The Octopus Project Talks Composing Sasquatch Sunset and Butterfly in the Sky

Photo Credit: Chris Bilheimer

One of the most anticipated films out of Sundance 2024 is the Zellner Brothers’ upcoming Sasquatch Sunset. The film follows a family of Sasquatches who are trying to understand the ever-changing world around them. It features indie darlings Riley Keough and Jesse Eisenberg in full body suits covered in fur.

Another highly anticipated film that has also completed a run at festivals is Butterfly in the Sky. The documentary goes behind the scenes of the beloved children’s show, Reading Rainbow. The series was hosted by LeVar Burton and encouraged an entire generation to fall in love with reading.

On paper, these films have seemingly nothing in common, but it’s a band called The Octopus Project that ties them together. The Octopus Project, comprised of Toto Miranda, Yvonne Lambert, and Josh Lambert, scored both Sasquatch Sunset and Butterfly in the Sky. The band sat down with Film Obsessive’s Tina Kakadelis to discuss the two projects, their longtime collaboration with the Zellner Brothers, and the strange places they find inspiration.

(This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.)

Film Obsessive: Break down the transition from the band The Octopus Project to film scoring. How did that happen?

Toto: I feel like scoring’s kind of part of the band, like the band is a bigger umbrella for lots of different things were interested in and we’re really excited to get to explore this.

Josh: Toto and I have degrees in film. That’s what we went to school for. As soon as we got out, we’re like, I can’t do that right now.

Toto: The band kind of started while we were doing that program. It just felt like it had more momentum at the time than trying to figure out what working in film would mean.

How did you all get that first opportunity to score something?

Toto: It really came out of our relationship with the Zellner Brothers and getting to work with them on some of their early projects. They would work with us on some of the things we were doing. We scored a few shorts for them and they directed a couple of music videos for us. When they started making features, we got to start working with them on that. They invited us to, which continues to be a privilege.

Silhouette image of Toto, Yvonne, and Josh of The Octopus Project
Photo Credit: Chris Bilheimer

I guess I miscounted in thinking that Sasquatch Sunset was the fourth collaboration between you all. It seems like there have been many more.

Toto: In terms of features, it’s four.

What is that working relationship like now that you guys have so much history together?

Yvonne: It’s so easy. It’s such a natural working relationship. They feel like another extension of the band. It’s like The Octopus Project with David and Nathan.

Josh: We’ve been working together so long that we have a shorthand. We all like very similar things and our aesthetics are so intertwined. It’s easy, great, and fun. It’s always a blast and it’s always something new.

Toto: They’ve brought us in super early on every project that we’ve done. Early script stage before it’s even going into production. It gives us a chance for it to be a real back and forth collaboration where we can try stuff out and they’ll do edits or rearrange stuff, send it back. Rather than being handed like a finished film and needing to match what is already done, it’s a really organic collaboration.

How does this collaboration work amongst the three of you in terms of scoring? Is it different than when you’re writing music for the band?

Josh: It’s pretty similar to working as a band because we usually will come up with ideas separately and then send them to each other. What do you think of this? And like someone’s like, that’s cool, but how about I add this thing? Or change this up? It’s a lot of back and forth and then the film stuff is pretty much exactly the same.

Yvonne: It’s just building each song piece by piece, starting with an individual idea that we all end up building on.

Toto: The one thing that that’s different is that it’s the filmmakers or the directors who get the final word. If the three of us are stuck on like, should we do this or that? I kind of like this. I kind of like that. In a film situation, we have a luxury of somebody else who has to decide. We can say, here’s here’s A and B, what works for your what works for your film?

So, Sasquatch Sunset and Butterfly in the Sky are, on paper, wildly different. Where there any unexpected similarities that you guys came across when you were composing for them?

Yvonne: Butterfly in the Sky is such a synth-heavybody of work. Going into Sasquatch Sunset, we were starting with kind of 1970s pastoral nature documentary direction, but we did end up getting some synth in there.

Josh: They were kind of polar opposites. We’re just like, we need to be more organic [for Sasquatch Sunset]. You know, physically play instruments.

Toto: But I think the chance to do such different things back to back was really exciting.

Three Sasquatches stand on a mountain overlooking the wilderness
Bleeker Street

Sasquatch Sunset also has a song over the credits sung by Riley Keough. Was that something that the Zellner Brothers came to you and said they wanted from the beginning?

Josh: I can’t remember if it was actually in the script or not. It’s been so long since I read it, but David [Zellner] wrote the lyrics a long time ago and had a vague melodic idea in mind. We’ve done this with them a few times. We’ll just record him doing what he thinks it should be and then we’ll take that and turn it into a song.

Yvonne: I think we recorded him singing his lyrics into an iPhone and there was a vague melody in there.

Toto: David’s not a musician per se, but he has very strong song concepts. He has a catalog of unrealized songs where he’s got lyrics. He’ll kind of perform it without a lot of musical content per se, but you totally get the idea.

Josh: I love working with David in that way because it’s this weird thing that we can his ideas into something that he’s like, Yeah, that’s exactly what I want.

Butterfly in the Sky is your first documentary project. Was there any noticeable difference in how you approached the scoring process for a narrative versus a documentary?

Yvonne: It was the first time  dealing with a lot of talking head content and having to really work around the very important message that they’re bringing across.

Toto: Also, because of that, they had a lot more specific goals for the music at different points in the movie. Like we really need it to add this feeling. In a narrative, we’re usually responding to the visuals and letting the music and the picture organically interact instead of trying to do demonstrative underscore.

LeVar Burton sits in a chair with an open children's book in his hands
Courtesy of Tribeca

You guys have used real nature sounds in Sasquatch Sunset, wine glasses in Damsel, synth in Butterfly in the Sky, and Yvonne plays the theremin in the band. Where is the strangest place that you guys have gotten inspiration for your scores? Is there an odd instrument that you are just dying to get into one of your scores?

Toto: The cool one for Sasquatch Sunset was the field recordings that we got to make when we visited the locations.

Josh: We were there right before they shot and we went to all of the places that they were shooting. We recorded hitting big sticks on bridges and stuff like that. It features prominently in the score. Pretty much any big boom sound was us slamming a branch on a big bridge. Every project, we want to try something new and get ourselves out of our comfort zone. We like to figure out new ways to be creative and have fun with it. Whatever comes up next, I’m sure we’ll be very excited about whatever weird thing we can throw in there.

Yvonne: The wine glasses [in Damsel] was born from a desire to incorporate a glass harmonica, but I don’t think there’s any way we can ever get our hands on one of those. We just kind of use what we have to create the sound that we want.

Is a glass harmonica exactly what it sounds like? Just a harmonica fully made out of glass?

Josh: It’s this thing invented by Benjamin Franklin, I think in like the 18th century. It has little glass bowl on a cylinder that spins and there’s water. It’s kind of like a keyboard. You put your hands on it as it’s spinning you, it resonates.

Toto, Yvonne, and Josh of The Octopus Project stand in a hallway
Photo Credit: Chris Bilheimer

Since you also are in a band, would you ever consider a full blown musical and what would it sound like?

Yvonne: Yes. Yeah, we would do it.

Toto: I think it would be it would be pretty abstract. The lyrics in the band don’t tend to be especially story-oriented, but sure, why not?

Yvonne: We did one kind of musical-esque song.

Josh: We wrote a song for a whiskey company about their slow water reduction process.

Toto: They asked for a musical style which we interpreted in in our own way.

Josh: I can’t give any details, but someone that we might have talked about in this interview has had some project in mind that may or may not ever happen. But it would be a musical. Maybe someday, but maybe not.

Sasquatch Sunset will be released in theaters in the United States on April 12th.

Butterfly in the Sky is in select theaters now and will be available to watch via VOD on April 30th.

Written by Tina Kakadelis

News Editor for Film Obsessive. Movie and pop culture writer. Seen a lot of movies, got a lot of opinions. Let's get Carey Mulligan her Oscar.

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