Yearly Archives: 2014

Google wrote about what they consider to be “The Eight Pillars of Innovation”. They reflect my experience when I worked there. I’ll leave it to you to deep-dive into the article, but The Eight Pillars are (with comments in parentheses):

    1. Have a Mission That Matters  – (great startup advice, but for filmmaking, ambition can work against creating an emotional experience for the audience.)
    2. Think Big But Start Small – (big-companies especially need to hear this. Artists are of course by necessity used to starting small.)
    3. Strict for Continual Innovation, Not Instant Perfection – (on the other hand, Apple prefers to hold products back until they are perfect at launch.)
    4. Look for Ideas Everywhere – (yes, however films can benefit from a singular guru who sift through innumerable production ideas in pursuit of a clear vision.)
    5. Share Everything – (I’ve often heard comedy writers talk about how they learned this on the improv stage.)
    6. Spark with Imagination, Fuel with Data – (another way of saying is be prepared for many creative ideas to be rejected by reality.)
    7. Be a Platform – (creativity doesn’t mean you have to reinvent everything. Superhero and zombie concepts are simply platforms. What you create upon them can be wonderful.)
    8. Never Fail to Fail – (yes, but in order to fail frequently, you need to be capable of a high volume of output. You don’t want to be creatively spent when an idea is rejected and you have to start over.)


I find Google’s Eight Pillars too complicated, so I invented JP’s 2 Pillars of Coming Up With Original Stuff:

  1. Time – The longer you work on the idea, the farther down the road you can go. Time lets you travel beyond the Trope and the Obvious and discover new creative lands.
  2. Concentration – If the phone buzzes,  the pressure of a deadline weighs upon your soul, or even if you’re just plain hungry, your mind is less free to explore.

I always saw Silicon Valley’s free food and wifi buses as schemes to free up employee time…so they have more Time to Concentrate!

Posted 2 years ago by John Piscitello

Foo Fighters – Something from Nothing. Sounding very much like the perfect 90s band they were. And are.


Gwen Stefan – Baby Don’t Lie. This may not sound like her 90s band, but the video rocks a Windows 95 screensaver look.


Taylor Swift – Welcome to New York. This song will be inescapable. The full song is on Grantland…below is a 30-second preview:


Posted 2 years ago by John Piscitello

Based on the Arts Technica Yosemite review (and the fact that I just wrapped up a project on Thursday), I’m tempted to go ahead and install it. I recently tried a Mavericks install, but a failing system drive meant I had to fall back to Mountain Lion.

The Avid Pro Tools Community seems to think Yosemite is running OK, though there is some concern about Waves License Center.

The Arts Technica review is 24 pages, but still is as succinct an overview of a new Mac OS as one could expect. What is fascinating is the criticism about the translucency that is all over Yosemite:


Mac OS X Yosemite Safari tabs

Translucency in Mac OS X Yosemite


Still, my favorite quote is this one:

For the most part, a new look for an operating system doesn’t need to justify itself. It’s fashion. We all want something new every once in a while. It just needs to look good. But things start to get complicated when fashion butts heads with usability—then we want reasons.


Though I’ve tiptoed around it thus far, the friction point in Yosemite’s new visual design is its pervasive use of transparency. (Technically, “translucency” is more accurate, but please indulge my idiomatic usage.) Allowing what’s behind to influence the appearance of what’s in front is problematic in a couple of ways. From a purely aesthetic perspective, transparency is unpredictable. Designers can decide which aspects of the background will influence the foreground image, but they can’t control the content of that background. Will its contribution make the final image more pleasing, or will things turn ugly?


Posted 2 years ago by John Piscitello

On Wednesday I made a huge mistake.

I set up a Gmail filter to send certain spam emails directly to the trash, but in the “Sender” field mistakenly entered in my own email. After selecting “Apply to all matching conversations” and emptying the trash, that, as they say, was that. 17,000 of my Gmail emails were deleted forever.

Every email conversation I’ve had for the past 10 years is gone (what’s left are incoming mails to which I never responded.)

For 48 hours I’ve begged Google to restore them from their backups, but my pleas have been met with silence. So I’m jumping straight from denial to acceptance.

It’s not quite as devastating as it could be, because in the past year or two I established some work habits that mitigated the problem:

  • Work logs. When I wanted to check when I last upgraded a hard drive, I found myself endlessly searching for email receipts from MacMall. So I started a work diary: Touch any piece of gear in the studio, and it gets logged in a Google Doc. I do the same for home / life stuff as well – fixing a ceiling fan, getting new tires, etc.
  • Contact Management. I use Insightly to track projects and opportunities. You can forward key project-related emails  to an Insightly email address, and they go into your database and automatically link to your contacts and projects. That’s handy when a co-producer you only met once 2 years ago gets in touch.
  • Document Storage. Any important attachment I download to on my local drive, which is backed up to Time Machine and then off-site on Amazon Glacier. In each of my project folders, right alongside “Audio Files”, “Mixes”, and “Orchestration” will be folders like “Legal” and “Expenses”.

What I didn’t do, and should have, was use Apple Mail to download a copy of all my email to my local machine. Even 10 years of email only uses around 5GB. The reason I didn’t? Apple Mail was slow and had a tendency to autolaunch and take over the machine.

This mini-fiasco also revealed that I, like most people, tend to normalize risk. I’d gone 10 years without ever losing an email, so why put up with Apple Mail to back it up? As it turns out, when you lose data in The Cloud, it’s just as lost as work on your local drive.

I’ll try to treat the loss as a good thing, like the artist Michael Landy who destroyed all his possessions at his art gallery exhibition Break Down. A fresh start!

UPDATE: It appears the Gmail restore process is automated, and the system was waiting for me to change my password. *Whew* I’ll set up Apple Mail as a backup for when this happens again in 2025.

Arrested Development – “I’ve Made a Huge Mistake”

“Break Down” by Michael Landry

Posted 2 years ago by John Piscitello

Here’s a peak at what film composers’ work desks look like. I’m working a 90-second orchestral musical number. We recorded 7 singers solo plus in 3 duo pairings. Here is what the “assembly”, or “comping” of the best takes looks like in Pro Tools.

This is the first pass, but the editing won’t get much messier from here.

I imagine this is nothing compared to what the dialogue editors routinely face. Then again, I’m only showing you the vocals, the 80-piece orchestra we recorded resides in another Pro Tool session. 😉

Posted 2 years ago by John Piscitello

How does a composer improve at writing for tuba and cimbasso?

Mike Patti of Cinesamples asks him what a composer can do to be more original for tuba. Doug points out tuba is actually an agile solo instrument, citing Jabba the Hut’s scene in Return of the Jedi. It’s also a common misconception that the tuba is inherently loud, but it can be rather quiet and light in all its ranges (which makes it resourceful as a doubler of bassoons and cellos).

Composers love loud tuba blaaats for combat music, but often write too low. Below the staff, the tuba has trouble being loud. Watch as Doug demonstrates bringing a D up from below the staff to the middle and how much louder he can play it.

I can’t get enough of hearing musicians talk about their instruments. There will always be more to learn.

Posted 2 years ago by John Piscitello

How to make drawings seem alive…in a sample based and EDM musical world, these are good to keep in mind  (and makes me think of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories – by using more live instruments, it’s  a reaction against the lack of life and breath that can creep into electronic music):


[vimeo 93206523 ]
Posted 2 years ago by John Piscitello

Someone recently rediscovered this concise and coherent analysis of how Don Fagen wrote Steely Dan’s Peg. Especially helpful is the overhead camera shot on the piano, so you can see exactly what the notes are in the piano riffs.

A couple of interesting points:

  • The verse is a 12-bar blues, organized by plagal cadences on the I, IV, and V degrees.
  • Peg sort of defines that breezy late 70s California sound. One shouldn’t be surprised that a lot of it depends on major 7th and 9th chords in open voicings.
  • The riff can be voiced an imperfect plagal cadence, landing on a first-inversion tonic, which means the bass moves down a half-step from ^4 to^ 3. That can make a nice descending chromatic bass line when the 12-bar blues goes from V to IV – watch how the bass moves G-F#-F-E.
    • The interlude discussed in the second video is similar to the verse riff, but instead of a plagal cadence, it’s a half-step descent from a major 9th (G9) to a dominant 7th (F7#9) . This 2-chord riff is  repeated three times in descending whole steps. This is similar to the verse riff two ways: the bass moves down by half-steps within the riff; and the entire riff descending by half-stems mimics the V-IV from the 12-bar blues.

It’s always good to know how the classics were done.



Part 2:


Posted 2 years ago by John Piscitello

This is 15 minutes well-spent, a brief history of film trailers.

Going in before watching, here are the trends I’ve been noticing:

  • When exactly did the “In a world…” voiceover become verboten?
  • Have you ever foreign-language film trailers always avoid dialog?
  • Comedies use pop song cues, medium-sized action movies use sound design cues, but the biggest tentpoles still go the massive-orchestra-plus-choir route.

As it turns out, this Vimeo video doesn’t address any of those questions, but it’s still fun viewing. The best part is seeing the trailers themselves, so skip ahead to around 5:30 when the talk turns to Casablanca. And don’t miss Alfred Hitchcock’s direct pitch to the camera for Psycho (I should like to see Disney make a Star Wars VII trailer like that one).

The History of the Movie Trailer from on Vimeo.


UPDATE: Here’s another good trailer history roundup focusing on the predominance of  SFX “money shots” in trailers, with Independence Day, Star Wars, Top Gun, Spider-Man, and more.

Posted 2 years ago by John Piscitello

No Place On Earth will premiere on History Channel 6pm ET / PT on Saturday, April 25th. The television version contains an additional segment “After the Wall”, which includes a new musical cue not in the theatrical version of the film.

The editors chose the cue from a batch of unused mockups I had created for the film version. It captured the mood of the post-war events so well that we decided to go ahead and record it with a string orchestra:

And here is the trailer for No Place On Earth:

Posted 2 years ago by John Piscitello