Sanjeev Sirpal’s latest wacky “homie moon” comedy, Random Tropical Paradise, is being released June 9 in theaters and On-Demand. The film follows Harry (Bryan Greenberg) as he catcheshisbride in a compromising position with one of his friends during their wedding. To make himself feel better, he decides to take his best man, Bowie, (Brooks Wheelan) on his honeymoon for what turns into a wild and epic adventure. In preparation for the film’s upcoming release, we decided to speak with the film’s composer Bryce Jacobs and discuss everything from his favorite scene in the film to scoring the Sundance hit DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD: The Story of the National Lampoon.
Is there a scene or sequence in “Random Tropical Paradise” that you composed and are most proud? Why did it resonate with you?
There are a few I definitely had fun with, but I think my favorite was a hilarious scene (that I’ll only say so much about) involving a band where the singers are singing in between dialogue. When Sanjeev (writer/director) gave the scene to me, the singing had already been recorded to the onscreen performance… and I had to write the music after the fact. So, made for quite an experience, but I was able to take their vocals and somehow write the music around them. It was an interesting task as I still had to hit some more emotive moments outside of the onscreen vocals. The result is kind of like scoring yacht-rock to picture (which Sanjeev and I absolutely loved doing). I’ve also played in my fair share of bands, so know what certain requests actually mean. Whenever you’re at a gig and someone says: “we just need 15 minutes of fill-in music here” – you usually have to multiply that by about 4 and then you’re probably still going to be short! I kind of went into that mentality of the band trying to keep the song going…. which usually means everyone’s taking a solo – even the bass player (which pretty much signifies the band’s just gone off on their own tangent now!). There’s even a flashback in the middle of all that where 3 other short cues play…. then back to the yacht-rock. It’s a pretty manic sequence and I was a bit nervous at first about the pre-recorded vocal lines, but then ultimately had a lot of fun bringing the whole scene together musically.
What instrument(s) did you find were key in this particular story to set the tone or musical theme you were striving to achieve for “Random Tropical Paradise”?
I’d just bought a Pedal Steel and Ukulele – so they pretty much took center stage. Sometimes in more literal tropical ways, other times being turned on their heads to bring more abstract areas of the film to life musically. There is a “Random Tropical Mafia” theme that needed a kind of tongue-in-cheek version of some menacing Italian Mafia music… but the main Mafia boss (Joe Pantoliano) is constantly dressed for vacation. It inspired me to play his main theme on sliding pedal steel instead of violins or accordion, and tremoloing Ukuleles instead of Mandolins. It gave it some menace, but injected it with a bit of random tropical fun.
Some composers prefer not to conduct, but others really like doing it. What is your stance?
I do love it, and used to do it a lot more when I was working as an orchestrator – but now, because there are so many pre-recorded instruments, synths, guitars, etc, in what I do, I tend to like to be in the control room to hear how it’s all coming together sonically. Having said that, if something is more purely orchestra, then that is a different story.
Is it harder to score a comedy such as “Random Tropical Paradise” or a drama such as “Bad Karma”?
It’s so different. I guess with comedy, you really need to have a sense of humor and understand the humor of the movie and those who made it. Sanjeev and I had a lot of fun with the music – if we were laughing at the fusion of a cue against picture, then we knew we were definitely onto something. Having said that, whatever genre you are working in and whatever the nature of the film, it’s still telling a story and the music needs to be telling the story as well (that really applies to everything you do).
How fast do you work when given a project of this scale? Are you allowed considerable time or is it a pretty fast process? How long did it take you to score “Random Tropical Paradise”?
It really depends on the situation… and sometimes it’s not always best to have more time. Ironically, sometimes you can really discover new and interesting paths when under time-crunch pressure. In terms of Random Tropical Paradise, I think the bulk of it was done in around about a month. It didn’t feel rushed at all. Sanjeev and I hit our stride early on, so it was mainly about getting through the bulk of it all with playbacks along the way. It also helped that I was the only musician on the whole thing (with the exception of Sam McCormick on violin for the Pachelbel at the start). I was jumping from one instrument to another, including vocals on the featured song I wrote for the film: Best Man. It was really one of those “record producing” type gigs where you select and hone your sound palette to become characters themselves alongside those in the film.
You scored the documentary “DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD: The Story of the National Lampoon”, which was a big hit at the Sundance Film Festival 2 years ago. What are some of the biggest differences in scoring a documentary like that verses a film like “Random Tropical Paradise”?
Now that was a quick one! What started with a 3-week turnaround to make it to Sundance just snowballed into more and more work (in a good way) in a decreasing amount of time. At first, I thought it was going to be all me and my computers, but that quickly evolved to a 3-piece soul brass section plus drummer that I had to produce, orchestrate and mix myself (while still writing and playing on other cues). It was also difficult since most of the first versions of cues that the film makers were hearing, already had the recorded material baked in (it meant some creative editing for any revisions along the way). The film makers were also in New York, so it was all phone, email and Skype (we actually met for the first time at Sundance). I do think scoring a documentary is quite parallel to scoring a film. There is still very much a narrative, repeat characters and situations you need to have cohesion and development between. Doug Kenney, one of the founders of the Lampoon, had a theme that went on quite a journey. From the swagger, reckless abandon and brilliance of his youth, to his more lost moments of retreat… then back to his huge successes in Hollywood, and on into his ultimate demise and mysterious death. To me, you just have to give that sense of cohesion and evolution throughout. The story of the Lampoon itself is very much a peaks-and-valleys progression over the years. Just when they would have a brilliant run with brilliant people, those same people would then move onto Saturday Night Live, or The Simpsons. These peaks and valleys happened over different eras, so that needed to be taken into account also. The most important sequence in the film is where they discuss Doug Kenney’s death. It was quite problematic as you have a bunch of comedians interjecting humor in between the sad tale of it all. It feels like a truly delicate responsibility to me when scoring something as poignant as that (it’s the only time I’ve ever seen Chevy Chase emotional). I took a pass at it and the director felt it was too reflective, and he was right. He said: “Think of it like a wake.” At a wake, everyone is coming together to mourn and celebrate whoever has passed. At times, you can find yourself laughing about something funny you remember about them, or even happy to see a friend or family member you haven’t seen for a while… then the reality of why you’re all there seeps back in. So, the music became a bit like suspended animation that would gently dip here and there, but never quite land emotionally until the death card for Doug Kenney appears onscreen. Even then, there needed to be a strange lightness to the sadness. Sometimes a director or producer will say one word and the path ahead all of a sudden has clarity – “wake” was that key word that unlocked the music to that scene.
Some of the “National Lampoon” themes are pretty recognizable. Was it hard stepping into a project where there was already an established sound?
Well, there are just some tracks that are absolutely synonymous with the National Lampoon. If we tried to mimic, imitate or even pay homage to any of these key songs, we would be setting ourselves up for failure. The Kingsmen’s Louie Louie from Animal House, and Lyndsay Buckingham’s Holiday Road from the National Lampoon Vacation movies are irreplaceable. Even John Belushi’s stand-up version of Joe Cocker’s rendition of With a Little Help from My Friends needs to be left as is. The film makers were very wise to keep these fixtures in place, and in turn, I had a great time writing the surrounding score to this incredible true story of The National Lampoon.