By Clive Young
New York (July 8, 2005)--There was a big fuss in May when Star Wars: Episode III--Revenge of the Sith appeared on the internet six hours before it debuted in theaters, but in truth, sci-fi fans had been downloading a hot flick about the Force since May 10--and that was by design. It wasn't Episode III, but rather Grocery Store Wars, a $75,000 parody by Free Range Studios, commissioned by the Organic Trade Association to raise awareness about organic edibles. Since then, upwards of 8 million people have gone to www.storewars.org to see the elaborate puppet adventures of Cuke Skywalker, Tofu-D2, Chewbroccoli and Obi-Wan Cannoli. Much of the film's humor succeeds, however, due to the detailed audio work of upstart music composition/supervision house, Los Angeles-based Clockwirk Music.
"It took two weeks and was more complicated than we expected," said Jesse Goffin, partner in Clockwirk with Sam Zeines. Concerned about performance rights, the pair reproduced the John Williams score using a variety of orchestra libraries like Vienna Symphonic Libraries and East West Samples symphonic orchestra, recorded into Apple Logic. "We underestimated the scope and size of the score," Goffin admitted. "He pulls out the stops; there's quite a bit of percussion and a very large orchestra, but we replayed everything and tried to get it to sound as big as possible, with some very subtle tweaking to the original score to make it fit to the picture."
With the music cues turned into stems and placed into Digidesign Pro Tools LE with DV Toolkit, the pair began cleaning up the dialogue audio and finding sound effects similar to those in Star Wars. "The sound effect designer on the movies [Ben Burtt] used very organic means to create a sound, so they have a very different feel than most science fiction movies. It was a bit of a hunt to find things that weren't too glossed over, too cheesy."
Finishing up, Clockwirk's work was set up in "a giant master session in Pro Tools HD," and sent to San Francisco to director Louis Fox, who was unable to come to Los Angeles to oversee a final mix. Instead, Fox turned to engineer Patrick Bowsher at San Francisco's Film Arts Foundation, who he'd met through an animation crewmember, Richard Levien, who also performed the voice of C3Peanuts.
"For a five-minute film, the final mix was very big with lots of layers," said Bowsher. "We received the sound effects off an FTP site from the folks in LA.... They did excellent work and gave it the authentic Star Wars feel. I recall there was some time put into placing sound effects that had not made it in an OMF transfer. Occasionally this happens and you have to find the missing audio and place it again."
With Fox providing all but two characters' voices, Bowsher recorded the ADR using an AKG C535 mic in the Film Arts Foundation's sound booth, and laid in some ambiences. Using Pro Tools TDM, version 6.4, they finished the mix and ADR in two days and did some final tweaking of EQ and levels for the web streaming a week or so later.
By the time the mix was finished, Clockwirk was already back at work music editing a trio of upcoming films, including one with R&B crooner Usher, and working on Meatrix 2 for Free Range Studios. They also recently worked on a Hip Hop Opera called A Day in The Life, directed by ex-Onyx rapper Sticky Fingaz. "We're one-stop shopping for the film industry," said Goffin of his four-month-old company. "You can go to us to get an assistant, get music for a film, have us compose original material and a lot more."
The finished product is a slick short that mixes lo-fi puppetry with hi-tech computer graphics. While post-production took a month, according to Fox, the actual shooting took place at two grocery stores over a week, working from 10PM to 7AM every night. The schedule may have been rough on the crew--Fox also performed most of the puppetry--but it was harder on the cast. "We needed a few cucumbers to play Cuke," said Fox, "and Ham Solo was pretty slimy by the end of the shoot. We tried to keep him in the fridge, but he still got really rank and we couldn't wait to throw him out."
The resulting success of Grocery Store Wars--and its ensuing coverage from USA Today, CNN and other media outlets--not only validated the film's clever jokes and the worth of viral marketing on the internet, but also something much more enduring: the bonds of childhood friendship. Fox, Clockwirk's principals and Free Range Studios' main partners, Tate Hausman and Jonah Sachs (who co-wrote the film), have known each other since before grade school, growing up in Woodstock, NY. "My first memory of Jesse is him wearing a red Superman cape at age five, running around my house," said Hausman.
None of them are surprised, however, to be working together after all these years: "From early on in our lives, we all had a very aware goal to go off and do our own thing, then come back with our skills and all help each other," said Goffin. "I first met Louis when he was trying to shoot his own recreation of the original Star Wars movie at age seven. Ironically, 20-something years later, he finally did it."
Grocery Store Wars
By Clive Young