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Talking with Tommy Tallarico, Part 3

Talking with Tommy Tallarico, Part 3 (photo)

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In the final part of my talk with game composer Tommy Tallarico, we chat about the Japanese and U.S. game music markets, and the beginnings of the Video Games Live tour. (See parts one and two.)

In Japan, there’s a long tradition of soundtrack albums for video games that seem to sell well. Why do you think that hasn’t happened here?

I would love nothing more than to say that, “Oh yeah, it’s such a big business over there.” But the reality is that it’s actually somewhat of a myth. You can find soundtracks for every single anime that’s probably ever come out, right? I mean, there’s thousands of them over there. Here in America, there is about 70 to 100 video game soundtrack albums released every year, and some of them are selling in the hundreds of thousands of units. Some of them — most of them — the average video game soundtrack does better, sells better than the average film score in America.

We average about 10,000-15,000 in sales, and film scores are in about 5,000-6,000 range. Now, the difference of course being that a big AAA film, like our Titanics or the Avatars or the Spidermans or whatever, their soundtracks will sell in the hundreds of millions. Titanic sold 17 million albums. So we haven’t had our “Titanic” yet but, overall, it’s just as relevant over here. I will give you an example, our album, our first albums that we released, “Video Games Live, Volume 1”, we debut at number 10 on the Billboard Charts. And hoping to take that number 1 spot with our — at least in the classical category, when our second one comes out in a couple of weeks.

So, in terms of the set list and the way it’s evolved, how do you choose new music to put into the concert? Do you make it fit into a larger flow you have in mind for the show?

I don’t care if the game’s come out yet or if it hasn’t sold any units. It has to be great music. When I create a set list for the show, I need it to be dynamic. I don’t want it to just be all of the same style of music. All giant thematic music for two hours gets old really quick. I wanted some interactive fun segments in there. It might be bringing somebody up on stage and having them be the controller of a spaceship from “Space Invaders” and having them run back and forth, and the ship follows him wherever he goes, while the orchestra is playing the music and counting down the level.

07272010_tommy_silver_headshot_large.jpgThen we have soloists as well. We will bring soloists out like Martin Leung, the Video Game Pianist, who is the kid who blindfolded himself and played the “Mario” theme on piano; he got over 40 million views of that video where he does that. He comes on tour with us, and he is always changing up and doing cool things. And then I will come out with the guitar towards the end of the show to kind of bring a little different feeling there.

It’s probably important to note that I’ve created over 60 segments for Video Games Live, but we can only play about 18-20 of them a night. So I have never actually played the same show twice, ever. For example, this is our fifth year back to LA for E3, and the set list was 90% different than any other show we have ever played there before.

It sounds like you’ve built up a nice repertoire of material.

When I first started Video Games Live over eight years ago, everybody thought I was completely insane. “This isn’t Japan,” they said. Even in Japan, they thought we were nuts. At the first show at the Hollywood Bowl on July 6, 2005, it was the first time that the music to “Metal Gear Solid” had ever been played live.

That’s really surprising, especially for “MGS.”

Amazing, right? And obviously things like “Halo” and “Warcraft” had never been performed live. “Sonic the Hedgehog”, never been performed live until we did it at the Hollywood Bowl. Once we did that first show, and over 11,000 people showed up, people started believing in it. Now, a lot of the publishers are very, very supportive of what we do.

You know, who wouldn’t want their product on something like a PBS, that’s going to reach 90 million households? It really is a positive thing for their product. You know the deal: whenever video games come up in the national media in this day and age, it’s something negative. “Oh, ‘Grand Theft Auto’ and Hot Coffee!” Or, “this guy killed these teenagers and he was playing this game.” “Oh, video games aren’t art” Whatever the national story is at the time, it’s usually negative.

Well, here is something that’s positive. Here is something where video games aren’t what you think they are, for all you non-gamers out there. A small percentage of games actually have an M rating, and a smaller percentage of games are having negative things happen. And here is a celebration of the industry with Video Games Live, in a culturally significant and artistic way.

The Video Games Live special is airing on PBS during July and August. Check your local PBS station to see when it’ll be on.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.