Singer Maria McKee and film-director husband Jim Akin add value with a twist to their new movie
The world premiere of the independent film "After the Triumph of Your Birth" stood out from most Southern California film screenings. Instead of hobnobbing with friends and professional contacts, the filmmakers picked up their instruments and gave an 11-song concert.
Maria McKee, longtime solo artist after spending the '80s leading Lone Justice, was joined by her husband, the bassist and "Triumph" writer/director Jim Akin, and their group's drummer, Tom Dunne, the film's lead actor.
"It's kind of a rare opportunity," McKee says. "It's got to be fun to see a movie and then see the writer/director play bass, the star on drums and an actress from the film singing. It's more fun than [screening] at a film festival at 9 a.m. to nobody. This is the future -- it's all about being multifaceted in the arts."
Prior to the release of the score to the movie, McKee hadn't put out an album since the spring of 2007 when her richly detailed pop-cabaret triumph, "Late December", arrived. McKee, Akin and their band went on a well-received tour after that album, with shows at McCabe's in Santa Monica, Calif.; Joe's Pub in New York; and Bush Hall in London garnering raves.
Almost three years ago, when McKee started thinking about another album, the couple's conversations focused on how best to be multifaceted. The singer had written a play, and Akin had taken up photography. "I'd made every kind of record -- alternative, country, soul, pop -- what's left?" McKee asked. "Unless I make a jazz album, how many ways could I see myself doing this?"
McKee was in London when Akin got the idea to start shooting a film about a drifter making his way from the California desert to the ocean in Santa Monica. Having never made a film, he turned to musicians and friends as cast members and crew. Dunne, Akin's associate for 25 years, got the lead; Rob Zabrecky, former frontman of Possum Dixon, was cast as the wacky Answer Man; and Tessa Ferrer, an old family friend of McKee's who's the granddaughter of Rosemary Clooney and Jose Ferrer, was cast as the female lead.
During the course of two years, with the script being written as he progressed, Akin shot the road movie, spending a grand total of $550. That figure isn't missing any zeros: He had to pay a few actors and a couple of location fees, but otherwise did the filming, writing, directing and editing mostly solo.
Once they had a first cut, they began scoring.
"I had an upright bass and would play it every morning, then work with Maria, who'd come up with the piano parts, " Akin says, as they sought to create music that would echo everything from the Who to Stravinsky. Spaghetti western themes, jazz combo cues and sunburned surf guitar instrumentals were written; McKee introduced "some fake Germanic classical piano" and Akin added needle drops from his solo album, "Nine Days Under".
Drawing inspiration from Federico Fellini's "8 1/2," Akins sees "Triumph" as a "visual, allegorical poem." There are subplots that involve music, which is where McKee comes in onscreen, making her acting debut at age 47.
"It felt completely new," McKee says, referring to acting and scoring. "Jim had to direct me down because I was playing to a crowd. It's testimony to his talent that he was able to get a focused performance out of me. I don't imagine that I will want to work with anyone but my husband -- I'm not going to start doing guest spots on 'CSI' -- so it won't be so difficult the next time."
Akin has written his next script, but has chosen to focus on promoting "Triumph," which is being sold as a self-released DVD along with the soundtrack on CD. The film hasn't screened in a theater since the premiere at the Aero in Santa Monica, but McKee and Akin have had interest from theaters in New York, San Francisco and Europe.
"I feel like this is a whole new career starting for us," says McKee, whose connection to film was limited to high-profile uses of her songs in "Pulp Fiction" and "Days of Thunder." "People have tried to enlist me [to write for films] but I have never been passionate about it. I always wanted control and never wanted to be a part of something with no control."
With control issues settled, McKee is positive about the songs for Akin's sophomore effort, which could make it easier to market: "The next film's music will feel more like a Maria McKee album."