Moon Shots and Sky Muse Studios

On Saturday, Stanwood’s Sky Muse Studios screened a documentary called Fight for Space about NASA’s somewhat checkered history. The feature included archival footage of various missions and launches interspersed with commentary from astronauts and public scientists like Neil Degrasse Tyson and Bill Nye. Directed by Paul Hildebrandt, the film is a plea for reinvigorated interest in a space program that sent men to the moon but nowadays does little to capture the public’s imagination.

All the music and sound for the film was produced at Sky Muse under the guidance of founder Ron Jones. Before the screening, Ron spoke a bit about how the studio was conceived two years ago and how he assembled a team of young engineers and musicians from area community colleges. His audience of twenty or so guests sat in fold-out chairs on risers in the room where the film’s music was recorded.

It was easy to connect the documentary’s appeals to dream big and Jones’s vision to create a Hollywood-quality recording facility in the woods. Sky Muse Studios is a bit of a moon shot itself, fueled by the belief that movies, TV shows, and virtual experiences can be produced in Snohomish County just as well as anywhere.

Ron spoke with pride about the musicians and engineers who’d worked on the film. He’d tried to no avail to lure pro talent from LA and Seattle, so he turned to Digipen, Cornish, and other schools in the region to recruit his team. They produced a soundtrack that’s  grand and period-appropriate, with passages of acid rock and awe-struck orchestral swells. In a follow-up email, Ron said, “Sky Muse builds people more than audio or video tracks.”

I think the lesson here is that you don’t create something great by looking over your shoulder at some other place known to produce greatness. You survey your own landscape, take stock of the resources at hand, and invest your time and faith in promising and dedicated people who share your vision.

I’m reminded of a lecture I attended in graduate school by a playwright named Mac Wellman. Whenever someone asked Wellman how to become a great dramaturge, his advice was to start a theater in some town in the middle of nowhere and produce plays there for twenty-five years. If you were able to sustain yourself for a quarter century, Wellman said, you would almost be guaranteed to be world-renowned.

One of the striking things about watching an old Buster Keaton film, besides the fact they hold up so well as pure entertainment, is seeing Los Angeles in the early twentieth century, all dusty roads and lemon groves. Ashland used to be just some town in Oregon before it became known for its Shakespeare festival. All the world’s centers of culture started as humble places populated with just enough dreamers. There’s no reason that Stanwood, Washington can’t be one of those places.

Personally, Sky Muse Studios resonates with me in part because it exists just a short bike ride from the house I grew up in. On my way to the screening, I took the Starbird Road exit, passed the old sheep farm, and minutes later was sipping wine in a room designed to record jazz quartets and big bands. Then lights went down and we blasted off into space.