Keith Arem Interview – The man behind gamings music

Exclusive Interview
KEITH AREM OF PCB PRODUCTIONS

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Keith Arem when we were at E for All earlier this year. Keith is a very genuine, humble and talented individual who has built a great company forged from creative talents. In this in depth interview we find out more about Keith and PCB Productions. Have a listen at what the man behind the music in the games you love has to say.

MyArcadePlanet: So, I’m here today with Keith Arem, from PCB Productions. Thank you. How you doing today?

KEITH: Really good. Thank you for having me.

MyArcadePlanet: Tell everybody a little about yourself? Kind of who you are, what you’ve done, and where you’re going?

KEITH: I’m kind of a mixture of a whole bunch of different things. I’ve been in the game industry for almost 15 years. Actually I started before the game industry in the music industry. I got right out of college. I came out to California to get a bachelor’s degree in audio engineering. I wanted to be rock star, and I actually a big record contract when I was a freshman and my parents wouldn’t let me drop out of college to take my big record deal. So the moment you turn down one record deal, you get like 60 record deals.

By the time I was a senior, I had all of these record offers. And, I took a record deal with Capitol Records, and the whole time I was on tour with my band – I was in the band BioHazard, and the whole time I was on tour, we were in the back of the tour bus playing video games. And, when I came off tour, I started scoring a lot of motion pictures, but I was always playing video games with the guys in the band. And, a friend of mine who is VP over at Sony said, “You know, you really need to be in production.” And, so I ended up getting involved with doing some video games. I ended up doing the first Battletech game, which became Mech Warrior. And, a couple of other games, and that ended up turning into a role as audio composer for Virgin Interactive, which is a very big game publisher at the time. I ended up becoming their audio director. And, from ’94 all the way until 2000, 99-2000, I built all the recording studios. I did all their internal developed games. And, since they were one of the largest publishers in the world, we were developing 20 to 30 external titles for all the big developers around that we were financing. And, so I ended up doing all their audio, all their music, and that got into doing all their dialog, and got into writing. I was directing all their VO, all their sound design, cinematic’s and their television commercials.

I got a lot of on-the-job training by being their audio director. It was a great experience, and so in 99 we became Electronic Arts. And, I became the audio director for EA Pacific. And, what’s interesting is that EA was a publisher and our division for Virgin became a developer. We were doing two titles instead of 30. And, so I was just ready to keep working. I love working. I love doing my work. So, I ended up starting PCB Productions. And, now we’ve become a digital content direction house and what that has really turned into is working for all the major publishers, Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, Activision, EA, everybody. And, working as an independent studio doing all the same stuff I was doing at Virgin, in terms of their music, directing all their dialog, doing all their sound affects, doing all their cinematic. Also, writing their scripts. But, at the same time, we’ve expanded into doing original development. And, so one of the reasons why we’re here now is that we’re actually showing a lot of our original titles that we’re developing as well as all the projects that we’ve been involved with. So, we’ve got all these great titles that have been coming out this year. We just did all the “Call to Duty” games. “Call to Duty IV” is coming out. We did “Smack Down versus Raw.” We did “Army of Two.” We’ve been doing a lot of big games for Ubisoft and for EA and Activision these past couple years, and so all those games are all coming out and doing very, very well. But, we also want people to know that we’re creating original titles, and we’re going to using our same production pipeline to do our original stuff as well as the stuff we’re doing for our clients.

It’s a perfect time because everything is all converging at the same time. If you go to Comic Con, or you go to E for All or you go to any of these big conventions you can see that all the same people are going to the same places. They’re all into the same kind of stuff. The guys that do – they’re into animated; they’re into comics, there’s guys that are into comics; they’re into video games;, there’s guys into video games; or are into toys, the guys that are into toys are back into the animated and the comics. So, it’s a big cycle, and what’s great is that do so many different types of things; Japanese anima, and we do these really cool RPG games that come over from Japan. We do all of these huge video games for all the publishers here in the US. But, then we’re also writing and printing our graphic novels and comic books. And, you see all the same guys go the same conventions. They go to the same stores. They’re all buying the same kind of stuff. And, they’re all talking about the same things. So, what we consider or properties to be transmedia titles. So, when I’m going to write a comic book, there’s also going to be a movie and there’s also going to be video game. There’s also going to be an animated series. And, there’s going to be a web component. There’s going to be a mobile component. And, it’s not going to be just someone else taking our ideas and running off and interpreting differently. We’re all going to be involved in the same properties. It’s going to be the same musicians, the same actors, the same animators, and the same video guys. I mean it’s the same groups and people becoming

That’s nice because when I worked on the Tony Hawk games I remember when we did – I was working on Tony Hawk 2, and worldwide it sold like 10 million copies. And, as a composer or a sound designer we went out and recorded with all these professional skaters and doing all these great stuff, and spend a lot of time working with the team on the game, it’s a great experience. Really great game. Really great team. Loved working on that. And, went off and did Tony Hawk N64 and 2X and 3 and Tony Hawk 4, and started doing the whole series with them. But, as a contractor, you’re just a contractor. You’re paid for your time; you do your work, and then you kind of go on. And, to me it’s not really about the money, but when something sells 10 million copies and you don’t really participate in that beyond that. If you’re giving all your great ideas and your music and all these other things, you really want to sort of be part of all that. So,

MyArcadePlanet: Sure.

KEITH: So, when you start creating your own properties it’s really nice because then you get to work on them, but also get to participate in them.

MyArcadePlanet: Right

KEITH: So, and again it’s really not about the money, but it’s really just feeling like you’re rewarded for the harder you work, the more successful you become. And it allows you to do more projects.

MyArcadePlanet: You more about the entire experience just when it comes down to it.

KEITH: Exactly. And that was a real big incentive for us to be able to realize to say like, “Hey, people are coming to us to make their stuff look and sound better.” Well, we have a lot of great ideas that we also want to be able to develop. And still be able to work with those same companies and where those ideas get seeded from is just as important as the people who are going to execute and do them. And the fact that we come from a production background as opposed to just licensing someone else’s idea from some big movie and then turning it into a really successful game or doing something along those lines, we wanted to do something where we can actually from the ground up be there and carry the vision through so it’s consistent. The fans realize that when they see the film and they play the game, that it’s the same direction; it’s the same people. Because so many times you see a great movie that comes out, but then the game comes out, but it’s a different team and it’s horrible because it just they didn’t enough development time; they didn’t have the creative people that were making the motion picture into the game, and visa versa. You might have a great game but then they do a film license on it and it’s like what the heck is going on here. And, it’ just – I think a lot of times they don’t have the same production experience and the same people who are technically understanding the different mediums, but because we all grew up playing games and reading comics and collecting the toys and being influenced by all the movies, we want to be able to a part of all those things without slowing down the process or egotistically saying, “Oh, hey, I want to do this because it’s a movie.” It’s like no, we want to do it because it does movies, and we want the movie to have the integrity that the game had.

MyArcadePlanet: It’s going to send shockwaves through the industry if you actually do a movie and a game and it’s good.

KEITH: Yeah.

MyArcadePlanet: It’ll be ground breacking.

KEITH: It’s interesting because you see games like the Matrix and the Riddick game and some other things you actually have the filmmakers involved in the game. And sometimes, with the Riddick stuff, I mean the game was really fantastic. I mean it actually in a lot of ways was almost better than the film. And, no criticism against the film, but you could actually see that there was so much creative input into the game itself that some people who kind of saw the film it’s like this big action sci-fi thing, but they could actually realize that the game has so much back story, and so much other stuff that’s involved in that and expand the world. And the same thing with the Matrix stuff. Even though that the Matrix films sort of weren’t as well received as like say maybe the first one was, but that the game was trying to incorporate additional elements and you can get the additional story. And then in the Matrix where there’s these animated things which is Japanese animas saw, which all the same guys are into this same kind of stuff.

MyArcadePlanet: Right.

KEITH: And, it’s interesting because I hadn’t seen the animatrix until after I saw the third film and I remembered there was a character in the animatrix where there was this kid and he’s helping this guy and he’s reloading ammo and he’s running back and forth there, spending a lot of time with this one kid. Doesn’t have a tremendous amount of dialog but like why is he spending all the time with this kid? When you go back and watch the animatrix you realize he’s the guy that self-awakened, and so you’re like, “Oh, wow, there’s a lot of back story.” and, had you seen those in that order you understand that. And I think that sort of where – that’s one of the first examples that I could point to that I’ve been preaching for a long time, saying, “That’s where you see the synergy between an anima and a film and a game and you have all that sort of context coming together. And that’s what I’ve been developing over the past 5 or 6 years. And, it’s nice that now the properties are coming out and people say, “Wow, it does – it’s exactly how you describe how it was going to be.” and it kept the artistic vision and it didn’t get blown apart in a typical Hollywood fashion where people think like, “Oh, well, that’s the game or the that’s the book, but that’s now what the film is like or visa versa.”

MyArcadePlanet: Tell us a little about what you’re doing at E for All.

KEITH: Well, what’s kind of interesting is that we just showed our new property “Ascend” which is coming out. And “Ascend” is a 200-page graphic novel that’s coming out in hardcover. We had originally drawn this graphic novel. It was based on a d ream that I actually had and I was so inspired by this dream that I wanted to develop it into a screenplay, and I turned into a series of sort of storyboards that I could turn into – something that I could pitch along with the screenplay. And, hired a great artist, this guy, Christopher Shy. And Christopher and I worked on the storyboards for about a year. And, it was so immersive that a friend of mine, Jimmy Kalamady, who’s a big writer, who’s done the Punisher, and Dare Devil, and a couple of other things, said, “You know, this is a graphic novel, dude.” So, he introduced me to the guys at Image, and I actually released a graphic novel about a year and a half ago with Image Comics. It’s a 120-page trade paperback. And we did a five-year print and the book sold out in the first days, the whole five-year run sold out in the first five days.

MyArcadePlanet: Nice.

KEITH: all of a sudden all the Hollywood people came in and everybody’s like, “Hey, what’s going on? Is there going to be a move?” And this other stuff. So, I went in and started developing this special edition of “Ascend” and that’s what we’re actually showing now. And what is this is a 200-page version of the book. We’re now publishing with ID Publishing. It’s coming out in January. And, we’ve premiered it at Comic Con a few months ago. And, got completely overwhelmed with fans. I mean we sold out of all the books. Everyone really loved it. And, after Comic Con, we came back, went into production, we’re working on a whole bunch of new video games that are coming out for next season. We’re doing Ironman with the movie; we’re doing Golden Axe. We’ve got this new Call of Duty game that’s coming out. We have all these great properties coming, and we were approached by the guys at Eferall saying, “Hey we know you do a lot of game stuff, are you guys interested in being a part of the show?” We’re like, “We’re traditionally support service. We’re doing audio, post production, and all this other stuff for games, but we are developing a “Ascend” into a motion picture and a game.” And, realized that this is actually a really good time to start converging markets of these transmedia titles that I’ve been talking about doing for years anyway. So we went ahead and set up a booth, and what’s amazing is that we’ve been here for the past three days, and we have been completely selling out. We’ve already had to restock twice since we’ve been here. And we’re the only original IP on the floor. I mean everybody else here is showing all the games that are coming out and all kind of stuff, but no one’s actually showing original properties that are in development.

And, so the fans are just going nuts. And no one knows what it is. Everyone comes by like, “Is this a movie? Is this a game? What is this? And, we’re like, “Yes, it is. It’s all the above.”

MyArcadePlanet: This all started from one dream.

KEITH: Just from a dream.

MyArcadePlanet: That’s excellent.

KEITH: And, what’s actually really neat now is that one of the things that people have been responding to is that I wanted to sort of work on the motion picture in the send of a animatics and sort of pace out the film, and sort of explain when we’re doing the movie, like the how the look and the feel of the movie is going to be. So, we actually took our art panels from the book itself, brought in a lot of celebrity actors, did a full score because we do in-house music, and we work with a lot of composers and we also do sound affects. And, so we did these animated episodes, they’re like three to five minutes, and basically have started animating the book just literally using the artwork from the book. And, that has turned into this whole sort of new media kind of thing, where it can be webisodes, or it can be mobile content, or it can actually be something you could download to your X box or your MP3. So, we’ve been having a lot of people kind of approach us about that. So, we’re showing the episodes here and that’s been a whole new side of things that – it’s a whole new medium where people are looking at digital graphic novels. And, it not really a game, it’s not a graphic novel, it’s not a movie, it’s not a TV show. It doesn’t exist necessarily on line or on a video. It can be anything or all of the above.

MyArcadePlanet: What would you like to plug about yourself? What do you have coming up beyond about everything you’ve just told us?

KEITH: We’re going to be pretty active in a lot of different mediums. We obviously have our core business in terms of doing game development and doing a lot of support services for the game industry. And that side of our company is always going to be a different prominent side of what we’re doing. For me, I’m actually going to be directing a new motion picture next year called “Frost Road.” We have ten books in development. We have a new property called “Dead Speed” that’s going to be coming out. We have obviously ““Ascend”, The Special Edition.” A new book called “In Effect” which is also going to be a motion picture and a game. So, all of those are in development. And, then behind that, we’re starting to develop a lot of original just game properties and other things aren’t necessarily story based but using different types of alternative controllers and working with a lot of different things, So, our whole industry is starting to incorporate so many different technologies and ideas and merging with other things, and you’re seeing broadcast and all these other things going through the internet and I think the way the games are going to be distributed is going to change within the next five years. So, we’re becoming a little bit more kind of involved on the technology, the creative, and the distribution side of things.

MyArcadePlanet: The progressive side of things.

KEITH: And, just trying to be looking at stuff that we want to be able to do and sort of be involved in all of it, and kind of grow with where the technology goes. Because there isn’t any one way to do things anymore. It’s not like it’s very black and white and this is how you do a movie, or this is how you do a TV show, or this is how you do a game. It’s all of the above.

MyArcadePlanet: So, do you actually sleep, Keith? Or do you come from another planet?

KEITH: Well, these first dreams are getting turned into a project, so I think I’m working in my sleep. So, it’s kind of good thing. But, yeah, it’s been great. So, we’re going to be setting up different sites for people to be able to kind of visit the things. We have the new “Ascend” site that’s going up right now. And, it’s a great week because we’re also putting episodes on line so that fans that can see that.

KEITH: If anyone wants to see that, visit preparetoAscend.com. And then the company website is pcbproductions.com. And, that kind of gives an good overview for anyone who’s interested in our company because you kind of see all the graphic novels, all the games, all the music projects, all the television shows, all the motion pictures, and a little bit about what we’re doing.

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