, because Slate plus listeners will hear a Cristobal thoughts on procrastination. But Isaac, what kind of procrastinator are you?
S3: Oh, man. When I was a kid, I was, you know, every kind of procrastinator. I would do literally anything to put off something that did not interest me or that I wasn’t good at, you know, cause that was painful. Well, to experience things that I wasn’t good at. But if something did interest me, I would drop everything to keep doing it. I mean, I was the kid who skipped homework to read books for pleasure. That was that’s the kind of kid I was. But so in my head, as a result of that, I have a lot of hang ups about procrastination, a lot of worry that I’m screwing everything up by delaying. But because of that in ways is a message to myself. I’m going to deliver a limited defense of progress. Sometimes you are not actually ready to do the creative thing that you think you need to be doing in that moment, and you need a little time and space for your subconscious to do its work. As a doctor said in our episode with him, a lot of writing looks like not writing. You know, so to answer that question, I play video games. I’m on Twitter too much. I have a few group chats. Those are the main ways that I procrastinate. But is it always really procrastination or is it sometimes just that you need to clear your head? For me, what’s become the deadlier problem is breaking focus. When I’m really immersed in something, you know, you finish a task like a chapter or just even a really great paragraph and the like. Well, that was great. As a reward, I’m going to check Twitter. And then actually getting back into the kind of immersive world of the project becomes really elusive. Yeah. So I will say that that one way you can kind of get around that with a long term or big project is just to rotate creative tasks, you know. Right now I’m generating then I’m going to work on photo permissions and I’m going to revise something and I’m going to sit here and think, I mean, all of that is work, you know, but if you rotated it, it feels a little bit like you’re taking breaks, even though you’re not.
S1: Yeah, I really appreciate your your sort of sense of kindness there, you know. Don’t be too hard on yourself, I think. One of the this is one of the many ways where humans are often too hard on themselves. They label healthy and necessary preparation as negative and wasteful procrastination. And I think we all agree that preparation is essential. It’s much easier to make a meal when you’ve done a good mise en place. Make sure you have everything you need. Measure it, peel it, prepare it, and then you can make your dish more efficiently. And you’ll also enjoy the process more. But yes, as I’m also a former serial procrastinator, you know, in a it wasn’t really procrastination. It was just not doing things way. I suffered in my childhood from something I self diagnosed as world inaction. Complex world inaction was a very worthy, but in all honesty, deadly dull documentary show that was on television. And the fact that I could be completely captured by world inaction rather than do my homework was a sign that it really wasn’t the thing itself. It was me just not wanting to face what I was supposed to do.
S3: So have you gotten that into the DSM six or whatever? We’re up to now?
S1: Still we’re still working on it, working on. But it’s a real thing for sure. For sure. And but it did kind of give me like a little bit of a complex about like don’t start that. Don’t start on that slippery slope or else you’ll you’ll lose your your kind of workaholism that I’m kind of in. No. But there are still times when I know that I should be doing something else, writing whatever it is. And I just have to get to it. You know, I really love research. That’s my favorite way of procrastinating. And I would happily just do that and do that and do that. And there’s a point where part of your brain knows that it’s time. It’s time to stop messing around and get down and do the writing or whatever the task is. I’m very good at fooling myself, though, because I as I say, I do like the kind of classic type of research where you just go off on a search of information. But I also love trying new tools. And you can really tell yourself that this is important. You know, this is going to save you time. This is going to help you make connections in a way that you couldn’t without the tool, without investing the time in the tool. I am having a great time right now with a program called Obsidian and also dabbling in like logs, see can meme. And of course, watching YouTube videos about those programs. And I think, Isaac, that you might begin to see the problem I might be experiencing.
S3: Yeah. You know, this is one of the reasons why I’ve never checked out Scrivener, even though everyone swears by it as I’m like, I’m either just going to skip all the learning stuff and then have no idea how to use the software, or I’m going to spend the next year of my life being like, oh, maybe if I tweak this setting and, you know, the only app I really ever use is one called self-control. Now, that is its actual name, not being a jerk here, because sometimes when you’re like, oh, have you heard of this app? Self-control, the other possibility? What the heck? And all it does is you list the things you wanted to block. You set a timer and you can’t access those things anymore until the timer goes off. Right. It’s as simple to use as possible, because one of the things that I have realized about myself is that if I need to do something and it is something that I do not like doing, like not looking at social. Or exercising or whatever. Yes. Lower the barriers to accomplishing the task, the task has to be as simple as humanly possible. So, for example, you know, we have like a little tiny Nordic track elliptical machine in an office, and I have the clothes I need for it stacked next to it, you know, and the shoes right there and everything, so that the second I wake up and a water bottle, I could just run down and get to it. Because if there’s even two more steps than that, I’m never going to do it. So self-control is the version of that for getting offline? It has. You have to do almost nothing to get it to work. And then you’re you’re off to the races.
S1: Well, we hope you’ve enjoyed the show, if you have remember to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, then you’ll never miss an episode. And no, let me tell you how awesome a slate plus membership is. Slate plus members get benefits like zero ads on any Slate podcast, full access to all the articles on Slocomb, bonus episodes of shows like One Year and Big Mood, A Little Mood. But I also hope that you would like to support the work we do here on working. It’s only a dollar for the first month. To learn more, go to Slocomb Slash working.
S3: Plus, thank you to Cristobal Tapia de Veer for being our guest this week. And as always, enormous. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you to our fabulous producer, Cameron Drewes. We will be back next week with June’s conversation with Shane Busch Field, also known as Thorstein, a integrity, the commissioner of the Learned League Trivia Empire. Until then, get back to work. HAYSLIP plus listeners, thank you so much for your support. We’ve got a little bit extra from my conversation with Cristobal Tapia de Veer, and we think you’ll really like it. So here it is. Thanks again. Are you working on a show right now or are you in between stuff? What’s next for you?
S2: I’m on a movie until next year, so it’s going to be a long project.
S3: That is a long project. Yeah. You know, there is something great about a really tight deadline or just like I’m just going to have this burst of inspiration and creativity. Fuck it. I’m just going to go for it. Let’s let’s let’s pilot this rocket into the sun or whatever. But on a long haul project, keeping yourself creatively refreshed, keeping yourself even interested in the work every day, it can be such a challenge. What do you do to keep yourself fresh and to keep yourself going over over a long term thing?
S2: I think for me, it’s getting past the the initial procrastination period where I’m kind of preparing in my head and thinking about things. And it’s just never ending. I just never get on with the thing. They just do anything that’s for me is the most painful, because it seems like it’s going to take forever for me to get somewhere that I’m happy. Yeah, I like you get one sounds and then when other sound, there’s nothing there. It’s just it feels eternal. And then my favorite moment is when I have enough stuff. And then and I’m really it’s rolling. It’s like I’m I’m 200 kilometres on a super car. This just and everything’s just happening, happening, happening in every sound. It’s interesting. And everything is just crazier and everything is becoming like massive and stuff. So I would say this that could be towards the last quarter or it like before the mix, I would say. So I assume a couple of months before the mix when these they’re more intense and and you get to a point where people are producers are liking the cues. You have enough stuff. So when he’s there, I’m happy. Ezola. Yeah, he’s just rolling. For me, the hardest part is to keep the motivation up at the beginning when there’s nothing there to to be excited about, you know, when this is just building building one block at a time. Yeah.
S3: Yeah, I know I know that from writing, too. I mean, it’s like that when you write a book as well, you know, is what what do you do during that period? Is it just that you’ve done it enough now that you’re just like, come on, you know, eventually you’re going to get there just to suck it up? Or is there. Yeah. Is that is that what it is or.
S2: It once again is a trust thing. It’s like, OK, trust, the process is like just, you know, be calm, trust the process. It takes a little bit or. But I mean, there is technically speaking, you know, if I do take a decision, I say I’m going to put this Mike there. And when I say recording this stuff for one hour and I just do it, and I mean, it’s no different than doing sports or anything. You just get out of bed and just do it, you know, just start. So I would say if there’s any technique, it’s just making it record whatever and and just doing it, because for me at least, the procrastination thing is just it feels like you’re disguising that time with research. But but I don’t know that that’s worth anything, you know, spending too much time in research. It’s just it feels like the stuff that you need is already there in your brain. You just need to, you know, keep yourself in the ass a little bit or just just do it. So, um, yeah. Yeah, I would say the same as, you know, I am going for a run or, you know, just getting out and doing it. Yeah.
S3: All right, that’s it for this week. Catch you next time right here, I’m working.