Film Music Magazine’s Bureau Chief, Michael Rogers and videocolumnist Leslie Harlow had the honor of interviewing Sundance 2012 Documentary Premiere feature, WE STEAL SECRETS: THE STORY OF WIKILEAKS’ composer, Will Bates (composer of 2012 Sundance Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film and Special Jury Prize winner, ANOTHER WORLD, Korean War documentary, CHOSIN) in the Sundance ASCAP green room.
To lend global significance to the film’s thematic arena impact, according to Wikipedia,WIKILEAKS is:
“an international, online, non-profit organisation which publishes secret information, news leaks, and classified media from anonymous sources. Its website, initiated during 2006 in Iceland by the organisation Sunshine Press, claimed a database of more than 1.2 million documents within a year of its initiation. Julian Assange, an Australian Internet activist, is generally described as its founder, editor-in-chief, and director. The group has released a number of significant documents which have become front-page news items.Early releases included documentation of equipment expenditures and holdings in the Afghanistan war and corruption in Kenya. During April 2010, WikiLeaks published gunsight footage from the 12 July 2007 Baghdad airstrike in which Iraqi journalists were among those killed by an AH-64 Apache helicopter, known as the Collateral Murder video. During July of the same year, WikiLeaks released Afghan War Diary, a compilation of more than 76,900 documents about the War in Afghanistan not available previously to the public. During October 2010, the group released a set of almost 400,000 documents named the “Iraq War Logs” in coordination with major commercial media organisations. This allowed the mapping of 109,032 deaths in “significant” attacks by insurgents in Iraq that had been reported to Multi-National Force – Iraq, including about 15,000 that had not been previously published.”
The documentary WE STEAL SECRETS: THE STORY OF WIKILEAKS explores the deeper personal and mission-mandate nature of self-referenced “truth renegade” founder Julian Assange, from his Australian online hacker youth exploits to the April 2010 initial release of the July 12, 2007 Baghdad U.S.AH-64 Apache helicopter strike, infamously known as the Collateral Murder video, to his currently residential realities.
The ingratiatingly at-ease Mr. Bates opens our conversation with a brief connection acclimation between himself and Academy Award-winning (TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE) WE STEAL SECRETS: THE STORY OF WIKILEAKS filmmaker, Alex Gibney (ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM, GONZO: THE LIFE AND WORK OF DR. HUNTER S. THOMPSON) by recalling Mr. Gibney, “became familiar with me and Falling On Your Sword by hearing my work from one of his previous editors. She introduced him to some of my stuff, and he started cutting some cues from ANOTHER EARTH …and he wanted his movie to reflect that sort of orchestral, electronic
Rogers: And it had a sort of minimalist vibe, more like ‘sounds cape’ … than melodic.
Bates: Yeah. I’d hoped to work with Alex for a while and almost worked together a couple of times and it worked out with this one. He wanted the film to be sort of very thematic. His documentaries are very unconventional in that they almost feel like thrillers, sort of a narrative feel. He wanted the film to feel like it had an espionage vibe to it as well as very emotive complex angle.
Lots of elements, but less is more.
Yeah. There’s a lot of music in this movie. There’s a lot chats between (currently-imprisoned U.S. Army Intelligence officer) Bradley Manning and (notorious online hacker), Adrian Lama … the guy who blew the whistle on Manning. A lot of the film shows these texts between Manning and Lama which really shows the anguish Manning was going through when he was unloading these secrets and really bearing his soul to the world without really telling anyone. So Alex really wanted the audience to be led along by the score and sound, so it was a brilliant opportunity to do some sound stuff with the text.
When the text appears on the screen, I was imagining, as I often do when watching films or T.V., what it would be like without any sound or music?
I guess you get used to the idea that you’re doing a lot of reading. If it was without score or sound design … there’s an incredible sound designer that I work with called Bill Chesley and he and I did this kind of sound design music that helps you forget that you’re reading somehow.
Can you tell us a little about your personal development?
I started out as a jazz musician, then discovered techno … a ‘natural’ progression! I’ve always been interested in wedding sound to picture. Did a lot of indie films and commercials. I have a video art project called Fall On Your Sword that started out as a band where we play these vile videos and perform them live. And we have a studio in Brooklyn, NY where we mix films, do ADR (additional dialogue recording), foley (sound effects) as well.
Especially these days, where we have software and tools we didn’t have not too long ago.
Yeah. As our times have changed, filmmakers are more willing to cross the river and go to Brooklyn.
As you were a kid coming up, what films struck a chord with you, or that you recognized how sound and music wedded to picture is significant?
Uh, when I was about five years old, I sang the entire score of STAR WARS to my parents one morning, and after that, I think my folks knew what I’d be doing for a living. The first record I bought was a (Ennio) Morricone record. Bernie Herrmann is like my idol. I became very aware that it was about the fusion of music and visuals that made me really interested, and that’s what Fall On Your Sword was about … to put things in a different context with sound.
So, how does music for you change the energy, the tone and nuance of scenes and sequences? Sometimes there’s no music, then when you come in, how do you know when to come in and out?
Depends on the project every time. Going back to the WIKILEAKS film, like you were saying, imagine the texting moments without sound, it’d be a different experience. That’s the challenge of it, as composers, the options are basically limitless. You can turn the context of a scene on its head. It’s really about choices.
For WIKILEAKS, there were source cues … Midnight Oil, Radiohead, Lady Gaga, yes?
Yeah, that Lady Gaga moment is my favorite. And there was a lot of graphic stuff that Framestore did in New York and during that moment, there’s a lot of sort of little machine-like voices and that’s all that stuff that Bill Chesley did.
Yes, that sound design ramped up the suspense, the almost horror factor of the suspense. Do you have favorite cues from the film?
I do. It’s when Bradley’s telling Lama about his background and I used an autoharp with a little rubber ball and bounced the ball every time there was text, playing with kind of a gravity thing. I borrowed the idea from Squarepusher, no it was Aphex Twin, where it creates the rhythm speeding up as he reveals more about himself. We hammered chords on the autoharp with a mallet.
So, working collaboration with Alex, was it mostly online, or was it more intimate, going back and forth?
Yeah, there was going back and forth. He’d already put in some of my ANOTHER EARTH temp score, so he’d already dialed in the technological aspect of the story. There was going to be an electronic element and also documentarian orchestral side of it was in there, so his pallet was chosen already by his temp score. He came over to my studio a few times and we talked about some of my strange instrumentation ideas and choices. I have a collection of weird instruments, and for every movie I try to base my score on a new instrument that I’ve acquired or learned to play. My studio is full of chaos, collecting years of madness.
So, what’s the festival chatter so far about the film?
The world premiere was last night, so we’ll wait and see how the world responds.