Michael McCuistion, Lolita Ritmanis and Kristopher Carter: Courtesy of Tech Times.
Yesterday, the highly anticipated animated movie Batman: The Killing Joke became available for HD digital download, having just premiered in movie theatres around the US the day before as a part of Fathom Events. San Diego Comic-Con attendees got the pleasure of having the first look however on Saturday night of the convention, situated in Ballroom 20.
Since its release, it has had its share of harsh criticism, especially regarding the role of Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl. I for one liked the movie for what it was: a look into the Joker’s madness, and his motivation for it. This article however isn’t about the movie or it’s filmmakers. I want to share my moment where during San Diego Comic-Con I was able to sit down with Michael McCuistion, Kristopher Carter, and Lolita Ritmanis, the composers for the Killing Joke movie, who got their start on the Batman: The Animated Series.
I know you’ve done the composing for Batman: The Killing Joke, but have you always worked as a team together or did this project bring you together?
Kristopher: No, we’ve been working as a trio for… 20 years right now, and it’s a little hard to believe it’s been so long. Haha. But no, we actually came together under Shirley Walker, who brought us together. She mentored us all in the business, and eventually we went working together.
Lolita: We started on Batman: The Animated Series and then under her guidance we also did Superman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond. Shortly thereafter, she “kicked us out of the nest” and we did Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, Teen Titans, Spider-Man, along with just recently we did a documentary called An Act of Love, we did a South by Southwest winning film called A Broken Skies. So we’ve worked as a trio and we’ve done it for 20 years.
Well obviously you got kicked out of the next and flew very well.
Michael: Well it wasn’t a splat.
So you’ve had a big background already with the Batman franchise from doing the animated series. Going back to then, how was writing for the show? What were some of the interesting things you learned, or you found as difficulties for writing for an animated show as opposed to a movie or a film?
Kristopher: Batman: The Animated Series was our first gig as composers, so we kind of cut our teeth on it in animation, you could say. Animation is notoriously “compact” and “compressed.” So it’s a little different from live action in that way. Truthfully, ever since the beginning, and I think because we were mentored by Shirley, we’ve always considered these animated series’ like they were live action. We never did really think of them as cartoons. They’re stories about people and very human things. And so we try to bring the music to that place.
When you’re writing for animation and you have to work for certain scenes, do writers or artists have any kind of say in the music you’re going to compose?
Lolita: Oh they absolutely have a say, and by the time it’s usually our job we get the picture and it’s usually already edited, and the producer/director has some preconceived idea at least of the tone; “It’s going to be a rock and roll song score,” or an electronic, or a symphonic sound. And the nice thing for us is that we are seeing it fresh. We see and hear the spots that are already fantastic and don’t need music to do anything else other than to support what’s already there, and certain spots where music can add a whole other element. Or maybe visually the animation didn’t really turn out as frightening, or as bright, or whatever they were looking for, and music can have a tremendous impact on turning everything on its ear or its head if you need it to.
Kristopher: We think of the music as another actor in the scene, you know. It’s another layer, another emotional layer. It either be following along with what’s going on in the scene and enhancing that, or it can be saying something completely different.
In the animated show, how was it when you had to work with different characters that had unique tones?
Michael: It kind of depends on the show. In Batman: The Animated Series, Shirley Walker made sure that each character had their own theme, their own style. She set the procedure that when we have these certain characters, you call back those themes. You identify those characters.
Back to the movie. It had been years since the animated series. Did it almost feel like getting right back into the groove or was there a little bit of a relearning process?
Kristopher: It absolutely felt like working with family. Sitting down and just picking up where we left off. But, in the intervening time I think we as composers have all grown so much. We’ve learned so much, like how to tell. That process felt very, very different. But just sitting down and working on the show felt very comfortable.
Lolita: And working with such brilliant voice acting is just amazing. When we saw the visuals too, we were just like “Oh!” It breathes. Everything took its time. We’re really honored to be a part of something so epic in a sense.
Speaking of the voice actors, quite a bit of them are original to the animated series. Like Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy. And I know that Mark Hamill had a role with a certain piece of music.
Lolita: Oh my gosh, he was just so prepared. Every fiber of his being is “the Joker.” When he’s the Joker, he’s not Mark Hamill. It was such a delight to work with him. And we didn’t really know how well he would sing. He sings quite well, and it was very exciting. I think the fans area really going to love that.
Kristopher: I mean what a challenge to not only have to be a character, but then sing as the character in that voice. It’s hard to even think about doing that. I was so impressed. I didn’t believe he was able to do that character and actually sing as the character. It was all so fantastic. He did a marvelous job.
Due to their busy schedule, it being Comic-Con and the premiere of the movie was the very same night, my interview unfortunately was cut short. However, I have promised to follow up with the composers soon.
Despite everything you might read about the movie, this is my suggestion: Watch it for yourself. Only then should you make any opinions. I see it as means to see a side of the characters, especially the heroes, that we normally don’t get to: Their flaws. And I appreciate that.
The HD digital download of Batman: The Killing Joke is available now, and the DVD and Blu-Ray will be available the first week of August. Do yourself a favor and see it in full for yourself.
Nicholas Eskey is an avid reader and writer. When not contributing to The Beat, he works on his personal projects, the latest being a fantasy novel called “My Personable Demon.” He lives in San Diego, California, and is frequently bossed around by his cat.