The Serious Business of Silly Songs
Last April, as the animators and creative teams at Big Idea Productions were in the final stretch of Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie, Music Director Kurt Heinecke was finishing the score. Christianity Today assistant online editor Todd Hertz spoke with Heinecke just a month before the former school band director was to record the score with a 50-piece orchestra.
What's your history with Big Idea?
I've been working here for nine years. Those first three or four years I was working both here and at Park Community Church. At that time, I was full time at the church and part time here. I didn't have an office. I only worked out of my home.
I remember way back in the beginning a lot of times Phil and I just talking about the vision that he had. I'm more of a nuts and bolts detail person, so it was weird to hear his vision and ideas for what could become of this. I think in his heart of hearts none of this surprises him. And so it's easy to get caught up in that and and do whatever you needed to do. So that's how I got started.
Our very first space, I mean it was just this little whole in the wall. It was a little store front and they didn't even have a sound booth. We had big mattresses and tarps and blankets to cover the sound. Late at night one night, I borrowed a tuba so we could do the theme song. I intentionally put those mistakes in there because Larry (a character who in the videos' credits plays the tuba) would make mistakes. I could have played it better.
What are differences between then and now?
When we started, we had no money for equipment. I did the first couple of shows without even a computer. I was on a keyboard workstation. And then as we got more budget and more time, then I started adding live instruments. But it was usually just me because I play trumpet and all the brass instruments because I used to be a band director. I have played saxophone and percussion and ukulele and sung a lot of background stuff. I don't do the character voices but I've done a lot of singing in the background. Phil and Mike and I have done a lot of singing together on stuff. We always talk like, "Oh, we'll get a choir for this." In the end it's the three of us singing like girls.
And now we've got a real budget. Next month will be biggest thing we've done which is a 50-piece orchestra for the Jonah score. The thing we say around here is that clever is worth it's weight in gold. The key word is clever. For instance, there's a choir on one of the songs and we just held auditions within our company and got our 20 best singers.
We'll never have the money that a Pixar or a Disney or a DreamWorks has but we still need to be putting out some stuff that is creative and imaginative. And so we have to be clever with our resources.
What is different, besides the budget, between this animation house and others?
All of us have a vested interested in what we're doing in this company. It's not just a bunch of freelancers. I mean if this was a Pixar, DreamWorks - the composer would be hired on to do this one project. And this person would be hired on. But we're a team here and have worked for years towards this. I've got a vested interest in what I'm doing. I am representing me and representing Big Idea.
Do you write all of the score and music for VeggieTales?
Yes, but Phil and Mike and Lisa are all very musical. There's so much co-writing that goes on here. Sometimes Mike and I will work together on Silly Songs. He'll come up with the lyrics—I don't write any lyrics—and maybe the start of the melody.