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Interview: Discussing the Musical Easter Eggs in ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ with Music Supervisors Bruce Gilbert and Lauren Mikus

Everything Everywhere All At Once is A24’s latest film, and has dominated the box office since its arrival in theatres. It’s surpassed Uncut Gems domestically, to become A24’s largest film to date. We’ve previously talked with Anissa Salazar, the head of the hair department, about her work on this gigantic film (you can read all about it here), and to commemorate its release on digital retailers this week, we had the opportunity to talk to the talented music supervisor’s of the film: Bruce Gilbert and Lauren Mikus. The discussion revealed some of the easter egg music references they “snuck” into the film, and how this pandemic project came together under the direction of the Daniels. Below is the transcribed review.

Awards Radar: How are you guys doing today?

Bruce Gilbert: Good, man. How are you?

Awards Radar: Not too bad. You guys worked on Everything Everywhere All At Once. I don’t always have a lot of time to watch everything, but I got to catch Everything Everywhere All At Once in theatres, and it took my breath away. I knew I needed to talk to the many talented people behind this cinematic achievement. When did you guys get involved with the project?

Lauren Mikus: Oh, man, that’s a hard question. It feels so long ago. It must have been when they were shooting because there was some on-camera stuff that we had to work with. They were finished with almost everything except for like a few pickups, and that was right before we went to lock down. So I think it was around the end of 2019 or spring of 2020. I can’t fully remember because it’s been so long, but I think like around that. I’d worked with the Daniels before, and then Bruce and I started collaborating, teaming up on everything creatively. In between Swiss Army Man for the Daniels and I, and in between Death of Dick Long and this one for Bruce and I. So we got on board together with them for this one.

BG: They got shut down, I think one day before we actually got involved.

LM: Yeah.

AR: That’s crazy. What did this project entail for you guys? As the music supervisors for the project, what was your role? Talk me through what the process was for this project.

LM: Most of the work was with the Daniels on finding mostly song lists for the project. We are working mostly with finding the source stuff. But that it kind of started with the on-camera stuff that was originally in the scene. As an example, the opera piece was a challenge to find. It’s like a Chinese opera song, and we were trying to find the right source that would give the right emotion and work with the composers too. At first, we were going to use an original recording, but when they decided to it would fit better into the multiverse world in the world of the film if we did a cover instead. So it was kind of find fun to find that piece, working through recommendations from the Daniels and even the producer of stuff that they knew from growing up and stuff. And we found that piece that was like a such a beautiful piece for her to sing in her opera life. And there was also a version of the film that used a karaoke version of Barbie girl, but unfortunately, that ended up getting cut. But I think it might be showing up in some sort of deleted scenes. I think there’s like a scene when they say that they were practicing karaoke since the machine is a major conversation piece with the tax audit. And it was in that moment that they had this karaoke version of Barbie girl present. And that was a moment that we really wanted to try and keep in because it was so funny, but it just ended up not being able to stay. So that was something we did early on, as well as the Chinese New Year song, Gong Chi Gong chi that Waymond sings briefly in the laundromat during the party. So that’s where it started. And then of course, you know, as I got into the edit, we gotten to do more specific source work and find more song moments that are layered throughout the film. This film is so score heavy, and it was our job to find elegant ways to interweave sources in the right way, as to add to the multiverse experience, and not necessarily take away from the score.

BG: So it’s been super surprising, like how people have responded to the music and the film. I mean, given how ambitious the project was, for the directors, we always felt like the music was really sort of hidden by comparison. And it’s crazy, because I think because of how much attention people are having to pay to the film, they’re seeing it multiple times. Everyone’s in constant dialogue about it, they’re paying attention to every aspect of it, and that includes the music. Even though so much of what we did, and what they did, was really subtle. There are obviously moments that are a musical feature, but there’s a lot that isn’t. And it’s really fun to see people pay that kind of attention to film. Of course, we’re focused on music in ways that some people don’t notice. Most audiences want for a score to summarize a meaning, and long to feel it more than hear it necessarily. We have to shout out Son Lux, who composed the score and who we collaborated with. They took an otherwise kind of subtle, special thing and made it even more exciting for what’s turned out to be like a really rabid fan base.

AR: You spoke about Son Lux. What was that like working with an entire band? What was it like crafting the tone for a film that is a tonal salad?. This is a score that has anxiety, joy, and beauty. And even a hint of horror. How did you guys mix in with that? What would you guys say your style is?

BG: We have to give credit where credit’s due in this case, because I think they were tasked with an almost impossible objective: How do we score this infinite reality, and then also make it feel of one thing, while being able to meld together with the rest of the film. Oh, and it also has to resolve in ways that are highly emotional. And then other times, it’s just totally bizarro. And like you said, horrific at times. It’s a multi-genre bending approach to what otherwise would be boring. I just think those guys absolutely killed it. I couldn’t even believe it when I first heard some of that stuff. And they were able to collaborate in ways that are apparent when you hear some of the other artists involved in the score with them. That really helped navigate those sorts of specific moments, through the world. And the directors were hugely responsible for that direction. And the fact that those guys were able to run with it and succeed in such an astonishing way, is unexpected. Which is just like the many ways that the movie is unexpecting. But given how much people are paying attention to it, there are so many of these little, teeny moments that unify the entire score and film. Given how psychotic it is it could have been sort of distracting. And I think in a way it’s really the opposite. Yeah, I’d love to say that we’re responsible for all of that, but those guys just absolutely took it upon themselves to take that direction. Seriously. I’m, really blessed to have worked with them. Then there’s more subtle stuff in in the film song wise that we did. I don’t want to spoil all of them because you might have uncovered them already.

AR: I watched the film again this past week and found a cue I had missed the first time I saw this film. It was the 2001 cue, and yet I missed it my first watch because initially I wasn’t focusing on the music. But it’s a genius cue I noticed on second watch, because of how it parodies that classic Kubrick film to establish a multiverse. And it’s reflected in the music since it’s in the wrong key. These easter eggs are fascinating. How do you find the Easter eggs to put into this? What was the journey finding things to put in here? How did you figure that out?

BG: I think that one was inspired obviously by the Planet of the Apes moment. But one of the more notable easter eggs is the inclusion of story of a girl. I don’t know how many of those you caught, but it started as a scripted lyric. That was just sort of a nod to it. And then in the in the ever-unfolding Multiverse, they were able to identify opportunities to have it placed multiple times. I’ve read a couple of things about it. And yet, I’ve noticed that some people haven’t even located all of them.

LM: Yeah, well, yeah, there’s three, and the one most people notice is when Waymond is explaining things to Evelyn and quoting the song. Some people have noticed that one, including some friends of mine who have texted me. They noticed the script is the lyric scripted as dialogue! And It’s those small moments of recognition that fill me with joy. As to the actual construction of that moment, it was kind of like a pipe dream. We wanted to use Story of a Girl, so we contacted John Hanson who was in the band. And he was so down. He has a kid now that’s super into film. And he loves film. And he was just like, yes, yes, yes, whatever you want. And it was one of those things where you never know if someone would be interested in you using and making their song in all these different ways. Some artists might never want it changed, to leave it as pure as it was the day it was written. But John was so into it. And so he and the directors all got to collaborating. Even in the first interviews, which were on Zoom, we were throwing ideas for funny lyrics in these different moments. Ideas like recreating the song as “story of a DOM” or “story of a chef”, and these would be playing in the restaurant, or when one of the Daniels had his cameo when he’s getting it from Evelyn as a the dominatrix. And then it’s playing as a Baladi song. It’s also playing in the car, when they’re driving back from the tax appointment for the first time, and they’re talking about the divorce. And for one of these moments, we felt that it had to be Celine Dion, even though that never came to fruition. We did all these different versions, and they are going to be released at some point somewhere down the line, probably in the next couple of months. And so those are fun little, little easter eggs that those who watch the film a lot of times will notice. As Bruce said, our friends notice these and will text us “Oh, I just noticed that thing in the dominatrix closet and it’s so funny”. And those moments are what we love to hear, because it shows that the elegant and subtle music cues that the directors and the composers and we were hoping that would come out of this work. They don’t have to be the loudest song moments, but they are there, and they are there to be discovered, like an Easter egg hunt. And that’s why they call them easter eggs.

AR: You guys have mentioned the Daniels a lot. I previously got to talk to the costume and makeup department head. And she had only positive things to say about them, telling me that they are directors who push you to be creative. Was that your experiences with the Daniels? How did they push you guys? What did that look like?

LM: I’ve known and worked with them for a while now. And they’re just fill of wild ideas where at sometimes you feel like you are the only restrained one in the room, questioning if these crazy ideas could work. They push for that creativity that knows no bounds. Take the 2001: A Space Odyssey reference. It’s a that song is copyrighted and extremely popular, and you have to ask permission to change it, to transpose it to a different and weird key. But they wanted to make that reference, as it builds on and fits within this weird multiverse universe that we’re creating. They push us to find the inner weird, maximalist way to do our job. It was something that they always encouraged us to do, could encourage me to do. And I like to do anyway, but it’s so encouraging having directors that aren’t afraid to have to ideas that are come from left field. It’s nice to be able to naturally know that you can kind of think outside of the box. One of the many moments that we got to embrace the weirdness is when Jobu is like talking to her mom in the hallway. And there’s a series of songs playing, like she’s switching a radio with our fingers. There’s just like a bunch of wild songs in there that we thought could work with each of Jobu’s many looks, costumes and actions. The guiding philosophy for those moments was: Let’s just make it as like big and funny and comedic as possible. You don’t always get those opportunities to be as referential as that and it really makes the Daniels a delight to work with.

BG: It’s just always amazing to work with anyone that’s that experimental and constantly taking these giant swings. To be able to help bring that vision to life, from something as small as that story of the girl thing and being able to execute it is amazing. Especially when it’s so elegantly done. This is a project where I am sure that I feel like the others in different departments, since the Daniels are so wildly collaborative. It doesn’t feel like a top-down sort of infrastructure. It feels like everyone’s enlisted to dream as big as they can because they are so maximalist in their filmmaking. Even for the viewer it’s just so inspiring to see their vision. They are consistent in all of their work, whether it’s in the past or present, and you come to expect really big swings from them. But then you watch this movie, and you find yourself surprised to be crying now. I just feel like that is part of the reason why people have had such a huge and warm response to it. It’s not just like, a stoner movie of the year. It’s a movie for everyone with tears at the end. It sits with people in a way that’s just holds more meaning. This doesn’t answer your question, I’m just in awe of this stuff. The more we talk about this film, the more I sort of ended up like ruminating on how effect the effect it has on people. And even the effect it had on me, as someone who worked on it, to see the finished product and just be in awe of all of its glory.

LM: Yeah, it’s good when you see something multiple times because you have to and you still cry.

AR: I can’t imagine working on a film that many times and still like caring about it to the same degree. Once I work on something, even if I love it, I can’t stand looking at it. I’m won’t touch it again. So for you guys, how does it feel looking at your own work? While it was in production did you guys have to watch it a lot? And when did you see the final product, What effect did you have on you?

LM: I know that I watched certain scenes multiple times during post-production. But I think the first time I saw it all together was as it got released in the theater. I know I went to the South by Southwest Premier. Sadly, Bruce couldn’t make it, but that premiere had a moving effect on me, to see it with an audience for the first time. For the first real time, and luckily I hadn’t been desensitized to it yet. It was definitely challenging to watch that first time, as I was still watching it to check for technical things and stuff that we have to do in our job. I was moved when I was making the film, but when I was watching it on the stage, it was definitely different. To see it with people and with friends transformed the experience. There is just a different energy to those screenings, with the crowd as people were laughing, and reacting to the film. It just really added to feeling great about everybody’s work, not particularly my own, but this entire finished project made by everyone.

BG: I think a lot of this is also impacted by the COVID of it all. Usually we’ll sit in an editorial suite and we’ll talk endlessly with directors about the film. We’ll see a three hour cut, we’ll see tons of scenes, and we’ll go to a test screening too sometimes. And so this project was different, due to the pandemic. It’s unique to a bunch of stuff in the current climate, but  there’s a distance from the working experience when you do finally sit down in a theater and see it. We’re lucky to experience it for the first time in that way. Whereas like other projects, you know, we’ll be intimately engaged and involved at every step of the way. And it’ll finally come out in the theater. And if you’re not at the premiere or something or a friends and family screening, you’re desensitized and apathetic to the project, no matter how good it is. But for this film, when it finally came out, and we were able to go sit in it, it was as if we were fans, and not really paying attention to whether or not something was working from a technical perspective. Our self-consciousness went away. It was just boom, a sudden moment. It’s super rare to be floored by something that you’re involved with.  Even for other TV projects and films that we’ve worked on that we love, we can’t properly engage with by the time they comes out. We’re just like bye, good riddance, we love you. But it’s different with this film. And I can’t wait to see it again.

LM: Yeah, that’s how I feel, too.

BG: I’ve just been thinking about it a lot lately, obviously. But so have a lot of other people too, as I’ve been contacted so many times by friends who say that they just saw it again.

AR: Last question: Were there any easter eggs that didn’t make it that you wish had gotten permission from the studios to add into the film? Where there any easter eggs you recorded that you wish made it into the final cut?

LM: Oh, well, I think it’s only a few that we couldn’t get permission for. A24 is really on board with whatever the Daniels wanted to do. It’s more the publishers that wouldn’t give clearance approval, which is the boring part of the job. Of the few easter eggs that I wished stayed in the film, The Barbie Girl cue sticks out to me. It’s such a great and funny song and I wish I could bring that back. But from a story perspective, it didn’t work anymore, and so we ended up having to lose it. But yeah, I kind of wished that it could have stayed.

BG: There weren’t any, like heartbreaking denials.

AR: I presume that all the denials lead to something better.

BG: Yeah, I mean, they sometimes do. In this case, we didn’t really have to suffer any losses.

LM: One example was when we wanted to clear a Celine Dion song. And it was cost prohibitive, but that led to a better moment, where we got to make it one of the story of a girl moments. And that ultimately led to that story of a girl idea. We wanted to make a love ballad version of story of a girl. And this way, it’s even more special than having a big Celine Dion moment, because it’s now unique to the multiverse and this film. So, yeah, those kinds of happy accidents happen in a lot of the stuff that we do. But with this film, it’s final version is the vision of the Daniels and everyone was on board to make the vision the best that it could be for sure.

AR: Wonderful. Well, thank you guys so much for your time today. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you both for your time.

BG: Thanks you

LM: Enjoy your day!

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Written by benjaminwiebe

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