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jason on 10/17/2011 at 04:30AM

Underwater Soundtracks: Interview With Filmmaker Danny Cooke

Ray Ives

UK-based filmmaker Danny Cooke is Editor and Director of Photography of Ray: A Life Underwater, a short documentary about 75-year-old deep sea diver Ray Ives produced and directed by Amanda Bluglass. The filmmakers commissioned an original soundtrack by Tony Higgins (aka junior85), in an ongoing collaboration between Higgins and Cooke that was kindled by the Free Music Archive.

The commissioned works that Tony Higgins composed for Ray are now available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license via the Free Music Archive, where you can also find a bunch more of Tony's music (junior85 / half of Hogan Grip / former So Cow drummer).

I interviewed Danny Cooke via email:
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How did you discover the Free Music Archive?

I came across FMA whilst browsing the Vimeo forums.  When I came onto the site, I didn't expect much as let's be honest, most free music sites aren't that great! However, after listening to a few tracks, FMA stood out; the quality of music and categorisation on the website is astounding.

We often hear about the hurdles that videomakers face when attempting to clear music -- including everyone from home video makers to important documentaries. As a filmmaker who takes advantage of online distribution, have you run into any of these issues yourself? What drew you in to the Creative Commons music world?

As a small time filmmaker, I find it incredibly hard to clear music.  Mostly because of the costs involved; you just don't have the budget.  Many of my films are my own personal work which has no commercial gain.  FMA with the Creative Commons licenses is a perfect resource - I especially like 'Tracks To Sync'!

How does a small time filmmaker find funding? Do you have a sense that it might be similar to what musicians go through?

Most of my paid work has come from people seeing my portfolio of work.  They like what they see so they commission me to make a film for them.  I've also found that the Internet has provided me with a global audience, and I have sold bits of video that I didn't expect to sell to media based companies to use in TV ads and such.  I got a few friends in bands and it seems to be a similar thing going.

So how did you connect with Tony Higgins?

I discovered Tony's work when looking for a soundtrack for my documentary David A Smith - Sign Artist.   His heavy percussion based style was perfect for the project.  Both he and I found it easy to work together and Tony was kindly able to create new tracks as well as edit existing ones.  His work on our latest collaboration is absolutely fantastic.  Amanda (the director) and I wasn't sure if he could create a sea-feel because it was very different to his normal style - but he did it with ease.

The soundtracks Tony Higgins composed and that you commissioned specifically for your films -- not just for Ray but also OurGlass of Cockington, and David A Smith: Sign Artist -- are now available under Creative Commons licenses. How was this arranged?

There wasn't much arranging really, with Ray: A Life Underwater I mentioned it would be a good idea to release a soundtrack alongside the documentary.  Not every track was used but it was all original compositions that were submitted to both Amanda and myself.  I think it was up to Tony to decide whether it be released under Creative Commons license or not. Personally, I think it's a great idea as it all links back to the film!

In an interview with the Atlantic, director Amanda Bluglass describes how she "talent-spotted" you for Ray after seeing David A Smith - Sign Artist. Talent-spotting used to have to do with being in the right place at the right time; these days it's more about being everywhere at once through free digital distribution online which can benefit filmmakers and musicians alike. Creative Commons licenses are a great way to encourage this type of distribution by pre-clearing certain types of uses, but in the case of these projects you are taking things beyond the scope of the license (Tony Higgins uses the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license) by dealing with the artist directly, and commissioning new works. Can you compare these two approaches to music for film?

Nowadays you see so many people using tracks that are copyrighted (Not so long ago, I was once one of these people).  Using these tracks will get you nowhere and the system of licensing them is far too complex and costly.  I see the Creative Commons as a way to get your work noticed. Depending on the distribution pre-clearance type you may choose to contact the artist, and if I make a video piece that I will make some money on, even if its a relatively small amount, I would want to give something back to the artist because of the time they spent creating the music.  In the situation of Ray: A Life Underwater, it was a first for Tony as we asked him to create something from scratch and original rather than tweaking tracks already available.

What kinds of projects are up next for you? Do you already have music in mind for them?

I'm working on a few of my own projects and I also have some documentaries that I want to shoot.   The way that I have been working with music which seems to work really well is having a folder on my mac full of stuff that I think would make a good soundtrack (most of it downloaded from FMA).  I often enjoy just going back to that folder and just listening - it helps build ideas and keeps my stress down!

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