Frank Leone (In Retrospect) Creating a Musical Web Series & Other Related Topics

Hey everyone! I’m Frank Leone! I created the web series, In Retrospect; a musical comedy web series about a couple in marriage counseling rediscovering who they are in an effort to save their marriage. I have a background in acting, and have studied in Detroit, New York, Moscow, and LA. I began writing/songwriting/producing when a manager friend of mine prompted me to create my own work, and thus, In Retrospect came to light. The series was nominated for Best Original Soundtrack at the 2016 Indie Series Awards.

This was my first web series pursuit, and I learned a ton! Since then, I have written two pilots, a short film, and have worked as a producer on two seasons of the web series, History. I am currently in the process of writing a new musical series, curating a cabaret, and writing an album.

Have questions about creating/filming a musical? Finding composers? Getting started? Throw them my way, and I’ll answer them as best I can. :slight_smile:

In Retrospect Website
My Site

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Hi Frank! Can you talk about the process of developing your show, especially since a lot of the arrangements weren’t things you knew you could do by yourself?

How do you know what kind of sound you need for a particular scene? From tempo to instruments in the mix (some free music sites let you search by instrument), etc? I’m not very musical so I don’t always trust my instincts, and then when I do, they seem to be way off.

Also, in case @shawnasaur isn’t able to hop in, I wanted to ask a question I saw her ask elsewhere on the internet haha. Basically, how do you narrow down a list of composers applying to work with you on a project? Especially if you’re not musically inclined.

Hey Bri! I didn’t originally didn’t set out to write a musical. I wanted something simple to showcase the work of myself and the other artists involved. However, you don’t say no when ideas come in. So, once I realized that I would need some help with the music, I began to reach out to friends that were musicians/composers/knowledgeable in music. I began by telling them what I was creating, where I was in the process (lyrics + melody), and what I needed i.e. composers, budget, studios to record in, how sound mixing work, etc. I did my research on a number of these topics, and began reaching out to various composers. I would explain my project, my budget, what I was looking for in the particular song that they were helping with. I would send over an acapella recording of me singing the song, the lyrics, and a long email with as much description as I could including colors, costumes, locations for the song, as well as where I wanted crescendos, measures of rests, etc. The arranger would send me a clip, I would give my feedback, and we’d repeat the process through the rest of the song. Once the song was completed, we would go back and forth with notes until I felt it was ready, and then I headed into the studio to record. Sent the tracks with the vocals to the sound mixer to lay together, and another round of notes would commence.

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Did you have a person helping with deciding colors, costumes, and design choices like that? Or was that all you?

Where do you even begin to look for composers to score your web series?

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Hey Meg!

The sound that you’re using should compliment what is happening in the scene, or the emotion of the scene. You wouldn’t want “I’m Walking on Sunshine” playing while a character may be in mourning (unless you’re going for that, which could be funny if it’s a comedy depending on the situation). Try to match the sound with the emotion. To use the previous example, let’s say that a character is in mourning because her father just passed away. She is slowly walking through the rain without an umbrella, making her way to her car. You want the music to enhance the emotion. In this case, the shot is simplistic, therefore, you might want to keep the music simplistic. A few instruments, maybe strings, playing a slower methodical tune to accentuate the emotion that the character is going through. The music matched the pace and emotion of the scene.

If this is something that you find that you are continually struggling with, then what might help is to write out your ideas and what you are thinking of in regard to the sound for the scenes at hand. Then try to get a second opinion on what you’ve written from someone you trust. (FYI - Always take opinions with a grain of salt - this is ultimately your project.) See if it helps propel the story, enhance the characters’ emotions, draw the viewer in, etc. Many of my composers gave me their ideas when I was explaining my own, and a few times, their ideas worked better than what I was thinking.

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Awesome! Is there, like, a cheat sheet for types of moods and types of instruments to look for? Sad/raining= piano or strings, haha. Any others?

It’s great to have a clear idea of what you want before you begin looking for composers. This will instantly help you narrow them down. For example, if you are looking for someone to write a classical piece, and you get three composers who apply that only work on hip hop, then this may not be the right fit, and you can put those names to the side. When I was seeking composers, I knew exactly what I was looking for. If I thought the candidate might be a good fit because of their resume, but I was unsure if he/she was able to do what I was specifically looking for, then I would send an email stating what I wanted. That would generally determine if it’d be a good fit or not right away. Be precise in what you want, and make sure to communicate it the best you can.

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What’s a fair rate for paying a composer? Does it change if you just need a scene scored, versus writing and arranging a song with lyrics?

Thanks for taking the time for this AMA!

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When I was doing In Retrospect, it was all me. I would make character sheets for each character which would have different costume pieces and accessories just to give an idea for myself and the actors. Once I had a director on board, she also went through it with me, and we would communicate that to the actors. In In Retrospect, we had fantasy sequences within each episode where the characters would be in a different time and place, and sometimes different era. With these, I would make a sheet similar to the character sheet, but for the song. For example, the first song in the series is “I Just Wanna Dance,” which has more of an EDM club type of sound. I found various pictures of the types of clothes/style I wanted in this, as well as location ideas. The color I saw with this scene was purple, so I also found various pictures with purple hues. What I created was also what I sent to the composers, along with a description, so they could visually see what I wanted the music to match to.

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Holy shit that’s so much work! Good for you! I love the idea of making color/costume choices before you even cast or write, to get a visual feel for the characters and story. Film is such a visual medium, and I think sometimes writers forget that. Knowing my character’s main color was red was definitely a huge influence on my show, so that’s definitely advice I’m gonna keep in mind moving forward!

Hey Pablo!

The first thing I did was to reach out to friends. I posted on Facebook and sent out emails to friends stating that I was creating a musical web series and that I needed composers if they had anyone that may be interested/that they wanted to refer. I was surprised at the feedback I got. That’s a great first place to start. At the time I created my series, I was new to everything, so the only other resource I knew of was Craigslist. I got an amazing composer off of craigslist that I will absolutely use again and again, and that I have already referred to other friends. Just like anything, you have top be specific in what you want and use your instincts. Sites like Reddit, Mandy.com, ReverbNation, Soundcloud, ASCAP, Upwork and Soundlister can be used to find various freelance artists.

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Frank. Jack here. Producer of a little show called History you may have heard of. Why don’t you tell the nice people about the differences and difficulties in working with music artists as opposed to actors/tech people. Any interesting insights on the specifics of those collaborations?

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haha you know, I don’t know. I googled really fast, and this was one of the articles that came up: http://www.mfiles.co.uk/what-is-music.htm. Because this is an area that you had mentioned isn’t your strongest suit yet, you should definitely spend sometime to learn some basic knowledge in regard to tempos, rhythms, and how they affect the psyche. But also - think about how different music affects you. What do you listen to when you’re upset? Angry? Happy? Sad? Your characters will be just as human as you are, going through similar emotions, and would listen to those kinds of things, as well. When you watch a movie, pay attention to when the underlying score comes in and what it is doing to the story, as well as to you. Sometimes I watch movies and tv to enjoy them, and sometimes I put on specific ones so that I can study a specific aspect. Watching movies can be a good (and free) lesson.

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@Meg this is also a good video, about Lord of the Rings so not OVERLY applicable, about how music moves a story.

Thanks for the response, Frank! That’s helpful.

Follow-up: Do you think it’s trickier to enlist a composer (sounds fancy to me) to help score a harebrained comedy like mine? I’ve just been tapping musician friends of mine for that sort of thing.

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Hey Jimbo! Thanks for being here!

To be honest, every artist will have their own “fair rate,” so I can’t exactly give you a specific number. However, I will tell you how I figured out mine.

When I was doing my series, I reached out to a friend who was starting out in the music industry, and I asked him literally everything, including what a fair rate would be. He then turned it around and asked me what my budget would be, and I said I could feasibly do $100/song. He said that many musicians, especially if they’re trying to make a name for themselves and get themselves out there, would be fine with that rate. It proved true. I had 5 composers. 4 out of the 5 all said that they charge way higher, but they liked the idea of my project and wanted to be a part of it, so they would do it for that rate. Just make sure you communicate effectively and pitch what you are creating to them really well, and if they want to be a part of it, they will. I also had a couple people turn it down because it was too low. That’s ok, too. The right people will come along. Make sure it’s a good fit for you and what you’re looking for. Many people may say that the rate is fine, but they’re not a good fit for the project and what you’re looking for, too. Be precise, honest, and upfront.

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Absolutely! Yes, it was a lot of work, but it totally helped/made things easier when it came time to take action. Being trained as an actor, you learn all of these skills to help bring the character to life and how important the backstory is, the moment before and after, the atmosphere, etc. I used / use a lot of these tools in all of my other avenues including when I write screenplays or when I write songs. It helps knowing as much as you can before diving in.

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