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The Artist and the Astronaut

The Syracuse-Based Father and Son Team of  Todd & Brett Hobin Collaborate on the Score and Soundtrack of an Incredible Documentary Film

You know Todd Hobin so well, Syracuse. This guy’s been rocking Syracuse for as long as you can remember. A lot of you consider him and his music to be part of your life. He’s a very enterprising fellow with a renaissance spirit – dabbling effortlessly in a variety of creative mediums. Most recently, he’s undertaken the role of Music Director in the now-breaking documentary film, Artist and the Astronaut. A film by Bill Muench from our neighboring state of Vermont. We’ll chat with him in a minute. For now we’re still not done with the Central New York musical connection and aspect to this story.

Producer-engineer Brett Hobin directed the sound production. I’ve never watched a film before where I know the sound director – let alone the music director – and I must say that with the acuity for listening that goes along with knowing all of this – I’m incredibly impressed with the technical endurance and patience that goes into supporting all that happens in the process: the dialogue, the music, the soundscapes, and the cohesiveness that makes it flow effortlessly. I applaud the way the sonic narrative supports the visual narrative. The story.

Artist and the Astronaut is about a professional artist who shares her life path married to an astronaut. I’m not going to explain too much for your benefit. It’s an incredibly unique story how these two people put what appears to be very opposite life endeavors together in a way that shows how these worlds aren’t really that far apart and at times – are really one and the same.

The film is currently touring the globe via film festivals, just getting underway with the help of another Syracusan, Tom Honan, and will continue to do so. As of now the film is available on Amazon as we look forward to more outlets, soon.

I am not here to review the film, but I will say that I loved, loved, love it! I was compelled the entire way; and will look forward to viewing it again. We’re here to hear it from the guys who made it.

I’ll start with the Central NY musicians and sound experts first. 

Todd Hobin

 CS: Hey, Todd. Cool assignment. You are responsible for composing and writing the musical score. Tell us how the assignment came to you.

Todd Hobin: Bill asked to use a couple of my songs in his film. I said yes. I didn’t hear from him for a while, but when he got back to me he sent an early cut of the film. Joann and I were stunned. We were immediately drawn to Pat and Jerry’s story, and particularly to Bill’s storytelling. We knew that this film needed to be seen.

CS: What’s the first thing that came to mind when you got the call?

 Todd: I knew that he was going to need some help securing rights to some of the songs that were in the rough cut. And I suspected that it might cost a lot more than an independent filmmaker could come up with. I shared the film with my son, Brett. He recognized the audio issues immediately. The film needed an audio overhaul and a ton of music. We decided to jump in with both feet. This film needed to be seen.

CS: Tell us a bit about your process when creating a musical narrative to support the subject narrative.

Todd: I call my process immersion. I viewed the film dozens of times. Then I broke it out into scenes, and parts of scenes, carefully logging the durations of each down to the half-second. And Bill would keep me posted on every edit. The film became more refined and tighter. I was starting to hear the score in my head.

CS: What was the first component of the soundtrack that you scored?

 Todd: The Opening scene. I heard the heroic theme in the horn section. I knew that this theme needed to carry the weight of much of the film. Once I had that, the rest of the orchestrations just rolled out.

CS: Was it a fluid process? What were some of your challenges?

 Todd: COVID was a challenge and a blessing. We couldn’t bring in the whole band, singers, and orchestra during COVID. But, with business all but shut down, Brett and I were able to spend hours upon hours working on the score. (At the same time, we had three of our key people working on the audio edits on their own in their studios.)

We started at the beginning of the film and started recording – and arranging as we went. I had a pretty good idea where we were going, but honestly. It was one scene at a time. A note-by-note reveal. Without Brett recording and laying in the audio, this would have been impossible. 

I felt very strongly that the music in each scene needed to reflect each decade. From the 50s through the present. It sounds like that would have been a challenge. But, I lived and played music through all of those decades, so for me, it was easy and enjoyable. 

There are a couple of spots in the score where we had some music already recorded to edit and drop in. I had just finished producing Irv Lyons Jr’s Save the Planet. The perfect song for one of our scenes. And there was a song from one of my earlier albums that just fit. But, we needed to write a lot of new songs for this project. I knew exactly how long each song was needed for, both for instrumental underscore and for lead vocals to advance the story. You’ll hear these songs just pop up when they are needed and then sneak back into the background. I wrote only what was needed for the film.

Just so you know. Now Brett and I have to go back and finish the rest of these songs for the soundtrack album.

One song is completely written, recorded, and produced. Including the music video. Earth Rising is the film’s opening song and runs under the credits.

By the time we made our way through 100 minutes of film, the last pieces of music just flowed into place. I am happy to say that every note of the score was recorded in CNY with CNY musicians. We have an amazing talent pool here.

CS: I know it’s a tough call, but what are some of the shiniest moments in the music for you?

Todd: The heroic theme. Every time it pops up in the score, it hammers home the intent of the action. Music can do that. And it’s subtle. If I do my job right, nobody knows I’m there. They just feel the right emotion. And that theme opens the film, sneaks into your heart, and underscores the very last moment of the film.

 Brett Hobin

CS: Sooooo…… I imagine that after creating and listening – intently and critically – to a production such as this – that you have an earworm that just won’t leave your brain, yes?

Brett Hobin: Yeah man! The song we wrote for the beginning of the film really gets stuck in my head. Earth Rising. We brought in our great friend Jeff Gordon to sing the lead, and outta nowhere on any given day I’ll hear him singing that opening line. Jeff, Letizia and my Dad blend so well on that tune. It was a ton of fun putting that one together.

CS: Superb work, Brett. Your part in this demonstrates an exceptional cooperation of your creative, technical and organizational skills. Please share with us a bit about the role of audio production engineer on this.

Brett: Well, simply speaking, my job was to gather all the pieces of this large puzzle and put them together to create an even and controlled listening experience for the viewers of the film. I pretty much used every tool in my kit. Cleaning up and editing dialogue. Recording, mixing, mastering music. Writing, playing and producing music. All the things. It was a lot of fun.

CS: What was the most enjoyable and satisfying part? The most challenging?

Brett: I got to hang out and work with my Dad! It was awesome. We were able to just hole up in the studio and focus on this project for endless hours. Shut out the world and all the strangeness in it. We got to know Bill. He’s the absolute best. It’s always the people that make the project enjoyable. This project happened to come with a fantastic story as well.

The most challenging aspect of this project was becoming adept at using MIDI. I never really had the need to get as in-depth with using MIDI as we had to with the film. But, we got there. It’s good to be challenged.

CS: What did you get out of the story itself?

Brett: It’s a remarkable story. I’m a big reader, I love science fiction and fantasy. This story feels like a work of fiction to me. It’s wonderful. And I learned a ton of stuff about NASA. I had no idea of some of the things that happened in the earlier days. They went through some things, did they ever…

Bill Muench

CS: Well, Bill you’re the one where this all begins. First, congratulations on the release of your documentary, Artist and the Astronaut. We’re delighted to have you with us here at Sounds of Syracuse, today. For how long have you been working on the project? How did it come to you to undertake this project?

Bill: In 2008 Pat and Jerry moved to Manchester. My wife and I became friends with them and every few weeks would get together for dinner and drinks. In 2016 Barb and I traveled to Arkansas to celebrate Pat’s 90th birthday. At the end of the party I said to my wife “Somebody should make a documentary about this couple.” My wife said you should do it. I spent the next six years working on the documentary while teaching high school and coaching basketball.

CS: While the story and content belongs to the people featured, I have the sense – somehow, that there is a message in the work that belongs very much to you.

Bill: That is a great question. I have said to both Pat and Jerry that making this documentary changed me in many ways and I could never thank them enough. These people live life looking through the windshield and not the rear view mirror. I learned so much about myself while making this film.

CS: What was the greatest challenge in making this? I imagine you participate in a number of roles?

Bill: For the first four years of the film, I pretty much worked alone. All of the interviews were shot on weekends so that I would not miss school. The interviewees lived in Arizona, North Carolina, Montana, Texas, New York, Florida, and London. I am the only person to have edited the film, which meant there were constant issues that I had to solve that I had never dealt with before. I made every mistake a person could make creating a documentary.

CS: What is your greatest challenge moving forward from here?

Bill: The greatest challenge moving forward is getting eyes on the film. We have done so many screenings now and we have seen how people respond to the film and we know that it has many powerful messages for people of all ages.

CS: What are your favorite parts or moments from the experience; and the flick itself?

Bill: I have many moments that mean a lot to me as I interviewed and filmed. By myself. All of the participants. The Dan Berrigan story is particularly interesting to me. When Pat told me about Dan Berrigan, I did not know who he was. After researching who he was, I reached out to my father, who worked at Lemoyne College to see if there was anyone who remembered Dan. And he told me Father Mulhouser did. I did call my friend, Bill Henkel, who worked with Nixon and he said he would gladly talk about Berrigan as well. I think the other poignant moment was when Jean Kranz was moved to tears retelling the story of Apollo one.

CS: Why should someone see Artist and the Astronaut?

Bill: If you know the events from the film, I believe I show these events in a more intimate way than I have seen in other documentaries. If you do not know the events of this film, or have forgotten these events, it is a reminder that the issues of today: womens’ rights, racial issues, issues of sustainability, unresolved issues with the Native Americans, the space race, war…these issues people have been grappling with for centuries.

CS: I understand that you are the catalyst bringing Artist and the Astronaut to the public consciousness. Very exciting. Please tell us about some of the festivals and showings.

Tom Honan: The film has been featured in film festivals from Fort Lauderdale, to Madrid, to Omaha with rave reviews and great questions and feedback from the audiences. These examples of diverse demographics tell us that this story has universal appeal. The film also enjoyed a sold-out screening at the MOST right here in Syracuse. Other high-profile screenings have taken place in Arkansas, Connecticut, Vermont and Brooklyn.

CS: What is your general impression of the impression that the documentary is making?

TH: The film grabs viewers right from the beginning with some of the most incredible space footage you’ll ever see, along with a deep exploration of personal stories of love and heartache.  All with the backdrop of the turbulent times with raging issues like civil rights, Vietnam war, women’s rights, Native American rights and the beauty and tragedy of the space program. Todd’s musical score is a major force in pacing the film through all of its twists and turns.

CS: You’re in the position of telling folks who don’t know anything about it – about it. And convincingly. What is it that you share about the documentary when you’re engaged with the opportunity?

TH: The film is a touching and riveting telling of artist Pat Musick and astronaut Jerry Carr and their place in a volatile time in our history. Bill has skillfully and thoughtfully put together a very entertaining yet important film that features the people who were actually there, making history!  The Artist and the Astronaut will be enjoyed and used as a resource for years to come.

The film continues to get notice from film festivals world-wide. We are also identifying communities and venues where we believe the documentary will be well-received. It’ll be screened at Syracuse University in October.

CS: Gentlemen! It’s been a genuine pleasure to visit with you about Artist and the Astronaut. I’ve enjoyed every aspect of this from seeing it for the “first” time; and having the privilege of listening to you share your respective backstories in the process. I wish you boundless success with it. 

Bill, (with Todd, Brett, Tom): Thank you, Chuck. It’s been our pleasure to share it with you.

Chuck Schiele
Chuck Schiele is a lifelong, award-winning musician, art director, producer, editorialist, artist, activist, member Quatrocollective.com and fan of the CNY music scene. To be considered for this column, please write chuck.schiele@gmail.com.