Interviews

Published on August 8th, 2018 | by Justin Smith

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Talking A Light In The Void With Filmmaker Anthony Lund And Composer Austin Wintory

Recently we spoke with Anthony Lund and Austin Wintory about the production A Light in The Void which combines the story of Science with cinematic music.

 

Anthony Lund:

How did you all meet to put this production together?

 

I met Austin on the streets of Park City Utah during the Sundance Film Festival in 2008. We’re both just out of school and navigating the harsh jungles of life as young professional creatives with a lot to prove and a razor-thin credits list.

 

So, I’m walking down the street when I see this guy wearing a USC hat. “Hey, nice hat! ‘Fight on!’ (USC’s kitschy slogan). I went to USC. You?” “Why, yes!”, that conversation on a sidewalk transformed into a conversation in a café that lasted hours. We’ve been good friends ever since, and I fought like hell to get him hired on the TV shows I worked on.

 

Flash-forward many years, Austin is backstage at the Colorado Symphony and they ask what he would do if he was given the Orchestra for a night to perform an original work. On the fly, Austin immediately talked about a concept that was kicking around his mind. It would involve real world scientists on stage giving amazing “TED-style” talks with orchestral accompaniment. Colorado Symphony loved the idea so much that they said, “when you’re ready to do that show, call us up and we’ll give you the orchestra”.

 

I can’t stress how rare that this is in the concert orchestra world. How cool it was of Colorado Symphony to be so foreword thinking. Imagine being a filmmaker in a world where every town and city only has one theater with one screen — or maybe up to five if you’re in a sprawling metropolis—and that screen costs millions of dollars each year to maintain. What would theater-owners want to schedule? This world can often be a ‘shut up and play the hits!’ culture on bath salts.

 

So two years of marinating this idea, Austin talks about it during a radio interview about the score to a game he just composed called Abzu. I happened to be driving around town, listening to Austin’s NPR interview and immediately contact Austin. He immediately responds “OMG WE HAVE TO MEET! I NEED TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT SOMETHING.”

 

Before I knew it, I was with Austin and he pitched me the concept of doing a symphony about science with live scientists. I had been working for many years as a science-oriented documentary filmmaker. I immediately knew that this was something special. This was a powerful story-telling medium that nobody had ever fully utilized to tell original factual/non-fiction stories! I did a bunch of preliminary writing. Than Austin and I buried ourselves in my home office till 4am, creating a real, bona-fide story about science itself that seamless integrate live science speakers.

 

From there, it was off to the races so to speak building everything necessary to pull off the show, piece by piece.

 

What from your background inspired you toward this project? What led you up to it?

 

I was raised by a very loving, but traditional orthodox Mormon family (Orthodox mind you, not fundamentalist! I only have one mother). I learned in my early teenage years that this path of life wasn’t right for me. So like every other wondering young soul out there, I launched my own punk-rock rebellion against the cultural status quo. Most kids in my position discovered sex, drugs, rock and roll, and Hot Topic. I discovered physics. Bill O’Reilly best describes the world of my elders. Remember him?, marveling that the moon had no explanation… and yet there was physics ready to say ‘oh, but it does!’ At the same time, film became the only source of cultural air beyond the oppressively saccharine Donny Osmond acid trip I lived in. I knew early on that my purpose in life was to be filmmaker/content creator.

 

I formulated an escape plan that involved putting every egg into one USC-shaped basket. I refused to apply to any other school actually. Luckily for me, I got into the University. Though it would take three dogged attempts to finally get into the USC Film School.  The school was beautifully intense about their desire for students to major and minor in wildly opposing disciplines. As a weirdo kid from Mormon-dom obsessed with filmmaking and physics, I was instantly at home.

 

To be perfectly honest, I never intended to marry the two disciplines in my career. In the naivety of my youth, I figured I was destined to make Important, ‘capital F’ Films that sophisticated Important People would praise for their intelligence and artistic craft. You know, the classic Indie Film Darling Fever Dream that every film student in the early 2000s was obsessed with. Little did I know that the very thing that captured my imagination and heart (physics and science) would prove to be the very thing that I would employ in the medium I love so dearly (the cinematic arts) to create meaningful works.

 

What were some of your challenges in putting the music and production together

Tell us a little about how science plays a role in the experience.

What defined your approach to blending science and art together?

What do you hope audiences take away most from this experience?

 

 

The single greatest challenge with A Light in the Void is that it’s a wholly new modality of storytelling. There is established body of rules and understanding of what works and what doesn’t. Creators rarely use a symphony orchestra to tell factual/non-fiction stories. As far as we know, there just aren’t any original works in this space that also heavily employ a scripted theatrical narrative to tell a factual/non-fiction story. We truly feel that we’re in an unexplored creative space and are constantly learning new things about what it is that we’re making.

 

Imagine a triangle where one vertex is orchestral concerts like Beethoven’s 5th, another vertex is Broadway, and the other is factual theater like TED/BrainCandy with Adam and Michael/Radiolab Live/etc…  A Light in the Void exists in the center of that triangle.

 

So, why do it this way? Well, frankly, from the beginning, we wanted to tell a story near and dear to both our hearts that you will want to see again and again. Can you name more than one TED talk that you’ve ever watched more than once? Compare that with how many times you’ve watched Star Wars, Jurassic Park, or Indiana Jones? Now, compare that with how many times you’ve listened to your favorite music album of all time? The difference in these three tiers is surprisingly exponential!

 

It’s not that science content is inherently dry; it’s anything but! Traditional science storytelling (like Through the Wormhole: With Morgan Freeman, Planet Earth, or Cosmos) is primarily a cerebral experience that lights your brain on fire. You don’t always get the same effect when you re-watch it. Great fiction lights your heart on fire, and great music has this funny little way of accessing parts of your heart and mind that you didn’t even know existed. I feel that music, more than any other artistic medium, is most likely to give us goosebumps.

 

We don’t care if you come away from this show learning cool mind-blowing facts about the Universe and our human origins. You most likely will, of course, but that’s not our primary objective. We want people to feel just how good science and the scientific way of thinking feels. We want people to feel the same life-changing profundity that Austin and I were both lucky to experience early in our lives. A Light in the Void isn’t about convincing a mass audience to drop everything and go become professional scientists. It’s about creating an emotionally rich experience about the insanely beautiful poetry of the Universe read in the language of science and the scientific way of thinking. We hope that this show will therefore serve as a type of renewal of vows with all that is greater than ourselves.  

 

What are your plans for upcoming events? 

 

Our world premier is on October 5th, 2018 7pm MDT at the Boettcher Concert Hall in Denver, CO with the Colorado Symphony! In fact, tickets JUST went on sale. This is a world premier, so we recommend getting tickets early.

https://tickets.coloradosymphony.org/single/PSDetail.aspx?psn=4831

 

At the same time we go live on stage, we will also be broadcasting the show live on www.twitch.tv  so that everybody in the world with an internet connection can see the show.

 

The show will be then made available for licensing by regional Orchestras and our intent is to setup a type of ‘world tour’ for the show.

 

Would you like to see the show live with your local Orchestra? Dead serious about this — just call up your local orchestra and ask if they have any plans to book “A Light in the Void.” Most orchestras are VERY public-facing institutions and they will take a public inquiry about our show very seriously. You’d be surprised about how much a single phone call influences live programming.

 

 

Do you plan to put together further concerts and events inspired by this approach?

 

Austin and I have talked briefly about some other ideas in this format, but the reality is that we are currently giving every single waking moment to A Light in the Void as if it was the last project that we’d ever get the chance to make. I certainly hope it won’t be. But I’m working with the attitude that on 10/06/18 (the day after our premier), I’m going to get mauled by a pack of ravenous bears or something. When it happens, I want to be proud that Austin and I gave something to the world that is meaningful and worth their time.

 

 

 

Austin Wintory:

How did you all meet to put this production together?

 

AW: I first began thinking of ideas for A LIGHT IN THE VOID about 4 years ago. For the longest time, it was just this very loose idea in my head. At some point, I think in 2016, I realized I needed a partner to bring it to the finish line and help make it even better. Tony and I have been friends for years. We got together and I showed him the basics of the idea. He joined the project and we’ve been 50-50 collaborators ever since.

 

What from your background inspired you toward this project? What led you up to it?

 

AW: Obviously I earn my living as a composer, so the musical side of it is what I do every day. But the fact that it’s a concert / theater piece about science is due to my childhood. I grew up in an extremely science-positive home, thanks to my father.

 

 

What were some of your challenges in putting the music and production together?

 

AW: The entire thing is very ambitious! We’ve never seen a show quite like this so it’s been challenging to know if we’re on the right track with all the decisions we’re making!

 

Tell us a little about how science plays a role in the experience.

 

AW: The entire thing uses science as an allegory for learning how to think, and how to embrace the unknown. It’s a show that tracks a young girl dealing with her fears of life’s uncertainties. She has a series of interactions with these scientists to help expose her to the fact that the unknown isn’t actually scary. It’s the frontier for adventure and growth and all meaningful knowledge.

 

What defined your approach to blending science and art together?

 

AW: Tony and I simply reflected on all the types of storytelling experiences that have meant something to us, from musicals to symphonies to films and video games. We tried to synthesize the best of what they all had to teach us.

 

What are your plans for upcoming events? Any plans for convention visits?

 

AW: We hope to have it performed constantly, everywhere!! As for general conventions, yes there are plans. I will be performing with Angela Bermudez at some events coming up in various spots around world. Keep an eye on my website or social media for announcements.

 

What do you hope audiences take away most from this experience?

 

AW: Above all, the hope is that science is not seen as something boring or stiff or sterile, but something wildly beautiful and alluring.

 

Do you plan to put together further concerts and events inspired by this approach?

 

AW: Definitely yes!! Please follow @LITVConcert on social media, or www.LITVConcert.com

 

 

 

 

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